Pam Costain

Fellowship: 25 Years Out

It’s hard to believe, but just two short decades ago, “globalization” was a relatively new phenomenon — a mere concept that Pam Costain (BF’92) set out to understand when she applied for her Bush Fellowship.

“People were just beginning to talk about globalization,” Costain explains. “Because I was working with an organization that was globally focused, I wanted to take a year off to study what globalization meant economically, socially and culturally.” 

To achieve this, Costain used her Bush Fellowship to enroll at the University of Minnesota and complete a program focused on studying globalization in both political science and public policy. What she learned in the classroom, however, was what she found to be least helpful. 

Pam Costain
Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

We are, more than ever before, one world."

“Sitting in a formal classroom with political scientists was my way to pursue my interests, but it was not the most effective learning environment,” Costain recalls. “The most important part of my Fellowship was the ability to step back from work, and have time to reflect and think about where the world was going.” 

The subsequent soul-searching that the Fellowship afforded reinforced Costain’s understanding of what it means to be a leader in local communities and in global organizations. Regardless of entity, Costain believes that change happens from the bottom up. “I am a huge believer in grassroots community-based leadership,” she says. “I always operate from the assumption that solutions exist within communities of people, and that it is in their coming together to mutually solve a problem that they are able to do so.”

The connections, knowledge and confidence attained during her Fellowship propelled Costain to where she is today. In her 25 years since becoming a Bush Fellow, her focus turned from globalization to a professional career in public education. “In 2007, Costain was elected to the school board for the Minneapolis Public Schools and seated as its chair. In 2010, she left to become president and CEO of AchieveMpls, an organization dedicated to ensuring career and college readiness for students and young adults. She retired from that position in 2016, and is currently working as an independent consultant with Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international advocacy and peace nonprofit, mapping out violence reduction strategies related to the pipeline struggle in North Dakota.

I feel I have become a very intentional builder of a new generation of leaders."

The wealth of experience gleaned from her Fellowship propelled Costain to become much more intentional with her leadership. “I have tried to develop a leadership style in myself that really promotes the leadership of other people,” she explains. “In so doing, I feel I have become a very intentional builder of a new generation of leaders.”

It is a leadership style that was passed on to her from those who came before, and a style she hopes to pass on to the future leaders of communities throughout the world. “The interconnection of the world is such that you do good work wherever you are, and it will flow locally, and it will flow globally,” she says. “We are, more than ever before, one world.”

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The Fellowship is a recognition of extraordinary achievement and a bet on extraordinary potential, with up to $100,000 to invest in leadership development.