Making an impact
In order to become immersed in the project, students got an up-close understanding of Detroit, Michigan. Students were taken on a bus tour around the city, completed a scavenger hunt, and conducted multiple site visits to their clients’ business locations.
“We didn’t want to be these [University of] Michigan students that jump into the city, say we are going to help, and then jump out,” White said. “We wanted to understand the place we’re working at.”
Learning more about the city was one way the group prioritized the community development side of the program.
“If students don’t have a chance to see what the business really means to the customers, and the role that the business plays in that Detroit neighborhood, then they’ve missed part of the lesson,” Baer said. “The businesses that we work with are the heart of their neighborhoods.”
“The businesses that we work with are the heart of their neighborhoods.”
Garcia says that the passionate spirit of Detroit he noticed in the tours goes hand in hand with DNEP businesses.
“The people from Detroit are so proud of where they’re from, and I can completely see it. Everyone who lives in Detroit right now is a hard worker. They just want to see their city rebuilt and reformed. And the clients we’re working with are doing the same thing: creating opportunities for their community,” Garcia said.
One business, Bags to Butterflies, creates job opportunities for formerly incarcerated women. Garcia says by helping the business, he also feels like he is a part of the important social change.
“My client is giving incarcerated people opportunities, so being on the DNEP team is like an indirect social impact,” Garcia said. “If I can help her be successful, she can help other people be successful.”
DNEP is proof that art and design, in combination with other disciplines, can be used for a positive cause.
“I value community and want to be a part of something that has real value and a positive impact on people. It’s special to me when I can have that impact through art and design. I think DNEP captures those values of mine,” Alcala said. “Now I am more interested in the real-life impact that design has on the daily lives of individuals.”
Students will continue to work with these small businesses through DNEP courses offered throughout the university.
To learn more about DNEP, visit https://detroitsmallbusiness.umich.edu/