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Original story by Ian Coon can be found on the Greater Des Moines Partnership website.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a typical question asked of any student, and one the average high school freshman isn’t quite sure how to answer.

This is the question Greater Des Moines (DSM) answered for me.

While DSM boasts schools that are leading the nation in terms of high test score results and innovative practices, choosing a career can be a daunting task. If you were to ask me that question — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” — five years ago, I probably would’ve said that I just want a job that helps people. Because, you know, that narrows down the options.

Ian Coon with a business partner.

But throughout my sophomore year, my world turned upside down. I was asked to take a trip down to Kansas City with two fellow students, district administrators and business leaders in the DSM community. We witnessed a hands-on, business-driven approach to education, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. And, we brought it back to the region.

I was part of the inaugural class of the Waukee Aspiring Professional Experience (APEX) program, where I had the opportunity to work alongside peers while embedded in an office in DSM. This class helped me realize that I really do love helping people and can do that through journalism and communications. It was also in that same class that I was able to found a nonprofit that is still in operation today. While APEX was the start, it definitely isn’t the end of what our region has to offer.

My senior year of high school led to an opportunity to apply for an internship program. Only 60 out of 550 students in my graduating class had the chance to do this. Landing this was a big deal, but my placement at the Greater Des Moines Partnership for a full year was an even bigger one. It was here that I learned the culture of an office, gained transferable skills for any job I might have in the future and met people that would strengthen my love for DSM even more. It was such a great fit that I was invited back for the summer after my first year in college.

From my internship, I’ve narrowed down my college major to public relations with an aspiration of doing communications work in the non-profit field after graduation. Not many rising college sophomores have majors declared with half of their department-specific courses completed. The ability to have extensive job exposure in high school has saved years of time and thousands of dollars that could have gone to exploring what I want to be when I grow up.

The best part about this story, however, is that while unique, it’s not uncommon in DSMs. Our local community has so much to offer to its young people. DSM has large opportunities with a tight-knit community fabric that continues to be extremely supportive of myself and many other young people who are taking initiative to become DSM’s next top leaders.

Whether it’s attending the Seize The City interns series events, joining the Young Professionals Connection (YPC) group, leading community activism gatherings, or slamming nationally awarded spoken word poems, the young people in DSM play an integral role in this community we call home.

Ian Coon with other young professionals.

In DSM, I can confirm that we truly believe in the power of young people. We break down the silos of education and business to partner together to student’s benefit. We know that today’s students are tomorrow’s future.

As I prepare to leave Greater Des Moines and study in Denver for a semester, I can’t help but think of where I’d be without growing up in the greatest city in the Midwest. I’m already counting down the days until I make my trek back home.

Thank you, DSM USA. I’ll see you again soon.