The Irvin D. Reid Honors College, with the support of Applebaum Family Philanthropy, launched a new initiative this past summer — the Applebaum Emerging Leaders program.
Taught by marketing and sales executive Nicole Lewis, with coaching from community leaders and business professionals, the program served 10 select Honors College students and ran for eight weeks from late June to mid-August. Students each received a $4,000 stipend to help immerse themselves in the program full time.
Michael Seaton, Honors College events and communications coordinator, served as technology assistant on the project — a role that suddenly expanded as the pandemic took hold. “I was working on basic tech support, to announce and promote the Applebaum program,” Seaton said. “When the lockdown set in, we scrambled to put everything online. It was a challenge. But I was truly impressed that, despite being physically apart, our students quickly adapted and enthusiastically got down to it.”
One of the most impressive results was how the curriculum made an impact on students with vastly different career goals. For Kamali Clora, a fourth-year Honors public health major seeking a career in health care administration, the rewards were substantial and immediate.
“Ms. Lewis had us explain our particular career goals,” he said. “She then paired me with a retired medical professional who talked me through the demands of the field, and gave me important suggestions on who to network with and how to find career-boosting opportunities for engagement — pivotal next steps after my graduation.”
But the benefits for Clora went further because “it also rekindled and deepened my ambitions in my current nonprofit work.” Clora’s Bee Plus Detroit works to support and sustain the city’s bee population while connecting it to broader environmental issues. “Applebaum pushed us to see our efforts in a bigger picture,” he said.
Another participant, third-year philosophy major Saba Dubaishi, does not typically interact with marketing and sales executives. “I don’t have professional business ambitions. I don’t want to get a job at a firm, sit in a cube and work my way up a ladder,” she offered. “I came in with a narrower concentration in the sciences and philosophy, but this program demanded I put my interests into a broader context, to synthesize concepts from other disciplines and ultimately see my role in our greater society.”
The program taught basic tools of personal and professional development — strengthening your self-image, clarifying goals, presenting your best self in an interview and constructing a clean, professional-looking resume. Critical organizational skills were also on the agenda, with guest experts offering training on entrepreneurship and starting a nonprofit.
Throughout the program, Lewis used her professional resources to help instruct the students, creating a rich, engaging yet practical curriculum. This was evident in the crowning project. Lewis invited Van Dyke Horn, Michigan’s largest minority-owned public relations firm, to oversee an assignment involving all 10 students. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, they developed a guidebook to help small businesses reach populations cut-off from their typical modes of advertising, along with a marketing plan for that guidebook — to win over Van Dyke Horn clients.
“We really meshed in getting this done. We seemed to instinctively know when to take the lead and when to step back,” said Dubaishi, who enjoyed the resulting collaboration. “And we shared strong trust and respect for each other.”
She also loved the project’s challenges. “The communication obstacles we faced demanded we go back to basics, such as offering parking lot hot spots for folks who struggled to get online, message translation for foreign populations with language issues, neighborhood visibility for those with limited transportation, even simple billboard messages for seniors or others with no internet at all.”
It all came together in a final showcase with the students presenting to an online audience from Van Dyke Horn, participating community partners, and representatives from the Applebaum Foundation and the Irvin D. Reid Honors College.
“The students’ aspirations and winning attitudes were inspiring,” Lewis said. “Their strength, authenticity, vulnerability and laughter was refreshing. Their passion, action and love for community was empowering. An amazing eight weeks.”
John Corvino, dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, offered his appreciation for the Applebaum Foundation’s essential support.
“Applebaum Family Philanthropy has been a tremendous partner. And this program deepens what the Honors College offers more generally,” Corvino said. “It’s an opportunity for emerging leaders to develop skills, perspectives and confidence for making a real impact in the world.”