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The First Adult Learners of the “Saturdays in the D” Summer Program Graduate

woman walks to front of classroom for graduation ceremony
LaCresha Goss celebrates earning her certificate in writing and editing during the Saturdays in the D program this summer at the U-M Detroit Center. | All photos courtesy of Scott Soderberg, Michigan Photography.

Greta Guest, Michigan News

Switching gears after losing his job with a local auto supplier, Raphael French thought a Python class offered through “Saturdays in the D” could be a great start.

“The program spoke to me because I wanted to get into computers. I figured I’d have to learn the language,” French said. “I wanted to get back to something someone couldn’t take away from me – and that’s education.”

He and other students who participated in the six-week pilot “Saturdays in the D” Summer Camp and Adult Skills Enrichment Experience graduated Saturday with a course certificate. Of the 109 who registered, 38 made it to the finish line.

The city of Detroit, Detroit Public Schools Community District, University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation, Ally Financial and the Song Foundation partnered to offer the program this summer after a three-year COVID delay.

Melia Howard, city of Detroit director of community relations, at the Saturdays in the D graduation.

“You all are what we are calling our pioneer learners,” said Melia Howard, director of community relations for the city of Detroit, noting that the program was first focused on children’s extracurricular activities and tutoring. “We transitioned this year to include adults so families can have a shared experience in learning coding and other programs.”

While Detroit youth headed to the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor for a variety of STEM camps, for the first time adult residents had the opportunity to develop new skills with free professional development classes offered at the U-M Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue.

The classes offered adults a choice of four topics: Getting Started with Python; Writing and Editing; Science of Success; and Emotional Intelligence.

Enhancing skills for new directions

LaCresha Goss started out with the Python program with her daughter Selena, a 2013 U-M graduate, but switched to the writing course. Both women want to enhance their careers.

LaCresha, who works at a Veterans Administration call center, said she wants to be more of an advocate for the veterans. “I want to use my words better. That’s what I hope this program will do for me.”

LaCresha Goss and her daughter Selena Goss at the Saturdays in the D graduation ceremony at the U-M Detroit Center.

And Selena wants to go from her work in food access to policy. “I want to be in rooms where policies are made for people who look like me.”

The adult learners also were able to access:

  • Workshops on budgeting, credit and home ownership; a panel about trends in tech jobs called TechnicALLY Speaking, plus peer mentors from Ally Financial.
  • Admissions counseling from the U-M Admissions Office for learners interested in furthering their education.
  • Detroit at Work program staff to learn about top fields in need of workers.
  • Free laptop loans

“Because it’s all about helping communities build new skills and explore career paths, it’s no surprise ‘Saturdays in the D’ has been so popular over the years,” said Ali Summerville, business administration executive and head of Corporate Citizenship at Ally. “Supporting our hometown communities is a top priority, and we’re confident the return of ‘Saturdays in the D’ will continue to inspire a brighter future as a catalyst for economic mobility.”

Rapheal French graduates from the Saturdays in the D program during a ceremony at the U-M Detroit Center.

French met with an admissions officer to talk about options. He’s starting at Wayne County Community College in the fall to study computer information systems. But the ultimate goal is to transfer to U-M, he said.

“When I go back into the workforce, I want to have an education,” he said. “The prestige behind U-M made me want to join the “Saturdays in the D” program. To me, it’s about the access. Without it, I wouldn’t have met all these people. Going to Michigan is an ultimate dream of mine.”

French said he was very inspired by his program instructor Tamara Qawasmeh. She was a data curator at the U-M Institute of Social Research when she learned Python. Then she went for her master’s degree at U-M in applied data science.

Rapheal French receives his certificate for the Python course from instructor Tamara Qawasmeh.

“Honestly, Python changed my life. My coding brain got turned on,” Qawasmeh said. “But you can’t learn coding without help. Having a support system is the only way I was able to learn Python.”

Creating the support systems

The online courses were orginally created by U-M faculty in collaboration with the Center for Academic Innovation to make the content work for a global online audience. Those online courses were then selected to be featured in the “Saturdays in the D” program.

The next step was to work with the U-M Center for Innovation content strategy team and the city of Detroit team to perfect the offerings for the in-person approach to learning. Course facilitators were able to use an adult learning framework and lesson plan templates designed by the Center of Academic Innovation as the basis for their weekly sessions, but were given the latitude to personalize it for each group.

“We are proud to offer Michigan Online’s workforce development and skill-building opportunities to learners in the city of Detroit. Through the enthusiastic participation of learners, we have built on our understanding of what learning opportunities are most relevant to these adult learners, and how to best support them by blending facilitated instruction in online and in-person environments. We are using this information to inform future programs,” said Sarah Dysart, senior director of online learning at the Center for Academic Innovation.

Ally Financial team includes Bhusan Satapathy, director of Data & Analytics; Dan Lemont, executive director of Tech Strategy; Brenda Rios, public relations; and Bill Barbour, manager of Fraud Technology.

While these courses are offered through the university’s online education platform Michigan Online, they were redesigned as a hybrid (online + in-person) experience and focused on how people from various educational and socio-economic backgrounds learn best.

“We knew the program participants were adult learners, so we wanted to learn more about them. That’s why we collected additional data on their backgrounds, aspirations, and needs to inform design decisions and how the course facilitators could best employ the principles of adult and inclusive learning,” said Ahmed Lachheb, senior learning experience designer at the Center for Academic Innovation.

Several faculty members who created the original online courses including Charles Severance (Python), Paula Caproni (Science of Success), Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks and Cheri Alexander (Emotional Intelligence) and Patrick Barry (Writing and Editing) have also attended some of the in-person sessions.

Lauren Atkins Budde, director of academic content strategy for the U-M Center for Innovation.

“At the end of the day, this program is about communities that value education. It took a lot of support and passion for lifelong learning from the city and several units and faculty at U-M to pull this together,” said Lauren Atkins Budde, director of academic content strategy at the U-M Center for Innovation. “And through the past two months we’ve seen a group of curious strangers become a dedicated, inspiring community of learners invested in themselves and each other. It’s pretty magical.”

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