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Downtown Academy: A Year Long Crash Course on the Heart of Fresno

Downtown Academy is a year long program that imparts knowledge and insight into the heartbeat of Downtown, as well as a sense of ownership for creating change. Hosted by the Downtown Fresno Partnership, and Fresno’s Leading Young Professionals (FLYP), they are currently accepting applications through August 21st for their next class. To educate us all on what the Downtown Academy is really like, we asked Stephanie Reed, a recent graduate to share her experience here on ilovefresno.org. Below is Stephanie’s Story! 

Stephanie Reed On Being a Downtown Academy Graduate, How it’s Changed Her Perspective on Fresno, and Her Life:

Having grown up in Fresno, I wanted nothing more than to leave when I graduated high school. So I did. But, something about the black hole we all call Fresno wanted me back. And I couldn’t have planned it any better.

I was a Clovis Unified kid in every sense of the stereotype, although I didn’t realize it at the time. My life revolved around AP tests and swim meets, with no time to do anything else. And, yes, it prepared me well for higher education. But my five years at the University of Arizona taught me SO much more about life.

Tucson introduced me to different architecture, cultures, faiths and friends. Without those experiences, I would have come back to Fresno unchanged. Getting a glimpse of the great diversity on campus gave me a new appreciation and curiosity for exploring. I graduated wanting to experience more, and wanting to  design architectural spaces that catered to the place and people they serve. I noticed how differently people interact based on their environment, and wanted to know why.

After moving back to Fresno for a job opportunity that ended up falling through, I was ready to give up on this city again. But this is when everything changed. I got involved in a new church community, and started talking—to everyone! Old bosses, mentors, and my parents’ friends. Through these networking opportunities, I ended up landing a job that I absolutely love. These connections have proved their value throughout the last two years of my career.

People say that so many things “change them”—school, experiences, friendships. For me, this was Downtown Academy. About thirty of my peers and I just graduated—we are changed and ready to create change!

My Downtown Academy experience started as a recommendation from a coworker. I saw the passionate, creative team leading the group, and jumped into a class of strangers, not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that it was a great way to see the architecture I hadn’t seen before. It ended up being so much more than that! My cohort grew together into a close-knit group that cultivated thought, ideas and, most importantly, action.

Why should you do Downtown Academy?

I only have two reasons, but it may be all you need.

1. Exposure.

Grand Central Market, Los Angeles.

Grand Central Market, Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Stephanie Reed

Every one of us creates a worldview from the people we hang out with and the experiences we are a part of. Until I joined Downtown Academy, I was hiding north of Herndon, with no idea of the great diversity I was missing—in my own city! A class trip to Los Angeles taught us about what other cities have done to develop their downtowns, and we brought back that knowledge to Fresno. We toured Chinatown, Fulton Mall, Arte Americas, historic theaters such as the Wilson and Warnor’s, Bitwise, residential lofts and the Fulton Lowell neighborhood. Oh, and we ate at great restaurants, too! Talk about exposure. If you’re curious, try this class. If you’re positive there’s nothing good happening downtown, try this class. We’ll prove you wrong. I don’t think anyone from our class came out the same person they started, all because of the people we met, places we saw and communities we were exposed to.

A tour of Bitwise South Stadium under construction, Downtown Fresno

The class toured of Bitwise South Stadium under construction, Downtown Fresno, among many other downtown locations. Photo Credit: Stephanie Reed

2. Networking.

Although I can’t speak for the rest of the classes, our group had to have been one of the most diverse—in every sense of the word. Different careers, jobs and education. Different passions, talents, connections and experiences. But isn’t that the very definition of what makes a community strong? We met so many people in the last year—developers, business owners, downtown enthusiasts, those who believed in Downtown Fresno, even when everyone else didn’t. These are our heroes, the catalysts who started the change. But it is up to us now to carry the baton. We learned from these passionate people, and the relationships formed with them manifested in our class project and beyond. Some were friendships that will last for years, professional connections that will land us jobs, and resources to reach out to when we need help or want to share that great event happening next weekend.

Sure, there are so many ways to get involved. Pick one. If you can’t find an organization, start one. But if you choose Downtown Academy, it will definitely challenge and amaze you! The exposure and networking it brought me is absolutely invaluable and I can already see it shaping my career as an architect. No matter what background, career, passions or hobbies you have, our city needs you.

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