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Davenport Discussion with Stand Together's Lee Taylor Simmons

students at roundtables with stand together logo behind guest speaker

On January 17th, 2024, the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy (SPP), in partnership with the SPP International City/County Management (ICMA) student chapter,  hosted Lee Taylor Simmons from Stand Together Fellowships to speak to SPP students about her organization and the work they do to connect college students and young professionals with career advancement opportunities.

Simmons’s story began in Georgia, where she grew up and attended Georgia Tech’s International Affairs program. After realizing she did not want to live or work abroad, she thought maybe she could work in international business and stay domestic. She says she had a “knack for language” and thought she would thrive in that field. However, she wanted to be policy adjacent and be involved in thought leadership.

After college, she pivoted into commercial insurance in Atlanta so she could be with her family. She began to see “brokenness” in the country’s health insurance policy and found the Stand Together community.

Simmons explained to students the Stand Together Foundation looks to solve problems through four institutional lenses: government & policy, business, education & teaching civic duty, and community nonprofits.

Simmons works for the education branch, connecting young people with work opportunities from a 10-week internship program to full-year fellowships. Her philosophy is that throughout history, change and decisions happened from the top down, from elites to the general population. Stand Together emphasizes how this changed in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence—“an incredible bet on people, that every individual has something to contribute. [...] progress comes when we invest in every individual and allow them to make their greatest contribution.” Stand Together believes in similarly investing in people through education and work opportunities.

She told SPP students they could apply to the foundation, and if accepted, they would be added to a “portal” with partnered think tanks, media groups, and grassroots nonprofits with job postings. From there, students apply through the portal to the different groups and upon acceptance, Stand Together pays the stipends for the students. She highlighted the community of the Stand Together fellowships, including one day a week of professional development with Stand Together Staff. They want participants to feel and be a part of a broader community of professionals who support one another.

Davenport Institute’s Assistant Director Pooja Bachani Di Giovanna also shared her experience participating in all three areas of the education programs—internship, fellowship, and associates programs whereupon she opened the floor to questions for Simmons. Students inquired about the scope of partner organizations, what the top interests of applicants are, and spoke with Simmons individually about further opportunities.