Press Release: MCAN College Access Impact Awards Recognize Three Metro Detroit Organizations and Individuals

Detroit Regional Chamber, Hazel Park adviser and Chandler Park adviser awarded for contributions to increasing postsecondary attainment

LANSING, MICH. – The Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) held its eighth annual conference in Lansing and recognized numerous outstanding college advocates from across the state on Monday at the annual College Access Impact Awards dinner, including Britteny Mitchell, a Michigan College Advising Corps adviser at Chandler Park High School, Moussa Traore, a Michigan State University College Advising Corps adviser at Hazel Park High School, and the Detroit Regional Chamber. Seven award categories recognized the hard work and dedication of 12 individuals and organizations that have gone above and beyond to improve postsecondary educational attainment in Michigan.

Mitchell and Traore are both recipients of the Ombudsman award, for their service at Chandler Park Academy and Hazel Park High School, respectively. The Ombudsman Award recognizes individuals whose passion for college access helps them persevere over challenges while engaged in their year of service as an AmeriCorps member through one of the college advising programs within the state.

The Detroit Regional Chamber earned MCAN’s Beacon Award because of their strong leadership in the college access and degree completion space, their innovative FAFSA Challenge, their long-­‐term and ongoing support for the Detroit College Access Network and Detroit Drives Degrees, as well as their support of the Detroit Promise. The Beacon Award recognizes those that work to unite programs, activities and/or operations in support of postsecondary attainment through partnerships.

“Our annual conference celebrates the individuals and organizations who work tirelessly to improve postsecondary attainment in Michigan,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of MCAN. “Congratulations to Britteny, Moussa, the Detroit Regional Chamber and all of our outstanding award winners. Their commitment to creating a college-­‐going culture in Michigan is making a difference in the lives of countless high school students.”

In addition to the award ceremony, the Michigan College Access Network hosted hundreds of college access professionals and education leaders during the two-­‐day conference. The conference theme, “Cultivating Tomorrow’s Talent,” emphasized the important role  talent development plays in improving   the future  of  Michigan.  MCAN  supports  initiatives  to  help  students  as  they  pursue  postsecondary education  in Michigan.

The Annual Conference included numerous breakout sessions and three keynote speakers: Michele Siqueiros, president, of The Campaign for College Opportunity, Laura Owen, director of the Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success at American University, and John Fox, head of Mopar sales and operations at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.



About Michigan College Access Network

As the leader in the state’s college access movement, MCAN’s mission is to increase Michigan’s college readiness, participation and completion rates, particularly among low-­‐income students, first-­‐generation college going students, and students of color. For the seventh year in a row, Michigan’s postsecondary educational attainment rate has increased — from 35.7 percent of 25-­‐to-­‐64-­‐year-­‐olds possessing at least an associate degree in 2008, to 39.4 percent in 2016. Additionally, it is estimated another 4 percent of Michiganders have a high-­‐quality certificate, bringing Michigan’s official attainment rate to 43.7 percent. It is MCAN’s goal to increase Michigan’s postsecondary educational attainment rate to 60 percent by  the year 2025. For more information, visit

So, You Think You’re Ready for College?

By: Afrkah Cooper

I had been preparing for college my whole life, but I still felt unprepared when I got there. The two most important members of my family, my mother and my grandmother, both have their associate degrees but, unfortunately, sharing their college experience with me didn’t prepare me for mine.

I remember being in the second grade and my grandmother made me promise her that I would go through school and earn a master’s degree. I had no clue what a master’s degree was, but I promised her. I loved school and, more than anything, I wanted to make my family proud. At the time, however, I didn’t know that I was agreeing to the struggles of all-nighters, parking tickets and student loan debt. Although we talked about going to college, we never talked about what came with college.

Although I had limited resources, my parents and counselors insisted I go to college and they supported me in numerous ways. Application fee waivers were a major resource my counselors shared with me and, through their effort, I did not have to pay any fees for my college applications – a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, as it sometimes costs as much as $40 just to apply.

I had a lot of college options to choose from. However, most were options I couldn’t afford and “applying for more scholarships,” as my counselors told me, was harder than it seemed. With acceptance letters but little financial support, I turned to community college.

Although lame to my peers who were going away to school, community college was in my comfort zone. This was a place that most of the members in my village had attended so they could offer me the support I needed during my transition. Plus, I could afford it. My family knew they wanted me to go farther than an associate degree, but since they never navigated a four-year university system, they couldn’t prepare me for it.

