My First Week in Cleveland: Adapting to City Living and “Adulthood”

My First Week in Cleveland: Adapting to City Living and “Adulthood”

by Madison VanScoder, City Fellow, CEOs for Cities //

No, I am not a Cleveland fan JUST because of Lebron James…

At the end of junior year, many students do not know what they want to do with the rest of their life, or even what they want to do next month. This was me (and it still is me in some ways.) However, unlike most, I knew where I wanted to spend my summer, and generally how I wanted to spend it. Cleveland is a city very dear to me. My father and his entire family grew up in Cleveland, and since I attend Denison University, I visit quite often.

When I think of Cleveland, it brings nothing but good memories with my family to mind, such as visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having a lovely dinner at Blue Point Grille, and taking walks by the lake. I have known since freshman year of college that I wanted to live and work in Cleveland someday. This is why I was ecstatic to find a perfect internship at CEOs for Cities through the Summer on the Cuyahoga (SOTC) summer internship program. Since my acceptance in April, I had been awaiting this summer of new experiences and adventures. Now, here it is!

The Real Deal

Before coming to Cleveland, I was anxious, nervous, and a bit panicked. Along with starting a new (and first) internship, meeting my new roommate, meeting my co-workers, and leaving my family, I also had to learn how to live in the city. Completely overwhelmed, I did not think I was going to be able to do any of these things or enjoy them.

However, I was completely wrong. In the first few hours in Cleveland, I realized what Summer on the Cuyahoga, or SOTC, really was, instead of just reading about it on the website and hearing about it from others who had been in the program. SOTC recruits students from eight elite colleges: Case Western, Colgate, Cornell, Denison, Ohio Wesleyan, Smith, University of Chicago, and Yale.

During my first day, I was able to meet at least one person from each of these schools, which made me realize how unique this opportunity is. SOTC partners with for-profit and non-profit organizations in the Cleveland area, providing summer internships for students from the colleges I mentioned. This is how I became interested in CEOs for Cities. SOTC not only allows students to explore professional options in the Cleveland area, but also a variety of social activities that are central to Cleveland. SOTC provides the opportunity for students to sign up for as many events as they want, which I really appreciate about the program. SOTC understands that we have other priorities with our internships, but still gives the option to attend what we wish.

Madison VanScoder
Second day of work!

After getting acclimated and settled into my new living space on Saturday and Sunday, it was time for my first day of work on Monday. I was so nervous that I could barely speak when I walked into the office that morning. Instantly, I was warmly welcomed by CEOs for Cities’ staff and my nerves were calmed after just five minutes of speaking with my new co-workers and boss. I immediately fell in love with the organization. After learning more about CEOs for Cities, I found that much of their work is exactly what I am studying at Denison University – social justice, environmental planning, civic involvement, and innovative energy, are a few of the areas in which CEOs for Cities is involved.

Welcome to Cleveland… Now, on to Pittsburgh!

My second day at CEOs for Cities was not your typical second day of work. It consisted of driving to Pittsburgh and setting up for the organization’s 2015 City Cluster Workshop. The main topic of the workshop was inclusive economic growth, which I define as improving wealth and opportunity by engaging the community, maintaining equity, building connections, and promoting talent and innovative thinking.

What I thought was going to be one of the hardest three days ever, actually turned out to be one of the most exciting and fun experiences that I could have ever imagined. It was my first time visiting Pittsburgh and I was very impressed with the warm and welcoming environment, as well as the progress that the city has with-gone.

In addition to exploring a new city, I was able to meet various speakers, mayors from many different cities, experts and CEOs from several corporations. It was such an empowering and inspirational moment when I realized I was surrounded by some of the most prominent and influential leaders in the country. It is a feeling that I will never forget. One of these influential leaders is Mayor Bill Peduto, who gave an insightful and captivating speech on the “old” and “new” Pittsburgh. His speech, along with a video of the “old” Pittsburgh, demonstrated the immense change that city leaders and community members can make. Other main takeaways from the speeches and discussions that resonated most are:

  1. Intentionally inclusive vs. unintentionally exclusive, meaning that is crucial for leaders to fully engage everyone in a community rather than giving opportunities to some more than others. Inclusion must be incorporated into daily life; don’t just create a silo for engagement.
  2. Small Bets, or measurable progress in incremental steps helps show meaningful successes in a community. As Peter Sims said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it. It all starts with a little bet.”
  3. The “Just” City, which is a value-based approach for planning and development created by Toni Griffin. According to Griffin, a just city must include equity, connectivity, access, inclusion, choice, diversity, participation, creative innovation, beauty and ownership. “When equity isn’t enough, design of the just city”. –Toni L. Griffin.
  4. John Wilburn’s three approaches to shaping the future that sets the stage for a talented community. The first step is “Burr under the Saddle: early childhood education matters. Next is “Catch and Release”, which is identifying the issue and creating a solution. The last step is “We can do It!” that includes building a coalition of talented leaders who help increase degree attainment and focusing on access and persistence.
Uptown Neighborhood
Exploring the Uptown Neighborhood.

The Cluster Workshop not only featured presentations and discussions led by keynote speakers and expert resources, but also provided the attendees with tours of different parts of Pittsburgh. I went on the Uptown Eco Innovation trip, which was a field trip of the various innovations in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The project focus areas include environmental benchmarking, transportation improvements, and community involvement.

The 2015 Pittsburgh Cluster Workshop also gave me the wonderful opportunity to bond with my co-workers… to the point that I felt empty without them when I returned to my apartment on the final day. What resonated most with me during the three days was that the most important factor of success is working together. Each staff member was assigned certain responsibilities, such as reporting on speeches, working at the registration and literature table, and preparing microphones for attendees with questions.

Although we each had different tasks, we all worked together as a team to accomplish them. CEOs for Cities is an ideal example of an organization that values each staff member’s unique qualities and abilities in a respectful and enjoyable environment, while efficiently accomplishing what needs to be done. I noticed that each person’s ideas and opinions are appreciated and each person is treated equally. Everyone helps one another, regardless the help that may be needed. I am sure that without these core values and attributes of this organization, the workshop would not have been the success that it was.

I wish I could discuss every single aspect of CEOs for Cities’ 2015 Cluster Workshop, however, there is too much for just one blog post! Check out more insight and information on the speakers, expert resources, discussions, and anything else from the 2015 Cluster Workshop in Pittsburgh.


ABOUT MADISON VANSCODER Madison is a City Fellow with CEOs for Cities. She is an environmental studies major at Denison University, and has studied piano since she was five. She plans to move to Cleveland after graduation.

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