Inside Maggie’s Marketplace, the food pantry for Michigan Medicine’s Ypsilanti Health Center, Alexandrie Lintz-Suarez hands a paper bag to a woman and her 13-year-old granddaughter.
The grandmother then peruses the shelves with great detail, picking out cans of peaches, mixed vegetables and corn with no salt. She often talks to her granddaughter about what they should bring back home.
During the shopping trip, Lintz-Suarez, 18, tells her she can take as many Fig Newton bars as she wants. The grandma takes three. She gets excited when she learns the pantry has fresh radishes on hand; she grabs a couple along with some onions.
On her way out, the grandmother says thank you. “I’m not gonna cry,” she added, softly.
Lintz-Suarez is one of 40 youth participants working in departments across campus this summer as part of U-M’s Summer Youth Employment Program, an initiative spearheaded by Poverty Solutions, a major U-M initiative dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of poverty, in partnership with the Edward Ginsberg Center, Youth Policy Lab, University Human Resources and several community partners, including the Washtenaw County government and Michigan Works! Southeast.
The pilot, which expands an existing summer youth employment program in Washtenaw County to U-M, pairs county youth ages 16-24 with faculty and staff to help them gain work experience, mentorship and life skills training.
After an interview process between departments and applicants, most of the positions in U-M’s pilot are now filled by youth living in the Ypsilanti area. A majority of the program’s youth participants reside in economically disadvantaged households. Poverty Solutions defines an “economically disadvantaged household” as one with an annual income less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, a parent that has been a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipient within the past six months, or kids that qualify for free or reduced price school lunch.
“This program, in many ways, embodies everything that Poverty Solutions wants to do,” Poverty Solutions Assistant Director Julia Weinert said. “We are conducting research on an important topic that has the potential to alleviate poverty or increase economic mobility. We’re engaging with the community, which is something that is also an important priority.”
Weinert said Poverty Solutions will use the program as a research vehicle to determine best practices by studying participants’ long-term outcomes, surveying youth and comparing cohorts of teens within and outside the U-M program.
“We really want to become the gold standard,” Weinert said. “We want to … create a guide that other universities, other institutions can use in implementing similar programs.”
In U-M’s pilots, teens receive supplemental workshops on Fridays on a variety of topics, such as leadership, financial literacy and conflict resolution. “Success coaches” facilitate these workshops as well as provide one-on-one assistance with students and supervisors.
Along with offering local teens job experience and a window into possible careers, Weinert said the program also allows U-M faculty and staff to become mentors and have an impact on the lives of young people.
That opportunity is what inspired Ladele Cochran, administrative manager at the Ypsilanti Health Center, to provide jobs to two teens through the U-M pilot.
Growing up in Ypsilanti, Cochran said she remembers a similar program through which economically disadvantaged teens in her neighborhood received summer jobs.
While having the teens help out in the center’s newly launched food pantry has freed up staff to focus on their work, participating in the pilot also has given Cochran the ability to mentor youth from her own community.
“I feel like I’m a coach in that I’m taking a general interest in their families and who they are as people and their drives and their passion and (I’m) trying to help them reach their goals,” she said.
The Summer Youth Employment Program provided Lintz-Suarez with her first job. She is assigned to the health center, where she helps out with clerical work and oversees daily operations at the center’s food pantry for patients.
“I like to help people, a lot,” the incoming Lincoln High School senior said. “So just feeling like I can put back into the community — it just gives you that sense of accomplishment.”
Paying it forward
Like Lintz-Suarez, 17-year-old Emory Kimball found his first job through U-M’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
Kimball, an aspiring jazz musician who attends Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti, interns in the Office of University Development and reports to Tom Szczepanski, assistant vice president of development, marketing and annual giving.
So far, Kimball helped compile a list of U-M donors that details how their gifts have been publicized, as well as learned how to create social media posts for U-M.
But above all, he said, his experience has helped him gain a better understanding of how a professional workplace operates — sometimes even in the smallest of ways.
During his time on campus, Kimball said he’s discovered how quick communication is vital to creating an efficient workplace.
“I think some of the things that I’m learning are just the professional environment and how it is to work in such an area and how important it is to work with one another instead of doing everything yourself,” Kimball said.
