After hearing from community members that there is a need for more targeted entrepreneurial training in Flint’s neighborhoods, University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator sought funding to develop a business boot camp that can be used with populations across the community. The Innovation Incubator was awarded a $49,050 grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation to implement the North Flint Economic Prosperity program, which will begin this September.

The incubator plans to offer at least three boot camps in various north Flint neighborhoods. The locations include the first and third wards, the Civic Park neighborhood and the neighborhood surrounding the Hispanic Technology Center. The five session boot camp will include both faculty instruction and speaking engagements by local successful entrepreneurs that can serve as role models for participants. Teenagers and adults will be taught together to give both groups a broader perspective and to encourage more diverse business teams to form. At the end of the boot camp, teenagers are eligible to participate in a culminating business pitch competition for prizes to support their venture.

All of the boot camps are being offered for free and will run for five sessions each between February and June 2017. In the fall semester, students will also help collect data from pre-existing business owners in these neighborhoods regarding business climate, availability of business support services and obstacles to growth. Visit go.umflint.edu/in to register or for more information.

By Sara McDonnell

“If you build it, they will come,” that was the line from the Field of Dreams movie that Kevin Costner starred in, those of us around in the 90’s will remember that movie. I remember there being all kinds of spoofs off that movie one-liner. I never thought much of it but the saying holds true when it comes to building habitat for wildlife. Many of our Flint parks provide habitat, and many just need the extra nudge to become something special.

picture5That’s what students at Flint’s Southwestern Academy learned last year while in Ms. Kim Hatfield’s and Ms. Linda Heck’s classes. Their school has these really cool internal courtyards that they’ve worked on to improve and create art, garden space, and habitat in. Some of nature’s friends, mostly ducks, have enjoyed living in one of the courtyards but it wasn’t providing enough food or shelter.

The students had begun asking questions, “What if there was a place at our school for wildlife to live? What types of things do ducks, birds, amphibians, need to thrive? What would that look like? Where is the best place to build something?” by getting out of the classroom, practicing place-based education, the students identified an ideal location in the park next to their school.

picture2All of Flint’s schools were planned as school-park sites, which basically means that every school has a park located next door. Cronin Derby Downs is the park next to Southwestern Academy, you know the one with the epic sledding hill? Part of that park is wet most of the year, the grass is usually soggy, making it hard to mow and looking kept up.

Thanks to a mini-grant from University Outreach’s Discovering PLACE program, the teachers were able to work with Genesee Conservation District to design an outdoor habitat space at the park. A partnership was formalized between UM-Flint, Flint Community Schools, city of Flint, and the Genesee Conservation District to get the design work done. UM-Flint Outreach has been working with all the parties for many years thanks to funding from the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust.

swahabitat_concept-9-15The students led a design process that had been approved by adults. Student voices informed development of the habitat project next to the school. The project that supports the Imagine Flint Master Plan, and its recommendations for blue/green infrastructure – naturalize part of the park to provide habitat for wildlife, and cut down maintenance costs. How cool is that!

With no time to rest on their laurels, the students and teachers, working with UM-Flint Outreach and the Conservation District, started digging up the grass in preparation of restoring a vernal pool and planting of native vegetation. It was hard work, and there wasn’t a way the students could get it done in time. The students put their thinking caps back on and again started asking “how much does it cost to restore habitat?” The cost estimates came in and it was going to cost about $19,000 to have the professionals come in, and buy all the materials they needed.

southwestern-46That’s when, University Outreach, with its long standing relationship with Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN), put together a grant proposal to cover the costs of building the habitat. It was awarded! Saginaw Bay WIN is a group of funders, based out of Midland and Bay City that supports projects that protect and restore the Saginaw Bay Watershed.

Work is going to start this fall, Genesee Conservation District is leading the construction, while a retired school teacher, Ms. Linda Heck, will work with individual classrooms to design lesson plans, so students can learn science, math, and English language arts outside the school, next door in the habitat that their older classmates designed. That is the coolest part of all. The students dreamed and designed a place for local wildlife to thrive. And believe me, they are thriving!

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The Discovering Place program works with Suzanne Knight and Laura McLeman, co-coordinators of the Secondary Teacher Certification Programs, Professional Education Unit at UM-Flint, to align secondary education teaching practices with place-based education. Please contact Leyla Sanker to learn how you can connect with this work at lsanker@umflint.edu or (810) 424-5477.

