Photo of a 2023 class of the program
The July 2023 class of the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program

“Deeply impactful”—that’s how Kelly DiMartino, city manager of Fort Collins, Colorado, described the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program. DiMartino received a scholarship from ICMA, sponsored by The Ferguson Group, to attend a 2023 session of the program.

She agreed with past scholarship recipients that the program was truly a remarkable experience. “It caused me to reflect on my assumptions and beliefs and stretch outside my comfort zone, and I formed what promise to be lasting relationships with some truly amazing people from around the globe.”

With the 2024 scholarship application deadline looming—January 31, 2024—prospective participants should act now to learn more about this exciting opportunity.

About the Program

scholarship eligibility criteria

Senior Executives in State and Local Government, a flagship program of the Harvard Kennedy School, provides a balance of both traditional and hands-on learning experiences to help even the most seasoned local government practitioners better address the concerns of their residents and communities.

This three-week program for senior executives in local government mimics a city ecosystem that allows participants to test solutions to various issues in real-time, enabling the participants to:

  • Challenge their assumptions about how to exercise leadership in the public sector.
  • Develop new conceptual frameworks for addressing policy issues.
  • Examine innovative partnerships and new models of collaborative governance.
  • Explore the relationship between citizens and their government.
  • Understand the behavioral dimensions of decision making.
  • Exchange ideas with experienced faculty and a diverse group of colleagues.

The program operates as an interactive classroom, in which participants and faculty work together on real-life case studies and learn from each other along the way. This classroom setting transforms into an interactive environment that serves as a forum for raising difficult issues, which provokes discussions that lead to change.

Scholarship Opportunity

While this program offers an invaluable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, the tuition fee is still a factor that can influence one’s decision to apply for the program. For those who are reluctant to apply because of the price tag, ICMA awards yearly scholarships covering the tuition fee, which is $17,400 for the 2024 program. The scholarship recipient will only need to pay their own travel expenses. This generous scholarship is provided by ICMA Corporate Partner, The Ferguson Group. Scholarship recipients may participate in either session: June 3–21, 2024 or July 8–26, 2024.

Kelly DiMartino’s Harvard Experience

Every year, we ask our scholarship recipient to write about their time at the Harvard Kennedy School, sharing what it was like, what impacted them most, and what they would like other prospective attendees to know. (You can read Kelly’s summary below.) In addition, we asked Kelly a few questions to hear more about her experience.

What prompted you to apply for the scholarship? I am always seeking ways to be a responsible steward of our city dollars. Applying for the scholarship was a way that I could attend this program and preserve limited training dollars for other members of our City Manager’s Office to also participate in regional and national conferences.

What surprised you about your time in the program? What did you enjoy most and what did you find most challenging? I didn’t realize how weighed down I had become from the day-to-day pressures of leading in the public sector. Having this opportunity to connect with others who understand those pressures, and to build relationships through challenging and authentic conversation and experiences, was truly a gift.

Is there an aspect of the program you’re already incorporating on the job or even personally? Learning to “sit in the discomfort” of unsettling conversations and considering the building blocks of trust when assessing a situation are a couple that I use most regularly.

Learn More

If the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program sounds like the type of rejuvenation your career needs, we encourage you to click here for more information on the program and ICMA’s scholarship for the program.

 

“Sitting in the Discomfort” and Other Lessons from the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program

Kelly DiMartino holding her certificate from the program
BY KELLY DIMARTINO

In July 2023, I had the honor of attending the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at the Harvard Kennedy School. I’ve attended many conferences, trainings, and leadership development sessions throughout the years, yet none have compared to this program or had the impact on me as this program did.

At its heart, the program is about getting to know yourself, stretching outside your comfort zone, building relationships, and expanding your toolbox for the act of leadership.

For me, the experience came at the perfect time in my career. Having spent nearly 30 years in local government and serving as city manager for just two short years, the opportunity to spend three weeks in Boston/Cambridge with 84 leaders from around the world and a group of truly amazing instructors and staff was quite remarkable.

Participants are intentionally selected to include both elected and appointed positions who represent differing parts of the United States, political perspectives, and religious and life views. Colleagues from Brazil, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand added unique insights and perspectives.

In week one, we got to know one another as instructors encouraged us to challenge our own assumptions and brought to light how the patterns and trends from our country’s founding have impacted who we are and how we govern today. This led to many polite conversations and a few spirited debates.

The week concluded with a Saturday trip to Thompson Island for an Outward Bound type of experience. We loaded up bright and early and survived a long day of heat and humidity, stretching ourselves through a variety of team activities and challenges.

While I was admittedly a bit skeptical going in, the shared experience at Thompson Island strengthened our bond as a class in unexpected ways, and by week two, the conversations took on a different tenure. Conversations got real. We tackled the tough topics of racial disparity, policing in America, and gender issues. I will forever remember the moment when a classmate challenged us to “sit in the discomfort” of the unsettling and challenging discussion.

Week three transitioned into working on team projects, applying the concepts we had been learning, and supporting classmates who were struggling with these real-world challenges back at home.

Throughout the three weeks, we were taught, facilitated, and inspired by a host of impressive authors, experts, and scholars. From each of them, I took away nuggets of learning and inspiration, and routinely reflect on their prompts, just to name a few:

  • What will make our community 10% better?
  • As soon as there is an “us,” there is a “them.”
  • The four building blocks of trust.
  • Tips to maximize value in negotiations.

And the list goes on.

The off-campus festivities were an important part of the experience, and classmates had plenty of fun during ball games, concerts, walks along the Freedom Trail, conversations over dinner or in a brewery, weekend getaways to Provincetown or Salem, and even some karaoke! The combination of the classroom and three weeks of shared experiences created something truly special. Al Baker, executive director for the New York City Police Department, and our unofficial class bard, said it best, “That there is a ‘we’ that emerges from HKS—that roots for one another, watches one another, is inspired by or brought to learn from one another—is a gift.”

I am deeply grateful to ICMA for the scholarship to attend this program. Leading in the public sector is not easy. Every day we face the pressures of our jobs—high expectations in an increasingly polarized environment, making hard and often debated decisions, and relentless demands. This was a chance to get away from it all, be reminded of why we do this work, explore who we want to be, gain tools to build resilience, form new connections, and reflect on how we can make this world a more beautiful place.

 

KERRY HANSEN is digital managing editor at ICMA.

KELLY DIMARTINO is city manager of Fort Collins, Colorado.

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