Rural Leadership Fellows Help Advance Community Projects

Rural Leadership Fellows Anne McIlhagga (left) and Lexi Hagan.

Two Northern Michigan University undergraduate students are engaged in immersive, project-based internships with Marquette and Manistique city government entities as part of NMU's new Rural Leadership Fellowship Program. They receive a paid, scholarship-supported applied learning experience that will enhance their career prospects in rural economic development and public sector fields, while the municipalities benefit from fresh perspectives and assistance in advancing key community priorities.

Anne McIlhagga, a sophomore political science major from East Lansing, is working under the supervision of Marquette Assistant City Manager Sean Hobbins on the rollout of Marquette's new master plan. She will also help to create and implement the city's new strategic plan. Lexi Hagan, a senior management major from Iron Mountain, is assisting the City of Manistique with an update of its five-year recreation plan in conjunction with the implementation of a Michigan DNR Spark Grant of $800,000 to support city parks infrastructure.

Both students were chosen through a competitive selection process. They receive a 100% tuition and fee scholarship as part of their financial aid package for the duration of the fellowship, which includes the winter, summer and fall 2024 semesters. Student fellows also receive a stipend up to $15,000 to assist with living expenses and mentoring from experienced leaders who comprise the program's advisory committee. They are mentored by an advisory committee of experienced leaders.

McIlhagga credits The West Wing television series, which she watched with her parents in elementary school, with sparking her interest in politics, even though she was too young to comprehend most of the context. At 16, she worked the local elections to counter the disappointment of being too young to vote. That experience helped McIlhagga secure a clerical aide position with the Marquette city clerk's office when she enrolled at Northern. She helped to process voter registrations and manage other election materials.

She had learned of the fellowship opportunity from Hobbins, who taught a state and local government course she enrolled in during her first semester at NMU last fall. Hobbins also notified McIlhagga of the rural leadership fellowship and suggested she apply.

“I've been very passionate about local government and civic duty my whole life,” she said. “The federal government seems to make the news most often, but the issues that more directly impact us on a daily basis—property taxes, schools, potholes, plowing—are at the local level. It's easier to get involved and make a difference locally. Starting there gives me an opportunity to connect with people in the community that I'm working to help.

“As a student, it's wonderful and inspiring to see pieces of what I'm learning in my classes come together through real-world applications. Others wait years for that to happen, but I'm getting it now. This will give me an advantage as I pursue graduate programs and a future career in local government, especially in a rural environment. I'm also able to network with those who serve in Marquette's government and on the fellowship advisory board. They are valuable resources I wouldn't be able to access without this fellowship opportunity.”

As an NMU alumnus who got his start in government through a different fellowship as a student, Hobbins can attest to the value of the experience. Now he is also reaping rewards as McIlhagga's fellowship supervisor.

“We benefit from involving as many students as possible because that helps to develop future talent hopefully interested in municipal government,” Hobbins said. “It's great to have a younger, newer perspective come on board and assist our limited staff with important projects. The student fellows will also benefit from substantive and meaningful work directly impacting this community.”

The updated Marquette master plan that McIlhagga is assisting with will lay out the community's long-term vision and guide policies, which in turn directs future growth and development patterns, according to the website. The final stakeholder listening session for obtaining public input will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 21, and a presentation on the community engagement results will be presented to the Marquette Planning Commission on March 23.

Hagan was presented with three options for her fellowship project. After talking with family and friends, she selected the City of Manistique's recreation plan. Hagan said it aligns with her passion for the outdoors, and even her appreciation for the TV comedy series Parks and Recreation. But more substantively, Hagan views it as a way of giving back to a community in the Upper Peninsula, where she was born and raised.

“It's like a little slice of paradise, and if I can do something that helps impact the economy to make it better for U.P. residents, that would be awesome,” she said. “I'm really grateful to be selected for this fellowship. It will allow me to make some great connections with community leaders before I graduate in December, which might give me a leg up in the job market. It will also impact me as a student to get practical experience alongside all of the concepts I'm learning about in class and see how they apply to the real world.”

“We are so lucky to have Lexi assisting us with our upcoming recreation projects,” said Manistique City Clerk Jodi Tiglas. “She will be involved in both updating the City of Manistique's five-year Recreation Plan and assisting the City's Recreation Board while working on the Michigan DNR Spark Grant, to grow outdoor recreation and the redevelopment and renovation of our public recreation facilities. The upcoming Recreation projects are a priority in our community. Her energy and enthusiasm is very much appreciated. We are looking forward to her fresh perspective and ideas.”

NMU's Rural Leadership Fellowship Program is a public-private partnership with InvestUP, a non-profit economic development organization. It is funded by a rural capacity-building investment supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“As the Upper Peninsula's rural-serving comprehensive institution, a hallmark of Northern's mission is supporting student access and career success in tandem with partnerships that advance regional prosperity,” said David Nyberg, executive director of Business Engagement and Economic Development at NMU, in a previous release. “A core objective of this program is to provide unique work-based learning experiences for students interested in economic development or public service careers, while also supporting Upper Peninsula communities with the capacity they need to succeed on important economic development initiatives.”

A kickoff event to introduce the inaugural student fellows, McIlhagga and Hagan, along with their projects and the program's advisory committee, was scheduled for this afternoon (Feb. 16).

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Around NMU, Strategic Plan