2008 Inspirational Young Alumna: Janelle Lin '00
Pre-med student. Artist. Harvard Business School MBA. Janelle Lin ‘00’s path has taken many turns over the years, but from her junior year at Pomona and on, she knew her ultimate destination: Serving the community by working at a nonprofit.
Her unwavering dedication to the nonprofit sector—from her tenure as Community Affair Commissioner her senior year at Pomona to her leadership in drawing attention to nonprofit job opportunities at Harvard to her current position as managing director at Step Up Women’s Network—has made her a perfect choice for the 2008 Inspirational Young Alumni award.
What transformed Lin from a neuroscience major to an art major with an eye on community work was five months spent in Zimbabwe during her junior year. “It was just a transformational experience,” says Lin. “I spent five months studying education and health care, living in [both] rural and high-density areas. [I realized] I really enjoyed working with people and I was exposed to the whole NGO [non-governmental organization] world and realized I could actually follow a different path.”
Lin also realized she had a strong love for art. She spent her last month in Zimbabwe as an apprentice to a female artist. “I just spent a month outside with big stones, sculpting away. It was pretty much an ‘aha!’ moment for me.” She switched her major to art upon her return.
Lin had been involved with community service at Pomona before her study abroad—she said she treated it as an extracurricular activity—but took it much more seriously after her trip. “It really was a catalyst for me to take it to a career path.”
She was elected Community Affairs Commissioner her senior year and was in charge of Pomona Outreach to the World, a day where students could spend the day volunteering for about a dozen nonprofit organizations, and then celebrate in the evening with a concert and BBQ. More than 300 students took part that year.
One of the groups Lin invited to campus that day was TeamWorks, a mentoring program for inner-city junior high kids in Los Angeles. “Working with them that day really just made me realize I loved working with young people and I loved giving them the opportunities I had when I was younger but they’d never been exposed to,” says Lin, who worked for TeamWorks after graduation. “That really was, I think, the seminal moment for me to go into a career in youth development, and realize that I wanted to someday run my own after-school program with at-risk youth.”
After two years with TeamWorks and another two years as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, which rotates up-and-coming public leaders through several internships, Lin’s next step was a MBA from Harvard Business School. “At that time, in nonprofit management, bringing business-minded skills to the nonprofit sector was seen as a vital tool for a nonprofit’s organization and growth and sustainability and overall success,” says Lin. She chose Harvard because of the networking opportunities and excellent professors, but also because it was so different than Pomona.
“I had loved Pomona so much. I loved the nurturing environment, the small class size,” says Lin. “I wanted the challenge of going someplace really huge, where I knew the perspectives would be very different. And I definitely got it—there was such a range of political and socioeconomic views. And I think that by being in a class with such different people, it really helped me articulate my own values and my beliefs and my goals for the future.”
Just as at Pomona, Lin rallied her Harvard classmates around the nonprofit cause. “I wanted to capture everyone’s attention and get them interested in some way in the nonprofit sector.” She became president of the Social Enterprise Club, and launched a six-month fellowship program to train MBA students to become board members. She also spearheaded a career fair that brought about 100 nonprofits to the campus, trading in the typical banks and consulting firms for organizations like Teach for America, and a career trek that brought students to New York to do site visits and interviews with nonprofits. “We ended up seeing in my graduating class the highest percentage of nonprofit career people ever, so that was really wonderful.”
Another fellowship brought Lin back to Los Angeles after Harvard for a year, but she finally landed in New York as the Managing Director of Step Up Women’s Network, a nonprofit membership organization that runs girls’ and women’s empowerment programs focused on health, leadership, self esteem and career development. “So it’s caring for the same thing that I wanted to do from the beginning, which is my passion for working with youth,” says Lin, who manages the New York office, doing everything from program and curriculum development to fundraising and strategic planning. “We run phenomenal after-school programs throughout the New York boroughs, as well as in other cities.”
If you would like to nominate a graduate of the last 10 years for the Inspirational Young Alumni Award, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.