StarrVista is a care management organization formed by two nonprofit human services agencies: Starr Commonwealth, which serves children and families in Michigan and Ohio, and Vista Maria, which focuses on the residential and community-based needs of girls and women and provides juvenile justice services to Wayne County, Mich., youth and their families.

Through its Journey to Success after-school program, StarrVista addresses some of the most important issues that at-risk youth face, and it gives high-school students the skills they need to become responsible adults. The program’s vocational track is intended to help students find a job after graduation by offering training for specific occupations.

Due to the changes in Detroit’s business landscape and increased interest in entrepreneurship, StarrVista decided to help youth who are becoming adults to start their own business in areas that don’t require advanced learning or education, such as a local moving, landscaping or painting company. StarrVista needed to understand what partnerships it should create with other institutions—ranging from foundations to investment funds—to offer financial support through an incubator. As an intern with StarrVista, my initial task was to develop a practical tool to assess the key attributes of an entrepreneurial track and how it would fit within Journey to Success’s vocational programming, as well as to propose a framework for an incubator that would give the students the necessary entrepreneurial skills and seed funding to pilot their business ideas.

But after I gained a better understanding of StarrVista’s services and programs, the job market for high-school graduates, and existing youth development services that other institutions offer, I realized that the vocational track’s current structure doesn’t integrate the services in place to create a complete, ongoing educational plan that would prepare students for a long-time career after graduation, not only a temporary job. The vocational track doesn’t take into consideration the students’ and families’ true capabilities and needs.

After a long conversation with the CEO about my findings, I received tremendous support to change the scope of my summer internship project to strategically restructure the entire vocational track. I was excited about the impact that my recommendations would have on this NGO’s organizational structure.

Therefore, I needed to create a framework to redesign the services offered, so that StarrVista could increase the employment or higher education opportunities for high-school graduates in ways that would translate into a long-term career and stable income. Then StarrVista would develop the framework further. My analysis showed that the vocational component should be restructured into two separate tracks: one to help high-school students continue their education through college, and another to help students who end their education in high school to have a stable income, through either full-time employment or self-employment.

In this framework, StarrVista would become a facilitator providing services that would link the students’ potential, skills and needs with labor market demand—through either training or an entrepreneurial incubator—to create the partnerships, community, resources and environment necessary for the students to succeed.Building an actionable framework to restructure the vocational track was a tremendous amount of work. But it was an incredible and fulfilling experience, especially because StarrVista decided to implement my recommendations and is currently working with the Center for Social Impact at the Ross School of Business for support with it. The classes that I took at Ross/Erb and the practical requirements such as the MAP project gave me the information and problem-solving skills to understand the challenge and propose an innovative, strategic solution.

This internship was a great opportunity for me to better understand how to engage and communicate with communities that have various backgrounds and levels of education. This set of skills will help me connect with the pilot community in Tastiota, Mexico, where a water desalination prototype will be installed to test a technology that I’ve been working on with my team of students from SEAS and the College of Engineering for almost two years. This technology uses solar radiation to desalinate water for underprivileged coastal communities around the world that lack access to fresh water, and it raises their living standard by supporting their primary source of income—fishing activity—which requires permanent fresh water to keep the catch viable for consumption. As this internship at StarrVista showed me, having a long-term focus holds the promise of meaningful employment, which leads to community resilience and strong local economies.