CMU students gain experience through mentoring Detroit youth

University, high school students learn together through new business incubator

Central Michigan University’s entrepreneurial-minded students aren’t just looking for internships that will expose them to a professional environment. They’re also after real-world experiences that give them an in-depth look at what it takes to start — and run — a successful business.

For seniors Deja Granger of Farmington Hills and Riley Robinson of Detroit, interning with YouthTank Detroit as junior program coordinators was just that.

Founded in 2022, YouthTank Detroit is a business incubator that — through five-week paid internships — teaches area high school students about the power of entrepreneurship through real-world projects where they use technological tools and business skills to better their communities.

The first cohort in the summer of 2023 provided the high school interns with opportunities for networking, presenting, financial planning and more, as well as time in the Apple Developer Academy, where they worked toward tech-driven solutions aimed at solving mobility issues in the city.

Two female CMU students, Deja Granger and Riley Robinson, speaking to a CMU alum Dan Ward at the Detroit Youthtank.
CMU Students Deja Granger and Riley Robinson speaking with alum Dan Ward.

Planning, logistics and spreadsheets, oh my

Gearing up for its inaugural year serving 42 high school students, the YouthTank Detroit team spent the first half of 2023 building the youth internship — and Granger and Robinson were in the middle of it all.

The two CMU students joined YouthTank Detroit for their own internship in June and spent that time preparing to welcome the high school students in July.

“We were key players in helping start the program,” Granger said. “From looking for vendors, communicating with parents and more, it really helped me learn how to start and run my own program. We worked with a lot of different spreadsheets to keep everything organized.”

Granger and Robinson were instrumental in day-to-day planning to ensure smooth operations for the high school interns. In one project, they worked from start to finish on a system to accurately log students’ hours for payment purposes.

“We had to figure out a way to keep track of the high school interns’ hours so they could get paid properly,” Robinson said. “We met with a representative from a payroll solutions company and went through a tutorial to set everything up and get students into the system so they could use the app.”

The high school students started their days with entrepreneurial focused activities. On a few occasions, Granger and Robinson facilitated, including one where Robinson led an exercise in setting goals and sourcing images to create digital vision boards. At completion, each student presented theirs to the group.

“Some of the students were more soft-spoken, so seeing them grow, helping them with their presentation skills and encouraging them to use their voice – it was very rewarding,” Robinson said. “Seeing their growth at the end of the program was the best part.”

Learning through leading

Granger, an entrepreneurship major with minors in hospitality and marketing, applied her in-class learnings by guiding students in video production, managing YouthTank Detroit’s social media platforms, starting a podcast and creating a newsletter. 

Robinson, a double major in graphic design and studio art, helped oversee students in the Apple Developer Academy and in the creation of a new YouthTank Detroit website.

“I was more like a coach working alongside the high school student interns to guide them in website development, and provide tips and feedback,” Robinson said.

For Julie Messing, director of the CMU Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, unique internship opportunities like YouthTank Detroit prepare students for success in many ways.

“An entrepreneur likes to shape things themselves, and this opportunity was great for Deja and Riley to get that experience,” she said. “I think it also gave them a great sense of confidence and ability to apply what they were learning in the classroom and to see the impact they can have on others.” 

Holly Arida, YouthTank Detroit co-founder and educator and entrepreneur in residence, worked alongside the CMU interns during their tenure. As an organization with entrepreneurship at its core, she emphasized how Granger and Robinson’s involvement in YouthTank Detroit during its early stages was great exposure to what they may experience in their own professional ventures someday.

“We are really about cultivating entrepreneurial experience in young people,” Arida said. “Very rarely as a young person do you get to be part of creating a five-week program that didn’t exist before, and yet that is exactly what entrepreneurship is.”

For Granger and Robinson, fostering relationships with the high school interns was a highlight. In addition to new relationships, the two came away from their internship with new skills and learning experiences. 

“In all of this, I learned I do have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and I’m excited to carry what I learned with me as I continue my professional journey,” Granger said.

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