August 26, 2020

Pandemic pilot: Honors College and Microsoft-Quicken collaboration takes off

For the last six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a barrier for many facets of life — especially to education and employment. But that’s not the case with a new Microsoft and Quicken Family of Companies collaboration with Wayne State University’s Irvin D. Reid Honors College.

Together, the three embarked on an all-online summer internship pilot program that fueled and engaged collaborative practical learning and broadened career possibilities — despite its online delivery — for 22 Detroit Public Schools Community District high school interns. Ten Wayne State Honors students served as “coaches” for the program.

“It was really great to work with the interns — to hear their ideas and help them realize their goals for their personal video projects,” said Ni-Gea Dufeal, an Honors College senior in film.  Both the coaches and interns received stipends that allowed them to focus fully on their projects.

The majority of internships focused on developing skills in the STEM fields. The sponsors from Microsoft and Quicken wanted to excite students about technology and coding, so they used application and website development to explore topics such as predictive analysis, data visualization, artificial intelligence, public health and the stock market.  

Meanwhile, under Dufeal’s and two other coaches’ direction, a smaller group honed their craft in film production. “A big part of the program’s purpose was to cultivate strategies to create videos and edit them remotely,” Dufeal said.

Ultimately, each intern in video arts filmed unique, imaginative personal statement that serve as both a work sample in an employment portfolio or a stand-alone work of art. All the class meetings happened online in Microsoft Teams. Classes combined coaches’ instruction, Q&A sessions, guest speakers from the community and intern collaboration in breakout sessions.

While the majority of internships focused on developing skills in the STEM fields, one group honed their craft in film production.

“Coaching here demanded that I be conscious on how best to draw the ideas out of our students by asking the right questions,” said Dufeal, who also noticed her teaching skills strengthened throughout the program. “As a filmmaker, the program and its online delivery strengthened my skills in collaborative teaching and in being adaptive to the needs and insights of my students and colleagues.”

The STEM-focused coaches guided interns in tasks such as developing code for gaming models for predicting outcomes in sports or the stock market. Interns improved critical thinking while putting ideas into practice. The resulting projects required an added skill: How best to pitch their project to an audience of Microsoft and Quicken employees.  

“It’s like the pitches made on Shark Tank — minus the meanness,” said the Honors College’s Ali Salamey, who served a critical role translating the philanthropic vision of Microsoft and Quicken into a practical program implemented at WSU.  “Putting their projects together is one thing, but understanding their work well enough to sell it to a professional audience demands they really comprehend what they’ve created.”

Microsoft Corporate Affairs Manager Warren Flood was the agent that brought Microsoft and Quicken to the Honors College.  

“Microsoft and Quicken are visionary partners. We saw the need to be job providers, but we had challenges. First, neither company is an easy stage for internships — that’s even before the pandemic,” Flood said. “We don’t operate in sites with lots of offices, desks and chairs — we can’t directly take on interns. We also needed to bring our resources to an institution with established community connections and the infrastructure to scale things up. Wayne State’s Honors College was all that, and Ali was key in creating the framework that made it all happen.”

Flood and Salamey have been steady facilitators, both in the program’s ramping up and throughout its six-week delivery, with classes on Microsoft Teams running three hours weekday mornings and two hours in the afternoons. 

“We occasionally shaped or nudged class discussion from the parameters, but it was really breathtaking to see how quickly our coaches took to their teaching roles and how excited and engaged our high school interns were in digging to these projects,” said Flood.

For Irvin D. Reid Honors College Dean John Corvino, the Microsoft and Quicken program exemplifies the kind of enriching learning experiences the College strives to secure. 

"This program is a true win-win-win," Corvino said. "It provides excellent training for Detroit high school students, it offers leadership experience for our Wayne State Honors students, and it gives major employers such as Microsoft and Quicken access to some of Detroit’s best and brightest. We are grateful for this partnership and we look forward to expanding it."

Written by Kevin Rashid, Academic Services Officer IV with the Irvin D. Reid Honors College.