For immediate release
May 14, 2021
Cambridge, Massachusetts — The Right Question Institute (RQI) is proud to announce that Betsy Smith has joined the organization as executive director.
Smith brings more than 30 years of experience as a nonprofit director and educator and will take over executive leadership from Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, RQI’s co-founders and long-time co-directors. Though stepping down from their executive roles, Rothstein and Santana will remain at RQI as co-directors of the institute’s Democracy-Building Program.
Prior to joining RQI, Smith spent 14 years as executive director and president of EqualityMaine, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, where she helped lead successful statewide campaigns for marriage equality and non-discrimination protections. She previously served as executive director of the Boston-based Citizens for Participation in Political Action (CPPAX). In addition, Smith has worked as an independent consultant, helping nonprofit organizations in Maine grow through strategic planning, capacity building, and development.
Smith is also an educator who spent 11 years as a middle and high school mathematics teacher in Vermont and Maine. She earned her master’s degree in education from Colorado State University.
“I’m honored to be joining the Right Question Institute at this exciting moment in the organization’s journey,” said Smith. “RQI’s unique role as an educational organization with a democratic mission makes this an ideal opportunity, where my mix of skills and experience can contribute in meaningful ways. I’ve spent my career as a teacher, first, and then as a nonprofit leader working for fairness and equality in our laws and our democratic systems. The Right Question Institute has a stellar reputation, and I look forward to leading the institute through its next phase of growth.”
The Right Question Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization that builds people’s ability to ask better questions and participate in decisions that affect them. RQI collaborates with professionals in education, legal services, voter engagement, social services, health care, and other fields to help build a democracy where all people — even those furthest from power — can learn, make their voices heard, and advocate for themselves, their families, and their communities.
“Betsy Smith brings leadership and experience to RQI at a pivotal time in the organization’s evolution,” said Mary Wendell, president of RQI’s board of directors. “Her extensive work with nonprofits and her dedication to making a difference in the world are a perfect combination to help RQI grow and extend its reach into more communities — communities whose teachers and students need support and whose residents need the tools that RQI offers people to gain confidence to advocate for themselves. We are excited to welcome Betsy as our executive director!”
Rothstein and Santana were among the founders of RQI in 1990, and in 2011 they co-authored the book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (Harvard Education Press), which introduced the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to the field of education. Today, the QFT has spread to 1 million classrooms around the world, and the institute provides free resources for teaching and learning to educators and service providers in more than 150 countries. RQI has received recent grant support from organizations such as the Library of Congress and the National Science Foundation to advance the skill of question-asking, and the institute trains hundreds of educators a year through professional online learning courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Rothstein and Santana are continuing at RQI in a new capacity as co-directors of the Democracy-Building Program. Drawing upon their three decades of educational work in low-income communities across the country and beyond, they will be developing new teaching materials and applications to build self-advocacy skills and foster more effective democratic action across many fields. This work will further demonstrate the great potential of RQI’s pioneering vision of Microdemocracy as a new starting point for democratic action. In collaboration with colleagues, they will also expand their research and writing about a Question Formulation Theory of Learning and Democratic Action that is currently emerging from global use of RQI’s teaching methods.
“This is an exciting moment for RQI. Betsy Smith brings great experience, wisdom, and vision to the job, and with our tremendous current staff she will help RQI achieve even greater success in years to come,” said Rothstein.
“The board’s commitment to bring on such a proven leader as Betsy Smith means so much and gives us a chance to work on key educational design and writing tasks that are so important to RQI’s efforts to build a stronger democracy,” said Santana.
RQI’s board of directors chose Smith after conducting a thorough national search and considering a number of highly qualified candidates. Smith, who lives in Portland, Maine, officially joined the RQI team on May 3.
Learn more about the Right Question Institute at rightquestion.org.