The optiMize Detroit Track

Reflections from the Cohort 7 Detroit Track

This year, optiMize launched the Social Innovation Challenge Detroit Track with support from the University of Michigan Provost’s Office. The goal of this track is to provide student teams working on Detroit focused social impact projects with a space to collaborate with mentors, community stakeholders, and other project teams to inform and shape the work they are doing.

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At the heart of the Detroit track is the fundamental understanding that social impact work is a community undertaking. Whether it’s identifying needs or collaborating on solutions, we encourage principles of respect, intentionality, and continued research when it comes to working with community members and organizations.

Throughout the Summer Fellowship, teams funded through the Detroit track attended Detroit Start-Up Week and three additional Track Meetups at the U-M Detroit Center. At these Meetups, optiMize fellows met with community mentors to receive feedback and support on the work they were doing. 

In Cohort 7, three teams received funding through the Detroit Track and attended Detroit Meet-Ups throughout the summer. Here are some reflections from the teams First8 and Bringing Hope Back Home.

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Providing education and resources to people affected by health disparities in Detroit and Hamtramck.

Being an initiative that is geared toward community health intervention, some of the obstacles my team and I found ourselves confronted by seemed complex initially. Understanding the social determinants of health and environmental conditions that contributed to the deep-rooted respiratory concerns in the area were aspects that my team and I did not believe we had the expertise to tackle. However, with the supportive, nurturing community of the optiMize Detroit Meet-ups, we were allowed to open up about our challenges and were offered aid and expertise by various community leaders. This allowed us to not only gain insight into ways to further our initiative, but also expanded our community network with experienced mentors that were once in our place. The opportunity to find common ground with experienced leaders that believed in our project gave us the energy we needed to go the extra mile – with the hope that our big break was around the corner.  

As a result, First8 has evolved from our initial approach to the respiratory health concerns in the area and tweaked our interventions to be both effective and sustainable, while remaining inclusive. With our sights set on further community partnerships and opportunities to do our part in the betterment of Detroit and Hamtramck, we push forward with the belief of the mentors we had access to at the Detroit Meet-ups. Going against the grain presents its own unforeseen challenges, but has also proved to be one of the most fruitful learning experiences we have had the opportunity to venture. We thank the Detroit mentors and optiMize staff for giving us this space to voice our struggles and turn them into lessons, and plan to further utilize the relationships we have established for guidance on our future endeavors. 


Providing a peer mentorship program and summer workshops for students in Detroit.

When the school year and my summer break began, for a brief moment I had a feeling of panic. When I realized that I was responsible for the success of my project, especially with many onlooking eyes, the weight of pressure I felt was overwhelming. I had to pause, think, and remind myself of the support I had. Just because I had received funding from optiMize, does not mean that I had stopped receiving support from them. Even though I was a remote team, optiMize made it their priority to make me feel as involved as the on-campus teams. I was invited to all the events and I received recordings of most events. I pretty much had access to the same resources as any other team. I could always schedule a conference call for my mentor check ins or  appointments with the different support teams.

I truly appreciated when the optiMize team would come down to Detroit for a meet up. It really made me feel like they cared about my well being and the success of my project. During the meet-ups, we got to hear from other Detroit teams, meet people who are involved in the Detroit community, and share about the progress of our projects. optiMize is more than an organization, it is a close knit family. Whenever I was faced with an obstacle of some sort, I always knew that there were dozens of individuals that had my back. Beyond the challenges I faced this summer, I truly enjoyed putting in a lot of energy into my organization. I had the opportunity to work hands on in Detroit and it gave me a greater chance to make a positive impact in the lives of high schoolers around the city.


Thank you to Lisa Bergum and Tyler Neiss for organizing the Track events for the Cohort.

Thank you to all the mentors who participated in our Detroit Meet-Ups and supported our teams: 

Mr. Jonathon Clark, Medvis Jackson, Danielle Bennett, Quan Neloms, Tyson Gersh, and Madeline Hellend.