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Digital Convenings: Fellowship for Fellows, Virtual-Style

Like many organizations, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars found itself forced to think differently about how to manage planned events for Fellows in the face of the pandemic.  What started as a pivot in March, however, has become a new way of hosting and enriching fellowship gatherings, at least for the near future.

Many Citizens & Scholars programs aim to provide a deep fellowship opportunity—one that builds the personal and professional capacities of individual Fellows, while also supporting the network of Fellows and the larger fields in which they work. From retreats for junior faculty members to convenings for mid-career professionals, these efforts have moved online.

For example, the signature retreat of the Career Enhancement Fellowship program, a Mellon-supported initiative for pre-tenure faculty, took place virtually in August. To help Fellows get to know each other and feel connected, the program team punctuated research presentations and panel discussions of faculty life with video montages that conveyed personal notes about those attending—their favorite books, current binge-watching, even comfort food. The intent: to combat Zoom fatigue and encourage the moments of levity that usually happen in hallway conversations.

“I cannot overstate how enriching this Retreat experience has been,” said one of the 2020 Fellows in attendance. “I felt so affirmed and welcomed by everyone and I also feel like I have a community of scholars with whom I can be honest about my experiences and feelings.”

The Brewer Fellowship, for crosspartisan leaders working in democracy reform, kicked off in June with a virtual intro session where Fellows got to know each another’s work. Subsequent sessions focused on managing one’s energy, mapping the implications of changes in federal and state policy due to the presidential election, and understanding and managing polarities. The session on managing energy and how it leads to work life was particularly useful to Fellows, according to the post-event survey.

“I liked the direction this was going,” said one Brewer Fellow. “It felt like it would lead to a good conversation about how to evaluate our strengths and challenges and find ways to understand our role in the ecosystem—leading to a needed conversation about how to build a strong ecosystem.” Three events have been hosted since the start of the program with a fourth scheduled for early January.

The Higher Education Media Fellowship named its second class of journalists this summer. These Fellows met virtually over two days in October to learn about topics related to postsecondary career and technical education. The keynote speakers included Dr. Astrid Tuminez, the president of Utah Valley University, a public university offering two- and four-year degrees, and David Brancaccio, the host of public-radio’s Marketplace morning report and lead reporter on the Robot Proof Jobs special report.

Other sessions dug into specific aspects of career and technical education, like federal and state funding, workforce development policy, and on-the-ground actions by practitioners to ensure equity in their programs. With dedicated Zoom breakout rooms, Fellow also had time to get to know one another and work with their mentors, who were Fellows from the first class.

“I appreciate the idea of pairing journalists together from different cohorts to help people expand their networks—especially seeing throughout the event how some of the people who work in public radio who are Fellows or guest speakers already know each other,” wrote one Media Fellow.

Other programs like the WW HistoryQuest Fellowship, the Civic Spring Project, the Higher Ed Policy Fellowship, and the Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader Award all moved their events online as well. These events help strengthen the network of Fellows and expand the reach of their work—a key aspect of the current focus of Citizens & Scholars.

“The Retreat was engaging, thought-provoking, and inspiring,” said another 2020 CEF who attended the virtual retreat. “It affirmed how lucky fellows are to have joined such a supportive and generative community and offered very useful guiding ideas as well as concrete strategies for pursuing a successful and healthy career.”

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This story appeared in the fall/winter 202w issue of Fellowship, the newsletter of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars.


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This new identity reflects the organization’s twin commitments: to strengthen American education and to rebuild a flourishing civil society. Citizens & Scholars is the new name of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

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