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

FLINT, Michigan—This is about making a difference and building a broader understanding of Flint.

For the fourth year, a group of aspiring college students have arrived in Flint, determined to make a difference with their own unique skill set through the Diplomat Fellowship program.

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

College students and recent grads are handpicked to participate in the full-time, paid fellowship that runs 11 weeks through Aug. 18. All of the fellows are social innovators who bring a unique specialty to their work—and bring a unique ability for Flint to show off the opportunities it offers to some of the brightest minds in the nation.

The 2017 cohort of students includes its first West Coast student with Patrick Burden from the University of California-Berkeley. The Las Vegas native will work at The Ferris Wheel on technology and innovation.

The group also includes Flint resident Rayshawn Riley, a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, who will apply his business marketing skills at the Ruth Mott Foundation to develop northside youth initiatives.

The fellows also will work at the Whaley Children’s Center, Hurley Medical Center, and the Crim Fitness Foundation. A women’s studies major will develop a curriculum to prepare young people for adulthood while a quantitative science major will develop a Flint Report Card.

“Each (fellow) has their own individual project. It rests on their shoulders,” said Jessica Judson, corporate social responsibility program coordinator for Diplomat. “It allows them to instantly apply their knowledge. It’s not a theoretical project. This is implemented in the city in real time."

The Diplomat Fellowship is an immersive program. All the participants live in downtown Flint at the Riverfront Residence Hall and meet frequently with the city’s leaders.

The Diplomat Fellowship program this year also includes students or recent graduates from Georgetown University, Spelman College, Emory University, and Michigan State University.

All told, the fellowship program has funded the work of 36 students and projects. While their work here is important, it also is an opportunity to engage young people to apply their skills to our community and perhaps even inspire some of them to stay here.

“It’s a way for us to slowly change the perception of the city,” Judson said.

To learn more about the Fellowship Program, visit

Read more articles by Marjory Raymer.

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