As the application period for the third cohort of the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Fellowship Program prepares to open, participants of the second and current cohort are touting the program’s benefits, saying it is helping in their own personal and career development.

The Business Record spoke with three young professionals participating in the current cohort, and each said the program has helped them become more engaged in the community and helped them learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses and how to better work together with people of different backgrounds and perspectives.

The Partnership touts the Fellowship Program as a preeminent professional development initiative that works to attract, develop and retain a diverse community of talent, helping them to advance their lives both personally and professionally.

The pilot program began in 2018 with 17 participants graduating from the two-year program. The current cohort, which will graduate in May 2022, has more than 20 participants, and the third cohort for the 2022-2024 class will be capped at 30 people.

Participants are selected by sponsoring employers, and employees who display high leadership potential or who have started their careers with the company in the past two years are eligible.

As part of the program, participants receive mentoring from executives across the region, have access to community engagement opportunities, and get a customized professional development curriculum.

They also work on a capstone project with a local nonprofit organization.

The participants the Business Record spoke with shared their stories about their experiences, what they’ve learned and what they hope to take away from the program.

Chelsea Hanson   
Age: 31
Data scientist, John Deere Financial
Capstone project: Eat Greater Des Moines to open community refrigerators around Des Moines.

Hanson said she hopes that what she is learning will help her attain her goal of being a vice president for John Deere Financial one day.

“The leadership classes they involve you in … public speaking, working with different cultures and working with people with different personalities, I have big career goals so I figured that would help me be a leader at Deere someday,” she said.

Hanson said she has learned a lot through the public speaking exercises.

She described it as a crash course with nine presentations given over two days.

“It was really eye-opening and I learned so much about presentation, and you’re kind of evaluating now how everyone is giving presentations,” she said. “I learned that even though I’m super passionate about the topic, I speak very softly. So to be able to raise our voice, know how big the room is, how many people are in the room, adjust your volume to that. And then eye contact. If you're talking, you're making eye contact with somebody. If you’re not making eye contact, you’re not talking.”

Hanson said she learned that she's good at answering questions at the end of presentation, particularly ones she described as hostile.

“I was surprised. I thought I did a really good job, and it goes to show if you’re prepared and really know the topic, you’re ready for those,” she said.

She also learned a lot from the personality tests participants were given.

Hanson said she already knew she’s an introvert, but she learned through the exercises that it’s important to speak up rather than always letting people who are extroverts control the conversation.

Being a type A personality, she also learned to work effectively with people who are different personality types, Hanson said.

“I’m very strategic in what I do,” she said. “Dealing with someone who isn’t like that, you get the same result but the journey is completely different, and that’s OK. Just being aware of that and being OK with that. It's all about communication with the different personalities and making sure you’re all on the same page.”

Kuuku Saah
Age: 32
Managing director, BTC Capital Management
Capstone project: Lutheran Services of Iowa Global Greens Initiative

Saah said the community engagement and building aspect of the Fellowship Program has been the most meaningful for him so far.

“We had to work on a community project that I felt was really fulfilling,” he said.

He also said the public speaking exercises and community conversations have been important.

“It’s good to hear what’s going on and see the work people are doing and figure out ways we can put ourselves into that work,” Saah said.

He also spoke about how important it was to better understand his own personality and how to interact with other personality types and adjusting for different situations.

“I’m on the line as far as introvert and extrovert, but on the extrovert side of things, sometimes being quiet and listening a little more. … And I’m a thinker, so I’m realizing not everyone approaches situations as technically as I do,” Saah said.

Saah's career goals revolve around doing something that’s meaningful, he said.

“That is still to be strongly defined,” said Saah, who immigrated to Des Moines from Ghana in West Africa to attend Drake University. “The goal is to have a bigger impact in the community.”

Saah said one of the biggest takeaways for him is to “find something you’re passionate about and throw yourself into it. That’s something this program is teaching me.”

Natalie Roberts

Age: 24
Senior actuarial assistant, Fidelity Actuarial Life
Capstone project: Central Iowa Shelter and Services agrihood project

Roberts said one of the main attractions the program held for her was the ability to get involved in the community.

“It was built into the fellowship to give back and help out in the community,” she said.

But the leadership development exercises have also helped her grow professionally and personally, Roberts said.

“Learning about how to improve my leadership skills, public speaking skills, learning about myself and how I function as an employee and a member of a team, I think it is a great development opportunity,” she said.

Roberts said the personality test required her to undergo a lot of self-reflection.

“The way I work and approach projects and the way I expect other people to approach projects was kind of eye-opening for me,” she said. “I can be more organized and like having the steps laid out, but also like seeing the big picture of everything, and other people may like to jump in and don't need all those steps or a to-do list. And that helped me reflect on myself with how I work with other people, and I can’t expect them to do everything the same way I do it. I realized I have to give myself flexibility as well.”

Roberts, who was in mock trial and speech in high school in Carroll, thought she was a good public speaker, but realized in the fellowship that she has a lot to learn.

“I was pretty used to presentations, I still get super nervous about it, but I thought I knew the strategy and skills, but I definitely don’t know that much,” she said. “I think learning about things like eye contact, and having one-on-one conversations with everyone in the room, that was super eye-opening.”

She hopes her participation in the fellowship will make her a better team member and a better manager when she steps into that role.

“Eventually, once I get to that point, it will be helpful in interacting with employees, learning different leadership skills and how to approach them, and how they learn and like to work. That will be very helpful,” Roberts said.