JSK Fellowship experience enriches the lives of the entire family

The Rossi family at Stanford

When Lisa Rossi found out she had been accepted into the JSK Fellowships Class of 2018, she immediately called the Iowa school where her oldest son, Gabe, was enrolled in kindergarten. The school secretary wrote on a note “Mom got into Stanford” and brought it to his classroom so he could share her excitement.

“I treasure that moment,” she says. “It gave him a deeper understanding of the multitudes of responsibilities I have, both as a caregiver and as a journalist working to make the world a better place.”

Rossi knew it would be no small feat to move Gabe, her younger son, Jacob, and her husband, Mike, all the way across the country from Des Moines, Iowa, to California, but in the end, she knows it was worth it.

“I was there to be a part of the community and to have my family be a part the community, but I also got to contribute individually,” she said.

The Dargan family
The Dargan family.

For Sean Michael Dargan, a professional musician and the husband of 2018 JSK Fellow Jennifer Dargan, trading their home in Madison, Wisconsin, for Stanford’s idyllic campus seemed like it would be “a great adventure” for the entire family, including their children, Margo and Liam, who were ages 9 and 7 respectively at the time.

In fact, a JSK Fellowship is an experience for the entire family. Spouses and partners are encouraged to take some classes and attend many fellowship seminars. Fellows’ children are included in many of the fellowship’s social activities.

One element that helped ease the transition for Rossi and Dargan was knowing Palo Alto’s public schools are some of the best in the country. What impressed Rossi most about the school Gabe attended, Duveneck Elementary, was the degree to which parents and teachers collaborated on classroom education. Jacob, 5, attended an early-childhood education program on Stanford’s campus. Rossi says he walked away from the year with a deep understanding of a wide-range of topics including evolution, yoga and even dentistry. Dargan says he is thankful for the experience. “The wealth in Palo Alto is incredible. And I mean wealth in all facets of the word. The community in Palo Alto is pretty exceptional.”

For both Dargan and Rossi, it was appealing to know that their children would experience many new opportunities in California. The Dargans made a list of more than 50 things to do in the Bay Area, and they managed to cross most of them off the list. Dargan estimates they visited almost a dozen national parks and went to the Pacific Ocean at least every other weekend.

“There was not much we could have wanted or dreamed up that wasn’t available,” he said. “It was a pretty idyllic 10 months.”

An attractive benefit of the JSK Fellowships is that in addition to providing fellows with financial support (including an $85,000 stipend paid in monthly installments during the academic year) it offers a supplement for fellows with children. 2017 JSK Fellow Ryan Nakashima came to the fellowship when his triplets had just turned 2.

“We were right in the thick of an extremely difficult parenting time, but because of the fellowship, we were able to cover the cost of day care, which was a miracle,” he said. “The fact that my wife got to take classes at Stanford and have some free hours during the day was incredible.” Nakashima even credits the day care with helping to potty-train his kids.

Spouses and partners of JSK Fellows, called JSK affiliates, often take classes at Stanford (though there are some limitations). Lisa’s husband, Mike Rossi, enrolled in classes at Stanford’s d.school, a hub for innovation, collaboration and creativity. He took some of the lessons learned and applied them to his job as an associate originator at Enterprise Community Investments.

Manafoh Moiwa, who came to Stanford with 2018 JSK Fellow Michael Grant, started attending weekly talks at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies, among other activities. She was recently hired as the center’s program coordinator. She was hesitant at first to take a leave of absence from her job at the state Department of Transportation in Sacramento, California, to join Grant at Stanford, but the fellowship year brought them closer together. The two even became engaged earlier this year in view of Stanford’s iconic Hoover Tower.

Moiwa’s time at Stanford even helped her refine her own interests. She’s now pursuing a dual master’s degree in public health and science in behavioral health at the University of California, San Francisco; two of her references came from professors whose classes she audited at Stanford. She wants other partners of prospective JSK Fellows to know “that this opportunity is what you make it. It can equally be an opportunity for you as much as for [them].”

Nurturing a supportive community for the entire family is intentional, says JSK Director Dawn Garcia. The JSK Fellowships organizes activities throughout the year that include partners, spouses and children, including a weekend exploring Monterey on California’s picturesque central coast.

“We want our fellows to bring their whole life to the JSK experience,” Garcia said. “Their partners and kids bring great ideas and energy to the program, and the transformation that takes place affects the entire family.”

For Dargan being involved in his wife’s fellowship was an exceptional experience. “I wasn’t just sitting outside on the periphery,” he said. “I got to be right there with her, either observing the work she and her cohort were doing or offering my opinion on people’s projects and ideas. It was really neat to be a part of that.”

Rossi says her fellowship allowed her to share activities with her family, but it also gave her the time she needed to focus on her own research and exploration.

If you’re thinking of applying for a JSK Fellowship, her advice is clear. “When you’re an adult, there are not too many opportunities to invest in your own education. Know that you can invest in yourself. Know that this is your year.”

Each year, the JSK Fellowships brings together up to 20 fellows from around the world to explore solutions to the most urgent problems facing journalism. If you aspire to be a leader who can help re-imagine and transform journalism, you should apply for our program. Applications are open online through Dec. 4, 2018 for international applicants and through Jan. 31, 2019 for U.S. applicants.

Elizabeth Tilis is a digital communications consultant based in Leawood, Kansas.