“The notion of defining success in urban fellowships is a perplexing one.” — Joseph Schilling, Senior Fellow at Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute, and co-investigator on the SC2 evaluation program.

Defining Success in Urban Fellowships

Graig Donnelly, Director, Detroit Revitalization Fellows

Kathy Hexter, Director, CSU’s Center for Community Planning and Development (Mentor-SC2)

Valerie Piper, Deputy Assistant for Economic Development, HUD (Executive Director-CUREx)

Cheryl Robertson, Director, Capital City Fellows Program


This session acknowledged and confronted the ways in which concepts and measures of success in urban fellowships often vary according to the needs and history of a community, as well as individuals’ particular vantage points within a fellowship program. Many actors are involved in the design, management, and implementation of fellowship programs. Program missions often vary, as do goals and structures.

This session asked three veteran program managers, plus a national expert on community development through fellowships, to discuss and share their definitions of success. Tabletop discussions among participants followed the panel.

Participants discussed the importance of connection as a metric for defining success. Discussion touched not only on connections among current cohorts but also with past cohorts, and connectivity to incoming cohorts. Ways of connecting included (1) within cohorts, (2) across cohorts through time, (3) across different fellowship programs within geographic areas, and (4) across different geographic areas.

Mentoring among peers also came up repeatedly during the day as a major theme. Successful programs encourage mentorship. One participant stated that a fellow’s effectiveness during the fellowship is but one measure of a complex, long-term benefit both to professionals and to the field they serve in: “I ended up learning more than I expected but contributing less than I expected.”

Other fellows emphasized pragmatism: Making a definite contribution; having something completed; having a network established by the end of one’s fellowship term, and looking at how to leverage that those network. “It would be interesting to do a network “map” among ourselves,” said a participant, “to determine our connections.”