Rochelle Haynes, BA ’02: Vice President of US Social Impact, Sesame Workshop
If you had to condense your job description into an elevator pitch, how would it read?
As a social impact leader at Sesame Workshop, my focus has been on scaling Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC). SSIC is a bilingual, multimedia initiative harnessing the power of Muppets and research-based content to reach vulnerable children with resources that foster healthy development — literacy, numeracy, health and social emotional learning. We partner with national early childhood development organizations and regional coalitions to deliver resources to help vulnerable children mitigate against the effects of trauma. Our goal is to not only provide resources but to use our platform to raise awareness of the long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences and the support needed to help vulnerable children and families.
What about your job at Sesame Workshop inspires you?
What truly inspires me about my work with Sesame Workshop is the Sesame Street in Communities partners. Throughout the country, we have partners who are serving kids and families at all levels — from policy leaders advocating for additional early childhood development resources to direct service organizations providing much-needed on-the-ground support to vulnerable children and families. All our partners have an unwavering dedication and tenacious spirit when it comes to being of service to families. And, when I reflect on how they have been innovatively responsive to the needs of families from the start of the pandemic until now, I am inspired by their unwavering commitment and leadership.
How did Rockefeller College prepare you for your career?
Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, I spent most of my career working on anti-poverty policies and programs as a public servant. For over 10 years I served in a variety of roles in New York City government, ranging from policy analyst to Chief of Staff with a focus on affordable housing, social services and homelessness prevention. My time at Rockefeller College as a political science major prepared me for public service by helping me develop the analytical skills needed to review complex policy problems and develop strategies on how to advance said policies through the legislative process. As an undergraduate, in addition to the core instructional training I received, the College’s location and connections to the New York State Legislature afforded me the opportunity to apply theory in a practical way by serving as a policy and legislative intern which was invaluable experience.
Was there anyone at Rockefeller who left a lasting impact on you?
During my time at Rockefeller College, Dr. Anne Hildreth’s teachings and mentorship left a lasting impact on me. In her lectures, she would thoughtfully push her students to go beyond surface level political analysis to understanding the role that data and election outcomes play in the overall political economy. While as a mentor, she was a champion of my studies and scholarship as I navigated being a first-generation four-year college student with aspirations for graduate studies.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your career and life?
When I reflect on my career and life, my proudest accomplishments have a common thread of the moments when I was truly of service to others. During my career, any moment when I was able to leverage my role to bring awareness to the needs of vulnerable communities and couple that with the advancement of inclusive policies and resources, has filled me with pride and a sense of purpose. One project that stands out to me is when my team and I successfully secured over $20 million to provide additional social service support to families experiencing homelessness. While personally, I am committed to mentoring students, especially Black Indigenous People of Color and first generation undergraduate and graduate students, to help diversify the field of public policy thought leaders. My proudest moments during the mentorship experience have been when my mentees were accepted into some of the top graduate programs throughout the country. To help them achieve that scholarship milestone and knowing how it will and has propelled them to be future policy leaders has been the honor of my life.
When you’re not on the job, where can you be found?
When I am not on the job, I spend a fair amount of time on volunteerism, which can range from civic engagement, mentorship, and charitable giving to serving on the boards of both the Rockefeller College as well as Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. And, when I want to completely detach and ensure that I am practicing a good work-life balance and feeding my spirit, I am enjoying cultural arts (theater, museums) throughout my hometown of New York City, practicing yoga and/or dance, traveling, or spending time with family and friends.
What is one piece of advice you would share with a current Rockefeller student?
One piece of advice I would share with a current student is to fully embrace your scholarship journey by taking the courses that are furthering your knowledge for your intended career, but also the courses that are simply for the joy of learning. Take the time to attend lectures and panel discussions, as they are also part of your scholarship journey and will plant seeds for your future. Take the time to learn from current faculty as well as participate in internships, as these experiences are the early seeds to help you gain clarity as you formulate your career plan. Most importantly, know that a career is truly a marathon with many twists and turns, highs and lows, but if you fully embrace the joy and scholarship of the journey, you will find fulfillment.
This article originally appeared in Rockefeller College’s Fall 2021 News Magazine.