SEO Scholars, SF: A Story of Growth, Leadership, and Impact

By Serena Moy

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on my past search projects. I appreciate this time of year, because I see it as a time to slow down and remember all of the amazing organizations I’ve had the pleasure of working with and the transformative leaders my colleagues and I have placed. I love helping organizations find their next leader; it’s such a fulfilling challenge. During this year’s reflection, I kept thinking about how much has changed over the past few years, not just for recruiters like me, but for organizations and candidates alike. This brought me to reflect on the challenges we faced during the pandemic, and it reminded me of one very notable search.

Almost 4 years ago, I had the pleasure of managing a search process for SEO Scholars, San Francisco. “Founded in 2011 by SEO Career Alumnus Adam Karr, SEO Scholars San Francisco addresses the widening academic opportunity gap for underserved high school students in the Bay Area, with a challenging and engaging out-of-school academic program.” (Source, SEO.) Our task was to find their next Executive Director. However, as quietly as 2020 began, it became clear that this year would bring its own challenges to the mix.

Our client, SEO Scholars, San Francisco, was ready to usher in the next phase of their work in the Bay Area, and they needed a dynamic new leader to help them execute their plans. With that in mind, we launched the search in the Spring of 2020. Yes, during the height of the pandemic. While many things came to a standstill, for many youth-focused organizations like SEO, the work ramped up. It was a challenging time for all, and running a search during the pandemic was no easy feat. Ultimately it was a lengthy 5-month process, but the exceptional leader we found was well worth it.  

We were pleased when Omar Wandera took up the mantle and became the Executive Director of SEO Scholars, SF in September 2020, just months after the start of COVID-19. 

Being the courageous leader he is, Omar got to work on the goals set by the SEO board.  With a challenge ahead of him, he set off to grow SEO’s work in the Bay Area, while also never losing sight of the thousands of young scholars in San Francisco who needed special support during an unprecedented time for students all over the country. Omar came to SEO with extensive experience as an educator, having taught middle and high school students, during his time with Norfolk Schools. He also brought the perspective of an administrator from his time with KIPP SF Bay Academy, and he spent 15 years growing as a leader during his time as the founder of Leadership Public Schools in Hayward, CA. Omar’s unique blend of classroom knowledge, administrative skills, and leadership experience honed over the years, helped him step into this role with confidence. 

Not only was he the embodiment of the perfect match for their needs, but Omar was also born and raised in Oakland, CA.  As a young man, he felt the challenges of growing up in the inner city in a single-parent household. Omar gained the support of a program similar to SEO’s, which encouraged and empowered him. He attended Norfolk State University, an accomplishment he feels would not have been possible without the support and guidance given to him by that program. Omar’s journey with education cemented the desire to give back by supporting students who were dealing with similar challenges he had to manage as a young person. Over the past 20+ years, he’s been laser-focused on doing just that.

Present Day

I had the opportunity to reconnect with Omar recently, and during that conversation, we reflected on some of his accomplishments during his almost four-year tenure.  I love hearing from the leaders we’ve placed, and when Omar shared his accomplishments at SEO, SF I couldn’t help but feel proud of the work we did during the search that connected him to SEO. Please join me in celebrating these accomplishments.

In the area of Development, Omar has made significant strides in increasing the fundraising footprint for SEO, SF.  Because of Omar, SEO, SF has seen:

  • 68% increase in annual fundraiser revenue 
  • 84% increase in total annual revenue 
  • 225% increase in bank balance
  • Increased board membership by 20%
  • 175% increase in full-time staff

In the area of Recruitment of Scholars, Omar has contributed to:

  • 1,500% increase in geographic footprint 
  • 380% increase in scholar admissions
  • 493% increase in African-American and Latinx scholar participants
  • 1st recruitment class holds a collective 4.0 GPA average, and earned over 500 college credits

In the area of Program Development, Omar has managed the SEO SF team to lead the following initiatives:

  • 1,000+ college credits earned across 22 courses
  • 87% of Scholars earned A or B in college courses 
  • Established a paid internship program for upperclassmen at 18 different firms
  • Established a second site in the East Bay 

Omar’s team is proud to share the following about Scholars Scholars who are College Going:

  • 100% college acceptance
  • 90% college graduation
  • College admissions firsts from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins
  • 83% top tier/highly competitive acceptances
  • 33% of scholars attending college for free

To put it into perspective, when Edgility was originally approached to find the next SEO, SF Executive Director, we were charged with looking for and recruiting an experienced leader who could expand the fundraising and programmatic footprint of the organization in San Francisco.  At that time, they were poised to grow regionally and had strategic plans to expand into the greater Bay Area. A huge undertaking! Omar is well on his way to achieving these original goals well beyond what the board of directors originally hoped.  A testament to his abilities as a leader.

When I think back to 2020 and I reflect on this search, I knew Omar would do wonderful things as the Executive Director, but hearing about his and his team’s successes from his leadership filled me with so much joy. It reminds me of why I love this job. 

We wish Omar and SEO Scholars, San Francisco much more success in the years to come, and we look forward to seeing what Omar does next.

Serena Moy

Meet the expert:

Serena Moy


  • Executive Search
  • Recruitment Campaign
  • Contingency Planning



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