Wendy Montesinos discovered her passion for Engineering and could not wait to build on relationships with faculty. Paulina Torres-Guzman ’19 said she was prepared to tackle college on Day One.
These University of Detroit Mercy students are just two of many who have flourished through the University’s dual enrollment program with Detroit Cristo Rey High School. The program provides a hands-on university experience, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses, to creative, engaged students from underserved populations.
From Tuesday through Friday throughout the second semester of their senior year of high school, Detroit Cristo Rey students take college classes at Detroit Mercy in the afternoon, after completing core curriculum studies at the southwest Detroit high school in the morning.
The benefits of dual enrollment are immense. Participating students fulfill their high school diploma through the program, while earning valuable college credit. They are also introduced to life on a college campus.
“It gave me the opportunity to come into campus and see what it’s like to be a college student,” said Torres-Guzman, who will complete Detroit Mercy’s five-year Mechanical Engineering program this spring.
“It really did help me solidify that I do want to be an engineer,” added Montesinos, a junior in Detroit Mercy’s five-year Robotics and Mechatronics Systems Engineering program.
This year’s class of 69 students is the biggest yet for the program. Students chose from seven different classes, ranging from Medical Terminology to Computer-Aided Design, through the collaboration of Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering & Science, College of Liberal Arts & Education, College of Health Professions and Student Support Services.
Given the rich traditions of Detroit Mercy and Detroit Cristo Rey and their commitment to diversifying STEM fields, a partnership for dual enrollment made sense, says Elizabeth Roberts-Kirchhoff, professor and assistant dean for Academics at the College of Engineering & Science.
“We are especially interested in this unique partnership that continues to connect two great Catholic institutions located in the city of Detroit,” she said. “Both institutions are committed to the education of students who will contribute to the future success of the city of Detroit and the greater metropolitan area. Detroit Mercy has intentionally included course offerings in Science and Engineering so that we can encourage a diverse student body interested in STEM fields. We need a diverse group of creative, motivated and innovative people to help in addressing the future problems of the area and the world.”
The state of Michigan supports the dual enrollment program, but because of timing issues — Detroit Cristo Rey’s second semester and Detroit Mercy’s winter semester do not coincide — the program had to be tailored specifically for Detroit Cristo Rey, Roberts-Kirchhoff said.
The Ideal Group, a southwest Detroit business, assists by funding transportation and other facets of the program. Frank Venegas Jr., founder and chair of the organization, has long been invested in the success of Detroit Cristo Rey students by providing several educational resources and opportunities in addition to dual enrollment.
“I know that we have choices where we can send our kids. We chose Detroit Mercy, not just because of their location with us, not just because they are a Catholic, Jesuit college, but our kids were interested in the curriculum over there,” Venegas said. “They really, really want to be engineers, and some are passionate about entering the healthcare field.”
Kevin Cumming, principal of Detroit Cristo Rey, believes the benefits of the dual enrollment program go beyond the college credit earned.
“It’s a great opportunity for them. In a college class, on a college campus with other college students — it grows their confidence, their ability to feel like they can be successful going to college,” Cumming said. “We’re very grateful for the opportunity Detroit Mercy gives us; it’s a great benefit to our students.”
The program prepared Montesinos to achieve success as an undergraduate student at Detroit Mercy. She formed a relationship with Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nassif Rayess, which continued as a college student.
“It was good that I built that relationship with him,” Montesinos said. “Now that I’m taking classes with him, it’s easier to go to him and ask him questions.”
Torres-Guzman was introduced to Detroit Mercy through the dual enrollment program. When choosing a college, “it was my deciding factor,” she said. Five years later, she is working at General Motors as a manufacturing engineer in remote laser welding.
A 2015 graduate of Detroit Cristo Rey, Torres-Guzman is pleased to see the dual enrollment program thrive and help other high school students.
“It definitely prepared me for college, so I knew what the homework and studying expectations were,” she said. “That also taught me time management, which is what I use now in my professional career.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for STEM occupations is $84,880, more than double the median annual wage for non-STEM occupations. Jobs in STEM fields are expected to experience 8.8% growth from 2018-28. This is why dual-enrollment programs with schools like Detroit Cristo Rey are so important in today’s world.