Jackquelyn Garrett is a 2020-2021 Fellow at Detroit Drives Degrees at the Detroit Regional Chamber. She hails from Detroit, Michigan. She has Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs from Wayne State University and is currently pursuing Front-End Development Certification at Grand Circus.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

I am the College Access and Success Fellow at my host company, Detroit Drives Degrees at the Detroit Regional Chamber. Our goal is to increase postsecondary attainment in the region to 60% by 2030 and to decrease the equity gap by half. We are a collective impact initiative which means that our partners work together to create a shared vision and then coordinate our resources around these shared goals. I have the privilege of leading our projects relating to expanding college access for high-school students in the tri-county area.

“Jackie is leading Detroit Drives Degrees’ (D3) College Access strategy, which aligns systems to make postsecondary education more accessible to students coming out of high school. There are three major components to this work: convening working groups related to different college access strategies, developing an implementation plan for a drop-in college access center in Detroit, and running the regional Race to the FAFSA Line competition to increase FAFSA completion in high schools in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

Jackie is playing a major role in strengthening our region’s talent pipeline and allowing D3 to develop strategies and programs to get more students into postsecondary education. A coordinated postsecondary access strategy is the first step in getting students to and through college and into careers, meeting our region’s talent needs and growing our regional economy. In addition, Jackie brings with her knowledge and familiarity with Detroit’s landscape and education ecosystem, which has been hugely beneficial to our work.”

— Christi Taylor, Director of Programs and Employer Partnerships, Detroit Drives Degrees (Detroit Regional Chamber)

Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on – what are you learning from the experience?

We recently wrapped up our very first challenge project with Focus: Hope’s Generation of Promise program which culminated in a cohort-wide final presentation. Generation of Promise is a year long program that brings together students across all lines of identities from the Metro Detroit area. I was selected to be a part of the Alumni Engagement Team which meant that our group was responsible for creating programming and materials that addressed the following design question, “How might we create sustainable alumni programming that any alumni can take part in?” We crafted several programmatic recommendations that Generation of Promise can use to connect the over 1,500 alumni that have been accumulated over 30 years of programming. We conducted alumni interviews and collected glowing testimonials to support content creation and marketing, designed virtual and in-person alumni networking events, and provided recommendations for creating an alumni committee to help lead alumni programming. In addition to the actual work we did alongside Generation of Promise, this project gave me an opportunity to really practice each step of the design-thinking process alongside the other fellows in my group.

Since it was our very first project, and it was my first time engaging with the design thinking process in real-time, I felt clumsy sometimes. I had many opportunities to lead and contribute where I felt comfortable. Working with partner organizations, conducting interviews, and writing reports are where my strengths lie–but when it came time for me to ideate in a flurry of unbridled excitement about possibilities or embrace prototyping seemingly abstract ideas, I realized I was being asked to do things that I had never done before. As I worked alongside my group and the other fellows on other projects, I recognized that our cohort has made so many great strides in cultivating a space where ideas can take off. My time so far with Challenge Detroit has been insightful, exciting, and humbling. I continue to be inspired by the leaders who work alongside me and look forward to the next round of challenge projects with our new partners.

How do you hope to impact the community as a Fellow?

As a Fellow, I know that I have a unique opportunity to co-create alongside organizations that are doing great work in our region. I plan to bring my wealth of experience to these projects to help expand the capacity of program partners who are already leading in their respective areas.

Just as important is the resource that I hope to become to current, past, and future Fellows. Challenge Detroit has cultivated such a robust network of civic-minded leaders and I really look forward to the future opportunities to stay connected with all of the great folks who have contributed to this vision.

Since becoming a Fellow, what is something new that you have learned?

One of the design-thinking strategies that I have gotten better at is ideating. Before beginning with Challenge Detroit, I did not feel confident during creative brainstorming sessions. Usually, I like to come to a strategy session with ideas, research, and ideas about feasibility. While I recognize that structure is good, thinking this way has definitely made me feel like I used to limit my creativity at work. When I shifted my thinking to embrace the goal of ideation–to focus on how many ideas we can come up with rather than the quality of those ideas–I began to look at my Challenge Project deliverables through a more innovative lens. It has been a great experience for me to move beyond what is only tried and true while fleshing out how to implement novel approaches.

If someone is reading this and considering applying to be a Fellow, why would you encourage them to apply?

My only question is, why haven’t you already applied?!

Challenge Detroit has been a great experience so far, even in a time where most of the programming is virtual. I’ve spoken a lot about the opportunities to grow one’s leadership and work on projects that sharpen professional skills, but the friends that I have made already are just incredible. Being selected as a Fellow means that you have a chance to step into a specially curated set of experiences that will grow you professionally and also sink your roots deeper into the city by meeting leaders and friends as you do this work.