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U-M Ross Business + Impact
U-M Ross Business + Impact
Map Your U-M Journey


2023-24 Board Fellows Learn by Experience


The 2023-24 Board Fellowship Program is the 25th year of this UM-wide program. Students from RossFordSchool of Social WorkPublic Health, and other programs developed project management and executive skills as board members of nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan.

In addition to attending all board meetings and serving on a board committee, each worked on a board-level project tackling a complex organizational challenge.

You can see the complete list of 2023-24 Board Fellows, but we interviewed a few of our board fellows here and learned a bit more about their personal experiences with the program:

Brett Martino, MBA ’24

Organization: Ann Arbor Skyline Athletic Booster Club

Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? During my time collaborating with the Ann Arbor Skyline Athletic Booster Club, I spearheaded a crucial project involving the update of the organization’s bylaws and conflict of interest policy. Given that these documents had not been revised in over a decade, they no longer accurately reflected the Club’s operational practices. Alongside this update, I also provided strategic guidance on best practices in nonprofit governance. This initiative significantly contributed to advancing the Club’s objectives by ensuring that its foundational documents were in sync with its mission to support Skyline student-athletes and athletic programs, foster sportsmanship and leadership, offer financial assistance, and collaborate with local educational and recreational entities. This effort also aimed to enhance transparency and membership engagement, aligning with the Club’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? From my Board Fellowship experience, the most significant lesson I’ve learned is the importance of effective communication in board governance. I have developed the skill of articulating complex ideas clearly and concisely, tailoring my communication style to different audiences to ensure understanding and engagement. This skill has been crucial in facilitating productive discussions, building consensus, and driving positive change within the organization. Overall, my Board Fellowship has enhanced my ability to communicate effectively as a leader, which I believe is essential for driving impactful and sustainable outcomes in any organizational setting.

What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? Attending my nonprofit’s board meetings has provided me with valuable insight into how such meetings operate and the importance of attendance for quorum purposes. Typically, a nonprofit board meeting follows a structured agenda that includes updates from various committees, financial reports, and discussion of key organizational matters. Each board member is expected to attend meetings regularly to ensure that a quorum is met. Quorum is crucial as it ensures that decisions made by the board are valid and representative of the organization’s leadership. Additionally, attending board meetings has taught me the importance of active participation and engagement, as it fosters collaboration, informed decision-making, and ultimately, the achievement of the organization’s mission and goals.

What impact will this experience have on your future plans? This experience has solidified my commitment to being an active participant in nonprofit boards in the future. Witnessing the impact that effective governance can have on an organization’s success has inspired me to contribute my skills and knowledge to similar causes. I plan to leverage the insights gained from this experience to enhance my future effectiveness as a board member, driving positive change and making a meaningful difference in the communities I serve.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice for future board fellows is to approach the experience with an open mind, a curious attitude, and a commitment to effective communication. Be open-minded to new ideas and perspectives, as this will enrich your understanding of board governance and organizational dynamics. Stay curious and ask questions, as this will help you learn and grow in your role. Lastly, focus on being an effective communicator, both in listening and expressing your thoughts clearly. Effective communication is key to building relationships, fostering collaboration, and driving positive change within the board and the organization as a whole.

Aruj Parajuli, MBA ’25

Organization: Groundcover News

Ann Arbor, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? In my collaboration with Groundcover News, I worked on a comprehensive project focused on enhancing fundraising efforts and developing a robust business strategy. This initiative was designed to not only bolster direct newspaper sales but also to identify and capitalize on a myriad of funding opportunities. By conducting a thorough market and organizational analysis, I was able to pinpoint viable avenues for sustainable revenue generation. My strategic approach was twofold: first, to optimize the organization’s financial health, and second to solidify a steadfast community of supporters deeply aligned with Groundcover News’s mission. The essence of our project was to establish a sustainable funding model that would enable Groundcover News to thrive and expand its impactful work. This approach aims to build a dedicated circle of loyal members who are deeply committed to supporting the organization’s mission at its heart. By doing so, I pave the way for Groundcover News to establish a solid foundation of support, ensuring its ability to continue its important work and expand its impact within the community.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? The most significant learning from my Board Fellowship experience has been the profound understanding of the multifaceted nature of challenges faced by nonprofit organizations, and the development of strategic problem-solving skills. My background in working with various nonprofits full-time enriched me with insights into governance and change management. Leveraging this experience, coupled with the knowledge gained from academic pursuits, I was able to offer a unique perspective that views challenges through a multidimensional lens. This approach not only enhanced my ability to identify the root causes of issues but also empowered me to channel my strengths effectively toward solving grassroots problems.

