What is the American Connections Program?

Millions of Americans go without broadband internet access—most of them in rural communities. The American Connection Project fosters long-term digital inclusion in support of vibrant and thriving rural communities.

 

Efforts include raising awareness about the critical nature of connectivity; advocating for meaningful policy reform and broadband investment; and, taking decisive action to provide connectivity options where they’re needed most.

 

Land O’Lakes, Inc. is convening organizations and leaders from across the country in this critical time to build strong rural communities positioned for competitiveness and connection now and in the future.

What is the American Connection Project?

Millions of Americans go without broadband internet access—most of them in rural and under-resourced communities. The American Connection Project (ACP) fosters long-term digital inclusion in support of vibrant and thriving communities. Efforts include raising awareness about the critical nature of connectivity; advocating for meaningful policy reform and broadband investment; and, taking decisive action to provide connectivity options where they’re needed most.

 

The American Connection Corps (ACC) is an initiative spearheaded by Land O’Lakes, Inc., Lead for America (LFA), Heartland Forward and other partner organizations in an effort coordinated by the American Connection Project. The ACP aims to foster long-term digital inclusion and take decisive action to provide connectivity options in rural and urban communities. 

 

The Fellowship: 

American Connection Corps

Fellowship Components

Areas of Impact

American Connection Corps Fellows will be supporting broadband efforts across 12 states in 2021. Fellows and their hosts must be located in one of the following states  to participate. 

  • Alabama

  • Arkansas

  • Georgia

  • Illinois

  • Indiana

  • Kansas

  • Kentucky

  • Minnesota

  • Nebraska

  • Ohio

  • Oregon

  • Tennessee

Lead For America (LFA) and the American Connection Project (ACP) are teaming up to mobilize leaders to return to their hometowns to coordinate broadband development & digital inclusion locally, and across the country. The American Connection Corps (ACC) will be the nation's largest fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide. Fifty American Connection Corps Fellows will serve in select states in a two-year pilot initiative. As part of the national network, ACC Fellows will have access to premiere national training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion, and a network of homecomers nationwide. Host communities will be featured in national news outlets and will help inform the work of the American Connection Project Policy Coalition. 

 

ACC Fellows will serve their home communities in locations nationwide through high-impact, high-urgency two-year placements focused on closing the digital divide and building the next generation of leaders. Fellows will also participate in LFA's national Changemaker Summit, attend quarterly retreats, receive 1:1 expert mentorship, and join a growing community of local leaders. 

For some Fellows, their project scopes will be coordinating local partners to access federal and state resources for broadband access. In others, it means delivering digital literacy to those most marginalized. Through the multiplier effect, Fellows will capture compelling local stories, and connect their peers to newly identified opportunities. Fellows will be mentored to develop a community venture, which could be starting a business, nonprofit, or community group that addresses local needs and fulfills their individual passions.

 

Life As A Fellow

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Fellows at Catalyst Institute

"Being a Fellow has helped me become more creative in approaching and addressing the issues my community faces. I've been able to establish networks of support and avenues of collaboration. What could have been a frustrating and lonely journey has been exciting and empowering."

— Shandiin Herrera, 2019 LFA Fellow

Grow: Catalyst Institute 

Attend national and statewide retreats to learn from world class leaders, deepen your leadership potential, and build meaningful community with other change-makers across the country.
 

Serve: Project Scope

Work side-by-side with local leaders to bridge the digital divide by helping communities access federal and state resources, deliver digital literacy to under-resourced communities, and boost broadband access across the nation.
 

Create: Community Venture
Receive mentorship to start your own business, nonprofit, or community group to address the local needs and continue your passion. 

 

Cultivate: Learning + Support

Strengthen your leadership and knowledge through retreats, ongoing training, advisors, and alumni opportunities.

Catalyze: Multiplier Effect

Recruit other leaders to support your community to build the next generation of leaders and strengthen your community's capacity for change.

 

Application Process

Click on each phase for more info.

General Application

Semifinalists

Finalists

Match

Application

Timeline

May 15, 2021

Applicants submit a 3-5 minute personal narrative video expressing their connection to the community and the project scope.

Late May

Interview with our team.
 

Interview + match with your host.
 

Early June

Late June

Host A Fellow

Welcome Diverse, Trained Talent
Fellows possess extraordinary integrity, drive, and commitment to public service. Each has access to a variety of mentors, trainings and conferences. Fellows receive a world-class training in public administration from faculty at the University of Minnesota, UNC Chapel Hill, Purdue University, Tufts, Harvard, and other top schools, helping bolster their ability to contribute. 

Bring Capacity to Digital Inclusion Efforts

Our training is designed to make our Fellows real contributors in your organization from the start, and bring that needed capacity to make sure your community is ready to apply for and receive federal and state broadband grant funds, support accurate household speed mapping data, spearhead and facilitate community task forces, provide digital literacy education to marginalized communities, communicate to legislators, and design and deliver digital skilling programs (i.e. K-12 and adult education coding bootcamps, digitizing Main Street businesses, supporting tele-health and agri-tech initiatives, etc.).  

Make a Long-Term Investment 
Fellows are encouraged to work with partners in the community, including public institutions, small businesses and community-based nonprofits for four of the next seven years. Some will also be helping mentor, teach, or otherwise engage other local leaders. ​For outstanding host organizations that cannot pay for the initial full cost of the Fellow's scholarship, we may be able to work with your organization to raise funds through community philanthropies.

Connect With Civically-Minded Organizations
We believe it is important that we connect our host institutions and organizational partners to one another. As such, all hosts are invited  to join our online community of forward-thinking community organizations. All hosts will also benefit from the resources of our university partners. 

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Interested in Hosting?

 

American Connection Corps FAQs

Application

Do I need to have experience with broadband to become a Fellow?


No! You don’t have to be a broadband expert to be a great Fellow—all kinds of skills can translate to success in your placement as long as you’re ready to work hard, exercise humility, and learn on the go. Fellows will receive 1:1 mentorship from technical experts, be matched with advisors, receive monthly office hours and training plenariers, participate in LFA's national Changemaker Summit, and attend quarterly retreats to gain and sharpen skills that will help them in their fellowship.




How many Fellows do you plan to accept?


The American Connection Corps plans to support 50 Fellows across 12 states in 2021.




Can international residents apply?


Unfortunately, due to the hiring restrictions of many of our community partners, Lead for America may only accept U.S. citizens, nationals, or legal permanent residents for admission into the Fellowship. DACA recipients are eligible for the fellowship.




Can I apply to be a Fellow if I already have a graduate degree or am in the middle of a graduate program?


Yes. Folks who have earned or are in the process of earning graduate degrees may apply for the Fellowship so long as they earned their bachelor’s degree no earlier than 2011 and are legally authorized to work in the US. Applicants who are in the middle of a graduate degree program must be prepared to take a two-year sabbatical from their graduate studies to participate in Lead for America. Please note: the compensation package is the same for all Fellows in a given city, regardless of whether or not they earned a graduate degree before beginning their Fellowship term.




When will I be notified if I was selected as a finalist?


Lead For America will notify all Finalists of their status within a week after their Finalist interviews. Those invited to be confirmed Finalists will be asked to confirm that they would like to take part in the matching process within seven days of notification, but will not be asked to officially commit to the fellowship until they have been matched with a host. A limited number of Finalists will be selected for a confirmed Finalist waitlist.
Note that confirmed Finalists are not guaranteed a fellowship until they are matched with a community institution that agrees to host them. However, a vast majority of those who are named confirmed Finalists ultimately receive the fellowship.




Can I apply to serve in a community I did not grow up in?


Yes! Applicants for the American Connection Corps must have a strong connection to one of the below states. A strong connection could be: (a) where you were born and/or raised, (b) where your family resides, (c) where you went to, or currently attend, college, (d) somewhere you lived in the past, or (e) a place you are committed to make your home long term. The following states will be hosting American Connection Corps fellows: - Alabama - Arkansas - Georgia - Illinois - Indiana - Kansas - Kentucky - Minnesota - Nebraska - Ohio - Oregon - Tennessee




Can I still apply if I am over the age of 30?


While typically our Fellows are between the ages of 21-30, this is a recommended age range, as instead of feeling the need to stick to firm boundaries, we rather are simply looking for dynamic and passionate leaders who want to inject energy into and give back to communities where they already have strong ties. If this program sounds like a good fit for you and you are over the age of 30, feel free to apply, and you will have the opportunity during the selection process to share why you think you would still be an outstanding Fellow.




I have lived in many different places. Where should I apply to serve?


We completely understand that you have many places you have strong personal connections to. For us, we most want to support you in returning to a place that feels most like home to you, and where you see yourself serving in the long term. Essentially, we would advise you to apply to serve the place where you believe you have the strongest personal tie and could make the biggest impact!




How do I know you received my application?