Additional Reading

Getting Students Interested in Natural Resources Sciences

Flint initiative redefines place-based education in urban schools

By Alicia Gillman
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Twenty-two students, alumni and staff members attended the second annual Alternative Summer Break (ASuB) trip in Chicago, IL August 21-26, 2016. Participants were divided into three groups and volunteered with either NeighborSpace, Inspiration Corporation, or Pacific Garden Mission addressing the issues of Food Security, Urban Renewal and Homelessness/Hunger, respectively. Some of the work at the service sites included maintaining community gardens, prepping and serving meals, general cleaning and maintenance of facilities.

Throughout the week, students engaged in both individual and group reflection activities that allowed space for them to think critically about the work they engaged in and ways that they could bring what they learned back to Flint. Participant Peyton Kerns stated, “This trip has taught me so many life lessons and I’ve also made so many great friends along the way.” ASuB 2016 was truly a week that lasts a lifetime, leaving a large impact on the organizations served and the participants.

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By Sherry Hayden

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Winners (left to right): Rhonda Jones, People’s Choice award; Artemis Mora, $500; Mark Hammond, $500; Josh Clouthier, Janice McCoy, Phil Boyd, $500.

UM-Flint students are an ingenious bunch. On March 24, 2016 at the Innovation Incubator, the public caught a glimpse of the exciting ideas happening here on our urban campus during the U Make the Change Competition.

Students presented innovative solutions to social problems, specifically in technology-based design, social impact, products, designs, and community-based art. Fifteen groups competed for prizes, but only four teams could be winners.

The judges were UM-Flint faculty, with lots of creative experience between them. Dr. Mark Allison is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science; Kurt Neiswender is a local architect who also teaches in Earth and Resource Science and Visual Communications departments; and Paula Nas teaches in the Economics Department and serves as Interim Director of University Outreach.

U-Make LogoComputer Science students Phil Boyd and Josh Clouthier teamed up with Janice McCoy, a graphic designer, to create an app that helps people come up with ideas for dates based on cost, activity level, time length, and location. The U Make judges were impressed with “Easy Dates” and awarded them a $500 prize.

They also awarded a $500 prize to Artemis Mora, for “Weaponized: Me,” a theatre project to help those with marginalized identities find the power of their unique voices to affect change. Mark Hammond won $500 with his smart phone application, “Let’s Fix Flint App” to connect volunteers with organizers of community engagement events.

Rhonda Jones won the People’s Choice award, voted by the majority of the 78 people who attended the competition. Her project, “Bottled Emotions,” recycled 5,000 water bottle caps into a large mosaic mural representing Flint’s lead-in-water crisis and the community response to overcome the issues.  Rhonda won mentoring with a UM-Flint professor to assist in marketing her community-based art.

This was the second year of the U Make Competition, which began as a joint project of UM-Flint University Outreach and the UM-Flint Association for Computing Machinery. This year sponsors included the UM-Flint Department of Visual Arts, the Recreation Center, and Office of the Provost.

By Sherry Hayden

essence wilson

Essence Wilson

Have you noticed restorations on formerly abandoned, historic buildings west of Downtown Flint? What’s going on in the Swayze Building on westbound Court Street? Maybe you’ve noticed the transformation of Oak Street School into senior apartments on eastbound W. Fifth Street.

While any construction at this particular time in Flint is interesting, the bigger story is the way it is being done.

Years ago, Glenn and Essence Wilson dreamed of an improved quality of life for residents of their hometown. They saw a need for economic development and affordable, healthy housing solutions – and they wanted to be kind to the environment.  For three years, they built the foundations of Communities First, Inc.  They searched for a good business evaluation tool and found it in the concept of the Triple Bottom Line.

Glenn Wilson

Glenn Wilson

You’ve heard businesspeople talk about “the bottom line,” which refers to profit. But practical visionaries consider the bigger picture. They examine the potential social and environmental effects of business decisions. “The greenest building is the one left standing,” Essence said to a full house at the Innovation Incubator on Wednesday, April 6.

Taking the Triple Bottom Line into consideration actually promotes the long-term health and sustainability of a business – and a community. It pays off in multiple ways.

Glenn told entrepreneurs they will be tempted to take on projects for profit only. He advised, “Know who you are and stay true to it.” The Communities First Inc. model focuses on three main areas:

  • Economic development, which includes securing funding for mixed-use development projects, and hiring local workers;
  • Green Life Program, encouraging environmental practices in business and homes; and
  • Culture Shock, promoting arts and culture in the community.

In their presentation, they examined other local socially-minded organizations to identify the social, economic and environmental impacts. While there are important keys to implementing a successful sustainability model, Glenn said entrepreneurs should tailor plans to their own situations. That usually means identifying the primary focus of your efforts. For instance, someone may put environmental health first, but will need to consider the community and also find a way to make it sustainable through an income stream.  “It’s important not to try to do too much too quickly,” Glenn said. “Build your foundation and work your way up.”

