DETROIT – When John Ray graduated from Detroit Cass Technical High School and the University of Michigan, opportunity was few when searching for a career. So he left the state. He returned in January of this year to become the Site Director at SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors) Detroit at Wayne State University, which received a $750,000 grant from Google.
The announcement was made at the official opening of Google’s new downtown Detroit office alongside Little Caesars Arena.
SMASH Detroit is a 3-year program that works to eliminate barriers and empower underrepresented youth of color with rigorous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, culturally-relevant coursework, and access to resources that will allow them to pave a successful career in tech and entrepreneurship.
“I was definitely excited about such a grant and its size,” Ray said with a huge smile on his face. “This will help us make a larger impact and amplify the work we’re doing in Detroit. We want to reach as many students within the city of Detroit as possible, particularly getting them involved in computer sciences and STEM.”
SMASH has sites at Stanford, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, and Morehouse College, with Wayne State’s site being launched over the summer. The grant will specifically support SMASH’s newly launched site there, as well as Detroit area students for three years, including 120 SMASH scholars and at least 300 high school students who will benefit from broader programming.
Ray told the story of a high school student in Detroit who lived in an underserved part of the city, littered with abandoned homes and a high crime rate. She excelled in school, but she was not challenged enough. She was encouraged by her counselor to enroll in SMASH Detroit at Wayne State with students who looked like her and shared a similar story. SMASH Detroit surrounded her with a group of teachers, industry professionals, and peers that challenged her educationally and socially.
Throughout her five weeks in the program, she developed a website, designed a solution for a commutable disease, and learned more about her African-American history. And she is still only a sophomore in high school.
SMASH also supports its attendees beyond their three years, through internships and college preparation. SMASH has a 100 percent graduation rate for high school scholars and a 91 percent graduate from college within five years. The program has shown to be effective and the donation from Google will assure students in Detroit feel the impact as well.
“It’s great that Google is supporting the city of Detroit beyond its new downtown office,” Ray added. “Just because of the state of education in the city, many students might live in Detroit but go to school in the suburbs, so it’s really important that we look at the metro Detroit area as a whole to reach as many individuals as possible.”
Google also granted $250,000 to the Michigan Engineering Zone (MEZ) at the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center. The reinvestment grant to the MEZ builds upon the company’s $250,000 award two years ago and will help expand STEM and robotics programming for 350 students year-round.
The MEZ, created and operated by the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering in 2010, has helped 2,800 Detroit high school students get exposure to hands-on STEM experience that goes beyond what they can get in their individual high schools. It is located on Woodward in a 5,200-square-foot innovation space that has a computer lab and full-service machine shop to accommodate 19 Detroit high schools.
Jeanne Murabito, Executive Director of Student Affairs at the MEZ also told a story of a student in Detroit who has benefited greatly from its program, like Jacob. He attended the now-closed Finney High School on the city’s far east side and knew nothing about STEM. He finished the program at the MEZ, graduated from Michigan, and now works at Ford Motor Company. His seven siblings now look to follow in his footsteps.
“Google’s historic and ongoing support of the MEZ like this new $250,000 grant has been transformative,” said Murabito. “It has helped us reach more and more students, growing their critical STEM skills, and putting them on a great pathway for future careers.”
Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, Senator Gary Peters, and FOCUS Hope CEO Portia Roberson, and businessman Chris Ilitch were among the dignitaries at the Google Detroit announcement. Lawrence is a native Detroiter from the city’s east side and an alumna of Pershing High School. She was fully supportive of the company’s move to downtown Detroit and its generosity in the surrounding community.
“We in Detroit have a little edge about us,” said Lawrence. “We have that swagger and we have that attitude and Google has a little swag, too. They are innovative and treading in new waters. They are a company who truly aligns with who we are.”
The new Google office space in Detroit is complete with some beautiful views inside Little Caesars Arena and the downtown skyline. It has a healthy food program for its employees, a gym, gender inclusive restrooms and showers, and workspaces complete with Detroit themes such as the Stroh’s Lounge, Cass Park, Capitol Park, Packard Plant, and even Bob Seger.
“We’re excited about growing in Michigan and being in a city like Detroit, renowned for its spirit, grit, culture, and innovation,” said Danielle Russel, Google Detroit’s Site Lead. “Those are the same traits that help fuel Google. We’re more than committed to being a good and active neighbor and doing work that can help the city and all who live, work and do business here thrive.”