Strong Cites Strong Communities Urban Fellowship Program

The first seven Strong Cities, Strong Communities hosted 17 midcareer fellows along with the assigned federal staff (the CSTs) to be the boots on the ground for this federal-local collaboration and capacity-building pilot. The SC2 fellowship program was funded by a one-time grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research. Distressed cities need highly skilled professionals with technical expertise to help revitalize their local economies, but these communities often lack resources and capacity to recruit and retain midlevel workers. To address this dynamic, the fellowship program placed skilled, midcareer professionals within city offices for two years of public service in each of the seven original SC2 pilot cities.

Through a competitive request for proposals, HUD selected the management team of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, and the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Virginia Tech) to host, implement, and manage the fellowship program. Each organization brought experience and assets to shape the program’s core components and emergent activities. The German Marshall Fund was the fiscal agent, host, and management team lead, while urban policy experts from Virginia Tech and Cleveland State provided mentorship support for each fellow and local project manager hosting the fellow. Cleveland State also conducted a quarterly SC2 Management Academy, the fellowship program’s training component, along with online offerings. All members of the management team contributed to program’s development and cohort support and coordination. About halfway through the program, the German Marshall Fund received a grant from the Surdna Foundation to develop and host workshops (boot camps) on relevant revitalization strategies and initiatives, such as the role of anchor institutions and downtown redevelopment, to facilitate learning across the first-cohort cities.

The 17 fellows were recruited for 20-to-27-month placements within city government or a related nongovernmental organization based on a match of their experience and expertise with the needs and preliminary project ideas identified in each pilot city. Initially, the local governments were to pay for a 50 percent match of the fellows’ stipend or salary, but that proved difficult for some of the cities, so local foundations and universities contributed funds or in-kind resources, such as space. In the initial request for proposals, HUD envisioned each city having a team of three or four fellows, but given fiscal realities, most cities had two. Those involved with the fellowship program underscored the importance of getting the right match, not only the relevant substantive experience but ensuring the local project managers who would oversee the fellows’ work were committed to their role and support. Most fellows were moving to their host cities, and a few were entering communities where the local governments were in severe fiscal distress. Thus, it was critical for the fellows to have a strong support network that included their local project managers, the fellowship mentors at Virginia Tech and Cleveland State, and the fellows.

Within these cities and public-sector organizations, the fellows dedicated their time to developing local projects critical to creating sustained economic and social change. Most fellows worked on one or two capacity projects throughout the fellowship assignment. By making it a project-driven fellowship program, the fellows could facilitate more impactful and meaningful policy and program changes while adding, building, expanding, or enhancing local capacities. In November 2014 the Urban Institute hosted a two day symposium on the promise of urban fellowships that included participants from the SC2 and two other urban fellowship programs. For more information about the symposium and the SC2 Fellowship program click here