Michelle’s RiseUP Fellowship Experience: RiseUP Fellow to Full Time Employee

collage of image and graphic design work from Michelle during fellowship

I was part of the second RiseUP fellowship cohort— but I almost didn’t apply.

When asked to write about this experience as the Organic Social Growth fellow, I held off as long as I possibly could. Not for lack of gratefulness for the program (which you’ll see there is much), or the feeling of imposter syndrome (which is all too true at times), but, mainly, for the displeasure of putting myself back in the days and emotions that came before my acceptance to the program.  But, it’s time to face the music for the opportunity to share what, in short, as cliche as it sounds, has changed the trajectory of my career, and life.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely either:

A—Hoping to be chosen for this incredible program. Aiming to learn more about what it offers and hear the real experience of a fellow. 

B—Believe in the concept of creating an industry that is more inclusive and accessible, and want to hear from those that have been given that chance. (Make sure to read Shirley’s experience).

C—Know me professionally as I’ve stepped into this new career path. Thanks for the support, team. 

 

The hope in sharing part of my story is to give program insight to applicants, share the immense value to supporters of the program, and give thanks to my incredibly supportive team. 

 

I was the self-taught applicant that didn’t have a degree. 

Due to family circumstances and life situations, I started a small business in high school to pay the bills. This work over the next five years gave me a variety of experience (web design, team management, graphic design),  Jill-of-all-trades style, alongside the growth of a social media account with over 60k+ followers across platforms. In 2017 I faced an unexpected health situation—I lost my business, my savings, and my life plan. Without proper “education,” landing an interview let alone a job working in digital marketing was a pipedream—I found myself stuck, making minimum wage, wearing a well-known green apron simply for the health benefits.

This job was humbling and exhausting, and I unknowingly lost part of my original zeal for creativity and community building over the four years with the company. Feeling like an island, burned by management, with no growth opportunities to lean into any of my previous passions or skills (did I mention work-life balance is nonexistent when working two jobs to get by?) I took a leap and got certified as a Digital Marketer in an intensive program but still found myself in the exact same place—without the right paper, I couldn’t get my foot in the door.

 

Applying for the RiseUP Fellowship Program

I’ll stop hiding the recipe in the middle of my childhood stories and get to the meat that you’re scanning this blog for—at the beginning of 2021, I applied and was chosen alongside two others for the RiseUP Fellowship Program.

This note was posted on Linkedin on my first day of the fellowship—a simple day full of team introductions but a significant day in perspective.

“Today marks the first day of my four-month fellowship with RiseUP. I am still pinching myself over this dream! This last season has been filled with leaps of faith. Landing surrounded by such incredible and impact-focused individuals makes the coming months a mixed bag of excitement and heavy anticipation. I’m eager for the day I’ll be ready to carry weight and help create change with this team!”

Renewed confidence, fulfilling contributions, foundational personal development, and investment in my future career… just some of the lifelong takeaways RiseUP has generously gifted me. I could go into all the technical teachings and trainings, but you’re here for the true value behind a program like this—how six months can change someone’s life. 

 

What I Learned from the RiseUp Fellowship

What was my experience like during the program? That is a loaded question so I’ll opt out for something with a little more structure—what did the RiseUP Fellowship teach me?

The RiseUP fellowship taught me the value of mentorship, environment, ownership, and risk-taking.

 

The Value of Mentorship. 

Being self-taught and self-guided for the majority of my “professional” career, I’ve missed opportunities to learn from those more experienced and further along in their expertise. Having Tiffany Rivers (Sr. Social Media Director) and Janine Guarino (Associate Social Media Director) in the role of mentors during the first four months of the program felt fictional and a bit too good to be true (and yes, slightly intimidating), but became real as they coached and encouraged me during the program. I also had the great opportunity to have Taylor Cote (VP of Marketing) step in once the fellowship was extended by 8 weeks to mentor me in different avenues.

The RiseUP program also allowed me to develop plenty of practical and applicable skills alongside this valuable mentorship, like working with brand guides, brand voice, copywriting, scheduling programs, approval processes, and client and team communication. I was able to jump into projects as a fellow and learned from exposure to accounts.

 

The Value of Environment. 

During the fellowship, I was immersed in an environment that was full of encouragement, understanding, inclusivity, and, ultimately, team-focused. Working alongside individuals that not only asked how you were but actually cared about the answer was something different. Like a frog in a boiling pot, I hadn’t realized how unhealthy my previous work experiences were until then.

Aside from a variety of internal growth in the safe emotionally healthy work environment this program allowed, it paralleled in an environment rich in tangible skill development with extensive exposure to the Marketers Toolkit. This included audits of clients’ social platforms, learning the importance of internal tracking, content building, and communication channels, alongside helpful coaching in client communication. This came to full view with the addition of our ProBono account work, when I was given the opportunity to work with the nonprofit Brownicity. Our final presentation alongside the other RiseUP fellows was by far my favorite memory in the program. 

riseup fellowship zoom call screenshot of faces

Being handed this opportunity still brings me tears when I sit and think about where I was before all this was gifted to me with the acceptance to the program. Like learning to breathe again, you keep finding yourself holding your breath.

 

The Value of Ownership

The RiseUP fellowship allowed for countless opportunities to take initiative. Team members continually encouraged us in the fellowship program to use our voices and provide our perspectives. It was this value that brought the spark back to my love of brainstorming and creative thinking. 

One of my favorite out of countless examples is a blog I wrote about using shame in marketing.  I found myself jumping into a discussion and later was encouraged to take lead in writing a blog based on the conversation. Not only did Amy Small (EVP Creative + Design) help me through the entire process, I was able to jump in and create the visuals needed to express the point we were trying to convey. You can read the blog here (shameless plug, as I am still quite proud of this piece).

madison ad example aiden ad examplejared ad example


The Value of Risk Taking. 

As stated beforehand, I almost didn’t apply. I nearly talked myself out of it before submitting my application to this program. This fellowship seemed too good to be true, and I was convinced I was the last person they would choose.

But I did apply.. and it turned out to be true.

In the words of Zig Ziglar, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Words will never be able to fully express just how incredible this opportunity has been and continues to be. I’m swimming in an ocean of new confidence, new learning, and new perspective. I’m thankful to Media Cause for giving me a chance, and lastly, for teaching me the immense value of team support. And did I mention the best part? I now work full time at Media Cause as the Community Manager.

My first day of the fellowship!