When I transferred from Macomb Community College to Wayne State University, I experienced difficulties that I had to figure out on my own. These struggles may have set me back a little but learning to navigate the challenges just made me stronger.

I am not a first-generation college student by the typical definition. But I will be the first in my family to receive a degree from a four-year university. And, one day, I’ll be the first to receive my master’s degree.

Readers: My guess is that you’ve reached your success and know what it takes to be a four-year degree student. I encourage you to reflect on the people in your village who helped you achieve your goals and consider reaching back and mentoring a student. With your experience, you can help them understand the details of college. You can teach them that college is about managing and adjusting. Maybe you’ll be able to help them achieve their own graduation dreams, with as few bumps in the road as possible.

Afrkah Cooper is a Detroit Drives Degrees intern.

Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Says District Is ‘Primed to Get this Right,’ Just Need Time

All students will have the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to thrive in the city, nation, and world. That is the vision Nikolai Vitti, superintendent for Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) shared with the Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council, comprised of high-level regional stakeholders representing education, business, philanthropy and government.

Vitti, a native of Dearborn Heights, returned to Southeast Michigan this spring from Jacksonville, Fla. as one of the preeminent superintendents in the country, to help solve many issues facing DPSCD.

“What I inherited… is a system that didn’t have systems and processes in place to support teaching and learning and scaling the pockets of excellence that existed in Detroit Public Schools,” explained Vitti. “That’s everything from curriculum, to hiring principals, to training principals, to intervention materials for students who are behind in reading and math, to wraparound services that need to be integrated and aligned.”

Moving forward, Vitti explained that change at scale is happening, and it is being driven by the schools. In the past, the district was not able to move strategically in any one direction. Instead the district lied dormant because it was being managed like a business in bankruptcy. Today, the district is progressing and is focused on creating college and work-ready paths for students.

Three top priorities Vitti shared with the Council to ensure students graduate and have options after high school are:

  1. Make sure every high school has access to rigorous curriculum and accelerated programs.
  2. Make sure every high school has a career academy with different programs like manufacturing, nursing or engineering.
  3. Create a college-ready culture through the implementation of the Common Core curriculum and provision of SATpreparatory classes for 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

These are just three priorities that fall into his “Blueprint 2020” plan that Vitti developed to “educate and empower every student, in every community, every day” to build a stronger Detroit. Read more about the strategic plan for rebuilding Detroit’s public schools here.

“We are primed now on behalf of the students to get this right. Emergency management did not work. We now have an elected and powerful board, that hired a superintendent with a track record of reform, and I’m from metro Detroit; I want to be here,” Vitti urged. “Give us time without the interference and politics to get this right. We will get it right. We have a good board that’s very focused on policy, a superintendent that has implemented reform, and a union that’s buying into the reform. All the components are there from strong nonprofits like The Skillman Foundation that is stepping up and wanting to work with the district, to businesses that are getting involved, and a mayor that’s invested. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place, we just need time to put it together.”

Vitti’s presentation and goals for the district align with the Chamber’s goal of improving education attainment to drive economic prosperity and social mobility.

Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Forward Detroit strategy, is focused on increasing post-secondary degree to 60 percent across the region by 2025. For more information on Detroit Drives Degrees, please visit


Chamber’s Work to Grow Region’s Educated Workforce Backed by Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren

Last week, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren endorsed the Detroit Regional Chamber’s plan to establish a regional Education Compact, a key step in ensuring that the region is educated, healthy and employed to compete in the 21st century global economy. The Compact will be led by the Chamber’s Detroit Drives Degrees initiative, with the support of a grant from The Kresge Foundation.

The endorsement was part of the Coalition’s action items under six priorities it released in a new report titled “Our Schools, Our Moment.” The report highlights areas that can be acted upon immediately by leaders across the public and private sectors to ensure success for all students.

Under the Chamber’s direction, the Detroit Drives Degrees Education Compact  will establish long-term goals and set key benchmarks in bolstering postsecondary readiness, access and success for Detroit students. This initiative represents a collective commitment by leaders in education, business, philanthropy, government and the nonprofit community to address an ongoing barrier to regional economic development – a lack of residents with higher education credentials or college degrees compared to peer regions across the country.

