Whatever their specific interests and expertise, people who serve as urban fellows are passionate about cities, intensely curious, and willing to risk and learn.

Connecting and Networking: Fresno

Gretchen Moore & Cole Judge, 2012-2014 SC2 Fellows


The urban fellowship experience is paradoxical: sometimes supremely isolating, other times intensely social. Such an experience calls for people who adapt well, work independently, forge their own paths, and yet also seek and inspire connection and collaboration.

Successful fellowship programs must then nurture their fellows’ connectivity not only to their host organizations and project work but to the community’s broader civic infrastructure. Fellows, especially those new to their host city, must have opportunities to grow new roots with the city itself and/or cultivate old ones.

Underscoring the importance of connecting fellows to other initiatives and the ability of fellows to collaborate with different organizations, the two SC2 Fellows from Fresno—Gretchen Moore and Cole Judge—framed this session by sharing their experiences developing partnerships for their host organization—the Downtown Fresno Partnership.

Part of this fellowship work built new coalitions in support of the Mayor’s “I Believe” in downtown Fresno campaign while recruiting new and existing businesses, engaging community and civic groups, navigating the city permitting process, and sponsoring numerous social and civic activities to promote downtown.

Beyond these work assignments, Gretchen and Cole connected regularly with Fresno’s SC2 federal team and local leadership development programs and talent cultivation initiatives. Within less than a year they became part of the city’s next generation of urban leaders.

The discussion after their presentation featured fellows, hosts, and program managers sharing their respective experiences making connections and facilitating collaboration. They discussed insights about the partnership making process (e.g., recruiting, negotiating, and nurturing, etc.) and how these strategic and at times intensely personal relationships enriched and at times challenged their fellowship experiences.

SC2 gave me the chance to return home and join those near and dear to me, my friends and family, in a struggle to right the ship.”-Christopher Dorle, SC2 Fellow in Detroit. Read more here.

“Working in the New Orleans Health Department was my first experience working in government and it was both challenging and beneficial….Working in government also gave me my first taste of navigating the bureaucracy of a public agency’s procurement process and civil service procedures. The experience might leave some people disheartened, but it left me confident that the sometimes-frustrating elements of local government are not permanently broken. They can be tweaked, fixed, or overhauled to serve everyone better.” -Maxwell CIardullo, SC2 Fellow in New Orleans. Read more here.

Common fellowship partners, their roles and relationships:

Core Fellowship Partners—Foundations, Universities, and Government: Urban fellowship programs must have a strong framework support and sponsorship, but be able to extend and leverage that foundation by developing partners, recruiting host organizations, collaborating with civic, political, and community leaders. The four programs we examined all benefited from the combined support of private foundations, universities, and federal and local governments. The evaluators for the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program found that “urban fellows directly affiliated with federal place-based initiatives garner special credibility that can support their own project work and further the overall goals of federal and local government place-based urban policies and initiatives—it opens doors that non-federal fellowship placements may not.” Similarly, the support of foundations, both regional and national “played critical supporting roles in several of the SC2 fellowship placements and more generally in urban fellowships; and the principles of place-based urban policy interventions often aligns with their longstanding efforts to support place-based strategies that further the goals of “equitable” economic revitalization and community development” (Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellowship Placement Program: Final Evaluation Report (Washington, DC: German Marshall Fund, April 2015), 4.

Hosts: Fellows are often found working inside and outside of government, for nonprofit organizations, community based groups, and public institutions. -At private employers, fellows have gained a glimpse into the interactions and respective roles of the private sector with government and residents of the city. Within government agencies, fellows have gained insight into–and become strong allies for–the dedication of many city employees:

“The busy bees that make the City organ thrive, city workers, are often the first to be offered up in budget cuts….Despite this, they work tirelessly…and in their spare time are the activists, volunteers, and civic leaders that are fighting the avalanche-like decline of the place they call home.” – Dekonti Mends-Cole, SC2 Fellow in Detroit. Read more here.

Liaisons and contacts: Within and beyond the host organization, fellows must have access to people who can get things done and show them the ropes, be that high-level executives in an organization or agency, or a longtime city resident and community activist who knows just about everyone. These contacts are critical to empowering fellows to see and act on the opportunities and challenges to their host city.

Mentors: Fellows gain insight, skills, and advice for troubleshooting problems from senior professionals and peers who are the “go-to” people, whether locally or with a national perspective. One of the findings from the symposium was that peer contact is a vital kind of mentoring, and currently there are not enough opportunities for fellows to mentor one another across cohorts, time, and regional networks. A strengthened approach to engaging previous fellows in mentoring, for example, was called for. Also considered crucial: periodic regional meetings where face-to-face exchanges can happen, with specialized training and leadership development available to all.

Coaches: Similar to mentoring, but more focused on acquiring and honing specific skills, coaches are a valuable asset to a fellowship program.

Fellows (Cohort): Current and previous fellows can be part of a service cohort in terms of time, a regional cohort in terms of location, an institutional cohort in terms of discipline or focus of work, or a program cohort in terms of the specific program sponsoring them. Their relationships are especially important for recruiting, peer learning, and mentoring.

We have a saying in our program: The network is everything. Although they are placed across the city, our fellows work collaboratively, often across long-standing barriers, to get things done. -Graig Donnelly, executive director of Detroit Revitalization Fellows. Read more here.

READ ON: What does success look like in an urban fellowship?