While studying at Swarthmore College, Dr. Danielle Moss had her sights set on a career in academia — but upon graduating and in need of a job, her cousin helped secure a role for her in financial services.
Early on, Dr. Moss realized that the financial services world was not for her. Thankfully, she was still living at home with her mother who allowed her to quit without having another job lined up. With a new school year approaching, her mother suggested she try teaching. By that fall, Dr. Moss was teaching at a parochial school in the Bronx. Under the incredible leadership of the principal at the time, Dr. Moss fell in love with the work. It was that same principal who took a chance on this young college grad and promoted her to assistant principal at the age of 23.
Reaching that milestone so early in her career wasn’t without its challenges. Many senior-level teachers questioned whether this promotion was the right choice for the principal…or the school. But by the time Dr. Moss was ready to move on to the next chapter, she had proved she was, in fact, that best choice.
“There was a teacher I really looked up to and admired,” Dr. Moss said. “One day she approached me and admitted that, when I was made assistant principal, she and others thought it was crazy. But she was there that day to apologize. She said I’d been a breath of fresh air and had truly found my way at the school. That meant so much to me.”
Finding her way to nonprofit
With a new-found passion for teaching and education, Dr. Moss was now determined to become a principal. This drive led her to enroll at Teachers College Columbia University. To keep her options flexible, she opted for a degree in organization and leadership.
“I was so sad to leave the school community in the Bronx, but Columbia presented this incredible opportunity to reach even more young people. It was there that I happened upon a position at a nonprofit and saw the potential to work in communities, but to not be part of the bureaucracy that comes with working in public education,” she explains. “This, then, set me on my journey to working in the nonprofit sector.” A journey, she says, that led her to her current role, as CEO of Oliver Scholars.
For nearly 40 years, Oliver Scholars has focused on identifying gifted and talented Black and Latinx students, and preparing them for competitive independent school and college experiences.
“For me, the nonprofit sector is the greatest embodiment of what our democracy can become,” she says. “You have a student from the Bronx, a real estate mogul from Fifth Avenue, and a woman like me, from a modest background on the Upper West Side, all in the same room. At its best, nonprofit has the potential to bring together volunteers, parents, community members, and young people into common spaces. I have not seen any other industry create those moments for us to live out the promise of America in that way.”
Supporting the next generation of changemakers
Dr. Moss is also deeply committed to the next generation of changemakers and leaders, and is focused on helping future nonprofit leaders excel. To her, that starts with a commitment to constant growth and learning.
“I had a rule that if I wasn’t learning anything new after three years in a role, I had to move on,” Dr. Moss says. She also encourages people to seek out and engage mentors throughout their career. “I am a product of the collective imagination of a lot of people who invested in me — the family, colleagues, leaders. Many incredible women helped me become the leader I am today. Now, I’m fortunate enough to be a part of other emerging leaders’ journeys — and if I can create the circumstances for them to be successful, I always will.”