Get involved: Center for Social Impact Board Fellowship Program

Amelia Esenstad

Amelia Esenstad is a first year MPP student. She is participating in the CSI Board Fellows program. Thanks to Amelia for sharing her experience with us!


One of the strengths of the Ford School is its connection between the academics of public policy and their real-world application. There are many opportunities here at UM to build on classroom and personal experience, including policy talks, student organizations, and other volunteer opportunities. For me, the Center for Social Impact (CSI) Board Fellowship Program has been a valuable way to further develop my leadership skills and connect with the local Ann Arbor community.

CSI’s Board Fellowship Program places UM graduate students across disciplines as board members of local nonprofits in Southeast Michigan. The program helps students build skills in project management and leadership through a board-level project and other trainings and workshops all while contributing to the mission and vision of the organization. Since 2003, the program has placed over 450 students on the board of 175 local nonprofits.

I’m serving on the board of Apple Playschools, a local nonprofit preschool with nature-focused and bilingual programs, helping to develop a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic plan. As part of my project, I’ve collaborated with the Executive Director and conducted research on best practices in the early childhood education field. Though I had previous nonprofit experience as a staff member and volunteer, working with Apple Playschools has been a great chance to see how a nonprofit board functions – what kinds of decisions the board is faced with making, how does the board address competing priorities, and more.

My peers in the program are working on an exciting collection of projects, ranging from advocacy guides to board governance to capital campaigns. We’ve been able to learn from each other and share recommendations, particularly through the recommended accompanying course at the Ross School of Business called “Governance of Nonprofit Organizations” which focuses on the responsibilities of nonprofit boards and unique challenges of nonprofit board leadership. Taken together, the course and board placement are a great blend of learning, then applying, the information and strategies for successful board leadership.

Participating in the Board Fellows program has been a highlight of my first year at the Ford School. I am excited to continue building on this experience throughout the rest of my time at Ford and with future board service and nonprofit leadership roles.