Empowering Leaders of Tomorrow

By Karen Francois, Director — Employment Equity

On August 8, 2013 in the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda, the Department of Civil Rights, Mayor R.T. Rybak, and Council President Johnson had the privilege of honoring an amazing group of people – the City of Minneapolis Urban Scholars. It was a great day beginning with a warm welcome from Urban Scholar Shanea Turner-Smith, from the University of St. Thomas. As the director of the Urban Scholars program, I had the pleasure of speaking about the growth of the program and the remarkable work done by the Urban Scholars these last two years along with Michael Browne, Toastmasters International Area 42 Governor and fellow colleague in the Department of Civil Rights. Michael introduced Urban Scholar, Kendra Parker, a law student from the University of North Dakota who gave an inspiring and encouraging keynote message. Urban Scholar Leah Sorensen who worked for the Mayor this summer was given the honor of introducing His Honor, Mayor Rybak who also gave an inspiring keynote message.

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Urban Scholars is a leadership development summer internship for college students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Last year, the first year of the program we had 8 Urban Scholars. This year’s 17 Urban Scholars were chosen from more than 135 applicants. Of the 17, 9 were STEP-UP Interns in high school. The 17 Scholars are all Minneapolis residents, attending colleges across the country. Last week, Mayor Rybak announced that he is recommending that the City Council double the Urban Scholars budget to accommodate for continued program growth.

This summer, the Scholars worked in key areas of City government, including this year for the 1st time in a City Council office that of Council Member Meg Tuthill. And for the first time this year the Mayor’s office, the police department and the fire department all have Urban Scholars. In fact, Jamil Corbin who had been working in the fire department this summer was not initially that interested in working there. After only two weeks of working closely with Chief Fruetel and Chief Penn, as he did throughout the summer Jamil decided that after graduation next spring he plans to become a Minneapolis sworn firefighter.

In addition to their work in City departments, the Urban Scholars developed a team-based community project in conjunction with the City Clerk’s office about Ranked Choice Voting that was presented by the Urban Scholars to the City Council in a public hearing. Their presentation was amazing. It can be nerve wracking presenting to City Council but the Urban Scholars were pros, very cool and calm, answering all of the Council’s questions with ease.

Throughout the summer, the Urban Scholars have been very busy not only in their assigned departments but also participating in roundtable discussions with the Mayor, networking with other elected officials and City leaders, taking part in firefighter training, and holding a panel discussion with STEP-UP interns about college preparedness. Urban Scholars attended weekly leadership skills development training facilitated by the Wilder Foundation’s Shannon Leadership and Toastmasters International held weekly sessions with Urban Scholars to develop their communication skills. The Scholars attended 4 sessions with facilitators from Wells Fargo on financial literacy and 1 session with Macy’s By Appointment to learn how to Dress for the Success they want to achieve. The Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit provided each Urban Scholar with a Go to Pass for use this summer. In return the Urban Scholars each kept a journal given to them by Metro Transit to journal their experiences using public transportation this summer. Last week, four Urban Scholars presented their findings to officials at Metro Transit to help them attract younger riders.

Each Urban Scholar was supervised by their department staff and in many cases their supervisors were the department heads. Each Scholar also had a mentor. The mentors were volunteers from across the entire City staff and some of them were department heads. The mentors were trained to be mentors by our external partner Bolder Options. Other external partners include Twin Cities LISC, Greater Twin Cities United Way, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, and the University of St. Thomas. The Urban Scholars model has been so widely acclaimed that the Metropolitan Council will be starting their own Urban Scholars program modeled after ours in 2014. Minneapolis Public Schools is considering the same. Each year hundreds of students of color graduate from MPS and go on to postsecondary education so there are many students who can benefit from Urban Scholars programs.

The Urban Scholars cohort of 2013 was an amazing group of extremely talented young adults. More than 80 people including City staff, City Council Members, Department Heads, program partners, family and friends of the Urban Scholars and others interested in the program model gathered on August 8th to recognize and honor each of the Urban Scholars for making significant and lasting contributions to the City. As the Mayor and Council President Johnson gave the Scholars proclamations declaring August 8, 2013 Urban Scholars Day in the City of Minneapolis, I reflected on the summer and realized just how proud I am of our Scholars, how much they inspire me and the many people whose lives they touched this summer and what a great opportunity this program is and will continue to be for so many young people to come. As Shanea said in her welcome, thanks Mayor Rybak for your vision and support for this program.

The last message from Urban Scholar Fedha Abera, an undergraduate student from Gustavus Adolphus, was goodbye and thank you all for coming but it wasn’t really goodbye. Between STEP UP and Urban Scholars the City is creating a pipeline of talented professionals who can begin careers in public service, and someday be the next generation of City leaders. Among our Urban Scholars is likely a future Department head, Mayor, City Council Member, governor and yes, even President of the United States. We will see them again.

The 2014 recruiting season will soon be underway to search for more of the best and brightest college students. Stay informed by visiting the Urban Scholars webpage and the 2013 Urban Scholars Tumblr page. If you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to contact the Urban Scholars team at urban.scholars@minneapolismn.gov.

Photography courtesy of Mr. Ryan Patrick

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