For this week’s installment of our Celebrating St. Louis Women series, we’re featuring Dr. Renee Racette, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Strategic Learning at Rung for Women. In this role, she’s responsible for overseeing the evaluation of the overall Rung program, coordinating continuous quality improvement across teams, and building learning into the foundational culture of the organization.
Rung’s mission is to empower women to grow and achieve sustained independence through co-located and coordinated educational, professional, and economic resources. This is a goal Prosperity Connection also holds dear, which is why we’re proud to be co-designers of the Rung for Women program. We can’t think of a better way to commemorate Women’s History Month than to highlight a community partner committed to supporting women’s personal, professional, and financial growth. Keep reading to learn more about Renee’s exciting career journey:
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to your chosen field?
I’ve always been interested in data and investigating how things work. I got a microscope at six and have a distinct memory of looking at my own blood which blew my young mind! My childhood is filled with memories of science experiments, playing in nature, and exploring the world around me. I’ve always been a very curious person so pursuing a degree in biochemistry was always part of my plan. In college, I had the good fortune of taking a women’s studies class in my freshman year and fell in love with sociology, adding women’s studies as a double major. After graduating, I took a job teaching high school chemistry here in St. Louis and loved working with students. I stayed in public education for thirteen years when time came to make a change. I initially landed with Rung for Women in May of 2019 as a consultant, doing research on the career landscape in St. Louis. As the organization was evolving and growing, a position opened up related to research and evaluation of the Rung model which was a perfect fit for my inquisitive mind.
How did you end up where you are now?
Initially, Teach for America is what brought me to St. Louis in 2005 as a young, naive 22 year old. I quickly learned about the two sides of St. Louis, one I learned through the eyes of my students and one through my own eyes as a white, middle class, cis-gendered woman. While the city has deeply entrenched historical racism, there is a spirit of wanting to fix our problems that has kept me here. When I left St. Louis Public Schools in 2018, I was a bit unsure of what my next steps would be so I started doing consulting work for a few organizations. I really enjoyed consulting but found myself longing for a work ‘home’ where I could dig in more fully into a role and be part of a team. While I loved the independence of consulting, I missed the comradery of having coworkers and deeply committing myself to a mission and vision. Fortunately, my dream role became available at Rung for Women and Leslie Gill, our president, gave me a chance to support her growing team.
What do you like most about your current role?
I love to think big picture at the systems level and across teams, which is exactly what I get to do at Rung! My position allows me to support the work of the entire organization by building a culture of learning and continuous quality improvement. I’m bringing the skills I learned as a teacher and principal to support staff in investigating their lane of work by asking questions, looking at what the data says, and then making decisions about how we want to move forward with our new knowledge. I love learning and this position allows me to ask questions and research answers, a perfect fit for me! Each day looks very different and also I have a great mix of both solo work and work that supports other people allowing both my introversion and extroversion space to come out.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career, so far?
Earning a Masters, Educational Specialist, and a PhD all while working full time as an educator. I was also coaching boys and girls soccer and served in a variety of extra roles at school. I had so many long days where I’d start at school by 6:45 am and was in graduate school class until 9 pm, getting up again the next day to do it all over again. I had to have so much strength to keep doing it day in and day out, year after year. Defending my dissertation was the biggest accomplishment of my life and something that, for me, was analogous to bringing a life into the world. It used critical race theory to present a historical analysis of the St. Louis Public Schools Desegregation plans and show how they were steeped in white supremacy.
I was able to pivot from education into the non-profit sector in my mid-30s. It was a huge leap of faith to leave a profession I was qualified for but it wasn’t healthy for me to stay. I had to walk away from a six figure salary and put myself and my health first which was incredibly challenging to do. It was an accomplishment that has led to a future I couldn’t have imagined and I am so grateful I made that choice.
What advice would you have for someone looking to pursue a similar career?
Learn what you are good at and know what kind of work excites you. Skills are transferrable across careers so don’t get hung up in thinking you have to stay in a field just because you are there now. The skills that make you great in one field are likely skills that other careers require too. Who knew that as a teacher I was an expert multi-tasker and project manager? They don’t call those skills teachers have but I assure you, all teachers are! Above all else, your personal health (physical and mental) is most important. It is not worth staying in a profession because its what you ‘think’ you are supposed to be doing. No role or salary is worth being unhappy or unhealthy for, period!
Thank you Renee for sharing your story!