Companies and campuses both recognize the need for a diverse talent pool in STEM fields, and the Michigan Engineering Zone (MEZ) is doing something about it. 

Leveraging industry mentors, funding partnerships, community engagement, and University of Michigan students, the MEZ provides entry-level and advanced robotics and engineering exposure to youth in Detroit. 

As far as pipeline programs go, the MEZ has had phenomenal reach and success, and that success has drawn attention. From a funding standpoint, there has been strong interest from companies in getting involved, and that’s helped the MEZ have an even bigger impact.

Jeanne Murabito, Executive Director of Student Affairs at the College of Engineering, established the MEZ 10 years ago. She says, “Over the last decade, there has been so much change that happens in these students lives that is possible with corporate funding; it’s truly transformational. We can now reach more than 3,000 middle school students a year. It’s so rewarding for everyone engaged there.”

At the MEZ, most of the funding is from national corporations representing 96% of the donations. “Creating a STEM workforce that reflects the diversity of our world is a shared priority for companies and the university. That makes corporate support for a wonderful program like the MEZ a natural place to connect the two,” says Stella Wixom, Senior Executive Director for the Business Engagement Center at U-M.

U-M’s College of Engineering provides the needed space, equipment, training, and mentoring that the MEZ students need to design, build, and test their robots for competition. Approximately 370 high school students and their teachers participate in the robotics program every year, working with U-M student mentors, professional engineers, and U-M alumni.

 

Ken Snodgrass and Robert Noel (right), Senior Mentors, guide Eyiara Oladipo, Central High School student, through the different stages of building a robot.

Senior Mentors, guide a Central High School student through the different stages of building a robot.

The Lab

One of the first corporate supporters has their name on the door: the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™ at the MEZ is a multi-year collaboration between Qualcomm Incorporated and Michigan Engineering. Reaching thousands of middle school students from 60 Detroit schools,the Thinkabit Lab provides often the first exposure to STEM careers and engineering activities outside the classroom. 

The initial program at Qualcomm’s San Diego Headquarters was the model for the MEZ lab. This multi-year commitment offers the opportunity to make a big difference: “The program has had quite an impact and, through, short engagements like daylong sessions, we can leverage this space to reach thousands of Detroit Public School students on an annual basis,” said Angela Baker, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Qualcomm. Due to the success of the program, Qualcomm recently extended their support with additional funding for summer camp programs.

 

Seeing the Impact

Jeanne Murabito, Executive Director for Student Affairs; Chris Genteel, Head of Diversity Markets & Supplier Diversity at Google; and Alec Gallimore, Robert J Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Richard F and Eleanor A Towner Professor of Engineering and Professor of Aerospace Engineering.

Jeanne Murabito, Executive Director for Student Affairs; Chris Genteel, Head of Diversity Markets & Supplier Diversity at Google; and Alec Gallimore, Robert J Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

Google is also a lead corporate supporter at the MEZ. The company was inspired by the impact the program has had in Detroit and made a significant investment to support the MEZ’s mission.

Google representatives were on hand at the recent open house to see for themselves just the ways the MEZ is getting the job done. Chris Genteel, Head of Diversity Markets & Supplier Diversity at Google said, “I’m not a tech person, but I’m in awe of what is going on here. We should bring STEM talent in from anywhere and everywhere that we can. Google is so delighted to support the MEZ.”

Bosch had a similar reaction. Kat Owsley at the Bosch Community Fund says, “When we talk about breaking down barriers for kids, the Michigan Engineering Zone is there to support kids’ after school activities and to get them engaged in activities that wouldn’t be accessible otherwise. When we learned more, knew we could partner with U-M and be a part of a key organization in Detroit. This was an easy way to support kids we care about and help them be well rounded students.”

U-M leadership loves seeing this program have greater reach. Increased corporate support not only helps broaden the program but provides connections with companies for mentorship, internships, and future careers. 

Engineering dean Alec Gallimore commented, “With energized students, dedicated teachers, and corporate sponsors, we can go to the next level. With the MEZ, we are creating a culture of STEM achievement.” And that achievement is seeing results: two of the MEZ teams recently competed at the world final competition this year, held locally in Detroit.

Other companies providing considerable funding include the Ford Fund, General Motors, and JPMorgan Chase.

For more information on the MEZ, or to learn about funding opportunities from dinner for students to equipment and workshops to mentorship and site visits, please contact the MEZ.

Many companies fund diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at the University of Michigan. Our DEI web page has links to corporate engagement examples and common areas of opportunity across campus.

 

The MEZ, explained by Detroit students and College of Engineering faculty and staff: