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SummerStories Featured CarolynBrenden

Passion meets profession: How Carolynn and Brendan are championing opportunity!

Our employees all have unique experiences that have led them to work at Ascendium. These journeys have shaped who they are and why they came to work here. We're committed to championing opportunity for learners from low-income backgrounds, and that mission comes through in each employee's individual journey to Ascendium. We have invited several employees to share their experiences and how they apply the mission of Ascendium to their lives and work. Here are Carolynn and Brendan's stories!


Time at Ascendium: 6 years

Carolynn Lee, Ascendium's deputy director of education grantmaking, was drawn to working here because of her background in specialized grantmaking. Carolynn got her start in grantmaking at a nonprofit that addressed a wide variety of projects, including the arts, environmental protection, education, health, and human services. From this role, she transitioned to an organization specializing simply in the arts and education. Her excitement for postsecondary education and her quest to better understand the barriers low-income and other marginalized learners face eventually led her to Ascendium as a senior program officer and later as our deputy director of education grantmaking.

Headshot of Carolyn Lee

Carolynn Lee – Deputy Director of Education Grantmaking

Carolynn is eager to support efforts to ensure learners from low-income backgrounds can achieve their goals because of her sense of hope fueled by her experience as an organizer. She is motivated by changing systems and conditions that oppress and exclude people. Ascendium's education grantmaking ignites Carolynn's passion for transformational philanthropy as a tool to improve inequitable outcomes for the students we serve.

Carolynn's personal commitment to the struggle for racial justice is also formed by Ascendium's Education Philanthropy mission. She said, "I see our work as one strand of an incredibly complex web of efforts to address the pervasive impact of racism and white supremacy, which have far-reaching, measurable impacts on every aspect of our society, from wealth and class to college graduation and employment rates."

Carolynn continuously emphasizes the positive impact that the employees at Ascendium has had on her life outlook. Working with her team members is one of her favorite parts of her job! Not only has her team helped to support the mission of Ascendium, but they have also made her a better employee. Of her colleagues, Carolynn believes, "They're truly brilliant, and every day I'm reminded by my colleagues' lived examples just how important it is to be thoughtful, careful, and respectful as we do this privileged and meaningful work together."


Time at Ascendium: 16 years

Brendan's journey to Ascendium started with him hearing a lot of great things about the company through a friend that worked here. These validating words ultimately led him to apply for a position. Sixteen years later, Brendan is still here!

Portrait of Brendan

Brendan Shaughnessy – Manager of Call Center Operations

The work that his father did to promote charitable actions and volunteering inspired Brendan to be passionate about helping learners from low-income backgrounds achieve their goals. He shared, "I was always raised that if you can help someone, you should, and working at Ascendium has always given me many different opportunities to do just that."

When his schedule allows, Brendan likes to volunteer, both personally and professionally. Taking advantage of our paid volunteer time off program provides a nice crossover between work and volunteering and allows him to attend events he wouldn't normally be able to.

Brendan's favorite thing about working at Ascendium is "definitely" all the great people! He loves working with such a talented team and takes pride in what everyone can accomplish together.