Freshman wins big in sustainability project contest

Freshman wins big in sustainability project contest

Alexander Kalaj doesn’t like to let opportunities pass him by.

It’s why, on a lark, he entered a contest to pitch sustainable ways to address blight in the city of Detroit.

“I was in a business class and a speaker came in to talk about the contest. I don’t think many people in the class, myself included, paid it much mind. Then an email came out to all students and that caught my eye,” Kalaj said. “I turned in my application last minute on a whim, put my heart and soul into it, and got placed on a team with some great Wayne State upperclassmen.”

The competition gave undergraduate students six days to propose more sustainable ways to address the massive problem of blight in Detroit. The panel of judges consisted of members of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; members of the Detroit Mercy School of Law; and Green Living Science, a local nonprofit.

Kalaj, a freshman in Detroit Mercy’s 5-year MBA program, worked with Wayne State University students Knicko Mojica and Lilly Solomon. Although the pandemic made it difficult for the discussions to be done in person, he enjoyed working with his teammates.

“We eventually met in person the last day before the project was due,” Kalaj said. “It’s like those stories where athletes bond over a really difficult game. We were dynamic, and our chemistry and understanding of each other put us above the competition.”

“The plan is to demolish 20,000 vacant blighted houses in Detroit, but we wanted a better solution,” Kalaj said. “So, we thought of a really creative and innovative plan, pitched it and they loved it.”

Kalaj and his teammates proposed that it would be more efficient to deconstruct blighted infrastructure and reuse the material, than to destroy a building entirely.

“Detroit-based companies would go to blighted houses and extract valuable resources from homes. Lumber, doorknobs, copper. These resources can go to one of three places. Composted if it is really no good, some material can be reused, and others have creative value and could be repurposed into art projects in local areas,” Kalaj said.

After presenting their proposal on Zoom along with 50 other applicants, Kalaj and his team were ecstatic when their proposal was selected.

“They called our team first and told us that we won, and we were so excited we were jumping and screaming,” Alexander said.

This project doesn’t stop at the proposal. Several large Detroit infrastructure companies are looking to put this plan into practice as they work to revitalize blighted areas. Kalaj is extremely excited about what this means for the city.

“I’m passionate about my business and I am passionate about the city of Detroit. I want to be a part of the sustainable comeback story of Detroit, as it becomes the center of the United States.”

Kalaj feels that his time at Detroit Mercy has started preparing him for both his future, and the future of the city. He chose to come to University of Detroit Mercy from his hometown of West Bloomfield for the university’s values and mission.

“The values of Detroit Mercy really sat well with me, and the way they cultivate and raise leaders. I am a Catholic, and I love Catholicism, I love business, so this was the school for me,” Kalaj said. “Around campus you see these signs ‘build a boundless future,’ and if you take that to heart it can be a good guide to your life. Don’t give yourself limits and see how far you can go.”

By Patrick Bernas. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

From time to time Detroit Mercy’s MarCom team profiles a student we think you should know. If you know a student with a unique story, let us know by filling out this form.