NAF’s design ignites students’ passion for learning. It allows businesses to play an active role in shaping America’s future workforce by transforming the learning environment into STEM-infused career-specific curricula and experiential learning experiences, including internships. Since 1980, NAF has been partnering with high-need communities to improve student outcomes by implementing NAF academies – small learning communities within existing high schools.
Armed with four decades of experience and results, NAF continues to refine their work over time, ensuring that more and more students are impacted, and outcomes are achieved each year. Since taking on the role of CEO, Lisa Dughi has leveraged that success and ensured that the organization profoundly focuses on the areas in which NAF can have the most significant impact on the future generation of leaders.
Many organizations are working to affect the same populations that NAF supports, so Lisa has been working to deepen partnerships with like-minded organizations to harness the power of collective collaboration rather than dividing resources and efforts. She has also brought a great deal of focus to how the organization operates, taking intentional, strategic steps to integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and access policies and principles into NAF’s approach to programming for students and educators, best partners to cultivate and how the organization shows up for the individuals and communities it works with.
Lisa is a people leader and recognizes that everyone wants to feel acknowledged and appreciated. During staff meetings, she takes time on the agenda to pause for any praise or celebrations that fellow staff wishes to share. She also believes in professional development at all levels. She encourages staff to take advantage of industry conferences, webinars, or other skills-based opportunities where they can grow, not only as staff but also as individuals. In addition, she practices an “open door” policy and makes herself available to all staff to feel heard. She believes that through efforts like these, team members can feel inspired and empowered to become great leaders in every aspect of their lives.
Becoming A Leader
In her career, Lisa has had the immense pleasure of working in varied sectors and collaborating with a diverse group of people, which has helped her pick up some insightful approaches and key qualities that have served her well as CEO. She has benefitted greatly from networking and turning everyday connections into new career opportunities. “When speaking to our students, I always recommend that they build their networks early on and seek out mentors who can support their next steps,” advises Lisa. “I started my career in fashion, analyzing Chanel’s customer database to understand consumer behavior and develop marketing plans and strategies, and then I worked in Consulting for many years, which led me to work at NAF about a decade ago. As I have the honor to lead this storied organization, in order to have the greatest impact, I remain focused on always showing compassion, staying calm under pressure, and remembering that people are the center of what we do”.
A lesson that resonates with Lisa is how all the elements of NAF work together to impact as many students as possible. The team at NAF is familiar with a phrase she often uses when illustrating the impact of their work. It is “Will it make the boat go faster?” which Lisa picked up after learning the 2000 British Olympic Men’s 8 Rowing Team story and reading Will It Make the Boat Go Faster? by Ben Hunt-Davis. “The synopsis is about how an underperforming team of outstanding individual athletes was able to row their way to gold at the Sydney Olympics by channeling all of their training, planning, and strategizing on one question, “Will it make the boat go faster?” Since starting my role as CEO, this has become something of a mantra for the NAF team — “Will this (program, project, relationship, effort, etc.) have more impact on more students?” explains Lisa.
Building Great Futures
There has never been more focus on the future of education and the future of work, and NAF sits perfectly at that intersection. NAF helps businesses define their role and actively take part in building a sustainable talent pipeline that’s diverse and inclusive. They aim to address the economic and social disparities that have marginalized many high school students in this country by bringing schools and businesses together to better prepare students of all backgrounds and capabilities for college, a career, and future success. In the classroom, NAF builds upon what career and technical education programs offer with experiential learning experiences that complement career-focused curricula. Students develop future-ready skills, including problem-solving, communication, and collaboration, that will benefit them in any pathway they choose. Students also build industry-specific skills that prepare them for the demands of a changing workforce. NAF students go on to spark innovation, fill high-need jobs, and contribute to the growth of the country’s workforce, cities, and economies.
“At NAF, we know providing students with access and opportunity has the power to ignite their career aspirations and help them become future ready. And because of that, we have taken strategic steps to expand beyond the 120,000 students in 618 academies in 35 states across the country to provide the same opportunity for -all high school students by creating an ed-tech product we believe will innovate how students engage and learn,” elucidates Lisa. “NAF seniors also maintain a 99% graduation rate which is higher than students who matriculate through traditional high school curricula. The combination of smaller learning communities, industry-specific courses, work-based learning activities such as job shadowing, resume writing and paid internships along with mentorship, is the uniqueness of the NAF design that provides students with a holistic preparation to their future aspirations.”
The most impactful achievement is in NAF students’ and alumni success stories. Lisa and her team are proud to boast thousands upon thousands of students whose life was changed in their NAF journey. NAF is where opportunity begins. And they know that it all starts with exposure to a suitable class, the right internship, a mentor, or just stepping through the right door. A work-based learning experience that ensures students from under-invested in communities, particularly students of color, have equal access to opportunities that will support them in defining their career path and set them up for success long term. “It’s student outcomes and successes that drive us—the industry connections, the experiences gained through mentorships, the community that lasts beyond graduation, and the young minds who are prepared to thrive in what’s next,” adds Lisa.