Lauren Gallagher is a 2019-2020 Fellow at DTE. She grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan but has called Detroit home for two years. She has a Bachelors in History, and Political Science from University of Michigan.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

I am the Corporate Citizenship fellow at DTE Energy in the Public Affairs department. Corporate Citizenship is the premise that a company can push for and create positive outcomes in the communities it serves. Over the past year, in this role, I supported our company wide campaign for the United Way which raised over $1.6 million dollars for non-profits across Michigan, I compiled an application for the Civic 50 Award which DTE was awarded for the third year in a row, and I worked to integrate a new stakeholder outreach software into the workstreams of my Public Affairs teammates. Going into the fellowship, I was nervous about working for such a large corporation, but this role allowed me to see and understand how large companies can partner with nonprofits, governmental organizations, and community groups to more effectively push for change. DTE is a great organization to work for, and I am very proud of the work I was able to accomplish this year and the relationships I was able to build.

Tell us about your most recent challenge project; what did you learn from the experience?

Presenting during our first, and my favorite, Challenge Project with Detroit Public Schools Community District.

We recently finished our final challenge project, known as our impact project. Impact projects are unique because a team of fellows has the opportunity to select a non-profit partner and scope out the project. My team decided to partner with an incredible organization called CitizenDetroit. CitizenDetroit was founded in 2012 and aims to empower Detroiters to critically engage in civic life and become educated on local issues and policies. One of CitizenDetroit’ initiatives is the Young Citizen’s Council which seeks to engage residents from the age of 18 to 35. As a group we partnered with CitizenDetroit to make recommendations on how to strengthen this group to fully leverage its power.

This project was incredibly meaningful given the current reality of the world. As we head toward one of the most important elections of our time while in the midst of a pandemic and continued nation-wide discourse on racial inequity, this work is more important now than ever. I was very proud of the work our team produced and hope that young leaders in this city are able to utilize it to inspire others and ultimately move toward a better tomorrow for the City of Detroit.

How do you feel you have positively contributed to the community this year?

I took this photo in Corktown during one of our orientation activities, and have kept it as my phone background ever since. It reminds me that beautiful things can grow through some of the most challenging conditions.

This year I’ve come to think of community work in the same way I think of caring for my houseplants, you may put a lot of work into watering, pruning, replanting, and be disheartened to see that the plant remains the same size, the leaves still discolored, but maybe a bit perkier. This small improvement gives you the hope and motivation needed to continue caring for your plant day after day. After months or even years, there may be substantial growth – that growth is not a direct result of the preceding days or weeks, but rather the daily investment you put into the plant and the understanding and care you granted it.

Much like caring for a houseplant, community work may show some gains in the short term, but the true impact of the work may not come to fruition for months or years to come. In the short term, I felt I positively impacted the community when our DPSCD leader cried as we set out the plan for our student to student mentorship program, or when the City of Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunities department used a Facebook cover photo I created for Pride month. But I know that much of the contributions that I and my fellow Fellows made are only starting to root, and as time goes on and others continue to care for this community and this work, those seeds we planted over this past year may grow into beautiful change that could create a lasting impact on this city.

Please share the most memorable moment you have experienced as a Fellow. Why was it memorable and how has it impacted you?

There were many large, memorable moments during my time with Challenge Detroit, many of which involve the members of my cohort that I now consider close friends; like completing a ropes course 40 feet in the air or taking a behind the scenes tour of Little Caesars Arena. But for me, the most memorable moments came about during my favorite part of the Design Thinking process, Ideation. During Ideation, your team is able to take all of the learnings you’ve gained from the Empathy Interview stage and begin to use your own creativity to come up with solutions, or ways to address the gaps, obstacles, and pain points voiced by community members. Now these particular moments are not as much moments as they are feelings, there is this particular feeling that I’d get when I knew I was getting to something good, when I could sense that the weird creativity I possess was actually helping us get some place, and even better yet, when my teammates would be able to jump onto my train of thought and add their own creativity and expertise to the idea. That feeling is hard to describe, but I looked forward to it during every ideation session and hope that it will stay with me as time goes on.

DCFC games, which actually take place in Hamtramck, are one of my absolute favorite Detroit activities!

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

This fall I will be headed to Law School at the University of Michigan. While the work I did over the course of my Challenge year did not directly fall within the legal realm, the experiences I had will undoubtedly shape my path through law school. I have always been interested in pursuing a career in law to push for reform in the realm of civil rights with particular regards to education. Prior to my time as a Challenge Detroit fellow, I taught in Detroit schools through Teach for America. While teaching I saw firsthand the impact of inequitable school funding and the perpetuation of the school to prison pipeline, through Challenge Detroit I was able to gain an understanding of the larger context of the city where these inequalities exist. No matter what path I take after law school, I know that my work and my passions will be influenced by my time with Challenge Detroit and I plan to return to the city and continue to make an impact with a JD degree.

If someone reading your interview is considering applying to be a Fellow, why would you encourage them to apply?

Challenge Detroit is truly an incredible opportunity to engage with so many diverse people, sectors, and organizations at such an early point in your career. Through my time with Challenge Detroit I felt that I learned more about the city of Detroit, a place I had called home two years prior, on a daily basis and was pushed to question existing assumptions I held. I gained confidence in myself and my abilities and came to enjoy the challenge that came from being assigned to a team or a project for which I had no background. I improved in my ability to work in a team and leverage everyone’s strengths to achieve the best results. And I found an outlet that allowed me to utilize my creativity and leadership to be a changemaker.

Challenge Detroit is unlike any other program I have come across, and I would highly encourage anyone who is passionate about this city and eager to take on challenges to apply.