What a difference a summer makes: Diplomat Fellows report on Flint experience

FLINT, Michigan—And that’s a wrap!

After 11 weeks full of growth, innovation, and a lot of learning, the Diplomat fellowship program has reached its end. With fellows coming from as far as the West Coast and as close as just a few minutes from downtown, each one is hand-picked through a series of interviews which aims to find the best candidates who are passionate about what they have studied and improving the city. 

They came. They saw. And, they made an impact. 

Related story: Best and brightest young minds drawn to Flint for Diplomat Fellowship program

Patrick Burden, a business administration’s major from the University of California-Berkeley, dedicated his time to developing a marketing strategy to help launch the non-profit 100K Ideas—which is scheduled to open this fall in The Ferris Wheel building.

Michigan State University student Lindsay Baywol—a Grand Blanc native majoring in social relations and policy with a health promotions minor—worked with the Crim Fitness Foundation to do an assessment on the Flint community training program.

Dominque Washington, a Massachusetts native and Spelman College student majoring in comparative women’s studies with an anthropology minor, actively developed a program to prepare older children at Whaley Children’s Center for independence, college, and adulthood. 

This fourth year of the Diplomat Fellowship Program for Social Impact included six college students and recent grads—each of whom lived downtown at Riverfront Residence Hall and used their own special skills to impact the community through the full-time, paid fellowship. This year’s program officially ends Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. 

The program gives fellows first-hand experience working and living in Flint. Each is given a task to develop a key community initiative in just 11 weeks. Beyond the actual expertise each provides, the goal of the program is to also develop a better, more informed reputation for Flint on the national level as well as recruit and retain some of the nation’s top aspiring talents to the area.

Burden admits he was given a lot of cautionary warnings before coming to Flint. After spending his summer here, he says he sees the city for what it is: Yes, it has some steep challenges—but it also is seeing tremendous business development and is providing entrepreneurs unique potential for growth.

“What I enjoy the most about Flint is it is very community-centered. It seems like everyone is united in some kind of way, either it be the culture or the events that are going on here,” Burden said. 

While in Flint, Burden worked with Skypoint Ventures to help make entrepreneurship more easily accessible, get feedback on improving the process, create information for clients to understand where they are in the entrepreneurial process, and develop a guide to help employees build financial projections.

“We are kind of a one-stop shop for people to get the advice, resources, and services they need to move their idea forward into a business—if that’s what they want to do,” said Burden. 

Washington said one of the best parts of the program is seeing the impact of her work after just 11 weeks. She built and implemented a key program to teach teens at Whaley how to be self-sufficient and independent to prepare them for when they age-out of the program.

Several of the teens who worked with Washington now are considering college and actively planning for their future. 

“I think it turned out really well. I loved it,” Washington said. “I feel like I’m making an impact and think I’m generally doing something really significant.”

One fellow, Rayshawn Riley, had the opportunity to work and make a difference in his hometown. A Flint native attending the University of Michigan-Flint, Riley is studying business marketing. He worked with the Ruth Mott Foundation to create a youth engagement model for the northside of Flint. 

He spent his time researching other youth engagement models, actively working in the community, and gathering feedback from young people to improve and perfect a model. He was able to connect with young people in a unique way because he is from here and faced similar situations growing up. He also was able to share his own success in hopes that it will inspire other Flint young people.

Adrian Walker, senior manager of government affairs and corporate relations for Diplomat, said the fellowship program grew naturally out of Diplomat’s commitment to Flint.

“It really started as a way to get more youth into Diplomat as a whole, and as we were talking about expanding more in the community we really thought about, ‘Okay we have our interns at Diplomat but what can we do to further some of our efforts in the community? Maybe beyond sponsoring an event or program?’” Walker said. “We really believe that the Diplomat fellowship program was a way to continue to have us, as a company, have more impact in the community.”

The Diplomat Fellowship participants pose for a photo on one of their many learning excursions. Here they are on the stairs of the state Capitol.

Read more articles by Makenzie Schroeder.

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