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In partnering with teen-aged Detroiters, Broad MBAs discover Motor City beyond the C-suite

By Omar Sofradzija, communications manager

It’s one thing to know Detroit as the Motor City, a place of industry and home to the Big Three. It’s a whole other thing to see it through the lenses of the people for whom Detroit isn’t just a place where business happens; it’s where their lives are lived.

The Eli Broad College of Business sent 86 students from its Full-Time MBA Class of 2020 last month to experience Detroit as the latter. They took part in a weekend-long immersive learning and volunteer opportunity with Detroit high school students where they flipped the traditional roles of mentor and mentee, giving the MBAs a human perspective from way beyond the C-suite.

“Participating in an experience like this reminds us to stop, take a breath, and remember to engage with everyone around us. It helps put our daily struggles into perspective, and for me, it reminded me of how grateful and fortunate I am to have gone back to school and to be pursuing a better future for myself,” said MBA student Allison Harris. “It also helps to remind us to give back to our community; a community which helped to bring us to this point in our lives and career.”

“We are going to be the future leaders and impact makers, and we need to ensure we are always paying our good fortunes forward,” Harris said.

The activity was in partnership with buildOn, a nonprofit organization that runs youth service programs in American high schools, and builds schools in developing countries. It was founded by Broad alum Jim Ziolkowski (BA Financial Administration ’89).

“Community service impact is critical to their development as business professionals and MSU students,” said Wayne Hutchison, director of the Broad College Full-Time MBA Program and academic services. “The opportunity to conduct these activities and engage a new group of individuals in a different community was a great chance for our students to learn about and make a difference in Detroit.”

“The connections I saw, both in large and small moments, were incredibly memorable,” Hutchison said. “The connections between students in many instances were more transformative than the service opportunities were.”

Broad MBAs annually conduct large-scale service in the Greater Lansing area; however, this is the first time they’ve engaged a partner in service outside Michigan State University’s home region.

Immersions took place Nov. 9-10 with Detroit Public School students at 3 high schools: Western, Cass Tech, and Osborn.  MBAs were paired with high school students acting as mentors to the MBAs. The teens offered testimonials, community tours, and insight into the worlds they inhabit and try to make better.

The activities in which the group participated included community tours and service projects such as:

  • distributing homeless meal packs;
  • community cleanup and beautification; and
  • Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead,” a traditional Mexican holiday) community celebration setup and execution.

“The most impactful experiences for our MBAs, in my opinion, were the connections with the buildOn students, which were very inspirational, and in some cases emotional for our students,” Hutchison said. “I saw a great deal of humility and engagement from both sides — in particular from our students — and a new dose of perspective for many of our students that come from middle class or affluent backgrounds.”

“Our international students, in particular, seemed to really connect to the buildOn students and the service components of this experience,” Hutchison said. “The ability to see a place through another individual’s lens is a masterful idea, and one I hope we can continue to create in our program.”

“Many MBAs intend to maintain connections to their buildOn mentors going forward,” Hutchison said.

Harris said the different lens on a town she’s long known was eye-opening. “I’m from the metro Detroit area originally and found I was excited to see Detroit through a new perspective,” she said. “It provided me the opportunity to learn more about the city of Detroit, connect with an amazing and wonderful student, and to give back to the community.”

“I learned so much from this experience. It taught me to look at my community differently and inspired me to find ways to make an impact,” Harris said. “It re-energized my love for helping others and allowed me an opportunity to connect with an amazing student. My mentor’s passion for her community, school, and buildOn team showed through in every interaction.”

The involvement of Broad Spartans wasn’t helpful just to buildOn members, but to MBA students as well.

“It is important for MBAs to do a service and community immersion experience like this because it provides an opportunity to separate yourself from the day-to-day routines and stress of grad school. Being an MBA, you work very closely with your class every day, are always studying or working on group projects and assignments, and can often forget there is a whole world outside of our MBA community,” Harris said.

Undergrads do their part in Detroit, too

The MBA event wasn’t the only time Broad Spartans did their part to help and learn from Detroiters this fall. On Oct. 19, eight undergraduate students and 10 MSU alums from General Motors volunteered with Cass Community Social Services as part of Project Green & White, the community service arm of the Broad College’s Lear Corporation Career Services Center.

There, students helped clean and decorate tiny homes, shred paper, unload donated food, and help prepare and serve lunch to clients while networking with the alums with whom they volunteered.

“It was a great experience for the students and for the employees of GM,” said Bronti Belanger, career events manager for the Broad College. “The students who attended this event were not only able to make an impact on the community of Detroit, but also make an impact in their future and the possibility of a future with GM.”


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