Students Get Hands-On CEO Experience in New Fellowship

Alumni; Community Engagement; Social Work; Students

A new practicum at the Brown School offers students interested in management the opportunity to immerse themselves in hands-on work with the CEOs of leading non-profits in the St. Louis area. The CEO Fellowship program is pairing seven students with top executives in six agencies for a two-semester, side-by-side paid learning experience in key roles that contribute to the agencies’ needs.

One semester into the initiative, the fellowships are getting rave reviews from students and their executive partners.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” said Kelsey Knoploh, MSW ’22, who is working at St. Louis Arc, a non-profit that provides services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “I’ve had wonderful mentors in the organization who made sure I took on assignments that challenged me and developed the skills I was looking for.” Those challenges include developing materials for strategic planning, a survey for parents and participants, assessment tools and a plan for race equity, using social media.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us and for her,” said Mark A. Keeley, MSW ’89, who is president and CEO of St. Louis Arc, which has hosted Brown School practicums before. “This is a much-elevated practicum from those for students whose studies are more service-related. Kelsey has been entrusted with tasks not usually assigned in a practicum, like strategic planning. She has contributed a lot to our weekly management discussions, taking an active role and very helpful in taking the burden off others. She also provides fresh eyes from outside the organization, and that’s been very helpful.”

The fellowships were developed by Barbara Levin, teaching professor in the Office of Field Education; and Barry Rosenberg, professor of practice, for students in the Social Impact Leadership concentration on the Leadership & Management track. “We really wanted students to have a high-level, intensely focused practicum experience, assigned to management tasks that normally students might not have access to,” Levin said. She and Rosenberg explained their idea to CEOs in the St. Louis area with whom they had worked on other practicums, gauged interest, and got feedback.

Participating CEOs presented their agencies in a panel for interested students. Students applied to their top three choices and the CEOs did the same, resulting in win-win matching fellowships. Students make a two-semester commitment to the agencies, which fund the fellowships. The fellowship choices are made in the spring of the students’ first year.

“The students develop a relationship with a CEO, learning what the job is, how a CEO manages a large, complex organization,” Levin said. “We’re very grateful to the CEOs; they’re among the busiest people around. They get a great, high-level motivated student to work in their agency.”

Grace Jalboot, MSW ’22, is one of two fellows who are working at PreventEd, a non-profit that works to reduce or prevent harms of alcohol and other drug use through education, early intervention and advocacy in the St. Louis area. She is working with Executive Director Nichole Dawsey on strategy, management and program delivery. Her projects have included facilitating a listening session with employees to get a sense of employee engagement, strategic planning, and helping departments write racial equity statements. In the future, she’ll try to strengthen PreventEd’s relationships with other nonprofits.

Jalboot majored in sociology as an undergraduate at WashU and came to the Brown School with the thought of working with children and families. “I realized I didn’t want as much direct practice,” she said, adding that the fellowship was an opportunity to maintain her interest in children while building her management skills. “This is an awesome way to support organizations that are already doing great work,” she said. “I’m getting to see the impact, taking what we learned in the classroom and putting theory into practice. Already I feel ingrained in the organization; I feel appreciated and it’s been great. Everyone there is still learning, no matter how long they’ve been there. It was really refreshing.”

Dawsey said continuing education for staff has been a longstanding principle of PreventEd. “The way we’re set up, we value learning and growth and coaching, it’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on,” she said.

Her experience so far with the fellows has been “awesome,” she said. “This has been big for us. They came on at a time when there’s a tremendous amount of change happening – COVID, racial equity, and our strategic plan, which is expiring at the end of the year. Grace has been instrumental in getting our next strategic plan underway. What I appreciate most is getting a fresh perspective, a breath of fresh air from the students. When they suggest something, they then follow through with suggestions on how to do it, and sometimes do it themselves.” “I can’t speak highly enough of the program. I feel sometimes like I’ve won the lottery.”

Other agencies and their CEOs who are hosting fellows are: Behavioral Health Response, Pat Coleman; Care and Counseling, Laurie Phillips; Family Forward, Karen Nolte; and Wyman Center, Claire Wyneken.