DePodesta Fellowship

Apply by Jan 5 for DePodesta Fellowships

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The John DePodesta Leadership Fellowship is a partnership between Minneapolis-based ECMC Group and the University of Minnesota that enables graduate students to address fundamental challenges facing postsecondary education. Learn more about the DePodesta Fellowship by watching this video.

The Fellowship is designed for graduate or PhD students in business, public policy, sociology or education, who will have the ability to test or develop plans to launch a new venture or co-design new programs in partnership with existing educational organizations that seek to improve the quality of postsecondary education.

Initial feasibility grants of $15,000 will be awarded annually for up to four students. Subsequent launch grants of up to $75,000 may be made available to students demonstrating strong progress with their concepts, significant potential impact from their venture and a commitment to operate the venture full-time for at least 12 months post-graduation.

Applications for the 2022 fellowships are due January 5th – see details and application links below.  

Hear Directly from 2021-22 Fellowship Recipient Jessica Thompson

Tell us about your vision for Co-Creating Through Design?

I envision Co-creating through Design advancing the equity-centered goals of post-secondary leaders by offering a framework for transformational change that centers the voices and experiences of learners who have been systemically excluded from higher education. 

What has the DePodesta Fellowship allowed you to do?

The DePodesta Fellowship has allowed me to further my goal of becoming an imaginative and inventive trailblazer within higher education. Through this opportunity, I have been able to explore creative multidisciplinary approaches to systems change and work collaboratively with a wide range of post-secondary stakeholders to advance a student-ready vision of higher education. 

What resources have been most valuable for you?

Having access to a vast network of higher education leaders and advocates spanning across a variety of sectors has been critical to both the success of Co-creating through Design and my professional growth. These networking opportunities, coupled with the thought partnership and support of my ECMC Group and University of Minnesota mentors have been invaluable! 

What advice would you have for other graduate or PhD students at UMN considering this fellowship?

Engage in this opportunity with the courage to explore possibilities outside of your comfort zone.   


As a Minnesota-based company for 25 years, ECMC Group is interested in driving innovation in education. In recognition of John DePodesta, a founding board member and retiring board chair, ECMC Group is creating an annual fellowship program for graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Through this partnership, ECMC Group is in a unique position to offer graduate students a “living laboratory” to explore solutions to these complex education issues

Fellowship Criteria, Support & Resources

Criteria: Financial support providing University of Minnesota graduate students with the opportunity to address fundamental challenges facing post-secondary education, with an emphasis on the issues of student debt and first-generation access and persistence.  Graduate students in business, public policy, sociology or education are encouraged to test and develop plans to launch their own new venture, or co-design new programs in partnership with existing educational organizations.

Support: Initial Fellowship feasibility grants of $15,000 require full-time commitment during summer of 2022. Subsequent Fellowship launch grants of up to $75,000 are potentially available for select students demonstrating significant progress with their concepts and requiring full time commitment for 12 months post-graduation.

Resources: Required participation in MGMT 5102 Customer Development course during spring semester of 2020; required participation in MN Cup startup competition during summer of 2022; ECMC business mentor; faculty advising during course enrollment; academic  mentoring throughout first and second year; access to University of Minnesota admissions departments and personnel; access to on-campus TOASTER Innovation Hub facility; summer 2022 access to ECMC offices and personnel.


Feasibility Grants (year 1):

  • Submit written proposal by January 5
  • Finalists interviewed January 18-20 and announced shortly after

Launch Grants (year 2):

  • Submit written proposal during October
  • Finalists presentations during November to broader committee, decision by December

Proposal Requirements:


Problem Statement

  • Project objectives, key activities and specific deliverables with deadlines
  • Anticipated measurable impact
  • Personal motivation and time commitment during 2022
  • Organization contact/sponsor/funding (if any)
  • Preference for first-generation students

Carlson students may apply via TalentLink.  Non-Carlson students should use Handshake.  Non-Carlson students may also submit proposals directly to Maggie Tomas at

Meet the 2021-22 DePodesta Fellows:

Jessica Thompson
Social Venture: Co-Creating through Design

Jessica is a fourth-year PhD student finalizing her doctoral degree analyzing the outcome of first generation students and the intersection of programs designed to support their educational success.  Jessica received a 2020 DePodesta Fellowship to explore the student experience before, during and after their education at UMN.  Through this fellowship, she launched a trial course in fall of 2020 that engaged students and staff at UMN to learn design thinking skills and apply these skills toward the development of new programs at UMN that will increase student engagement and success.  Jessica is receiving a 2021 launch grant to continue her work to further develop and roll out this programming at other colleges and universities.

Ryan Wold
Social Venture: TablMakr – Platform for Affordable Mentoring Programs

Ryan is a fourth-year PhD student seeking to leverage his dissertation research taking place at the intersection of communication technologies and entrepreneurship.  Ryan completed the STARTUP: Customer Discovery course testing the development of a low-cost and easy-to-use software for creating, managing and measuring the effectiveness of mentor programs.  Despite the known efficacy of mentor programs, the lack of cost-effective options limits their availability to the students most in need.  Following his piloting of his service in two mentor programs, Ryan received a $75,000 launch fellowship grant to spend the next year focusing on initial implementation of his mentoring platform.