DCDC takes small steps, creates big impact for Detroit youth

September 22, 2022

DCDC takes small steps, creates big impact for Detroit youth

The exterior of a building is seen with a sign reading Warren Loranger Architecture Building

Small changes can lead to large results, and that’s precisely the framework the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) is using to build positive change within the world of architecture and local communities. 
Thanks to a grant received from The Kresge Foundation and partnerships with Grow Detroit’s Young Talent and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, the Detroit Mercy School of Architecture & Community Development’s nonprofit community design organization, DCDC, was able to continue to give back, this time through a six-week high school summer internship program. 

“This program is part of a bigger commitment to contribute to diversifying our profession,” said Ceara O’Leary, DCDC co-executive director. “We think it’s important for more students and Detroiters to get exposure to all the different design fields early on.” 

The Detroit Collaborative Design Center logo (DCDC), a grey circle outlined in black with the city of Detroit skyline seen in the background is seen next to the School of Architecture and Community Development logo (SACD) with the words Detroit Mercy written beneath it.The summer curriculum consisted of weekly lessons based on modules ranging from community design and engagement to business development and portfolio creation with each week building on previous week’s work and lessons. It also served as the first job for this year’s two selectees. 

“I’ve always wanted to be an architect, ever since I was a little kid,” said Alan Maciel, a junior at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. “Growing up, I’d play with Legos, build and draw. Building a house for my parents has always been a goal of mine, but ultimately, I would love to help out my community. I eventually want to share my success and bring back the knowledge and skills I have to better my neighborhood. I can’t leave them behind.” 

While working alongside a mix of professionals, undergraduate and graduate students within the school, the student interns learned graphic and 3D design programs and worked toward long-term project goals while engaging in site visits that supported their weekly assignments.  

“Because we are working with such a small group, we were able to connect with the student interns in a way that allowed them to see, engage, and learn about our project’s day-to-day workflow,” said Stephanie Onwenu, DCDC public interest design fellow. 

The program was created as a way to address a glaring demographics gap within the career as well as to create opportunities that weren’t available before. For DCDC Senior Architect and Project Director, Joshua Budiongan ’12, it’s an issue he’s faced first-hand. 

“It seemed that when I got further and further into my own education and career journey that it became less and less diverse, and I want to change that,” said Budiongan. “If we aren’t raising awareness about these design inequities, then it won’t change — a lack of representation in the field culminates in lack of representation in the built environment.” 

The high school summer internship program is just one of many different initiatives spearheaded since the organization's conception in 1994.  

“The majority of the work we do is centered around grassroots activism and advocacy,” Budiongan said. “With that being a focus, it’s easy to see that the next step would be to get the youth of Detroit involved through education and provide training and pathways into the profession where they didn’t exist in the past.” 

Although only in its first year, the DCDC is calling it a success and plans to bring back the program each summer. 

“There are lots of opportunities within design,” said O’Leary. “If we can bridge those gaps and help students find their path, even just with a few students at a time, we know we can move the needle of this career in the right direction.”