Dear RQI friends,
This month I joined the Right Question Institute as the organization’s new executive director.
I’m honored to become part of the RQI family at this exciting moment, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the unique contributions RQI makes to our schools and civic space. RQI offers something truly special and different that deserves to be cherished and shared far and wide.
I started my career as an educator and spent 11 years as a middle and high school math teacher in Maine and Vermont.
After teaching, I went into the nonprofit world, where I served as executive director of Citizens for Participation in Political Action (CPPAX), which worked to increase citizen involvement in politics and policy.
More recently, I spent 14 years as executive director and president of EqualityMaine, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that helped lead statewide campaigns for marriage equality and non-discrimination protections. I’ve also run my own independent consulting practice, where I helped nonprofit organizations engage in strategic planning to grow and become stronger.
In short, I’ve spent my professional life as a teacher and as an advocate for fairness and equality in our laws and democratic systems, and RQI has such meaningful contributions to make on both of these fronts. This is why I’m so excited to lead RQI through the next phase of its growth.
Many of you know Luz Santana and Dan Rothstein, who helped found RQI in 1990 and have served as the organization’s co-directors for many years. You may be curious about what’s next for them, and the answer is simple: Luz and Dan aren’t going anywhere. They’re staying right here at RQI!
More specifically, Dan and Luz are starting new roles as co-directors of RQI’s Democracy-Building Program. They’ll be drawing on their three decades of educational work in low-income communities to develop new teaching materials and applications for building self-advocacy skills and fostering more effective democratic action. They’ll also be writing about the skill of question formulation and the transformative power it has. I look forward to working with them and having regular access to their years of wisdom, and they’re excited for me to bring my years of experience as a nonprofit executive to the organization.
As I mentioned above, RQI has something truly unique and special to offer. In my decades as a teacher and nonprofit leader, I haven’t seen anything like it.
To begin with, RQI has a hopeful vision for our society, and hope is so refreshing these days. It’s a vision where all students and educators can enjoy lively classrooms that are filled with curiosity and joyful learning experiences — and where students gain lifelong skills for learning and civic participation.
It’s a vision where all people have the skills and confidence to ask questions, participate in decisions that affect them, and make their voices heard at all levels of our democracy.
What I love about RQI is that, fundamentally, it’s a practical organization. RQI has a vision, but it also has a track record of developing simple teaching materials that everyone can use, every day, to make education and democracy work just a little bit better.
Today, RQI is doing so many exciting things.
Teaching and learning
In education, RQI provides free teaching resources to tens of thousands of educators around the world each year. Soon, RQI will be launching a free online course, “Teaching Students to Ask their Own Primary Source Questions,” that has been developed with grant support from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program. If you’re an educator, I encourage you to take this free course with colleagues.
In the world of courts, criminal justice, and other legal settings, RQI is working with legal advocates who serve low-income populations to strengthen their clients’ ability to advocate for themselves, navigate systems, and take action on their own behalf.
RQI is helping fill an important gap in the voter activation landscape through the “Why Vote?” Initiative, which provides nonpartisan resources that boost people’s motivation and determination to vote — a crucial ingredient for overcoming obstacles when it comes to registering and casting ballots.
In health care, RQI is working with Boston Medical Center, New England’s largest safety-net hospital for underserved populations, to improve patient experiences.
Your work is what makes the difference
Above all, I want to say how honored I am to join a community that you are such an important part of. Whether you’re an educator, social worker, legal advocate, health care professional, philanthropist, or someone else, it’s your work that is making a difference in this world. It’s your commitment — to students, patients, clients, under-resourced populations, and our democratic institutions — that makes RQI so hopeful.
Thank you for welcoming me into your community, and I look forward to working alongside you.
— Betsy Smith