For the winter semester, some students are gearing up to study on a different continent, some are looking ahead to a term in the nation’s capital and others will be a little closer to Ann Arbor — in Detroit.
Participants and prospective members of the University’s Semester in Detroit program gathered in Weill Hall last night to hear Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins speak about the city’s economic condition. Past participants discussed what they learned through the program, how it affected them and how those lessons could impact their future.
Jenkins told the crowd of about 50 people that the Semester in Detroit program is important because it brings students from different backgrounds together and engages them in a variety of projects in the city, including ventures focused on the revival of Detroit’s economy.
Quoting a recent article in TIME magazine, Jenkins described Detroit’s population boom in the early 20th century when people of all races moved from the South to the Midwest to work in the automotive industry. Now, however, many people compare the industry to the city’s downtrodden economy, Jenkins said.
Though many have equated Detroit with a austere outlook, Jenkins said she remains optimistic about the city’s prospects. Jenkins added that with the right minds and dedication toward rebuilding the city, she believes it can be healed.
“Although the picture painted may seem bleak, I believe wholeheartedly in the city of Detroit,” she said. “I do believe that we can make a comeback in Detroit, and that is what keeps me going each and every single day.”
There has been a recent influx of employment in Detroit, according to Jenkins. She noted that health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield added 300 jobs in the city over the past six months, and mortgage broker Quicken Loans recently added 2,200 jobs.
Jenkins also highlighted initiatives in the city, such as environmental clean-ups and the addition of healthier food stores, aimed at improving the city’s image.
Craig Regester, associate director of Semester in Detroit, described the program as an “academic immersion experience” that takes students from a variety of schools in the University to spend either a winter or spring semester living in Detroit.
“Just as we remain connected to Detroit’s glories, there is much to be learned about its problems,” Regester said. “We need to look past the ruins and connect with the people and issues at hand.”
LSA senior Emily Dabish spoke to the group about her participation in the Semester in Detroit during the spring and an internship she had in Jenkins’s office over the summer. She told those in attendance last night that Detroit is a fulfilling place to work.
“I can assure you, Detroit is open for business,” she said.
In an interview prior to the event, Kinesiology senior Rashard Haynesworth, another participant in the Semester in Detroit this past spring, said he wanted to find a way to give back to the city, where he is originally from.
“The main thing I took away was that I learned a lot about local startups (and) local businesses,” Haynesworth said. “… I learned a lot about things I never knew — opportunities that existed in my city I never knew about — because I did this program.”