Currently in the beginning phases, Detroit Drives Degrees has begun to identify baseline data, create the Compact framework, and conduct economic analysis to determine education attainment needs through 2030. Steps to finalize the Compact agreement will take place over the next 18 months, with a signing ceremony slated for 2019.

“The goal of the Detroit Drives Degrees Education Compact will be to facilitate partnerships between K-12 stakeholders and postsecondary education institutions with a shared goal,” explained Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Chamber. “It is needed to drive collective action in helping more students achieve their postsecondary goals. The Coalition voicing its support is an important step forward in this endeavor to increase student success.”

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, comprised of a diverse cross-section of business, civic, education, philanthropic, religious and community leaders, make the case that these six priorities ensure Detroit’s youth are educated to career- and college-ready standards. The Chamber’s Forward Detroit Strategy has aligned with the goals of the report and the Chamber is a key partner and business voice for the Coalition. Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah serves as a steering committee member of the Coalition and has been involved from its inception.
The Coalition’s priorities outlined in the report include:

  1. Get Serious About Attendance – Students have to show up to learn.
  2. Choose Detroit – Getting students and educators to our schools.
  3. Learn to Read, Then Read to Learn – Reading by third grade is essential.
  4. Keep Pace with Detroit’s Economic Recovery – Give students multiple college and career pathways after high school.
  5. Fully Fund Special Education – State and federal action required.
  6. Expect Improved Cooperation and Accountability from Our Leaders – Shared responsibility means all schools working together.

Read and download the full report here.

Michigan’s economic growth is sustained by an educated workforce, which is why it is critical the business community be engaged and have a voice in the Coalition. Among the five co-chairs of the Coalition representing the business community are Chamber Executive Committee member John Rakolta Jr., president and CEO of Walbridge; and Mark Reuss, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain for General Motors Co. Additional co-chairs include: Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation; Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch for the NAACP; and Angela Reyes, executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp.

This report is the second released by the Coalition since its formation three years ago. The first report, “Choice Is Ours,” is targeted toward Lansing lawmakers regarding reforming Detroit Public Schools Community District.

For more information about Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of Forward Detroit, visit

$450,000 Kresge Foundation Grant will Support Programs to Improve College Readiness, Access and Success

Last week, the Detroit Regional Chamber received a $450,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation to launch a comprehensive plan and campaign to increase postsecondary education attainment in Southeast Michigan.

The three-year grant supports the Chamber’s Forward Detroit strategy to create and sustain an educated, employed and healthy workforce in the 11-county Detroit region. Increasing the number of adults with postsecondary degrees is a goal of Detroit Drives Degrees, a Forward Detroit initiative.

In a joint release, Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson said, “We want to help Detroit fulfill its workforce needs using its own homegrown talent. Detroiters are hungry for the opportunity to get to work, and this initiative will help ensure they’re equipped with the skills, education and credentials required to do just that. We know a postsecondary education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to move into the economic mainstream, and we’re proud to partner with the Chamber to help more Detroiters and people from across the region get that education.”

The Chamber will work with the Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council, led by Co-chairs Daniel Little, chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Richard Rassel, chairman of Butzel Long, to designate regionwide improvement goals on key attainment metrics. The plan will address each stage of the talent development pipeline including: college readiness, college access, college success and transition to the workforce.

The Chamber thanks The Kresge Foundation for its confidence and support in Forward Detroit’s mission. This grant is a big step in helping the Chamber achieve its goal of increasing the number of individuals with postsecondary degrees from 43 to 60 percent by 2025.

For more information on Forward Detroit, contact Marnita Harris at or 313.596.0310. To view a full list of investors and past Investor Exclusive content, visit our Investor Resources page.

The Kresge Foundation Grants $450,000 to Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation to Improve College Readiness, Access and Success

The Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation today announce new funding to launch a comprehensive plan and campaign to increase postsecondary education attainment in Southeast Michigan. The $450,000 grant from Kresge will urgently address a crisis, as part of the Chamber’s Forward Detroit regional economic development and competitiveness strategy.

Under the Chamber’s direction, the Detroit Drives Degrees Education Compact represents a collective commitment by leaders in education, business, philanthropy, government and the nonprofit community to address an ongoing barrier to economic development – the lack of residents without higher education credentials or college degrees compared to peer regions across the country. Increasing the number of students who remain enrolled and graduate from a college or university is a key focus of Detroit Drives Degrees, a program started by the Chamber in 2015 to increase college attendance and, ultimately, graduation.

