NEWBIE ROSS STUDENTS EMBRACE POSITIVE BUSINESS IDEALS
It’s reasonable to believe the genuine interest in the Brightmoor community stems from the type of students attending Ross—a school steeped in social enterprise. Native Detroiter Candace Johnson, grew up playing softball games and tennis tournaments in Brightmoor’s Stoepel Park. Johnson, who came to Ross to “sharpen her business acumen and refine her skills” while pursuing a dual master’s degree from the School of Public Health, says in an email interview the biggest lesson for her from the week was “everyone’s voice matters and feelings are valid.”
Fellow first-year Ross student Florence Noel, after nearly a decade in the nonprofit, social impact, and education spaces, came to Ann Arbor for a change of pace from New York City hustle and bustle, and to round out her business skills.
Her team, which won the seed money with a company named Think BYG after the Brightmoor Youth Garden, produced the kale chips, and took a unique approach to the challenge. They divided themselves into smaller, topic-focused groups ranging from youth engagement to brainstorming to an executive leadership team. Noel served on a three-member executive team that managed the other teams, crediting her section for having two women and one man on the C-suite-style team.
For Noel, the week reinforced her decision to attend Ross. “I’m here to think about how you have a positive organization that makes money and is no slouch when it comes to profitability, but also emphasizes doing good work as a bottom line,” she says.
A Michigan Ross School of Business first-year MBA speaks with a youth at the Detroit Youth Maker Faire. Photo courtesy of Michigan’s Ross School of Business
A CONTINUED COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY
In the work between the Ross MBA candidates and the Brightmoor students, the most valuable lessons go beyond flexing business muscles. “The MBA students have listened to our students and our students have listened to the MBA students,” Eddy explains. “We’ve interchanged ideas, we’ve come to know each other’s cultures, and we’ve tried to imagine ideas that would be saleable and scalable within the Brightmoor community. But also this idea leads far beyond that, because we—the school and nonprofit I run—need to become sustainable with this kind of work.”
Currently, the school is nearly entirely funded by grant support. But Eddy dreams of developing product lines to self-fund the school. “We’re at a place where we need to understand how to market and brand our products and also our story,” he explains. “And this is where the Ross students are incredibly helpful.”
Through the Ross Leaders Academy, a group of 25 students—half MBA and half undergraduates—will work throughout the school year with Brightmoor residents to develop the Maker Space building and create products and strategies to continue to scale and sell.
“We want it to be clear this is not just a week. It’s a sustained commitment to the Brightmoor community,” DeRue insists. “Over 1,200 Ross students will work this year with the Brightmoor Maker Spaces.”
Eddy welcomes the commitment.
“Having been here for 30 years, I can truly say, there is a new spirit in the air,” he says. “Many years we were living through something that was dead and we were hoping and praying. But it’s alive now. And I think this is drawing on the Ross School of Business. I think they are committed to finding the right way to work. They are very sensitive to the needs of our children as they get to know them.”
The concerted commitment to Brightmoor was illustrated while Johnson and a fellow first-year were promoting the Maker Faire in a local park. “We spoke with a woman at Campus Martius Park who just needed someone to talk to and someone to listen,” she recalls. Johnson left her with some flyers and the next day, the woman showed up to show her support to Brightmoor youth and further efforts to impact the city. “We are now in the infant stages of discussing a public shelter project to benefit the city’s displaced residents,” Johnson says.
‘FOR OUR KIDS, IT’S AN EXPANSION OF THEIR HORIZON’
Eddy believes business skills, specifically in entrepreneurship, can make big waves in a community ready to take off and teach life lessons to its youth.
“No kid likes to walk by a vacant house,” Eddy reasons. “No kid likes, once they really begin to think about it, a vacant, weed-strewn lot. They want to see beauty in their lives. And when you can engage young people in the transformation of their community, even in little ways, the imagination begins to waken up. In all of this, I think, are the beginnings of entrepreneurship.
“We’re not training woodworkers, we’re using woodwork as a medium to train capacities in young people. And those capacities are anything from work ethic to dedication to love of what they’re doing and ultimately finding their calling by learning to make and fashion their own identity.”
As DeRue explains, the lessons aren’t only for the younger students.
“Business has to create economic value. But at the same time, business can also create social value and transform communities in really positive ways,” DeRue says. “Students are coming to Ross to learn the fundamentals of business. We not only want to develop their skill set, but also the values and mindsets they take away to be able to visualize the role of business in society and the power of business to transform communities and societies in very positive ways.”
At minimum, the time spent with the Ross students will have long-lasting meaning for the students from Brightmoor.
“They are thrilled to be met and to be asked questions about what they’re thinking and feeling from adults who are older than they are and can show a genuine interest,” Eddy says. “It is so meaningful. For our kids, it’s an expansion of their horizon. Many of them probably haven’t even been to Ann Arbor before. They haven’t gotten off Joy Road and Plymouth. So this is a real adventure.”