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Wayne State hosts German Marshall Fund fellows

November 5, 2012
Wayne State University, a regional partner with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), hosted six European professionals during their five-day visit to Detroit last month, showing them both the challenges and the opportunities facing this historic city.
 
The Oct. 6-11 stop in Detroit was part of a 24-day tour of the United States undertaken by the six young professionals as fellows with the Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF), an exchange program for emerging public and private sector leaders. The fellowship program is designed to strengthen cultural and economic ties between Europe and America and expand transatlantic relations. The MMF is administered by GMF, which in 2010 selected Wayne State to represent the Detroit area in receiving European fellows and selecting Detroit-area fellows to visit Europe.
 
The university is tasked with helping visiting European fellows gain insight into the political, economic and social institutions of America and, in particular, of Detroit. To this end, Wayne State staff devised an itinerary for this week’s visitors focused on the city’s chief concerns, namely economic development, education, public safety, and philanthropy. 
 
The first full day, Oct. 7, entailed a trip to the Midtown Detroit office of the Kresge Foundation, which funds the Detroit-area program through a grant. The next day included panel discussions at the main campus on the region’s history and demographics and Wayne State’s role in the revitalization of Detroit, as well as a tour of campus and presentations from Detroit Works Project and Eastern Market Corporation on the city’s future.  Oct. 9 was devoted to life and community and featured a tour of Cristo Rey High School in Detroit, panel discussions on education and the upcoming presidential election, and a presentation on area crime at the WSU Police Department, complete with a tour of the building and a ride-along experience. The last day, which focused on industry and entrepreneurship, included a walking tour of downtown Detroit and panel discussions on the city’s leading automakers and the role of upstarts and emerging industries in bolstering the region’s economy.
 
“The selection of Wayne State to be a regional partner for the Marshall Memorial Fellowship makes Detroit a perennial stop on the European fellows tour, and this means some of the brightest minds in Europe will be coming to Detroit each year to observe our city’s progress and study how Wayne State and other community leaders are spurring revitalization through innovative technologies and novel business models,” said Ahmad Ezzeddine, Wayne State’s associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs and MMF city coordinator. “A goal of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship is to encourage Europeans and Americans to collaborate on a range of international and domestic policy challenges. Many European cities face challenges similar to those of Detroit, and as this program flourishes, we expect European fellows to bring useful insights and approaches to Detroit while at the same time learning from our successes.”
 
The six visiting European fellows include a mayor from the Czech Republic, a think tank program director from Albania, a BP executive from the United Kingdom, a Volkswagen Group project manager from Germany, the vice president of a research organization in Turkey, and an entrepreneur from Italy. The group commenced their U.S. tour in Washington, D.C. before traveling to Detroit. From here, the individual members of the group traveled to different parts of the country as determined by their professional interests before meeting up again in New York City to conclude the tour.
 
Francesca Zecca, the entrepreneur from Parma who produces and distributes windows and doors, said she was impressed at the degree of civic engagement she observed in Detroit, adding that European communities don’t band together as tightly around common initiatives. She also referred to the “conflicting emotions” she experienced visiting the city. “You see all these empty buildings, but at the same time the city seems very active,” Zecca said. “As an entrepreneur, I began to wonder if I could come here and do something with the energy of the city.”
 
Tomáš Drdácký, major of the Czech Republic Municipal District Praha – Troja, said he was struck by the opportunities for development of the “open spaces” in Detroit, but cautioned that “there must be a clear vision of what you want to achieve.”
 
American and European fellows travel during one of three 24-day programs organized each year in the spring, summer and fall.