According to Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, 73 percent of the region’s high school graduates enroll in college within 12 months of graduating but only 35 percent of those graduates earn a degree or credential within six years. The majority of high schools in the city of Detroit have graduating classes with less than 10 percent of students going on to earn a four-year credential, impacting the entire region.

“The Kresge Foundation’s grant allows the Chamber to both develop and implement a strategic blueprint to bolster postsecondary attainment throughout the region. Philanthropic partners like Kresge play a key role in helping us reach our goal of increasing individuals with postsecondary degrees from 43 to 60 percent by 2025,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Chamber.

“We want to help Detroit fulfill its workforce needs using its own homegrown talent,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation. “Detroiters are hungry for the opportunity to get to work, and this initiative will help ensure they’re equipped with the skills, education and credentials required to do just that. We know a postsecondary education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to move into the economic mainstream, and we’re proud to partner with the Chamber to help more Detroiters and people from across the region get that education.”

The Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council, led by Co-chairs Daniel Little, chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Richard Rassel, chairman of Butzel Long, represent 35 cross-sectional leaders from the business, government and academic sectors throughout the region and will serve as signatories for the Compact.

During the next three years, the Chamber will work with the Leadership Council to designate regionwide improvement goals on key attainment metrics and will regularly track and publicize progress on these goals. The Detroit Drives Degrees Compact will address each stage of the talent development pipeline: college readiness, college access, college success and transition to the workforce.

The following will serve as key milestones in the development of the plan:

  • Publish an inaugural “State of Education” report to assess the Detroit region’s education ecosystem.
  • Develop and ratify benchmarks, which will form the basis of the Detroit Drives Degrees Compact. 
  • Cultivate public awareness and continued accountability for achieving the annual benchmarks through media, events and grassroots outreach.
  • Identify and implement key strategies to promote student success through the guidance of regional higher education institutions and other partner organizations.

Kresge’s support comes from its national Education Program and its Detroit Program.

Part 2: When Talent Returns to Detroit

By Sarah Craft

I introduced my friend Bryan Lewis in my last post. He’s from Southfield, left the region for school and came back just a few years ago.

When he graduated from Carnegie Melon University with a Master of Science degree in energy science, technology and policy in 2014, he was set on moving to Washington, DC or New York and had no plans to return to Detroit.

But things happened differently.

Bryan was finishing a fellowship with his university and was hunting for long-term employment within his field. Out of the blue, an old friend from home contacted him to say he was starting a sustainable clothing company in Detroit and he wanted his help. Bryan brushed it off and kept looking for jobs in Washington, DC and New York.

A few days later, his best friend from college with no attachment to Detroit contacted him and said he was considering a position in the city. With two calls in a week, he realized that something was clearly happening back at home.

Wanting to show his friend all that Detroit had to offer, Bryan coordinated a visit. Over the short trip, the two went to community events, met with other professionals, and had a blast enjoying the city’s nightlife and cultural activities.

“I had never seen Detroit in such a light,” Bryan said. “Everything was building and people had optimism. It was a vibe I personally hadn’t seen or felt from the city in my entire time living here. My friend and I left feeling excited about the opportunity. We felt welcome in the city.”

His friend decided to take the job and move from New York City to Detroit. And two weeks after the trip, Bryan found out about the position with Youth Energy Squad.

“The rest is really history,” he said. “One week after my job term at Carnegie Mellon ended in August of 2015, I signed the dotted line and became director of the Youth Energy Squad, my literal dream job.”

Like Bryan, many survey respondents said they came back for a short list of reasons: family, an interest in Detroit, and an opportunity to make an impact.

“California is too far from family and I was missing out on too many births, birthdays,” etc.

“I’ve always wanted to return and try and bring back my experience in other cities to try and progress Detroit.”

 “I was working in education reform and school turnaround while living Chicago. I wanted to invest in the efforts around education reform in Detroit.”

Even with a desire to return home, the transition back isn’t always easy.

Of the survey respondents, 30 percent said it was difficult (selected one or two on a five-point scale) to find housing, 38 percent said it was difficult to find a job, and 24 percent said it was difficult to make connections to new friends or professionals.

“It took two years and several bids to get a home in our dream neighborhood, North Rosedale Park, but when we found the match, we received assistance from the city. It was difficult to come from a metropolitan with major stores everywhere, to home where everything is in the suburbs. It was also difficult because we wanted a family and knew there were no consistently successful, diverse schools in the city.”