If you received the confirmation email, then we received your application. If you did not receive a confirmation email in your inbox or in your spam folder within 24 hours of submission, then email info@lead4america.org letting us know.





Fellowship

How does the American Connection Corps Fellowship differ from other Fellowships?


The American Connection Corps will be the nation's largest fellowship program focused on digital inclusion. As part of the national network, ACC Fellows will have access to premiere national training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion, and a network of homecomers nationwide. Host communities will be featured in national news outlets, and will help inform the work of the American Connection Project Coalition. In partnership with Lead For America, the ACC Fellowship strives to cultivate a unique leadership development experience by providing a meaningful professional experience combined with intensive training, mentorship, alumni networking, and an engaged national community. They are working on projects that offer a level of leadership, professional development, and transformational impact largely unmatched by most entry-level job opportunities in the nonprofit, public, and for-profit sectors. What we believe makes this opportunity different is: Our place-based focus. Each of our Fellows has a pre-existing personal tie to the community they serve, and because of this our Fellows are better equipped both to make a bigger impact in the short term and to stay rooted in their community in the long term. Our intensive wraparound support. Each of our Fellows receives a one-month pre-fellowship national leadership training, biweekly support calls with a designated program manager (with a Fellow-to-program-manager ratio of 20:1), at least three weekend retreats throughout the two year program (including a graduation ceremony), individualized mentors that are current leaders in their fields, and enrichment funds to participate in conferences, workshops, etc. to promote leadership growth. Our orientation toward building lifelong community leaders. We believe that what our Fellows do (and where they end up) after their two year fellowship is even more significant than what happens during the program. To this end, we look for candidates who are serious about committing to long-term service to a particular community. We invest significant resources — such as seed funding for running for local office, starting a local non-profit or business, or supporting community ventures, as well as graduate scholarships to MPA and MPP programs — into opportunities for our alumni to continue serving the places that they call home long after their fellowship. All this being said, we understand that Lead For America’s fellowship program is not for everyone. In case we aren’t the right fit for you, we have compiled a list of service fellowship programs from peer organizations for further reference.




What is the duration of the Fellowship?


The Fellowship service term is two years. We expect that every Fellow also commit to spending four out of the next seven years in their region, two of which are through the Fellowship and the other two are through opportunities co-created by the Host Site and community, Lead For America, and the Fellow.




How does LFA select what organizations to partner with?


We partner with forward-thinking organizations whose leaders are eager to find new ways to engage talent in solving key local challenges and are serious about mentoring, empowering and investing in that talent. We collaborate closely with our Fellow hosts to identify meaningful, high-impact work for Fellows. All of our Fellow hosts invest significant money and time in our program and in our Fellows. The placements will represent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural locations, and can be part of local governments or civically oriented non-profits. All placements must involve working with public institutions, engaging meaningfully with the local community, and must be strictly non-partisan.




Will I be working with other Fellows in my placement?


A majority of Fellows work in communities without other Fellows. However, some communities will have more than once ACC Fellow, in which meetups and collaboration will be encouraged. It is possible that some ACC Fellows will be in the same communities, or closeby to other LFA Fellows who they can connect with.




Can I have other employment during the fellowship?


Because the fellowship experience is very intensive and we hope that Fellows can focus as much of their time as possible on impacting their communities, Fellows are generally discouraged from holding simultaneous employment. The living scholarship, housing scholarship, and other Fellowship benefits are calibrated to cover all living costs during the Fellowship experience, and additional financial scholarships are also available in exceptional circumstances. However, we understand that each individual's context is unique, and we are open to making exceptions to this policy when needed to support the full nourishment and well-being of the Fellow.




Can I attend school during the fellowship?


Fellows may decide to complete additional certification programs or courses through one of our academic or strategic partners, or through other programs of their choosing. This may include working towards an online or part-time MPA program or any number of weekend part-time training courses. That being said, Fellows are expected to consult both their host government and LFA before making this decision.




Does the Lead For America Fellowship program qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?


Lead For America Fellows who participate in one of Lead For America’s AmeriCorps programs qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. To date, that has only included the Lead For Minnesota program, but starting with the 2020/2021 cohort, each of Lead For America’s other programs are also applying for AmeriCorps grants, which if received, would qualify new Fellows for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program as well. Lead For America will receive a decision on all AmeriCorps grants by May 2021.




What is life like after the fellowship?


