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June 25 will be a very special day for Keenan Williams. It is the day he finishes his last course and officially becomes the first graduate of a new information technology program established in 2005 by Focus: HOPE, the Wayne State University Department of Computer Science, Ford Motor Company and others.
Williams, 35, of Harper Woods, is graduating from Wayne State with a bachelor of arts in information systems technology with a minor in business administration that provides a unique combination of information technology, systems engineering and business course work. The program also provided a hands-on component that resulted in Williams working for Fast Switch and being contracted to Ford Motor Company and Ford Credit.
Pursuing a college degree isn’t what Williams had in mind in 2004 when he applied to the Information Technologies Center to see about earning computer certifications. “I had no idea what I wanted, I just knew I wanted more,” said Williams. Until then he had been working as a gas leak survey technician.
Williams had been a good student at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, but dropped out before graduation due to family issues. Once he earned his GED, he began thinking about his next steps. He enrolled at Focus: HOPE where he excelled in the IT classes and earned the valued Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) certification. Just as he was about to start looking for work, a new opportunity emerged.
Focus: HOPE and a consortium of partners had been developing a new career path for ITC graduates. Wayne State University established a degree that incorporated IT and business classes. Ford Motor Company, Fast Switch and others committed to providing experiential learning experiences. The ultimate goal was to develop a career path that led right to the top – the chief information officer position in major companies.
The resulting Information Management and Systems Engineering (IMSE) program gives Focus: HOPE’s ITC graduates the opportunity to start working on a college degree – even if college had never been on their minds. The curriculum incorporates business classes that would help students advance in IT managerial careers as well as provide the foundation for pursuing a master of business administration. And the students have the opportunity to work at part-time IT jobs that not only provide some income support but reinforce knowledge they were gaining in the classroom.
“This program is a wonderful case study for how business, academia and not-for-profit organizations can come together to create value for our communities,” said Marv Adams, who was part of the team and Ford’s chief information officer at the time. He now is executive vice president and chief operating officer of TD Ameritrade. “We’re all very proud of Keenan, along with the other dedicated students in the program.”
Leading the academic side was Farshad Fotouhi, dean of the Wayne State University College of Engineering, and Monica Brockmeyer, WSU associate provost for student success. The early days of the program were somewhat challenging as students adapted to the rigors of a university setting, Fotouhi said. “Our faculty’s commitment to this program and willingness to provide additional mentorship and guidance helped ensure the success of its students. Of the 15 students still enrolled in the program, Fotouhi said “they are going to be great ambassadors for Wayne State, Focus: HOPE and the Detroit community.”
Fast Switch hired the students and placed them in contractual jobs at Ford Motor Company. As a result Williams already has five years experience at Ford Motor Company, and several months experience at Ford Credit. “The Fast Switch team is truly honored to be involved with a program that supports the professional development and educational advancement of smart, eager and talented individuals from Detroit,” said Carey Pachla, vice president. “We consider this a great success after eight years of involvement; from the earliest stages to having our first student intern graduate in June 2013.”
The program not only provides students with valuable work experience, but exposes them to leaders in the field, including Nick Smither, group vice president and CIO at Ford Motor Company. Smither noted the internship opportunities enable the company to identify potential employees.
“Our valued relationship with Focus: HOPE and the IMSE program helps us to reach out and develop our future local talent,” said Smither. “We have successfully placed many interns, who have made significant contributions to our organization. We look forward to continuing our successful partnership and are excited to have Keenan join the Ford IT team.”
The future looks bright for the current students, as well as incoming students, now that the program has survived its developmental stage, said Linda Hanks, manager of Focus: HOPE’s ITC. “Keenan and the other students who started with the first cohort have paved the way. We learned how to facilitate student success in their experiential work as well as their academics,” she said. “Without their participation and trials and tribulations, the program wouldn’t be what it is today.”
For his part, Williams is ending his bachelor’s studies with a one-month study abroad experience in China. When he returns in August, he’ll start his full-time job as business analyst at Ford Motor Credit.
A college degree. An overseas experience. A new job. A burning desire to start working on his MBA. It’s not something Williams envisioned when he came to Focus: HOPE nine years ago. But now he can see all the way to the top of his field.
“My experience with the IMSE program has been life changing,” Williams says. “The opportunities that the program has afforded me are boundless. I have met many c-level executives, vice presidents and directors who are leaders in their respective industries, and their advice and encouragement have been priceless. Focus: HOPE, Wayne State and Ford Motor Company have an incredibly awesome support network.
”I’m excited. It hasn’t all sunk in yet.”
Are you interested in more information about Focus: HOPE? Do you have a question about a program? Would you like to learn more about volunteer opportunities? Contact us
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