“I did not return to Michigan with a job in 2011 and it took many months to identify employment (resulted in creating my own job / starting a nonprofit).”

“Returned for an internship then turned down a job to do Challenge Detroit. I loved moving to Detroit and living here, but professionally it was unfulfilling and difficult to find like-minded people and organizations in public health.”

When Bryan came home, he returned to a place that was very different from the place he had left. He needed a new network of friends and professionals to help with his career and his social life. Like others expressed in the survey, finding one “in” was all it took to get reconnected.

“The crowd is the crowd and once you get in with one, you get in with others,” he said. “I found somebody I trusted, and who trusted me back, who was well plugged in. She helped me really accelerate my professional contact development.”

Transit is one of the biggest adjustments to many returning home.

“Car insurance was one of the biggest shocks I had coming back,” Bryan said. “It nearly doubled. I investigated ways of getting around without a car and none were really available that met my needs. I sucked it up, but I recognize that many others might not have that privilege.”

Because many left for opportunities in larger metropolitan areas with more sophisticated regional transit, they got used to the lifestyle. Coming home to our system was not a pleasant surprise:

“A lack of regional transit makes it difficult for my partner and I. We both work in cities other than the one in which we live. Light rail would greatly ease this burden but it failed.”

I got used to using public transit and not having it here has been a serious adjustment.”

 “Returning from another city to the car-centric Detroit area was expected but still somewhat jarring.”

Detroit has a lot to learn from these experiences.

Not only is transit a high priority for talent, but improving diversity in housing options, walkability, equity and  K-12 schools were all cited over and over again as ways the region needs to improve.

If we want to keep people like Bryan, we’ll have to do better as a region. And although he loves so much about his life at home, it’s not a guarantee he’ll stay long-term – his girlfriend still lives in New York so, of course, that’s a move he sometimes thinks about.

The Detroit Drives Degrees talent working group and its partners are brainstorming ways we can use this talent platform to improve state and regionwide strategies in these areas and others. If we can lift talent voices around initiatives like these, we may be able to improve regional cooperation and statewide policy so everyone’s quality of life improves.

Despite the struggles, many of the “boomerang” respondents are passionate about the region: They’re often happy to be home and they want to see their cities improve. They also want to see others have positive experiences  if they decide to make the move. For those considering coming home, here is some advice from the experts:

“Be patient – it takes time to build a community.”

“Follow people in the region or from the region via social media and start to read up on current events and news in the area.”

“Know what you are passionate about and connect with like-minded people/groups. Keep an open mind and be persistent.”

“Get plugged into a network as soon as possible.”

“Be open minded and ready to make an effort to fit in. It doesn’t happen on accident.”

“Have a car.”

Bryan shared his advice the most eloquently:

“Detroit is filled with amazing and talented leaders who have been doing it together for decades. My role is but a small one and it is part of a much bigger picture – a picture that should better highlight the incredible work that black and latinx community organizers and developers have been painting since before my time. My advice is to, when you’re ready, come back and work hard – but work to stand on the shoulders of the giants we have already and build further.”

More to come next week. Don’t hesitate to reach out to share your story or your ideas:

Sarah Craft is a program associate for Detroit Drives Degrees.

Nationally-regarded Economist Joe Cortright Talks the Power of Education Attainment with Detroit Drives Degrees

Nationally-regarded economist Joe Cortright briefed more than 30 regional leaders about the power of education attainment to drive prosperity. Cortright’s research reveals what he calls “the educational spillover effect” which states the higher the concentration of individuals with postsecondary education within a city, the greater the economic opportunity for everyone. Watch Cortright’s presentation to the Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council, which he delivered via Skype from Portland, Ore. on Oct. 4.

Detroit Drives Degrees Kicks off Annual Challenge to Connect More Students with College Financial Aid

By Tiffany Jones

In an effort to put more of the $90 million in federal aid that went unclaimed in Michigan last year into the hands of students, Detroit Drives Degrees kicked off its second annual “Race to the FAFSA Line” Challenge, which promotes the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Challenge offers incentives to students, counselors and high schools to complete the form and runs through Feb. 28, 2018. Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Forward Detroit strategy, works to strengthen the talent pipeline by increasing the number of adults with postsecondary degrees in the region.

The goal of the Challenge is to increase FAFSA completion among high school seniors in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to 65 percent. In its inaugural year, the Challenge and a variety of other efforts boosted the completion rate to 59 percent in 2016, up from 55.6 percent.

The National College Access Network states that high school graduates who complete the FAFSA are 63 percent more likely to enroll in college and by 2025, 70 percent of jobs will require a postsecondary credential.

In order to participate, high schools must register at More than 85 schools participated in the 2016 competition. The school with the highest completion rate will win a senior all-night party, courtesy of Emagine Entertainment. Additional prizes from Emagine and the Detroit Pistons will be awarded to participating schools and student teams across the region.

The Challenge is sponsored by Chemical Bank, DTE Energy, Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office, Independent Bank, Kerkstra Precast and University of Michigan-Dearborn. In addition to Emagine Entertainment and the Detroit Pistons, other Challenge partners include: Detroit College Access Network, Frank FAFSA, Macomb Intermediate School District, Michigan College Access Network, Oakland Community College, Oakland Schools, University of Michigan, Wayne County Regional Education Service Agency, and numerous local college access networks.

Why Detroit Drives Degrees Is ‘All In’ on Talent Retention

By Sarah Craft

Southeast Michigan has a talent retention problem.

My three siblings and I were raised in metro Detroit. Two went out of state for college and never came back. One graduated from Michigan State University and immediately got a job in Austin. She’s never come back.

After I earned my undergraduate degree from Eastern Michigan University, I moved to Detroit with eight of my closest college friends. Eight years later, I am the only one still living in the city. They’re never coming back.

My personal experience isn’t unique.

Every year, more than 60,000 students from Michigan’s 15 public universities obtain a degree. And every year, Michigan loses a massive amount of that talent; 51 percent left within six months after graduation in 2007 and 37 percent left in 2012.

This challenge is bigger than losing friends and family to other states, it’s directly impacting our region’s economic prosperity and individuals’ household finances. City Observatory reports that a 1 percent increase in four-year degree attainment is associated with a $1,100 per year increase in average incomes throughout a metro area.

At Detroit Drives Degrees, we want 60 percent of people living in our region to have a postsecondary degree (we’re currently at about 43 percent). We work throughout the entire talent development pipeline to reach our goal: To improve access to postsecondary opportunities, boost student success, and improve talent retention and attraction.

We’re leading powerful initiatives on access and success, and when I joined the Detroit Regional Chamber in January, they had me focus a large percent of my time on strengthening our talent initiatives.

The Talent Working Group is led by champions Kelly Kozlowski from Downtown Detroit Partnership and Samantha Harkins of Munetrix. Together we’ve re-established the working group to include a range of organizations working in the talent space: grassroots efforts like Soulcial Scene and Born and Raised Detroit; nonprofit partners like Detroit Experience Factory, Challenge Detroit, and Grand Circus; business partners like re:purpose, DTE and Rock Ventures; regional partners like Workforce Intelligence Network, St. Clair County and Macomb County; and statewide organizations like Michigan Future and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

These partners, and so many more (we’re at nearly 100 working group members), are passionate about talent and have spent time researching, sharing and brainstorming strategies to improve outcomes in Southeast Michigan. This effort has been incredibly collaborative; talent is the one thing that brings us all together.

We’ve come up with hundreds of ideas and we’re spending the next month narrowing and prioritizing based on research, focus groups, user testing and best practices. To start, we’re launching an online talent platform, but that sounds way more boring than what it is. Everything we do has to be talent-focused – focused on people. We know that to get people to stay, they need to be in love with their community, their friends and family, their job, and the future opportunities they dream about every day. That’s what we’re striving to do.

But we need your help.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share highlights from our research and gear up to our soft launch this fall. I’ll also make specific asks of you and your organizations so that we can make this a real, impactful and engaging initiative that benefits everyone in our region.

This goal is personal to me and I hope it’s personal for you, too. Maybe we can convince our siblings and friends to come back. Maybe we can improve ours and our neighbors’ quality of life by investing differently in our communities. Maybe we can boost our annual incomes by $1,100 just by keeping more college graduates here.

There’s much more to come but if you want to get the conversation going now, feel free to reach out at And if you haven’t already, please share your experiences and ideas by taking our Southeast Michigan Talent Retention and Attraction Survey.

Sarah Craft is a program associate for Detroit Drives Degrees.