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Insights from a DSM Fellowship Program Graduate

DSM Fellow Experience

August 27, 2020

The Greater Des Moines Partnership just accepted a new cohort of bright, young leaders into the DSM Fellowship Program and with that, the inaugural group are officially alumnus. Being a part of that group has been one of the most educational, rewarding and life-altering experiences for me. I watched myself and 17 others build upon a strong, existing foundation and get a little closer to filling the big shoes that life has in store for us. These past two years yielded some experiences and light-bulb moments that you just can’t get anywhere else.

My Journey to the DSM Fellowship Program

Before I go into how the program was for me and the other Fellows, I want to talk about what it took for me to get there. I’m not originally from Des Moines, or Iowa, or Chicago, or even within a 500-mile radius actually. I moved to this wonderful city on a total whim and, naturally, I had my doubts of how long I would stay and what this city could do for me. Those doubts had been in the back of my mind for a few months until I had settled down a little more and made some great friends here.

Fast forward a few months, and I went to visit my parents for a weekend in Texas. I received an ominous message from my favorite HR person. “Hey do you have a quick minute to talk?” Those words will strike fear into anyone’s heart but coming from HR, it is like hearing your mother call your name and you immediately think of every mistake you’ve made for the past 23 years of your life. I explain that I’m out of the office, but will be back on Monday. In my head I’m cueing the closing curtain on my career all weekend. It was my first real job if you don’t count an internship, and I was obviously expecting the worst. I showed up to work about 45 minutes earlier than usual that Monday, thinking those extra 45 minutes would help prepare me for what was coming.

I shouldn’t have worried. What followed was a good conversation about what I saw myself doing in my career and what I want my growth to be. I got introduced to the DSM Fellowship Program and The Partnership as well — since I was so new to the city — and I was immediately interested. I couldn’t think of a better opportunity that would allow me to grow in my career and fully understand what Greater Des Moines (DSM) and the community had to offer. It was then I embarked on the two-year journey that seems like it went by in less than six months.

The Benefits of Being a Fellow

Enough about me, let’s get to the real star of the program, the program itself. If someone would have stopped me five years ago and told me the things I would do, the people I would meet and the skills I would obtain during this program, I would have been more than just a little skeptical. Definitely the most important takeaway I have is from the Tero curriculum sessions that were so well-crafted and organized. It never felt like we were learning something beyond our years. There was definitely information that was brand new to us as we are all just starting out in our careers and feeling things out. That did not stop us from soaking up the classes like sponges, and using that knowledge in our work and personal lives. Some of the fellows had mentioned how they were inadvertently using some of the acquired skills. To me, that’s the mark of a successful program.

The DSM Fellowship Program, however, is much more than just some classes. We got to make the kind of impact in our community that goes beyond anything I had been a part of before. We were able to create a garden for EveryStep, help Habitat for Humanity Restore with their inventory and provide help to the Orchard Place that had been struggling to keep track of volunteers (amongst other projects). We also got to run public forums to further educate our community members. The public forums were especially exciting because it made us feel a part of this year’s election. Even though we were split into groups to work on those projects, I can guarantee that every fellow felt like they were a part of each project. The only feeling better than tasting success is knowing that you made a difference in someone’s else life.

Finally, we get to the social aspect. I built relationships with people from different career backgrounds that I would have never gotten to meet without this Fellowship program. This includes the other fellows in the program, as well as the senior leaders across the involved companies, and even a quick face to face with Kim Reynolds herself. These experiences will do more than connect you to the individuals; they allow you to connect and integrate yourself into the community and DSM as a whole.

As our time as Fellows came to an end, we had already started feeling nostalgic about the first time we met, the first time we had a curriculum session together and all the feel-good and laughable moments throughout. It also let us reflect on what individual improvements we made and how we progressed as a group. For any given fellow, I think the group would agree that they made strides that were leaps and bounds from where we had started. We are truly proud to have been part of such a great group and an impactful two years. As a whole, we look forward to staying engaged within The Partnership, the Fellowship program, and most importantly, the DSM community. Thank you to everyone who made this possible for us, including, but not limited to, Mary Bontrager, Andrea Woodard, Ann Block, Jay Byers, The Partnership and all of our respective organizations and leaders.

The DSM Fellowship program is the preeminent professional development initiative attracting, developing and retaining a diverse community of top-tier graduates to Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Naga Gaddam

Naga Gaddam is a senior actuarial assistant at F&G.