David Bohnett Foundation Leadership & Public Service Fellows reflect on summer experiences

October 28, 2021

Since 2010-11, the David Bohnett Foundation Leadership and Public Service Fellowship has provided three talented master’s students each year with a funded internship with the City of Detroit. The 2021 fellows— Adam Flood (MPP/MPH ‘22), Kristina Curtiss (PPIA ‘ 19, MPP ‘22), and Clare Knutson  (MPP ‘22)— spent their summer internship working on some of Detroit's most pressing policy issues. 

I am a life-long Michigander. I love working in communities. This is why I wanted to be part of the fellowship.

Adam Flood, who interned with the Detroit Health Department

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Adam Flood witnessed firsthand how the water crisis wreaked havoc in the community he grew up in. He knew very early on that he wanted to be part of the solution. “I am very committed to Michigan. I decided to study policy because I didn’t want (Flint) to ever happen again,” he says.

The Bohnett Fellowship gave Adam his first experience in a government office—marrying his interest in public service with health policy—through a fast-paced ten-week internship at the Detroit Health Department (DHD). He worked closely on a range of COVID-19 relief interventions, including a social media vaccination campaign targeted at teens and a doorstep vaccination drive. He presented project plans and drafted policy memos, interacted with community members, and engaged with stakeholders from across the policy ecosystem. 

Going forward, Adam wants to give back to Michigan by pursuing a career in academia rooted in community service. To those considering becoming a fellow, he says, “Something that I hold dear to my heart is that one of the Bohnett Foundation’s primary goals is to benefit communities through social activism. The hands-on projects are great to witness real, immediate impacts on communities—all while finding overlaps with your specific area of interest.”

(It was) a lot of field work mixed with raw, strategic thinking about what the future of the city would look like. That's really empowering. We're designing a city that prioritizes residents and fixes a lot of historical wrongs.

Kristina Curtiss, who interned at the Department of Public Works.

Kristina Curtiss loves the city of Detroit, which she says gets an unfair portrayal in the media. “I was drawn to the Bohnett Fellowship because I really wanted to work in a community that I love,” she says. 

Specifically, Kristina is passionate about building smart and sustainable cities. “I'm primarily interested in helping to retrofit cities for climate change and upscaling and decarbonizing transportation infrastructure.” 

She has first-hand knowledge of some of those challenges from her time spent earning her BA in Urban Studies and Planning at Wayne State University. “I didn’t own a car until six months ago, and navigating on a bike, in a city with one of the highest civilian traffic fatality rates, could be challenging,” she explains.

Her internship with the Department of Public Works provided an opportunity to work on several projects alongside city planners and engineers. This included working with Streets for People—collaborative projects with city departments, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and council of governments—on a transportation plan that makes it easier and safer for all Detroiters to move around the city. She also provided input on a wayfinding campaign to help cyclists and pedestrians successfully navigate the city. 

“I learned about the constraints of policy making,” she says.  “Not everyone comes to the table with the same set of skills. An engineer thinks about fixing the road differently than a planner or a policymaker. This summer really taught me the importance of making policy that is informed with all those viewpoints in mind, which is just something that I had never experienced before.”

She is excited to take these lessons wherever she goes next. “I am passionate about meeting people where they are. For me, in the future, that means helping cities, and people in cities, in whatever ways they need—be it mobility, infrastructure, or something else. Because I see that as the nexus of our climate crisis and the next big challenge for cities to face.”

My goal was to be helpful. And put my hands in as many pools as possible. The fellowship helped me do that.

Clare Knutson, who interned at the Housing & Revitalization Department

Clare Knutson says her move from Canada—from a place with less racial segregation— to southeast Michigan was jarring. “I saw all this inequality around me. I did a little bit of volunteering when I first moved, but I just realized that I needed to refocus my career to help address inequalities.” 

 Enrolling at the Ford School helped her pivot to a career in state and local policy. Among other policy issues, she sees housing as a way to address the inequalities she saw when she first moved to Michigan. 

During her summer internship at the Department of Housing and Revitalization, Clare reviewed plans to end homelessness from communities across the country, and how they’ve experienced success or challenges. She also interviewed stakeholders in Milwaukee, Houston, and Cleveland. Clare also worked on elements of the American Rescue Plan, putting to use her program management skills. Detroit received $826 million, among the highest of any metropolitan area, and she helped organize the reporting and tracking metrics for the HRD’s efforts. 

For Clare, the biggest takeaway from her experience was the sheer breadth of networking opportunities the fellowship provided, especially with Ford School alums working in public service. 

“I was learning so much about homelessness while also understanding that there were so many players involved. I could see the work I was doing and how it impacted how a policy played out in the real world,” she says about her internship. 

“The entire experience broadened my perspective of what I could do with a policy degree. Detroit is an amazing space to look at public policy because there’s this desire to innovate and  try new things. For those interested in creating positive change, Detroit is the place to be.” 

About the fellowship

The David Bohnett Foundation Leadership and Public Service Fellowship, generously funded by University of Michigan alumnus David Bohnett (MBA '80), is competitively awarded to three incoming master’s students each year. The fellowship includes two years of in-state tuition support and a funded internship with the City of Detroit. Through the fellowship, the Bohnett Foundation seeks to improve society through social activism and advance a spirit of community and justice.  Read David Bohnett's description of the fellowship.