St. Louis Coro Fellows share experiences, lessons from the past year during graduation event

by | May 31, 2022

Danijela Bule, Elizabeth Collinger, Emily Desmond, Lorenzo Giamartino, Ebee Grellier, Hannah Motley, Manusha Jayasinghe, Ronald Jones, Raya Kazdan and Jesse Strod completed the program.
2022 St. Louis Coro Fellows

St. Louis Coro Fellows Director Samantha Babb (at right) stands with the members of the  2022 class of fellows – (front row, from left) Ebee Grellier, Manusha Jayasinghe, Elizabeth Collinger, Raya Kazdan, Emily Desmond, and (back row, from left) Ronald Jones, Jesse Strod, Hannah Motley, Lorenzo Giamartino and Danijela Bule – after last week’s graduation ceremony at UMSL at Grand Center. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Babb)

The St. Louis Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs celebrated the graduation of its 46th class with a ceremony last Thursday evening at UMSL at Grand Center.

It was an opportunity to honor not only the efforts and accomplishments of fellows Danijela Bule, Elizabeth Collinger, Emily Desmond, Lorenzo Giamartino, Ebee Grellier, Hannah Motley, Manusha Jayasinghe, Ronald Jones, Raya Kazdan and Jesse Strod over the past nine months but also the work of Director Samantha Babb and others before that to revive the program – now housed in the Community Innovation and Action Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis – after a two-year hiatus.

“When I interviewed for this job just over a year ago, I had no idea how vast our network would grow in just 12 short months,” Babb said as she welcomed a few dozen people to the graduation ceremony. “It has been an honor to partner with folks all across the region and rebuilding Coro in St. Louis and creating rigorous experiential learning for the fellows.”

Manusha Jayasinghe accepts recognition from fellow St. Louis Coro Fellows Raya Kazdan and Danijela Bula

Manusha Jayasinghe accepts a certificate from fellow St. Louis Coro Fellows Raya Kazdan and Danijela Bule during last week’s graduation ceremony. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

Thursday’s event was a chance for the fellows to highlight some of the experiences they had and the lessons they learned while conducting more than 100 interviews with business and nonprofit leaders and elected officials throughout the St. Louis region and working at job placements with more than 40 organizations, agencies and government entities since last September.

Placements hosts included nonprofits such as BioSTL; labor unions such Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562; business-connected entities such as the STEMSTL and St. Louis City SC; government offices such as the Office of the Mayor of the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health; and group placement hosts such as the Marillac Mission Fund. The fellows typically spent five weeks at each of their placements and were assigned a project to complete at each.

“Most projects took a structure, where the first few weeks, you’re really just trying to figure out what the organization is doing by talking to everyone,” said Jayasinghe, a native of Houston, Texas, who came to Coro after graduating from the University of California, San Diego and spending several years working on political campaigns. “You can ask as many questions as you possibly can and have those questions geared towards your project but also learning about the organization itself. Then the next three weeks, it was really just grinding away at the project itself and continuing to get more and more context from new people and from people I’d already talked to. At the end of the five weeks, I felt like I finally would have a handle on the organization, the culture and the project.”

Then the cycle would start all over again.

The experience taught them about how different organizations and agencies function and interact with each other to serve the needs of the St. Louis region, and they learned a lot about the region and its strengths and weaknesses along the way.

St. Louis Coro Fellow Danijela Bula describes a challenging experience from nine months in program

Danijela Bule describes a challenging experience she and her cohort had during their nine months participating in the St. Louis Coro Fellows Program. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

That was eye-opening for someone such as Jayasinghe or Desmond, who’d never visited St. Louis before starting the program last fall, but also someone like Bule, who spent most of her childhood in the region after her family immigrated from Ploče, Croatia, when she was 7.

Bule had actually left the region to attend Yale University and didn’t expect at the time she’d return. She spent her first few years after graduation in New York, but she came home to start her own consulting business and began Coro not long after.

“Starting my own business, I wanted to be with my family,” Bule said. “I also wanted to be in an environment that felt like home. Because of Coro I have a new appreciation for this city. I have a new love for the city. I have a new hope for the city. Ultimately finishing this program and with the relationships I’ve made, I think I’m going to be here for a while.”

One of her placement hosts, the Global Center for Cyber Security, is even going to become one of her new clients.

Desmond, a Massachusetts native who graduated from Cornell University, is remaining in St. Louis to work for Greater St. Louis Inc. after impactful placements at the Cortex Innovation Community.

Other fellows will depart St. Louis for other opportunities.

Jayasinghe has been accepted to a master’s program in international affairs at Columbia University. Motley, a Kansas City native, is going to law school at Stanford University.

But all will benefit from the experiences they had and the relationships they built – including with each other – in their future endeavors.

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, who spoke at last week’s celebration, left them with some advice to take with them.

“Always question the status quo because in the status quo things are not okay,” Sobolik said. “We need the leaders for tomorrow to question that today, and that’s you sitting here in the front row – and probably many of you out and about in our audience as well. Think outside the box and expand your worldview. Just talking with a few of you today about your experience here, that’s obviously happened a lot. Your worldview has been expanded just in these last nine months. Contribute with no limits, and always bring your best. That’s a winning plan for all of us.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik