Leadership Montana Program Reflection: Jill Alban & Nicole Smith, Class of 2022, Missoula
Becky Edwards
Flagship Session: Becky Edwards and Jody Verity
September 30, 2021
Flagship Session 3: Jess Melin
November 30, 2021


Jill Alban and Nicole Smith, Class of 2022, Missoula

Program Reflection, Cohort 1
by Jill Alban, Class of 2022, Missoula

At the conclusion of Session 2 in Whitefish, Chantel asked us to reflect on what we had learned about ourselves over the past few days. I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say at that very moment, so I didn’t raise my hand (although I’ll be honest, as an extrovert, I really wanted to).

It was easier to think back on all I had learned about the members of my cohort. Jess’s dedication to his church and family. Sara’s “Sliding Doors” moment as an almost-spy for the CIA. Jim’s love of peak-bagging. How Amy D’s father used to sit her on his lap and tell her she could be whatever a man could be — and more.

Chantel’s question reminded me of a similar prompt from the day before. On Day 2, in our Gracious Space training, Carmen had asked us to consider how it was so easy to give compliments or “gifts” to others, but that most of us find it difficult to do the same for ourselves.

I suppose the answer as to “why” we don’t always feel comfortable talking or even thinking about ourselves is relatively straightforward––we may feel like we’re bragging. Or it may feel false because the inner voice that says  “you’re not good enough” continues to clamor away between our ears as we’re trying to give voice to our strengths.

But, in the days following Session 2, I did actually land on what I learned about myself. And it happens to be a thing I like about myself, to boot.

I learned that I really like to dwell in frontiers. By frontiers I mean: metaphorical or literal places where individuals or groups are (either willingly or by force) trying something new.  Places where I am learning or trying something new.

Like during the tour of Defiance Gun Manufacturing. Or the tour of Stoltz Lumber. Or in listening to the panel of community leaders in the Flathead Valley. Or at my table on Day 3, brainstorming with Jon, Kendra, and Tony as to how to actually make internal meetings productive.

I’m grateful for the way Leadership Montana cultivates a frontier for each of us to explore. And in particular, for the depth of community in our cohort that emerged during Session 2. It’s a gift to be a part of this community, one that celebrates learning in public, pushing boundaries, and connecting.

I’m excited to see what emerges on the other side.

Program Reflection, Cohort 2
by Nicole Smith, Class of 2022, Missoula

The Flathead Valley is where my spirit feels most at home. My great grandmother Florence, born in 1907, raised her five children in Kalispell. Back then it was primarily a logging community; she told me about how they would buy groceries on credit at the neighborhood store during the winter because no one could work. She had twins in February; my grandma Ila (then age 7) remembers putting a blanket in a warm cast iron pan, heated on the woodstove to keep the babies warm. Grandma Florence would go on to own a farm in Somers, on the shores of Flathead Lake. My family spent many summer days enjoying the clear blue waters of Flathead and exploring Glacier National Park. What an incredible place to call home.

A lot has changed in the Valley over the years, but the spirit of community, adventure, and innovation thrives. Tenacity and a passion for meaningful work were on full display when, on day one, we visited the Kalispell Kreamery. The family-run dairy farm has not missed a two-a-day milking in the 45 years they’ve operated the business. After sampling their cold brew and chocolate milk, we learned there’s not much better than teat to table. Support your local dairy farmer!

It felt like we never skipped a beat as our cohort continued getting to know each other and learn together. We were introduced to the tenants of Gracious Space and saw those in action as the alumni panel raised issues of housing insecurity, lack of public transportation, and experiences of white privilege. The Nate Chute Foundation educated us on the suicide cluster occurring among young people in the Flathead Valley. As the Executive Director of a primary care clinic, I was sobered by the statistic that approximately 45% of all individuals who die by suicide visit their primary care provider in the two weeks preceding their death. When I shared this with my staff, everyone from the physicians to the front desk staff agreed that we should pursue the QPR training to increase our skills and awareness in identifying individuals at risk of self-harm.

Moments of contemplation and introspection were interspersed with great food, great conversation, and amazing scenery. Although we never saw the elusive Grouse Mountain black bear, we did enjoy some fantastic cocktails and the most extravagant charcuterie board at Spotted Bear Spirits in downtown Whitefish.

The training culminated with tours of local businesses, a highlight of the session. What a gift to be a lifelong learner – to find that your curiosity about new things never fades. I learned about issues with the supply chain of fertilizer chemicals coming from China, which doubled the price for the next growing season for Montana farmers. I saw up close, a semi-truck being manufactured as a state-of-the-art communications command center. Innovation, community, adventure – these things are alive and well in the Flathead Valley, and they are defining characteristics of the friends I’m making through Leadership Montana.