In order to cultivate transformational community leaders in the long term, Lead For America believes that making a deep, sustained investment in the development of our alumni will reap exponential change for our leaders, their communities, and society more broadly. Beyond building a burgeoning alumni community that includes graduate scholarships (including to Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School of Public Policy, McCourt School at Georgetown University, Fels Institute at University of Pennsylvania, Ford School at University of Michigan), professional development trainings, systematized network building and job advocacy, regional alumni chapters, and national alumni interest groups, we also plan to provide an average of at least $5,000 to all new alumni to catalyze public service work (e.g. starting a local business or non-profit, leading a community initiative, running for local office, etc.). Alumni, like Fellows, are also encouraged to participate in the strategic decision-making of Lead For America, both within regional affiliates and at the national level. We view our Fellowship as the first step in a lifelong commitment to and participation in the Lead For America community, and strive to build a thick culture of connection, inspiration, and empowerment for alumni across all cohorts.




When and how will I be matched with my host community?


During the application process, we will ask you to indicate which state(s) you would like to serve in, and ask you to share your connection to the state in your application form. If selected as an Endorsed Finalist, LFA will set up a match interview with you and a site partner in the state to which you applied, taking in further geographic preference, connection, and overall fit to the host site culture. You will receive the full project scope for that specific host site ahead of your interview. From the matching interview, both the host site supervisor and the Fellow will decide on whether they would like to confirm their match. Endorsed Finalists can expect to have between 1-3 host site match interviews, and will be asked their rank choice preference of site placements. We try our best to honor the candidate's top choice, and almost always place Fellows in one of their top three site choices.





Selection

What does the application process entail?


First Round In the first round of the application, you will complete a two-page application with your demographic and academic information, a resume/CV, your geographic preferences, and a 250 word short answer response focused on your interest in or connection to the proposed host community. This is due by May 15th, 2021. Semifinalist In the Semifinalist round, you will submit a public narrative video. If the candidate is named an Endorsed Finalist, this video will be sent to potential hosts given permission from the candidate. Finalist In the Finalist round, you will be invited for a video interview and a chance to meet the LFA team. Finalists will also be asked to submit two recommendations and a personal bio. Confirmed Finalists After the Finalist interviews, LFA will announce the selection of LFA confirmed Finalists. These confirmed Finalists will have been given an unreserved endorsement by LFA. Pending a successful interview, funding, and confirmation by a host organization of interest, the Endorsed Finalist will be named a Fellow. The process of becoming a Fellow after being named an Endorsed Finalist varies slightly for our different tracks, but always includes an interview with a host partner before the placement can be fully confirmed.




What are the qualities of an ideal candidate?


Our Fellows are catalysts for a much larger revitalization and are deeply committed to supporting their community’s flourishing. To be a Lead For America Fellow is to deeply commit to another way of moving through the world. All backgrounds, experiences and skills can help Fellows be effective during their two years and beyond. That being said, there are a few things we look for in every Fellow. Integrity. Humility. A deep commitment to a life of selflessness and community service. A willingness to learn and co-create the fellowship experience. A genuine excitement for being part of a much larger movement. Our Fellows are excited to address the root challenge of disconnection to community. Fellows are selected for their dedication, de-centering of self, and willingness to full-heartedly dive into a commitment to others. They become catalysts for place-based initiatives, entrepreneurial social ventures, and community hubs to broaden and deepen local connection. Beyond the above characteristics, we look for candidates that can demonstrate outstanding leadership skills, a profound commitment to serving others, and a tremendous passion for a particular place they hope to serve long term. LFA is committed to selecting a diverse cohort to: 1) ensure that underrepresented voices are being lifted up in community leadership positions to promote equitable decision-making; 2) strengthen the cohort experience by catalyzing profound learning from one another’s rich experiences and perspectives; 3) ensure that our fellowship is representative of the incredible heterogeneity of our country. Note that, while we strive for diversity in these ways, all Fellows must fully align with our values to join our community. Historically, fewer Asian American candidates, as well as candidates from moderate or conservative ideological orientations, have applied for the fellowship, and for the reasons above, we hope to encourage more candidates from these backgrounds to apply.





Financial

What benefits do Fellows receive? How much do they get paid?


