In a new report, a dual-enrollment program between the University of Detroit Mercy and Detroit Cristo Rey High School has led to high-wage STEM jobs for students from underserved populations at General Motors Co., Magna International, Ideal Group, Henry Ford Hospital, and more.
The program, launched in 2014 at Marygrove College that transitioned to U-D Mercy in 2016, provides a hands-on university experience to Cristo Rey students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for STEM occupations is $84,880, more than double the median annual wage for non-STEM occupations. In addition, jobs in STEM fields are expected to experience 8.8 percent annual growth from 2018-28, making dual-enrollment programs an important factor in achieving employment success.
Here’s how the program works: From Tuesday through Friday throughout the second semester of their senior year of high school, Detroit Cristo Rey students take college classes at U-D Mercy in the afternoon, after completing core curriculum studies at the southwest Detroit high school in the morning.
The benefits of dual enrollment are immense, according to the schools. Participating students fulfill their high school diploma through the program, while earning college credits. They are also introduced to life on a college campus.
The program “gave me the opportunity to come into campus and see what it’s like to be a college student,” says Paulina Torres-Guzman, who just completed Detroit Mercy’s five-year mechanical engineering program.
Torres-Guzman was introduced to Detroit Mercy through the dual enrollment program. When choosing a college, “it was my deciding factor,” she says. Five years later, she is working at Detroit-based General Motors Co. as a manufacturing engineer in remote laser welding. A 2015 graduate of Detroit Cristo Rey, Torres-Guzman is pleased to see the dual enrollment program thrive and help other high school students.
“It definitely prepared me for college, so I knew what the homework and studying expectations were,” she says. “That also taught me time management, which is what I use now in my professional career.”
Wendy Montesinos discovered her passion for engineering and could not wait to build on relationships with faculty. “It really did help me solidify that I do want to be an engineer,” says Montesinos, a junior in Detroit Mercy’s five-year robotics and mechatronics systems engineering program.
The program prepared Montesinos to achieve success as an undergraduate student at Detroit Mercy. She formed a relationship with professor of mechanical engineering Nassif Rayess, which continued as a college student. “It was good that I built that relationship with him,” Montesinos says. “Now that I’m taking classes with him, it’s easier to go to him and ask him questions.”
This year’s class of 69 students is the biggest yet for the program. Students chose from seven different classes, ranging from medical terminology to computer-aided design, through the collaboration of Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering and Science, College of Liberal Arts and Education, College of Health Professions, and Student Support Services.
Given the traditions of Detroit Mercy and Detroit Cristo Rey and their commitment to diversifying STEM fields, a partnership for dual enrollment made sense, says Elizabeth Roberts-Kirchhoff, a U-D Mercy professor and assistant dean for Academics at the College of Engineering and Science.
“We are especially interested in this unique partnership that continues to connect two great Catholic institutions located in the city of Detroit,” she says. “Both institutions are committed to the education of students who will contribute to the future success of the city of Detroit and the greater metropolitan area. Detroit Mercy has intentionally included course offerings in Science and Engineering so that we can encourage a diverse student body interested in STEM fields. We need a diverse group of creative, motivated and innovative people to help in addressing the future problems of the area and the world.”
The state of Michigan supports the dual enrollment program, but because of timing issues — Detroit Cristo Rey’s second semester and Detroit Mercy’s winter semester do not coincide — the program had to be tailored specifically for Detroit Cristo Rey, Roberts-Kirchhoff says.
The Ideal Group, a southwest Detroit business, assists by funding transportation and other facets of the program. Frank Venegas Jr., founder and chairman of Ideal Group, has long invested in the success of Detroit Cristo Rey students by providing educational resources and opportunities in addition to dual enrollment.
“I know that we have choices where we can send our kids. We chose Detroit Mercy, not just because of their location with us, not just because they are a Catholic, Jesuit college, but our kids were interested in the curriculum over there,” Venegas says. “They really, really want to be engineers, and some are passionate about entering the health care field.”
Kevin Cumming, principal of Detroit Cristo Rey, believes the benefits of the dual enrollment program go beyond the college credit earned. “It’s a great opportunity for them. In a college class, on a college campus with other college students — it grows their confidence, (and) their ability to feel like they can be successful going to college,” Cumming says. “We’re very grateful for the opportunity Detroit Mercy gives us; it’s a great benefit to our students.”
To view a video about the dual enrollment program visit here.