August 11, 2016

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Bill Ford Better World Challenge, University of Detroit Mercy engineering professors, students and alumni will team up to develop an app that connects non-profit organizations with volunteers who can move resources and materials.

The new Bill Ford Better World Challenge grant is an innovative global program in which Ford employees work through the Ford Volunteer Corps on transformational community projects. The idea for the non-profit mobility app came from Ford employees Robert Collard, Cecil St. Pierre and Ashley Levi who envisioned a way Ford workers and others could assist non-profits by using the hauling power of their vehicles.

“It might be an organization like Habitat for Humanity that needs large items moved to a job site,” said Associate Dean for the College of Engineering & Science Katy Snyder.

Snyder said the grant is exciting for many reasons. First, two of the three people who came up with the plan for the app—Collard and St. Pierre—are alumni of University of Detroit Mercy. Also, she said it appears the app would be the first of its kind. The grant gives Detroit Mercy the ability to further develop and expand the app, providing the potential for broader impact in future releases.

The excitement can be felt over at Ford, too.

“This is a great opportunity to put Ford’s commitment to smart mobility to work for nonprofits and people in need,” said Janet Lawson, director, Ford Volunteer Corps, Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. “Ford and UDM have a long history of successful collaboration. UDM’s professors and students understand our mission to create a better world, and they have the engineering know-how and social awareness to make the most of this unique opportunity to help the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The project has an ambitious timeline, too. The University is to create a prototype by the end of this year and a fully operational product early in 2017. It’s partly because of this quick turnaround that the Better World Challenge granted the University twice the amount the app creators requested.

“I’m also excited about the impact this could have on our curriculum,” Snyder said. “This is a real-world experience, partnering with business, with the potential for social impact, which is the direction we want to take our program. I’m hoping this is just the first step to additional projects like this for our students and faculty.”

“The College of Engineering & Science has a long-standing special relationship with Ford,” said Gary Kuleck, dean of the College of Engineering & Science. “This grant award is an opportunity for our faculty and students to participate in an authentic design project that meshes nicely with the social mission of the College and the University. It is a terrific opportunity to create an app with the potential for long-lasting societal benefits.”

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