On February 25, 2019, the University of Michigan – Flint and Kettering University discussed the role of universities in this process. LLE 2.0: The Power of People and Place is the latest installment in a series of community talks focused on the connection between liberal learning and entrepreneurial thinking.
Director of Neighborhood Services at Kettering University Tom Wyatt joined UM-Flint’s Interim Provost Dr. Sue Alcock for a discussion moderated by UM-Flint Student Government President Eucharia Ganda.
In his work, Wyatt collaborates with community partners like those in the University Avenue Corridor Coalition, which includes 70 community stakeholders from McLaren Flint on the West to UM-Flint on the East, Hurley Medical Center and Whaley Children’s Home on the North and the Flint River to the South.
Alcock pointed to the work of UM-Flint faculty and university-sponsored events as opportunities to leverage the university as a force for positivity in the community. One example is the Porch Project, a collaboration between a block association and Assistant Professor of Biology Rebecca Tonietto. In addition to beautifying homeowners’ yards, Tonietto is researching if gardens increase wild bee diversity.
As the interim provost, Alcock’s office is among the university units sponsoring Yo Yo Ma’s Day of Action in Flint, which takes place February 28, 2019. The day will include performances by Ma and the UM-Flint Jazz Combo.
As a freshman at the University of Michigan-Flint, Jared Arnold (’14, Biochemistry) wasn’t sure of the path he would take. He did know, however, that he was ready to work after earning his degree. Graduate school could come after gaining professional experience. The common thread throughout his exploration—in engineering and nursing, among other majors—was the chemistry coursework required by each. Those prerequisite courses led Arnold to the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry; there he found his professional calling and a community of lasting support.
A Professional Path
Five years after earning his degree, Arnold works as a Research & Development Chemist at AkzoNobel, where he develops vehicle refinish coatings. The paints used in vehicle manufacturing plants differ from those used in your local body shop, so Arnold develops coatings built to work in the more variable environments found at those shops. His work also allows him to explore the development of water-based paints, which in comparison to conventional paints borne by solvents, produce fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Arnold’s job pushes him to find solutions that are both environmentally friendly and effective in industry.
His experience with the coatings field began while he was still attending UM-Flint, with an internship at Lockhart Chemical Company.
“I never saw myself as a bench chemist long-term, so I was
seeking out alternate opportunities. It was interning at Lockhart while
finishing my degree where I really saw what I could do with my education,”
Arnold says. “Organizing operations and solving product-related issues were
interesting challenges for me.”
Support From the UM-Flint Community
Industrial chemistry is a competitive field, and getting
your foot in the door at firms such as Lockhart or AkzoNobel requires that you
have a solid foundation of chemical knowledge, laboratory skills, and a strong
network. UM-Flint Chemistry offered Arnold all three.
“Once I began taking higher-level chemistry courses, I was
working with the same 10 or 15 people in each class. You get this very personal
connection, not only with professors but with your fellow students,” Arnold
says. “The support was built-in—you have people you trust and because classes
are small, it’s very easy to have that one-on-one time with your professors.”
One professor Arnold spent plenty of time working with is department chair Dr. Jessica Kelts. A former corporate research scientist herself, Kelts was well-positioned to mentor Arnold both in the classroom and as a future professional. Complex lab sessions can last hours, with time to wait for chemical reactions. Kelts sees that downtime as an opportunity to discuss with students what they want to do in life, or simply connect about music or movies and other interests.
“You get to know these students so well as a professor at
UM-Flint, especially when you have them for multiple classes. Likewise,
students know us well enough that they don’t hesitate to contact us five or
more years later for a recommendation letter or just to ask for advice,” Kelts
says. “As their professor and mentor, you become invested in their success.”
A Complete Education
Arnold enjoys using his chemistry skills in the context of business, but becoming acquainted with industry posed new challenges. How does he effectively debate with the marketing team about what they should—and should not—say about a new product’s properties? Arnold draws on the broad-based education he received within the College of Arts & Sciences, one that exposed him to different modes of thinking amidst his scientific inquiry.
In particular, Arnold remembers philosophy classes taught by
Dr. Stevens Wandmacher.
“I saw that the approach to philosophy was so different than what I was seeing in chemistry. It’s a completely different way to approach problems and explain answers,” Arnold says. “I found new ways to deal with problems and arguments, and if I hadn’t taken philosophy courses, I wouldn’t have known those things existed.”
Now having several years of professional experience, Arnold is preparing to advance his education with a master’s degree. But he will always see UM-Flint as the place that set him up for success.
“You’ll have more opportunities for hands-on experience at UM-Flint than anywhere else. You can work with a professor on their research project; you can be published by the time you finish undergrad. The community I made and the opportunities I found kept me engaged with campus.”