Bella Kiser is a 2021-2022 Fellow from Chicago, Illinois. She attended Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art. She is one of the co-founders of Teen Artists’ Creative Oasis and a current artist in residence at Deviate.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.
My host company is DTE Energy where I am a Public Affairs Fellow working on the Neighborhoods Team. Most of my work is for Beacon Park, where I work on sustainability strategies and initiatives as well as event planning and programming. I am also working on downtown Detroit development projects and spearheading public art installations on a few DTE properties. The DTE Public Affairs Fellows are the front-facing public voice for the company and must also do work with branding, corporate citizenship, and community engagement.

Tell us about a challenge project you’ve worked on; what have you learned from the experience?

I was the Team Lead for Challenge Project #2 when we were working with The Marygrove Conservancy, a nonprofit that not only operates the 53-acre campus of what was formerly Marygrove College, but also manages a cradle-to-career program for youth in Detroit. My team, Ecosystem Mapping, was responsible for identifying culture-bearers* working to ethically redevelop their neighborhood and sustain creative culture spaces, understand their demographic information, and take a deeper dive into what this group needs. Our final deliverables included a Google Map marking culture-bearers, relevant resources, and businesses in the Livernois-McNichols community, a mock-up print and online directory of these culture-bearers, as well as a culture-bearer print and online survey. Although this project ended in March, my team and I designed the project to be evergreen. I am proud that our impact will have longevity.

While each Challenge taught me more about implementing Design Thinking, this particular project taught me valuable leadership skills. Our team made sure to understand one another’s communication styles so that we could effectively work together and stay on track while also getting to know one another and have fun. I am grateful for this team and the grace we showed one another.

My sweet Challenge 2 team, working together over Zoom!

How do you hope to impact the community as a Fellow?

I hope that all the Fellows’ care and commitment to this program and the City of Detroit shines through our deliverables. Additionally, I hope that our work continues to help the organizations we worked with to grow and thrive. I believe that positive change starts with the community and I hope that my work as a Fellow both maintains and builds stronger communities.

Since becoming a Fellow, what is something you have learned about Detroit that has positively impacted your perspective on the city?

Through Challenge Detroit I have learned how much Detroiters love their city. I have learned how dedicated people are to their communities and that so much of the amazing work happening here is from the bottom-up, starting with individuals and small groups in the communities. Working with Challenge Detroit and our nonprofit partners has shown me what it means to deeply love and be connected to a place, and that Detroit never left, it has always been here. I’ve lived in a few cities and I feel this sentiment strongest here.

Hanging out with Challenge Friends while learning about Detroit at the Detroit Historical Museum on a Leadership Friday.

How do you believe your fellowship year will shape your career moving forward?

Challenge Detroit introduced me to my first corporate workplace at DTE Energy. From this work experience and through Challenge Fridays, I have become a more confident leader. I have learned to ask for what I need – grace, help, flexibility, recognition, etc. I have learned how to work with as well as manage a team with a diverse range of communication styles. I have learned patience, gratitude, and that you should always stand-up for yourself. I hope to take these learnings forward with me through my career as I continue to grow as a leader and forge my own path.

What would you say to someone who is considering applying to be a Fellow?

I would tell them that Fridays are my favorite days of work, that through this program I have learned so much about the City of Detroit and the community, that I have made lifelong friendships, and that learning Design Thinking is key to efficient community development. If any of this resonates with them, then I’d encourage them to apply! 🙂

* Culture-bearer: Any individual, who carries and diffuses cultural values and traits between societies. The role of culture bearers is particularly important within those cultures undergoing transition or experiencing threat from outside the culture.