GVSUSproutLab-1159Charma Dompreh of Charma’s Green Chips has been selected as a SPARK Award recipient by the Genesee eTEAM, a regional collaboration of entrepreneurial service providers.

The SPARK award recognizes local businesspeople, in business for two years or less, for their “entrepreneurial spark,” as demonstrated by their determination, vision, identified market, growth potential, and setting and achieving business goals.

Charma Dompreh is a retired school teacher who earned a license as a raw food chef. She was motivated by the dual urban problem of food deserts and childhood obesity to find a way to teach Flint kids about healthy nutrition. She created an alternative snack product with organically grown and locally sourced dehydrated collard greens and kale. They are tasty!

Charma has been a client of the Innovation Incubator for a couple years, moving slowly and surely, taking advantage of all the resources available to make her vision a reality. She has created partnerships with food labs, and participates in workshops and competitions. She is absolutely, and quietly, determined to be a success. Charma also is a recent winner of the Co.Starters Food Lab competition in Grand Rapids, winning second place. She will use that $2000 prize to purchase a commercial mixer.

The SPARK award will be presented to Charma at the 2016 Annual JumpStart Entrepreneurship Conference on Thursday, February 25, 2016.  The conference is designed for all current or aspiring entrepreneurs and is held at the Holiday Inn Gateway Centre from 8 am-1:30 pm. Information is at flintandgenesee.org/jumpstart.

By Alicia Gillman

On Friday, November 6, 2015, 202 students from 18 different colleges from across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula came together at the University of Michigan-Flint for the Active Students Leadership Conference (ALSC) sponsored by Michigan Campus Compact.  Students from the University of Michigan-Flint, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, Madonna University, Saginaw State University, Lansing Community College, Central Michigan University, and Mott Community College worked to plan the Active Leaders Student Conference from May through November so that it was truly “for students, by students”.

The theme of the 2015 ALSC was learning how to “live and lead change” in our communities and beyond. The workshops available featured community service, service learning, and civic engagement. Participants had the opportunity to improve leadership skills, partake in personal and professional development opportunities, and learn about ways to improve service opportunities on their respective campuses. Furthermore, the conference gave students, faculty and staff from across the state an opportunity to network and provide a foundation for further collaboration.

Mr. JaNel Jamerson, Director of the Flint and Genesee Literacy Network and native of Flint served as the keynote speaker for the Active Leaders Student Conference.  Mr. Jamerson is committed to leading programmatic and systemic change through the development of literacy in Flint and Genesee County. During his keynote address, Jamerson discussed how participants can evoke change in their communities and left participants feeling empowered to make a difference.

To close out the conference, participants completed five service projects to benefit Carriage Town Ministries, a local homeless shelter in downtown Flint. Though participants only had about 45 minutes to complete the projects, they were able to yield nearly twenty no-sew blankets, over a hundred decorated lunch bags and holiday cards, several boxes of cut t-shirts to be used for residents to make t-shirt rugs, and over two hundred mini first aid kits containing Band-Aids and alcohol prep pads. These items will be utilized throughout the upcoming holiday and winter season by Carriage Town Ministries’ clients.

If you are interested learning more about how you can make an impact in the Flint community during your time at UM-Flint visit our Alternative Breaks page. Visit 2016 Active Leader Student Conference for information about next year’s conference.

immigrant u

Photo courtesy of Brandon Malevich

By Sherry Hayden

Did you know international students comprise about one-eighth of the student body at UM-Flint? It turns out you can have a truly international experience right here in Flint, Michigan. It’s exciting to travel to other countries and cities to learn about our differences and our similarities. That’s what is happening right here, right now.

Some of these international students have been working for a couple years on a documentary about their experiences coming to the UM-Flint from their native countries. The new documentary, Immigrant U: Our Story, Our Way, was conceived by students of Kendrick Jones, who lectures in the Theatre Department. Kendrick also is the director and founder of Shop Floor Theatre Company (SFTC), a non-profit housed in the UM-Flint University Outreach Innovation Incubator. SFTC is funded by a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation, which funded the documentary and all the work leading up to it.

The students premiered the documentary at UM-Flint November 18, 2015 to a full house in the KIVA. It was followed by live, theatrical performances from some of the students.

I sat with my new friend Abeer, who immigrated from Sudan. She works across the hall from the Incubator at the Northbank Center. It is interesting to hear her perspectives; I am always impressed with how brave it is for anyone to move to a new country and start over. I’ve only visited other countries for a few months, and can only imagine being apart from my family and friends, and the land that I love so much, for an extended period of time.

