Ford, CES pair for mobility app

Later this year nonprofit organizations and volunteers may be able to connect and work together thanks to an app being developed by students and faculty in the College of Engineering & Science.

The $200,000 Bill Ford Better World Challenge grant is an innovative global program in which Ford employees work through the Ford Volunteer Corps on transformational community projects. The idea for the nonprofit mobility app came from Ford employees Robert Collard, Cecil St. Pierre and Ashley Levi, who envisioned a way Ford workers and others could assist non-profits by using the hauling power of their vehicles.

“It might be an organization like Habitat for Humanity that needs large items moved to a job site,” said Associate Dean for the College of Engineering & Science Katy Snyder.

Snyder said the grant is exciting for many reasons. First, two of the three people who came up with the plan for the app—Collard ’12 and St. Pierre ’16—are alumni of University of Detroit Mercy. She added that it appears the app would be the first of its kind. The grant gives Detroit Mercy the ability to further develop and expand the app, providing the potential for broader impact in future releases.

The excitement is felt over at Ford, too.

“This is a great opportunity to put Ford’s commitment to smart mobility to work for nonprofits and people in need,” said Janet Lawson, director, Ford Volunteer Corps, Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. “Ford and Detroit Mercy have a long history of successful collaboration. The University’s professors and students understand our mission to create a better world, and they have the engineering know-how and social awareness to make the most of this unique opportunity to help the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The project has an ambitious timeline, too. The University is to create a fully operational product early this year. It’s partly because of this quick turnaround that the Better World Challenge granted the University twice the amount the app creators requested.

“I’m also excited about the impact this could have on our curriculum,” Snyder said. “This is a real-world experience, partnering with business, with the potential for social impact, which is the direction we want to take our program. I’m hoping this is just the first step to additional projects like this for our students and faculty.”

“This grant award is an opportunity for our faculty and students to participate in an authentic design project that meshes nicely with the social mission of the College and the University.” Gary Kuleck, dean of the College of Engineering & Science. It is a terrific opportunity to create an app with the potential for long-lasting societal benefits.”

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