Des Moines 2015 Fellows

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Megan Bendixen, Legislative and Policy Analyst, Iowa Medical Society

	Megan	Bendixen	Megan Bendixen is the Legislative & Policy Analyst for the Iowa Medical Society, a 160-year-old professional association for Iowa physicians. IMS exists to assure the highest quality health care in Iowa by advocating for physicians and patients. In her role on the legislative advocacy team, Megan enjoys working to help shape the public policies that impact Iowans' lives, particularly in the rapidly changing and often complex world of health care. As a Des Moines native, Megan is excited about the city's ongoing cultural and economic growth. She enjoys spending her free time exploring the city, and can often be found checking out a classic Des Moines music venue or enjoying the local foodie scene. Megan is a longtime volunteer and former staff member of Living History Farms, where she picked up hobbies in baking and knitting. She is passionate about social justice and women's issues, and has volunteered as a community educator for a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. She also volunteers with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and Dress for Success.

Megan holds a degree in History and Secondary Education from Iowa State University, and is a proud Cyclone fan. She is currently completing the Master of Public Administration program at Drake University, with emphases in Nonprofit Management and Public Policy.


Gracie Brandsgard, Deputy Midwest Regional Director, Ready For Hillary

Gracie works as the Midwest Deputy Regional Director for Ready for Hillary, a national grassroots organization encouraging Hillary Clinton to run for President. At RFH, she manages volunteer teams, conducts trainings, and engages voters on a variety of platforms. She has always had a strong interest in issue advocacy and became interested in politics at an early age. From spending her spring breaks visiting her Dad in the Iowa House of Representatives to knocking on doors for legislative campaigns in middle schools, politics has always been a constant in Gracie's life.

Before her work at Ready for Hillary, she graduated last year with a BA in Economics from Grinnell College with honors. During her college years she was active with College Democrats of America and Young Democrats of America at the local, state, and national levels. She also tutored, served as a high school assistant debate coach, and was a member of a theater troupe. In her free time she enjoys volunteering with political campaigns, working with preteen girls at an after school program, and at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Knitting, trying new foods, and running are also high on Gracie's list of favorite activities.


Eric Bridges, Review Assistant II, Telligen

	Eric	Bridges	I was born in Virginia, raised in Puerto Rico and Florida, and finally landed in Iowa. I have been working in various jobs through high school, college, and professional career; everything from news casting to healthcare. I graduated from Oskaloosa High School then received my BA from Central College in theatre. This is where I accomplished one of my greatest achievements, directing "The Laramie Project" as my senior thesis. Along with that, we did several events to promote different aspects of LGBT life in Iowa.

Just like Transformers, 'there is more than meets the eye' when it comes to me, I enjoy comic books, reading, writing, video, and more. I am very excited to be participating in NLC and can't wait to change the world. 


Reed Clayton, Graduate Assistant, Iowa State University

Reed Clayton is a native son of Iowa having been raised in Brooklyn, educated in Ames, 

	Reed	Clayton

and resided in Des Moines. He is currently a graduate student in Political Science at Iowa State University where he has also earned Bachelor's degrees in Business and Political Science. His studies have focused on the interaction of politics and economics, and the subsequent distributional implications regarding wealth, power, and political voice.

After spending the early years of his professional career in marketing and finance, Reed aspires to take a more public interest-oriented path in the future. In his free time, Reed enjoys riding his bicycle, experiencing new things through travel and food, and vigorous discussion and laughter with family and friends.



Caroline Dvorsky

	Caroline	Dvorsky	A lifelong Iowan, Caroline recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. During her time at the University of Iowa, Caroline was involved in numerous organizations and was an active member of the Iowa City community. In 2010, she completed an internship in Senator Tom Harkin's Des Moines office where she focused on constituent services, including authoring more than 100 constituent correspondences and traveling to multiple Iowa towns as part of the mobile outreach tour.  Caroline also had the opportunity to study abroad in London and complete an internship in the United Kingdom House of Commons. Working with Member of Parliament Bridget Phillipson, Caroline researched legislative issues including a large focus on issues of domestic violence and policing. Additionally at the U of I, Caroline was involved in Student Government, University Democrats, Women's Resource and Action Center and was a four-year member of the Hawkeye Marching Band.