What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? Observing how nine diverse board members come together to collaboratively innovate and drive transformational change within the organization has been particularly impactful. This experience underscored the importance of varied viewpoints in enriching discussions and fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

What impact will this experience have on your future plans? Since 2016, I have been committed to making a meaningful impact, driven by a belief that using my skills and experience to contribute, even in small ways, is my true calling. This experience has significantly deepened that commitment, providing me with invaluable insights. I plan to leverage this experience to further advance my capabilities toward strengthening the knowledge, fostering innovation, and encouraging growth wherever my path leads. Ultimately, this journey has not only fortified my commitment but also created a momentum within me to make a tangible difference in the world.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice to future board fellows is to start with introspection. Take a moment to truly understand what makes you tick. Everyone has a unique calling to make an impact—what’s yours? Remember, impact comes in various forms, and your unique skills and experiences could also be the catalyst for meaningful change. My journey to making a difference began the moment I listened to my calling, and it has led me to a life with meaning and purpose. Seize the opportunity that the board fellowship offers; it’s a chance to contribute to something much larger than oneself. Approach this experience with a new lens, creativity, and a collaborative spirit. The board fellowship is an incredible program to learn, grow, and effect change. Embrace it fully and be prepared to be transformed by the experience.


Sam Stead, MBA ’25

Organization: Detroit Theatre Organ Society

Detroit, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I’ve had the privilege to work with the Detroit Theater Organ Society/Senate Theater team, whose mission is to preserve the art of theater pipe organ music by maintaining and showcasing the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. During my time, I have been looking at DTOS’ membership program to understand the current make-up and provide recommendations for future growth. As a membership-led, -run and -focused organization, members are what makes DTOS function and keep a fantastic piece of Detroit history available to the community.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? As a 100% volunteer-run organization, the DTOS Board and members provide the full gamut of services to deliver on their mission. The ability to act as a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades is key, and the willingness to be nimble and adaptable is critical. Working with DTOS, I’ve been able to tune up skills from budgeting, long-term maintenance plans, membership growth initiatives, and everything in between.

What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? Given that DTOS is locally based, I’ve had the chance to attend in-person monthly meetings. From a network perspective, the chance to meet Board Members face-to-face has been a fantastic way to rapidly build relationships. Specifically, learning how to effectively move from discussion to agreement to delivery has been invaluable to learn.

What impact will this experience have on your future plans? I’m a firm believer that getting involved and giving back to your local community is an important role we should all play. My experience with DTOS has reinforced this belief, and reminded me of the incredible impact a team of volunteers can have. Moving forward, I intend to stay engaged with community organizations and hopefully contribute some of the skills I’ve gained through this experience.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? Take the plunge, apply, and get stuck in with the organization you have the chance to support. The Board Fellows program is a short runway, so soak up and contribute as much as you can over the program timeline. It will be over in a flash.


Devon Thompson (right) with Charlie Reischl (Development Manager) and Susan Westhoff (Executive Director) from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science & Nature Center.

Devon Thompson, MBA/MS ’26

Organization: Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

Ann Arbor, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I am working on an analysis of members of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and Leslie Science and Nature Center (AAHOM LSNC) to understand the value that the organization brings to members and the role of AAHOM LSNC spaces in members’ lives. By analyzing museum records and fielding a survey directly to members, our goal is to put a finer point on our value proposition. Also, we want to ensure that we are bringing the mission to life for members by creating moments of discovery that inspire curiosity, exploration, and respect for STEaM and the natural world.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? I have really enjoyed learning about different working models in the nonprofit sector vs. private sector. The intentional focus on stakeholder engagement and depth of collaboration in a nonprofit setting makes for a slower pace than I was used to coming from the corporate setting, but I think the strength of the nonprofit teaming model is that it yields richer and more purpose-aligned outcomes, and it’s been a treat to see this in action.

What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? It has been fascinating to learn about the division of roles and responsibilities between the staff and board of a nonprofit. From observing the board and staff co-create a strategic vision, I now appreciate how work undertaken by the board and staff is iterative and collaborative and capitalizes on the unique perspectives each group brings to the organization.

What impact will this experience have on your future plans? This experience has reinforced my interest in exploring nonprofit career pathways. It has been very energizing to be in an environment where everyone is committed to a social impact mission, so I’d love to find that in a career, too.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? Ask lots of questions! This is a fantastic opportunity to get hands-on learning experience in a low-stakes environment, embrace a student mindset, and soak in as much as you can.