Students explore opportunities for meaningful engagement in the City of Detroit

October 26, 2016

For more than 20 years, the Ford School has organized an annual pilgrimage to Washington, DC to help students explore career and internship opportunities in our nation’s capital. This fall, the Ford School offered an additional career trip—one much closer to home—in the City of Detroit.

Eighteen master’s of public policy candidates from the Ford School, and seventeen Ford School and University of Michigan alumni who live and work in southeastern Michigan, convened to discuss ways to engage in the Motor City as interns, volunteers, and professionals.

The day began with a career panel at the City of Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department where panelists, including Betsy Palazzola (MPP/STPP ’12) and Julie Schneider (MPP/MUP ’12), talked about their own career paths in the city as inaugural recipients of the David Bohnett Leadership and Public Service Fellowship.

Palazzola, general manager of green policy and projects for the housing and revitalization department, urged students to connect with Detroit’s residents and long-term city employees—to ask questions, to find out who is working in the policy areas they care about, and to look for ways to collaborate.

Later, at the nearby Guardian Building, students attended a panel on careers in community and economic development hosted by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

Panelists, including Ford School alumni Lisa Nuszkowski (MPP ’03), executive director of Detroit Bike Share, and Mark Wallace (MPP ’04), president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, spoke about navigating career interests, building a range of skills, and always providing value to the community—not just to those with financial resources, but to the full range of the city’s residents. 

The economic development panel was followed by a networking lunch, hosted by Rock Ventures, at the First National Building. More than a dozen Ford School alumni attended the luncheon. Sam Geller (MPP ’17), who will graduate in the spring and is exploring job opportunities in Detroit, appreciated that so many alumni came to the lunch ready and willing to help students make inroads in the city.

The day closed with a panel at Southwest Solutions that focused on community engagement in Southwest Detroit. The panel, says Southwest Detroit resident and Bohnett Fellow Luz Meza (MPP ’17), offered an opportunity to shine a light on some of the grassroots policy work that is happening—and has been happening for a long time—in that community.

“I think that it is so important for us to get out and expose ourselves to the work that is happening in the communities we talk about in our classrooms every day,” says Meza, “to eliminate some of our misconceptions about the issues those communities face.”

Amy David, assistant director of graduate career services, who took a lead role in organizing the day’s activities for the Ford School, says she keeps thinking about the point that Angie Reyes, founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation and one of the Southwest Detroit panelists, made about making sure that once you find a seat at the table, you reach back and invite others to join you.

“The panelists and hosts who made this trip possible did just that—they invited our students to the table,” says David. “We hope those inroads will allow our students and alumni to continue to pay it forward—through positive and productive engagement in this amazing city—in the years ahead.”