Caroline recently completed the George Washington Carver internship at the World Food Prize Foundation, where she worked on the national expansion of youth programming. Additionally, Caroline finished a 6 month position at the Iowa International Center working as a Program Associate in the interpretation and translation department.


Nathan Erickson, Human Resources Assistant, Primary Health Care

	Nathan	Erickson	Originally from eastern Iowa, Nathan moved to Des Moines in 2009 to study at Drake University. Throughout college, Nathan cheered for many Drake sports teams and explored more than a few career paths, including an internship with the Bruce Braley for Senate campaign. He fell in love with the up and coming Des Moines area, and decided to call it home. Before and after graduating in 2013 with a degree in Marketing and Human Resources, he developed skills in his role as a community organizer with the League of Conservation Voters. Nathan worked to build relationships with neighbors, community activist groups, and prominent stake holders throughout central, while managing a team of interns and volunteers on Drake University's campus.

Recently, Nathan has begun a new position as a Human Resources Assistant with Primary Health Care, a non profit community health center dedicated to serving the medically insured, uninsured and under-insured with their health care needs. In his free time, Nathan enjoys volunteering with Oxfam America, reading, biking, traveling, and spending quality time with friends.


Michelle Grau, Attorney, Iowa Department of Administrative Services

	Michelle	Grau	Michelle Grau is a Labor Relations Attorney with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. She is an Iowa native with a passion for public service. She holds a Juris Doctor Degree and Master of Business Administration Degree from Drake University. While in her tenure at Drake, Michelle was involved in activities both within and outside of the law school community. She has served in various student organizations and as the Student Bar Association President. Michelle has previously held clerkships at Baer Law Office, the Polk County Attorney's Office, Iowa State Public Defender's Office, and Polk County District Court. Before attending law school, she interned at the Iowa Attorney General's Office, and has worked as an Associate in the Executive Office of the President. She has also interned in the Office of Vice President as part of the White House Internship Program.

Michelle is a graduate of Iowa State University where she majored in Business Management and International Business with a Spanish minor. She has enriched her major in International Business by participating in two study abroad programs in Ireland and Spain. While at Iowa State University, Michelle interned at Manpower in Ames and also interned in the Iowa Governor's Office. Michelle has served as a Cyclone Aide and Cyclone Aide Advisor at Iowa State University. As a Cyclone Aide Advisor, she led a team of thirty Cyclone Aides and ten student leaders to promote Iowa State University to incoming and prospective students. Michelle participates in Junior League of Des Moines and enjoys volunteering in the community. Michelle has enjoyed growing personally and professionally and is looking forward to what the future holds.


Caroline Jones, Owner, Caroline Jones Social Media Development, LLC

	Caroline	Jones	Caroline Jones is a social media consultant with several years experience managing social media strategy for local and national industry leading brands and businesses. She is currently serving her second year as President of Social Media Club Des Moines for the 2014-2015 term. She has led and developed local chapter growth within the international organization providing education, resources, and networking opportunities for thousands of social media professionals in the Des Moines area. In August 2014, Social Media Club Des Moines hosted the first inaugural #Hashie Awards, recognizing and celebrating professional and student excellence for Iowa-based social media projects.  In 2014, Caroline was nominated and accepted as a 2015 NLC Institute Fellow, for New Leaders Council Des Moines. She is looking forward to listening, learning, and absorbing as much as she can during the fellowship, and applying the insights and values learned for the next stages of growth in her career.

Before taking the leap to start her own business, Caroline Jones Social Media Development, LLC in December 2014, she previously held a lead social media strategist role at Happy Medium, a digital advertising agency in Des Moines, managing the digital presence for top Des Moines restaurants and food providers, a custom homebuilder, and numerous community-related events and projects. During Caroline's time at Happy Medium, the company was recognized in 2013 and 2014 as the Best Social Media Company in the Des Moines Business Record 'Best of Des Moines' survey, and many of her clients received top honors in their respective categories. While at Meredith Corporation, Caroline served as lead social media strategist for Better Homes and Gardens, while supporting 30+ top tier magazine brands, during a period of rapid change and uncertainty in the publishing industry. Caroline's involvement, in collaboration with the editorial, marketing and advertising sales teams, led to many national awards, accolades and recognition for the Better Homes and Gardens brand leading the way among their competitive set on Facebook, Pinterest, and strategies for social media engagement, reach, and traffic.

