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2013-06-27

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July 1, 2013 - 10:07am

Figuring Out Flint: To which city?

BY HARSHA NAHATA

I’m a senior. Graduation is coming up pretty fast. For a long time, whenever someone asked what was next for me, where I’d want to go after Ann Arbor, I would answer automatically with “New York City or Washington, D.C.” It seemed like a natural enough step — intern or work in a big city, get experience, and then look at graduate programs. And it’s a plan that I hear many of my friends from the University echo — the notion of moving to a different state, a bigger city, whether it’s Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. or Los Angeles.

That was until this past semester.

This past semester I took a class on the city of Flint. Throughout the semester we worked in small teams to brainstorm innovative action plans to revitalize the city. At the end of our class, our professor had some words of career advice for us.

He told us that while many of us will look to flock to the cities that everyone seems to be going to after graduation, there’s something to be said for starting small, working in the underrated areas and being part of a turnaround.

Our professor emphasized that starting in a low-key smaller situation allows you to have more substantial experiences and take on more tasks, at a lower stake. Not only that, but some of the more underrated places — like Flint or Detroit — have significantly lower costs of living and are much less of an economic burden for a recent graduate.

Working in Flint, I’m constantly reminded of how true his words were. The experience I have been able to get has been unmatched anywhere else. Within the first week, I was able to meet with the mayor, Flint’s emergency manager, the Chamber of Commerce and top leaders from four major universities. Throughout my time in Flint, I have constantly been reminded how much my time, skills and work are being valued. And it’s a great feeling to know that the work you are doing is not only effective, but also much appreciated.

Not only that, but I’ve been able to witness all aspects of city management. Being interested in economic development, this experience has been a blessing for me. I have seen statistics on every factor ranging from local city services to education to public safety to city finances. I have also been able to sit in meetings, listening to the top minds in the city come together and brainstorm ways to turn things around. And beyond that I have made amazing connections with some incredibly inspiring and determined individuals.

I have had summer internships in D.C. in the past. But I don’t think I have learned or been exposed to nearly as much in all of those than I have in my short time in Flint. And it has all been in a place less than 40 minutes away from home. While it’s natural to dream of the big city life, I have also learned not to write off the great opportunities right next door.

Plus, there’s something to be said for being part of a turnaround. There’s an incredible spirit between people working day and night to revitalize cities like Detroit and Flint. It’s a spirit that inspires determination and creativity for everyone who is around it.

Harsha Nahata can be reached at hnahata@umich.edu.