Taubman College Students Create Innovative Concepts to Welcome New Residents in Collaboration with the State of Michigan’s Population Growth Effort

Students presented three concept ideas to local leaders from across the state

Taubman College Urban Technology students participated in a consulting project with the State of Michigan’s population growth campaign, Let’s Grow Michigan. Over the last semester, students focused on creating innovative concepts to welcome new residents into Michigan communities. They presented their ideas to local leaders, U-M officials, and the growth team at Newlab in Detroit on Tuesday, April 23.

A group of four students present to a crowd“Being able to work with the only urban technology program in the nation, which also happens to be my alma mater, has been incredibly rewarding,” said Michigan’s first-ever Chief Growth Officer Hilary Doe. “This idea came about while I was on the road listening and speaking with Michiganders last year. I learned that we need great places, great opportunities, and welcoming communities to retain current residents and welcome new ones. I’m grateful to the students who have participated in this work. To see their ideas morph into tangible concepts is incredible. Their findings on how we can best welcome new faces to Michigan will make the state an even better place to call home for everyone.”

Offered as part of a first-of-its-kind undergraduate degree program in urban technology, the course “Service Design and Urban Needs” focuses on developing creative ideas at the intersection of design and technology to meet fundamental urban needs. During the winter 2024 semester, 18 junior-level students worked in groups to research, develop, and finalize three concepts. To ensure their concepts represent the needs of Michigan’s communities, students interviewed stakeholders across sectors to inform the design process.

Devin Vowels, a junior urban technology student from Rochester Hills, MI, says gaining real-world career experience in a class format enabled her to create and problem-solve without workplace pressures.

“I have learned how much I enjoy concept building, strategic thinking and prototype design,” said Vowels. “I’ve also learned how to tell the stories of the people we’re designing for, as well as the story of our project and how it fits into people’s lives.”

The three concepts are:

  • Fourth Spaces: A digital platform used to bring Michiganders together by hosting pop-up events at local businesses. This tool connects existing resources like storefronts with new opportunities for economic and social engagement.
  • MittenCorps: A talent retention program that connects Michigan-educated graduates to job opportunities in mid-sized Michigan cities. This program would be a collaboration between cities, businesses, and people.
  • WorldWide MI: A culturally curated service for discovering and connecting communities in Michigan. This digital platform enables people to have culturally relevant experiences that allows them to discover new interests and leads them to form genuine connections with others through their shared experiences.

“These projects are examples of how service design can be used to address gaps or points of friction within whole systems,” said Bryan Boyer, director of Urban Technology program and assistant professor of practice in architecture. “Contributing to the very important question of how to kickstart growth in the state of Michigan is a tremendous experience for the students and a courageous demonstration of MEDC’s creativity in taking on this challenge.”

A group of people around a table discussing a topic

As efforts to grow Michigan’s population progress, there is hope that these ideas presented by the students will act as a jumping-off point for future pilots targeted at streamlining the onboarding process for new Michiganders.

Michigan’s efforts to grow the population kicked off with the announcement of the state’s first-ever chief growth officer and creation of the Growing Michigan Together Council last summer. Since the Council released its recommendations in December, the report has received traction in legislative hearings, in Governor Whitmer’s proposed 2025 budget recommendations and among community organizations across the state. The broader population growth effort includes engagement with Michiganders statewide and efforts to tell Michigan’s story across the nation.

About UM’s Urban Technology Program
U-M’s Bachelor of Science in Urban Technology is a first-of-its-kind undergraduate degree program. The new program has approximately 100 students, and the first cohort will graduate in May 2025. Students in the program focus on the changing ways that cities are seen, shaped, and served through the use of data and computation.

About Let’s Grow Michigan
The Let’s Grow Michigan campaign is spearheaded by the state’s — and nation’s — first Chief Growth Officer Hilary Doe. Let’s Grow Michigan is focused on raising awareness to reverse existing population trends with talent attraction and retention efforts, engaging the public in the campaign to grow Michigan, and telling Michigan’s story as a great place to call home.