In her personal time, Caroline has served as a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa for four years, developing a close relationship with a young adolescent, who has become a lifelong friend. She has served for two years as a social media and public relations chair on the Governor and First Lady Branstad's Scare-Us-Hill Pumpkin Ball committee, to raise funds for ongoing restoration and repairs at the Historic Terrace Hill site. When not serving the Des Moines community, Caroline enjoys running with Max, her loyal German Shepherd, bicycling with her friends along the beautiful trails and bike-friendly roads in Des Moines, and expanding her yoga practice with Power Life Yoga. She can be found most happy when serving others, and unwinding with alone time in nature.


Natalie Koerber, Program Manager, State Public Policy Group

	Natalie	Koerber	Natalie is a Program Manager at State Public Policy Group, a public policy and organizational consulting firm in West Des Moines. Through stakeholder engagement, outreach, education, and advocacy, she works to develop and implement programs and policy while supporting organizational development. This work is done across a wide array of policy areas, including workforce development and training, homelessness services, public health partnerships, and afterschool programming. An Iowa native from Cedar Rapids, Natalie grew up with a dedication to promoting gender equality, a passion for protecting the environment, and a voracious work ethic. She moved to Des Moines in 2006 when she began her undergraduate studies at Drake University, and graduated in 2010 with a BA in Law, Politics, and Society.

Natalie is currently a Master of Public Administration candidate at Drake University with an emphasis in public policy. Prior to joining State Public Policy Group, Natalie was the Legal & Public Policy Coordinator and later the Compliance Analyst at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. She is a dedicated community activist, and volunteers for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Iowa League of Conservation Voters, Iowa Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa, Des Moines Arts Festival, as well as several statewide political campaigns. In her spare time, Natalie loves playing with her dogs, Dugan and Gus, exploring the outdoors, and dismantling the patriarchy.


Ruth Lapointe, Clerk, Iowa State Capitol

	Ruth	Lapointe	I was born and raised in Mason City, Iowa. I majored in Philosophy at the University of Iowa. While I was in college in Iowa City I was a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement which ignited my interest in fighting for income equality. For the last 6 months I worked for the Democratic Party as a Field Organizer. I will be furthering my political knowledge and will start working at the Capitol as a clerk once the legislative session begins in January.

I have a passion for politics and hope to hold an elected office in the next 5 years. I see politics as a means to allocate resources to those who need them most. I believe strongly that our government has a duty to provide citizens with the basic needs to thrive. I believe that the interests of corporations are taking priority over the interests of a majority of people in this country and if I were elected I would use my position to reduce the power corporate interests have over individuals.


Travis Lloyd, Entrepreneur, Self Employed

	Travis	Lloyd	Travis Lloyd is a professional speaker, author and performer. He is the founder of Changing Lives Entertainment, LLC and has delivered more than fifty keynotes at statewide, regional, and national events related to mental health services, child welfare, social services, and foster care advocacy. In addition, he is a registered nurse with experience in emergency departments, pediatrics, and as a mental health mobile crisis worker.

Travis earned his bachelor of science in nursing from Allen College in Iowa where he serves as a part time adjunct professor, and has also completed business courses at the University of Northern Iowa. Travis is the vice president of Our Fields of Hope Foundation and a stakeholder member to the Trauma Informed Care Project, a community collaborative effort based in Des Moines. He is a board member of Foster Care Alumni of America and the author of Overcoming Emotional Trauma: Life Beyond Survival Mode, as well as a contributing author to Fostering Hope For America and Parenting Adopted Adolescents: Understanding and Appreciating Their Journeys. 


Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, Social Work Support Staff, Iowa Department of Human Services

	Vanessa	Marcano-Kelly	Vanessa C. Marcano-Kelly is a native of Caracas, Venezuela, who has been living in Des Moines since 2012. Vanessa was a community organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement for nearly 3 years, empowering Latinos to fight for worker and immigrant rights. Vanessa led campaigns to fight wage theft, recovering thousands of dollars in wages with workers, and engaging hundreds across Iowa in the struggle for immigration reform.

Vanessa graduated with honors from South Dakota State University and is an alumna from the Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines. She serves on the board of the Iowa Latino Center, the Iowa Programming Committee of the American Friends Service Committee, the advisory committee for Solidarity Microfinance, and is a student member of the Iowa Interpreters and Translators' Association. In 2014, Vanessa received the Iowa Latino Leadership Award from the Iowa chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Vanessa currently works for the state of Iowa's Department of Human Services. She is also a freelance Spanish-English interpreter and translator seeking certification to interpret in Iowa courtrooms. Follow her blog at


Patrick Rynard, Editor/Writer,

An Iowan by choice for the past eleven years, Patrick has worked on a multitude of Democratic Party campaigns throughout the state. After college he got his start on the Hillary Clinton campaign in Council Bluffs. For the past three campaign cycles he has mostly worked on state legislative campaigns, including Tony Bisignano's State Senate race, and as the field director for the Senate Democrats. For the 2016 Iowa presidential caucus, he will be operating a Democratic-leaning political blog called Iowa Starting Line.

Born in Kansas City, raised in Jefferson City, MO, Patrick is a long-time fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, and visits the Show Me State a few times a year. He chose to go to Drake University largely to get involved in the Iowa Caucus. While at college, he met his wife, Katie, who now works at Meredith. They live in West Des Moines with their long-haired daschund puppy, Franklin.


Jamie Stokka, Interactive Designer, Trilix

	Jamie	Stokka	Jamie Stokka is an Interactive Designer at Trilix, a full-service marketing firm based out of Des Moines, IA.She has been in the advertising industry for four years, and counting. She is incredibly dedicated to her work, and contributes greatly to the success of her company and clients. She came into this industry by chance, and with a little elbow grease, and a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, took her peers by surprise and now works in a comfortable competitive position with a great company doing something she really loves, while leaving plenty of time and security to focus the rest of her attention on other things that matter to her.

Jamie spent the better part of her free time in 2014 welcoming foster dogs into her home through Hope Animal Rescue, only to be stopped in her tracks by a sweet Beagle she couldn't let go named Ruby. She now spends her free time adjusting Ruby into her home with Calvin the Corgi. She occasionally writes about food and wine, but has yet to submit for publishing, online or otherwise. Jamie enjoys spending time with friends and new acquaintances all over the city of Des Moines. She loves slinging tomatoes with Butcher Crick Farms at farmer's market on Saturday mornings during the summer. Jamie is always striving to find the perfect balance between her professional and personal lives, and does a pretty great job at it most of the time. She looks forward to being a part of the 2015 NLC fellows and spreading her entrepreneurial spirit and organizational skills with her fellow fellows, while also reminding them that it's important to keep time for their passions, whatever they may be.


Amanda Thys, Community Relations Coordinator, Youth Emergency Services & Shelter (YESS)

	Amanda	Thys	Amanda Thys is the Community Relations Coordinator for Youth Emergency Services & Shelter (YESS). Located near downtown Des Moines, YESS is the largest youth shelter in the State of Iowa and is dedicated to providing a continuum of support services to families in times of crisis. In her role, Amanda connects individuals and organizations with YESS' mission in order to foster community relationships that help keep kids safe. She assists with event planning, volunteer management, fundraising, and communications initiatives in order to support the children and families served by YESS. Prior to her current position, she was a member of the WesleyLife Philanthropy Team, completed a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA through Iowa Campus Compact, and worked for Iowa State University's Conference Services.

Amanda originally moved from her hometown of Britt, Iowa to central Iowa in order to attend Iowa State University where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a second major in Child, Adult & Family Services. During her time at Iowa State she also had the opportunity to complete internships with Youth & Shelter Services and the Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS). Amanda is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree (Nonprofit Management emphasis) from Drake University. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, scouring used bookstores, camping, and spending time with family and friends.