Six Questions for DCLF ’20 Alum Colleen Maleski, Senior Associate at GBSMEllen Patterson | School of Public Affairs Jan 10, 2024
Colleen Maleski is a public affairs and management consultant for GBSM, supporting nonprofit and government clients to improve organizational processes, effectively communicate with key audiences, and meaningfully include community members they serve in their decision-making processes. Previously, at StriveTogether, she supported more than 70 communities to facilitate cross-sector collaboration to improve student outcomes through continuous improvement, events, trainings, grants, and community co-design. Colleen started her career in corporate social responsibility, executive communications, and public affairs at Raytheon.
Colleen earned her Master of Public Policy at Vanderbilt University and her Bachelor of Arts in strategic communications and business marketing at The Ohio State University. She is an alumna of the Denver Community Leadership Forum (DCLF) through CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs and earned a certificate in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Strategy at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.
Colleen serves on the advisory council for BookGive, a Denver-based book access organization, and the Advisory Committee for Community Impact for The Denver Foundation.
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?
In a way, public service has always been a part of me. I’m from a small town in rural Ohio where my mother was a public school teacher for 40 years and my dad owned small businesses where he cared more about the people in our town having what they needed than making a profit. The concept of “barn raising” – or the community collectively supporting one another – was alive and well. The idea of people and organizations coming together to create better, more equitable outcomes for every member of the community is what drives me to this day. In the words of the talented spoken word artist, Christian Paige, “When a community comes together, mountains become moveable.”
What has been most meaningful to you about your career?
Most simply, the people.
Of course, I’m proud of the quantifiable impact I’ve had within organizations and within the community, but when I think about success, it is rarely the “% increased” bullet on the resume that comes to mind. Rather, what has been most meaningful to me was how those results were achieved. Often, the how relates to people, including:
- Growing others, including the staff I manage and leaders I coach.
- Working with leaders across functions or organizations to solve an entrenched issue creatively and comprehensively.
- Building authentic, trusting relationships that enable collaboration and innovation.
- Bridging the needs of community with the goals of organizations or investors.
People are why I do this work, and people are how we do this work effectively. Never lose sight of that!
What part of your education at the School of Public Affairs has had the greatest impact on your work?
While participating in DCLF, I was a director at a national education nonprofit, and the skills and concepts I learned in the program were immediately applied to my real-life work. One of the learnings that most tangibly impacted me in my role was an exercise where we mapped cycles or patterns in our organizations using patterns and cycles in nature as inspiration. During the program, I mapped our funding cycles for our grants-to-site and identified and implemented many improvements that better embodied our organization’s mission and values, responded to community needs, and ultimately, enabled grantees to achieve better results. To this day, I regularly look for patterns that unintentionally drive an inequitable status quo and find opportunities to change those practices.
I also regularly use many of the tools I learned through DCLF in my leadership coaching, training, and facilitation. One exercise called Hidden Agendas is one of my favorites to facilitate amongst teams who are struggling to communicate transparently or collaborate effectively.
What is your favorite memory of the School of Public Affairs?
Without a doubt, my favorite SPA memory is climbing Mount Massive. DCLF includes an outdoor leadership education course in the mountains. Beyond providing me with one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen in Colorado, my experience guiding my cohort on the Mount Massive trek renewed my confidence in my own leadership when I needed it most.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest challenges that your field faces?
One of the challenges the social impact sector faces is transformative vs. iterative change. We have to solve issues at their root and move “upstream” to prevent problems rather than fixing them once they have occurred. That’s the only way to get to scale. At the same time, there are so many small, everyday changes that could be made by staff members of all levels of authority and types of roles that would enable organizations to live the values they espouse and to achieve the mission they envision. Too often we get stuck in what we perceive can’t be done or what we don’t have power over, that we lose sight of what is possible. It isn’t an either-or; it is a both-and. We are in a particular moment in time – as generations shift, after the status quo was disrupted by the global pandemic – where large-scale change can be made. We just need the courage to make it happen.
What advice would you give to current students at the School of Public Affairs?
Careers aren’t linear. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a specific dream or a plan, but I encourage you to embrace opportunities that challenge you and support you to grow, even if they weren’t a part of that dream or plan. Having a diverse set of experiences in the for-profit, government, nonprofit and educational sectors and a wide range of skills – from communications to facilitation to continuous improvement – has made me a much better problem solver and innovator who is able to view and solve an issue from multiple angles and perspectives. I would have never had that breadth of experience without the encouragement of a mentor Dan Orzano who told me my senior year of college, “There’s more than one path to the career you imagine for yourself.”