We listened to the students talk about the difficulties of coming to a new country, being accepted by others, and even dealing with Michigan’s climate.  When one of the performers pleaded with the audience, “I don’t know anything about American football – will you still love me?” Abeer spontaneously cried out, “I will!”  The whole audience laughed. I was delighted – gentle humor is the common language here. Love and friendship are our common languages as well.

What this production revealed is that we are much more alike than we are different. Most of the problems presented by the students from India, Saudi Arabia, France, Nigeria and Jamaica really are no different from new students who grew up locally. Everyone has difficulty, especially the first semester of college. It’s new, different, and that requires adjustment. Every student wonders if she will make friends, fit in, and find her way around in the world.

A key message of the international students is that they want to be your friends and they want to learn and grow with you. That’s really what most people want, regardless of where they were born. UM-Flint is a great place to do that.

costart picBy Nic Custer

Mark Baldwin’s filter that turns rain into drinking water, Stephan McBride’s safe space for gamers to congregate, Porcha Clemons’ Christian dance studio, and Glennis Holcomb’s urban farm business producing pickles and kilts are just some of the interesting and exciting business ideas that participants hope will win them start-up funding at a Grand Rapids pitch competition Nov. 30.

At the final session of Co.Starters, a 9-week business boot camp at UM-Flint’s Innovation Incubator, the cohort of entrepreneurs practiced pitching their big ideas and shared feedback.

Eleven participants gave brief pitches about their new or pre-existing businesses. Several entrepreneurs already sell products out of the Flint Farmers’ Market including Alyson Caverson’s Happy Girl Granola, Franklin Pleasant’s The Local Grocer and Cindy Eckert’s Whimsicality, which sells old fashioned toys. Others are looking to launch or expand their community businesses in the next year including Qareena Clemons’ massage therapy business, Isaih Dawson’s Dawson’s Kitchen and Catering, and Francine Houston’s Writers Inc., a publishing business.

steffan picThe program was brought to campus through a partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Sprout Lab, which subsidized some of the costs of the Flint boot camp to make it affordable for local entrepreneurs. The Innovation Incubator was an ideal location because of its convenient free public co-working space downtown and free parking adjacent to the building.

Co.Starters participants across the state are automatically eligible for a pitch competition in Grand Rapids on November 30. One of the Flint pitches will receive a special AKT Peerless sponsored prize of $1,000 and could potentially win the competition’s grand prize of $5,000.

AKT Peerless, an environmental remediation and economic development firm, also sponsored the program and provided Garrett Geer, vice president of business development and government relations, to teach the course in Flint.

porsha picParticipants enjoyed Geer’s teaching style and appreciated the cohort model, in which participants share feedback and together gain a more complete understanding of the concepts. By the end of the program, the more than 20 students and community members who participated were more confident in themselves and the direction of their ventures.

The Innovation Incubator will hold a free pitch clinic in January to prepare entrepreneurs for two other local competitions in early 2016. For more information, visit the Innovation Incubator webpage.

The University of Michigan-Flint’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) enables students to learn about issues such as homelessness, poverty, hunger, violence, environmental issues, and other complex social and cultural issues. Students listen to and understand community needs and continue a commitment to community service and social change. This programming has been expanded and complemented with Service Saturdays and Alternative Summer Break. Alternative Breaks is now the umbrella name for Alternative Spring Break, Service Saturdays and Alternative Summer Break. With this change we have approximately 39 student leadership roles. We have 5 executive board members, 14 general board members and 20 site leaders.

The University of Michigan-Flint’s Service Saturdays program is a University Outreach sponsored program that offers a community service learning experience on the local level during select Saturdays throughout the year. Students spend time learning about our urban community and many of the social issues that residents face in Flint. On designated Saturdays, participants will meet at the selected service site to engage in meaningful action towards a greater understanding of root causes of relevant issues. Following the project, students participate in critical reflection and analysis of the social justice issues they experienced first-hand.

Alternative Summer Break (ASuB) is a University Outreach sponsored program designed to provide an opportunity for students to partake in meaningful community service learning experiences throughout the United States. During the summer semester, students spend a week serving, addressing a particular social, cultural, or environmental issue. All trips are issue-based, meaning students choose a trip based on a specific topic, not a destination. The organizations and locations are not revealed until a few weeks prior to the trip. Through active engagement, critical reflection, and analysis, students will learn about the issue and the community in which they are serving. Following the trip, students will return as active citizens and be able to translate their experiences into addressing the needs of their communities.

We are looking forward to a great year of Alternative Breaks programming! Visit our AB webpage if you would like additional information on AB programming.