Sean Tierney is a program officer at Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education. Prior to coming to Lumina, Sean worked for the Maryland and Tennessee state governments, in their respective higher education commissions. He has a bachelor of arts in economics, creative writing and sociology, and master of public policy in education policy from Vanderbilt University. Sean focuses on college and university finance, looking for ways to make education more affordable and accessible and improving the ways colleges are funded.
How long have you lived in Indy?
Almost three years! Before that, D.C., Tennessee and New York. So I’m a bagel snob who loves SEC football.
Why have you focused your career on the nonprofit sector?
I love how passionate everyone is in this sector. I think providing education is one of the best things we can do economically and civically, if we can do it in a way that diminishes gaps in our society. It’s a multi-generational solution to a multi-generational problem. It seems like nonprofits are usually the best way to deal with issues like this, but not always. I’d be OK jumping into the for-profit world – just as long as it’s making a difference in effective and sustainable ways.
How did you find your current position?
I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. At Lumina Foundation, we work towards what we call Goal 2025: that by 2025, 60% of American adults will have a high-quality post-secondary degree, certificate, or other credential. So we work with a variety of organizations across the country. I had worked with Lumina personnel and on Lumina-funded projects in some of my previous positions.
What would you say to another young professional considering a nonprofit job?
Figure out what you care deeply about and look for organizations that fit that. Get involved and volunteer! The nonprofit community can be small, and sometimes it feels like everyone knows each other or is connected in some way. So get to know people – the nonprofit people I meet are, by and large, wonderful, smart, impressive and caring.
If you could learn a brand new skill, what would it be?
Probably playing the guitar. I have no musical ability! In my daydreams, it seems so easy to just start a famous and successful rock band. I have a feeling it’s different in reality.
If you were an inanimate object, what would you be and why?
Annie Dillard had this part in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek where she says she never knew she was a bell until she started ringing. I think that’s probably everyone maybe.
What do you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
So many things! I’m hoping to visit all 50 states, and have an ambitious international travel plan, too! Short term, I’m working on becoming a better communicator and facilitator.
Share a little-known treasure of Indianapolis with us.
The Holy Rosary neighborhood is probably not much of a secret but I love the area. It was my home for two years and between the beautiful houses, Italian Festival, a great park (with a volleyball court!), and even a secluded pocket park along the highway, it’s one of my favorite spots in Indy.
Most important question: E-reader or good old printed books? What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
Printed! I like to flip back a few pages and re-read and also I can’t look at a screen without expecting distractions. I’d have to go with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
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