Benefits: Fellows receive health insurance coverage through the program. Several participating states offer AmeriCorps funding, meaning Fellows may be able to receive a $6,000 education award each year, and do not have to pay education loans while they serve. SCHOLARSHIP CALCULATION FORMULA - (VISTA Bi-Weekly Living Allowance for intended community of service x 26) + (MIT Living Wage "Housing" Calculation) = Baseline Scholarship EXAMPLES - For Fellows looking to serve in Austin, TX (Travis County), they would receive a scholarship amount of (Travis County Bi-Weekly Living Allowance $587.30 x 26 or $15269.80) + (Travis County Housing Calculation $11,172.00) = $26,441.80 For Fellows looking to serve in Fall River, SD (Fall River County), they would receive a scholarship amount of (Fall River County Bi-Weekly Living Allowance $513.94 x 26 or $13362.44) + (Fall River County Housing Calculation $5,640) = $19,002.44 NOTE: Scholarships typically range from $18-30,000. Lead For America strives to provide all Fellows with the funds needed to ensure that the program is sustainable for people of all incomes, and we are committed to working thoughtfully and compassionately with all candidates who need more support to see what is possible within the constraints of our financial scholarship fund.




Beyond the placement and scholarship, what are the other benefits of the Fellowship?


As a Fellow, you're going to be pushed and you're going to be challenged. But you're also going to have access to world-class training, a community of like-minded peers, a national network of public service leaders, and a staff that will be asking for your advice on how best to shape this program. Most importantly, you're going to be doing work that really matters. We're excited to meet you and create this experience together. We want to make sure our Fellows are ready to contribute and make a positive impact from Day 1. But we also want Fellows to end the summer inspired and with a new set of friends and supporters. We try our best to do all of that at the Catalyst Institute. You'll spend four weeks living and working alongside your Fellow cohort, all while receiving all-expenses-paid training in public administration and leadership development, learning the skills you'll need to succeed, and developing the mindsets — and friendships — that you'll need to stay grounded along the way. Beyond the summer training and scholarship, Fellows also receive three complimentary all-Fellow retreats to locations across the nation, biweekly calls with an LFA staff member for professional and emotional support, a mentor tailored to their personal needs and aspirations, online trainings, complimentary attendance at relevant conferences, and a community of the most talented, passionate, and dynamic peers in the country. After the Fellowship concludes, we do everything we can to keep Fellows engaged in community change-making work, ideally in the community or state in which they served. This support includes seed money for Fellows wanting to start their own initiative, connections with a nationwide mentorship network, and relationships with graduate programs — including automatic scholarship money from partner organizations like the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School of Public Policy.




What if I need more than the baseline scholarship amount to participate in the fellowship?


LFA aims to meet demonstrated financial need to the greatest extent possible with the aspiration of making the fellowship fully accessible to people of all income backgrounds. While we know we may not attain this goal in all cases, we have designed a financial aid process based on the lived experiences of dozens of past Fellows. Once selected as Endorsed Finalists, Fellows are expected before the matching process begins to share any outstanding financial concerns via a financial aid form. This form includes a line item annual budget and a budget narrative to describe financial need. Qualifying expenses may include, but are not limited to: necessary transportation costs, medical expenses (not including premiums), student loans, familial financial obligations (i.e. child support, care for a family member etc), and basic personal care costs. LFA will not provide a financial scholarship for housing costs beyond what is listed in the MIT Living Wage Calculator for the Fellow’s community. For those Fellows who pay for their own health care premiums, these costs will solely be paid in the form of monthly reimbursements up to the amount listed in the MIT Living Wage Calculator for the Fellow’s community, and will not increase monthly scholarship payments. The financial scholarship form will be reviewed by LFA staff, who will compare the form with current budgetary constraints. Based on this analysis, LFA staff will notify the Fellow of the new scholarship amount (if any change is to be made), LFA and the Fellow will sign a revised agreement acknowledging the changes, and the new scholarship amount will be requested from external stakeholders during the fundraising and budgeting process. Upon the signing of the budget, Fellows agree to the budget and understand that this amount is what LFA commits to pay them over the course of two years. Any additional funding is very limited and happens only in exceptional circumstances. In cases of dramatic changes to a Fellows’ financial circumstances, LFA may be able to offer scholarship funding to help a Fellow get back on their feet and live sustainably. In these cases, LFA prioritizes support for 1) Fellows who are from low-income backgrounds and have additional financial obligations (i.e. are taking care of family members) and 2) would be unable to continue the fellowship without help. In these cases LFA may be able to support through a financial scholarship up to $3k over the course of several months. This scholarship is intended to support Fellows with immediate costs to help them get back to a place of financial sustainability. If a Fellow requires a longer-term adjustment to their stipend, LFA will have another conversation prior to the end of the scholarship period to determine long term financial need and discuss possible routes forward given organizational financial constraints, limited fundraising capacity, etc.