These are the kind of lessons Szczepanski said he hoped Kimball would learn at U-M.
Having Kimball under his wing, Szczepanski said, was less about molding a development pro and more about exposing him to a professional work environment and helping him discover he was capable of accomplishing any goals before him.
“I grew up in a blue-collar household and really didn’t know what a white-collar world was until people invited me in and mentored me,” Szczepanski said. “And it’s through their generosity I was able to have any success I could in my career. So, now’s the time for me to pass those same lessons along.”
A look inside research
Tyisha Thompson, 17, says working at an academic powerhouse like U-M prepares her for the future.
Thompson, who was placed at the Population Studies Center in the Institute for Social Research for the U-M pilot, hopes to double-major in business and eventually earn a Ph.D. in psychology. She wants to open a rehabilitation center, where she plans to use her psychology training to conduct family therapy.
At the Population Studies Center, Thompson often completes clerical work like checking emails, filing and mail sorting, one of her supervisors, PSC Administrative Assistant Jennifer Garrett said.
But working at ISR also has given Thompson an insider’s perspective on research and what it takes to become and succeed as a Ph.D. student.
Her supervisors have scheduled discussions between Thompson and U-M Ph.D. students, during which she asks them questions and they talk about their research, the workload and time commitment of doctoral programs.
“I really like this program because it’s educational for me, it helps me to broaden my perspective of things, it gives me some type of background,” said Thompson, an incoming Arbor Preparatory High School senior.
“Plus when it comes to college essays, I can write about what my experiences were on a college campus. And when I go off to college it won’t be as overwhelming for me to be on a college campus because I’ve experienced it and know how it works and operates.”
By participating in the summer program, Thompson’s supervisors said they wanted to show a young person all the resources the university has to offer.
“The more you can expose young students to, the more opportunities you’re opening up for them as well,” PSC Training Program Administrator Miriam Rahl said.
A lesson in planning
Nolan Escobar’s summer job at U-M’s Conference & Event Services is providing opportunities for both him and his supervisor to grow.
Conference Manager Kaitlyn DeVergilio, 24, said she originally asked for more supervision experience because as a young professional, she hadn’t gotten many opportunities to explore that skillset.
Since Escobar, 17, is younger than the college students her unit often hires, she said it’s nice to be able to develop his skills and build him up.
“Summer is definitely our busiest time of the year so we’re always looking for extra hands, extra help,” DeVergilio said.
Escobar, a recent graduate of Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School who plans to attend Eastern Michigan University in the fall, said his responsibilities have included making name tags for an upcoming conference, attending staff meetings and working with his team’s online scheduling software.
He said being part of U-M’s Summer Youth Employment Program is giving him a chance to work on improving his organizational, communication and time management skills. He added he would advise other youth to apply for the program next year.
“The skills that you learn are great and it helps you build your resume,” Escobar said. “Who doesn’t like having University of Michigan on their resume?”
For Lintz-Suarez, working at the Ypsilanti Health Center this summer gave her further insight into the world of medicine, a field she plans to enter one day.
Although she has not determined what job she actually wants, she said her job has showed her she doesn’t want to work at a desk. As someone who likes to move around and interact with others, she said she would rather be a doctor or a nurse practitioner.
She added participating in the U-M employment program has also helped her overcome her natural shyness in social situations.
“I tend to shy away from people but with this, I actually have to go and talk to people and help them and it’s helped me get through that,” Lintz-Suarez said.
With the pilot nearing its end this month, Weinert, Poverty Solutions’ assistant director, said they plan on continuing the program next year with the hopes of scaling up and increasing the number of youth participants.
Success Coach Demario Longmire said that as a university with vast influence, wealth and possibilities for youth, it’s crucial that U-M continues to fund and invest in opportunities like the Summer Youth Employment Program.
“I think that from what I’ve been hearing from employers, it is an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to have an opportunity to connect with someone who may not otherwise get an opportunity to connect with the university,” Longmire said.
Cochran, Lintz-Suarez’s manager at the health center, said she would definitely recommend other faculty and staff to apply to host youth summer jobs next year.
“I think we should as a university embrace this opportunity to be able to grow young people,” Cochran said. “If it’s within our ability … to prepare them for their future, why not?”