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DU Alumna Builds Leadership Skills as Foundation Fellow

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Jessica Comola

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Claire Girardeau and El Pomar Foundation Fellows

2019 El Pomar Foundation Fellows clockwise from top left: Sam Hinkle, Hannah Grace Bauman, Ulises Flores, Jonathan Royal, Tim Jenkins, Kayla Shock, Kathryn Benson, Shelby Pauka, Claire Girardeau

When Claire Girardeau (BA '19) arrived at DU, she didn’t have a clear plan for her future. Girardeau embraced the uncertainty of her experience by exploring a variety of majors, programs and extracurriculars. Today, she is an El Pomar Foundation Fellow, where she is building skills in leadership, while giving back to Colorado residents.

“El Pomar’s fellowship develops leaders through service to Colorado communities,” Girardeau explains. “Over a two-year experience, we operate in a fast-paced environment where we staff the Foundation’s community-stewardship programs and engage in professional-development courses that promote personal growth and a better understanding of the nonprofit sector.”

Over the course of the fellowship, Girardeau will take on greater responsibilities, eventually managing a team and directing programs.

Girardeau currently works on the American Council of Young Political Leaders, Pikes Peak Heritage Series, Empty Stocking Fund and the Julie Penrose Award. Her roles vary widely, providing her with a range of experiences.

“Every day as a fellow is different, and I certainly enjoy the variety. One day I could be writing a post for our blog, organizing a panel presentation and creating program collateral, while the next I might be giving presentations to nonprofit boards and attending a community event.”

Adaptability and a willingness to embrace change are the qualities that have led Girardeau to where she is now.

As an undergraduate, she switched between pre-med, journalism and business courses, eventually choosing a double-major based on enjoyment rather than a clear-cut career path.

“It took recognizing this uncertainty to finally choose a major I could be happy with. I chose Spanish because I liked the challenge that comes with developing ideas in another language. International Studies courses put my beliefs to the test. In these classes, students freely debated on subjects where there was often no clear right or wrong.”

“I like the ambiguity and the fact that many of the challenges proposed in class are yet to be solved.”

Girardeau continues to explore similarly complex issues as a Fellow. Part of her role includes aiding the Southwest Regional Council on innovative programs addressing health challenges in rural Colorado. Her work with organizations like La Plata Youth Services, The Piñon Project, Archuleta County and the San Juan Board of Cooperative Education Services supports a range of mental and behavioral health resources for students.

Across these varied settings, Girardeau is building relationships, growing personally and professionally and learning about the needs and people of Colorado.

Developing these skillsets, Girardeau says, wouldn’t have been possible without a strong foundation from DU.

“Inside the classroom, I learned how to manage my time, write succinctly and professionally and collaborate with my peers. At the Foundation, I am constantly working on a team, dividing tasks, managing relationships, speaking publicly and presenting my ideas in compelling ways.”

Girardeau encourages undergraduates to think of their years at DU as a time to explore.

“You don’t have to have your life figured out by graduation. If you need to job hunt or try something new, take that time. You have just completed one step in a long journey. Take advantage of the time you have left in such an incredible environment.”

From DU’s Pioneer Leadership Program and Clinic for the Public Good, to her work with the global leadership program AIESEC and even her role on the rugby team, Girardeau has been steadily building the range of leadership skillsets she now uses day-to-day.

Being a leader, she explains, isn’t about having everything figured out on your own.

“Leadership involves inspiring your team to do their best work to reach a common goal. I believe in leading from behind and empowering everyone else on the team to take pride in their role. In the short time I have been a fellow, I can already see how much I have grown as a passionate leader.”

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