More than just networking — Second class graduates from revamped Leadership Marshalltown course

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — On Thursday, 24 graduates of the second revamped Leadership Marshalltown class, pictured alongside the teaching team, celebrated their completion of the course at Dejardin Hall on the MCC campus.

Nine months after their inaugural two-day kickoff session at Meskwaki Bingo Casino, members of the 2023-2024 Leadership Marshalltown class celebrated their graduation at Marshalltown Community College’s Dejardin Hall last Thursday and reflected on the ways they will put the skills they’ve gained to work in their personal, professional and civic lives.

The revamped class, a previous iteration of which was known as Iowa Valley Leadership, has been a partnership between the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Leadership Center since it was relaunched in 2022. During the “commencement” ceremony Thursday, three graduates spoke. Two of them — Mick’s Financial Services Owner and lifelong resident Mickey McDonald and MCSD school board member and 2006 MHS graduate Maria Morales, who is employed with Iowa Workforce Development — are very familiar with the community, while Christian McMurray of United Bank and Trust was much newer to Marshalltown and commutes here from Ames.

McMurray, who came forward first, said he had communicated with colleagues who took the previous Iowa Valley Leadership course, but he quickly realized that the new Leadership Marshalltown would be more than just trust falls, networking and business tours.

“So far, I can assure that I wholeheartedly believe that my time in this class has drastically changed what my time in Marshalltown will be,” he said. “Even in my participation in this class, I found myself poring over the situations that come up in work and personal life with different lenses, trying on different interpretations, trying to make less snap judgments and quick decisions to get them off my plate.”

Additionally, he said the class has helped him find his voice on issues that matter to him, and he feels that Marshalltown is “worth bragging on,” a feeling he didn’t have nine months ago.

“I’m here today because I want to share how much Marshalltown has come to mean to me in the last nine months,” McMurray said.

Morales recalled that she had wanted to take Iowa Valley Leadership on two occasions in the past, but she wasn’t able to due to the time commitment it required. The third time was the charm, and she was thankful for the opportunity to be a member of the 2023-2024 class, even if there were times that she considered giving up.

“I didn’t give up, not just because of this class and because of you, but because I felt that I couldn’t to myself, (for) Little Maria, back when she was a third grader with a problem that she made herself because that would be disappointing to her,” Morales said. “So I think Leadership Marshalltown has helped me to keep that in mind and know that no matter what obstacles and no matter what comes in your way, you’ll be able to still be successful.”

McDonald admitted that despite living here for all of his life, he hadn’t felt overly engaged or connected with the community, but he decided to “shoot his shot” after a graduate of the first class recommended Leadership Marshalltown to him.

“I was just a fly on the wall, so being able to step into this and seeing all the beautiful things that Marshalltown has done (was wonderful),” he said. “I’ve spent my entire life here, and I didn’t know 95 percent of the things that we experienced. I’d never seen RACOM, Emerson, (but) I drove by them every single day, walked in front of them, had no idea what they did. If it weren’t for all the opportunities here, I’d know nothing about Marshalltown, so I’m so grateful for everything you guys have done.”

He described Leadership Marshalltown as more than just a leadership development course — in McDonald’s view, it was also a major opportunity for self-development and a safe space to learn skills how to address challenges that arise both at work and at home.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I strongly believe this should be taught in schools. This should be taught in colleges. This should be a requirement for every single person in any leadership position. If everyone had these skills, our world would look a lot different,” he said. “I don’t know about you guys, but I look forward to using these skills to help make not only our community better, but eventually our country.”

Afterwards, other graduates and Erica Finders, who is a member of the teaching team, shared their reflections on this iteration of the class and what they gained from the experience. Abby Koch is in her second year as the communications director for the Marshalltown Community School District.

“I appreciate the learning and networking that Leadership Marshalltown has given me. It is truly an amazing opportunity to be a part of. The lessons and tactics the program gives on leadership as a daily practice is beneficial for any individual, career, and community,” Koch said.

Kelli Thurston, a broker/owner and REALTOR ® with Legacy Real Estate, took the previous Iowa Valley course and was still interested in finding out what the new version of the class had to offer, especially after speaking to graduates of the first class last May when she was attending a networking event on behalf of the local Rotary Club.

“It really intrigued me that it was a very different framework from Iowa Valley Leadership, and so I decided to dive in and see what the difference was and I’m so glad I did,” she said. “I would strongly recommend anybody take this class, even people that took Iowa Valley Leadership because this is totally different. I genuinely felt like I walked away from this class with this framework with far more skills and a lot more personal growth that came out of it than what was (available) with Iowa Valley Leadership.”

The class still included the trademark tours of local anchor businesses, she added, but it also provided a chance to address real challenges and work through “the sticky stuff” to address them. Thurston said the framework “changed her vocabulary” in dealing with issues ranging from work to her own children.

“It has just benefited me as a person and how I navigate conflict in everyday life, whether that be personal or business,” she said.

Additionally, she felt the course is helping to change the narrative about Marshalltown and why it is a community where people should want to both live and work.

“I don’t see how you can take this class and not buy into Marshalltown hook, line and sinker,” Thurston said.

For Finders, whose full time job is serving as the PK-6 curriculum director for the MCSD, the end of another class is a great time to reassess what’s working and what isn’t, but she was happy to report that almost every graduate came away with a positive view and felt Leadership Marshalltown met or exceeded their expectations.

Self-improvement was a clear theme she noticed in the responses, and like McMurray and Thurston, Finders felt that the course plays a role in changing perceptions of the community and making participants who commute from other places more aware of what’s happening in Marshalltown. Finders and her fellow teachers also continue to use the feedback they’re hearing to tweak and fine-tune the class going forward.

“We were able to take what we heard at the opening retreat as far as concerns and wonders and those themes that came out of that, and we built the wonders around that. A lot of those topics were the same, but we added a day on entrepreneurship this year, which came directly out of that,” she said. “Also, our panel during our public safety day was focused on youth safety in town because that was something that came out of the opening retreat. So I think we’re just gonna continue to get better at tailoring the course to meet the needs and expectations of the participants.”

Applications for the 2024-2025 class are now open. More information is available at https://www.marshalltown.org/leadership-marshalltown/.


Contact Robert Maharry at (641) 753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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