This is an article from the fall 2018 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
Performing in front of an audience is familiar territory for Blake Washington. As a track athlete, he’s sprinted past throngs of sports fans at stadiums across the country. As a student, he’s performed slam poetry for crowds of his peers.
But on the first day of his internship, standing in front of 20 teenagers in a classroom in metro Detroit, Washington felt a twinge of anxiety. With all of the computer programming knowledge he’d absorbed in his LSA classes, he thought he was prepared to be a coding teacher for the Detroit tech empowerment nonprofit JOURNi. But it’s a little more complicated than just downloading information from your head into someone else’s — and a little scarier.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Am I really going to be able to establish a teacher-student dynamic with these students, some of whom are not much younger than me?'" Washington, a senior majoring in cognitive science, says. “But I loved the challenge. And I love the idea of passing on what I know about coding to the next generation.”
Washington was one of 16 students who spent the summer interning at Detroit nonprofits and arts organizations as inaugural fellows in the Applebaum Internship Program through the LSA Opportunity Hub. His two months in the city helped him discover a personal connection with nonprofit missions.
“These kids were facing all kinds of locked doors,” Washington says, “but we’re giving each and every one of them the means to open up doors to new opportunities.”
The transformative premise of the Applebaum Internship Program, created in the fall of 2017, is to connect talented liberal arts students to core Detroit nonprofit and arts institutions in order to inspire the next generation of leaders to take on the challenges of building, revamping, and sustaining the city’s vibrant, diverse nonprofit and cultural infrastructure.
The Eugene & Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation gave a generous donation that made the program possible, partnering with the LSA Opportunity Hub to provide students with crucial funding support that is often the deciding factor between taking a nonprofit internship or doing something else. The LSA Opportunity Hub, which helps the college’s nearly 18,000 students identify and fulfill their professional aspirations, was the perfect partner to bring the initiative to life.
In addition to funding support, the program provides a shared experience for a cohort of students, supporting them in their preparation, exploration, and learning. The program also aims to entice University of Michigan graduates to stay in the state by getting them excited about the ways that they can contribute to the city and southeast Michigan.
“We want to show students what’s possible within the city of Detroit and within nonprofits,” says Kelly Day, the Hub’s Applebaum Internship Program manager. “So many of the students were at the beginning of their academic career and gaining experience for the first time when they joined us. Now they’ve seen what they are capable of and what type of impact they can make on a city, and the people they worked for saw it, too.”
The first Applebaum fellows cohort, some of which are pictured here, includes 16 students who spent the summer working and developing connections and leadership skills at nonprofits throughout southeast Michigan.
The program includes internships at many of the city’s most enduring cultural institutions, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as well as smaller nonprofits where LSA students taught coding, advocated for the environment, and served as mentors to younger students. The fellows came together for a program kickoff event in July at the Detroit Historical Museum, an event which featured remarks from leaders in LSA and the Opportunity Hub and from Pamela Applebaum, the president of the Applebaum Family Foundation.
The fellowship provides a series of professional and leadership development events that give Applebaum fellows an insider’s understanding of various facets of the city, from philanthropy to education. The seminars also provided connections to key industry professionals that students would otherwise not have access to, including time with leaders from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Wayne State University, and the Ralph Wilson Foundation.
Each fellow was also paired with a mentor for the summer — an LSA alum working in the region — and invited to kick off their experience at an overnight orientation in Detroit guided by Hub staff.
The deeper goal of the program is to demolish stereotypes about nonprofit work by showing opportunities and experiences that are as satisfying and challenging as those found in for-profit positions.
“Sometimes it’s seen as, ‘Oh, you work in a nonprofit, you’re such a good person for giving up the salary you could get elsewhere,’” Day says. “But there are professional people who work in that sector who care not just about the community but about their own careers. There are a lot of different entities categorized as nonprofits — hospitals, universities, museums — where there are a lot of opportunities.”
In the D
The program’s setting — Detroit — is at the center of the initiative. The Applebaums, along with the LSA Opportunity Hub, want to provide a platform that encourages students to embrace Detroit’s complexity and engage with its embedded, long-standing community.
“Many people think that there’s nothing going on outside the city’s center, but there is vibrancy in neighborhoods outside of that area,” Day says. “It was important to us that the students really develop an authentic connection with and understanding of Detroit.”
“The Applebaums are leveraging their incredible connections in the city to create something special for U-M students,” says Paula Wishart, LSA’s assistant dean for student development and career initiatives who heads the LSA Opportunity Hub. “They are very dedicated to the area’s philanthropic organizations and to encouraging students to see this line of work as not only viable but vital.”
For the students, many of whom had spent time in Detroit growing up, it was an opportunity to understand and experience the city in a more intentional way.
“I’ve always loved the city, but I’ve wondered why it feels like I’m in a different place when I’m in a different part of Detroit,” Washington says. “l’ve really wanted to do something for those parts of the city that are not getting as much attention. I’m really excited to establish a solid tech ecosystem in Detroit.”
Photos by Levi Stroud