Kellyann Jones is a participant in the Appointments Project® and was appointed to the Kansas City Health Commission in May 2018.
Before attending an information session about the Appointments Project, I had never heard of boards and commissions—the whole world of state and city governance was a total mystery. Even after joining the Health Commission in May 2016, I experienced a steep learning curve of city budgets, resolutions, state policies, and levies to understand how the Health Commission advises the Kansas City, MO Health Department in serving our city’s most vulnerable patient populations. As my three-year term comes to an end, I wanted to share some reflections and advice on getting appointed and making the most out of the experience:
You Have Enough Experience
This message is what I needed to hear when I was first considering an appointment. I was a senior graduate student working towards my doctorate in microbiology when I attended an Appointments Project information session. I had only ever been a student at that point and had never held a “real job” so I really doubted that I had any expertise or experience to offer a board or commission. I was scared that I would not be qualified, so my first instinct was just to not apply! Imposter syndrome, especially for white women and women and men of color, is very real and can be barrier for recognizing your worth. Even though I had limited formal employment, I had significant experience with project management from working on my thesis as well a plethora of leadership experience through extracurricular activities—all is which is valuable real-world experience. If you are a student or do not have a wealth of traditional employment experience, you should still consider putting yourself forward for an appointment.
Self-Advocacy is Key
Just like any opportunity, you will not know everything! While you may be a content area expert, you may need a refresher on Robert’s Rules or the intricacies of a city or state budget. Go into your appointment with an open mind and do not be embarrassed if you’re not chairing a committee right away—it will take time to ease into the rhythm of your board/commission. Ask questions and talk to more seasoned members about their experiences. The Health Commission holds an orientation session for all new commissioners as well as more informal meetings with commission leadership to get to know you and your passions which really helped with my onboarding.
Additionally, if there is a project or proposal that you want to be involved with on your board and commission, speak up for yourself and ask for opportunities! Unlike your day job, you often only attend meetings a handful of times per year so it can be harder to show off your expertise and skillset in more limited interactions especially if you are an introvert.
One of the most wonderful aspects of being on a board or commission are all the incredible and fascinating people you meet! All the people I’ve met through the Health Commission, including my fellow commissioners, healthcare providers, and community members, make me feel optimistic about the future of public health in Kansas City. Being on a board/commission opens you up to meetings and events you may not have had access to prior. Take advantage of this new pool of colleagues to make genuine connections that will benefit you during your service and beyond. For example, though the Health Commission, I’ve been able to meet numerous individuals and organizations that I’ve been able to call upon to provide opportunities for the K-12 students I work with in my day job at an education nonprofit.
Starting on the Ground Floor
Being on a board or commission is a crash course in city or state policy and politics and can also provide insight into whether a run for elected office might be in your future! Serving on a board/commission is a great place to start if you want a future in politics. Depending on the charge of your board/commission, you can be involved in advocacy, sponsoring ordinances and resolutions, and presenting to bodies of elected officials.
Overall, the past three years has been an enlightening experience and while it has been my first experience serving as an appointee, I know this will not be the last!