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Apple and MSU are collaborating to launch first U.S. Developer Academy in Detroit

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Sarah Gretter

Apple and Michigan State University are partnering on the tech giant's first United States-based developer academy, and it's in Detroit. Sarah Gretter is associate director of MSU's Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology and will be director of the academy when it launches in October.

“The work we do in the Hub is around designing for change in higher education,” says Gretter. “What that means is we focus specifically on learning experience design. Our work can range from helping faculty members or units redesign their curriculum to creating a new learning experience, like the Apple Developer Academy, which encompasses the whole process of building something from zero to launch in a few years.

Dr. Grabill started initial conversations with Apple on the academy about three and a half years ago when we really decided to launch what we call the small bet. The small bet was piloting what we call the iOS Design Lab on campus, which was a very small version of what the academies are now. We collaborated with multiple Apple teams to really bring that to life. The iOS Design Lab still exists on campus right now and is really successful in attracting a diversity of backgrounds and interests from students at MSU who are interested in app development and understanding the basics of coding design and entrepreneurship within the Apple ecosystem.”

Gretter is the first ever female director of an Apple Developer Academy.

“I'm really excited to be in that position. We know that diversity in the tech industry is a big hurdle. Being the first woman to lead an academy is an honor but also something that I'm really adamant about embedding within the fabric of how we build the academy. So not only are we the first academy in the United States, we're also the very first one that's under Apple's new racial equity and justice initiative, which means that we are looking at this educational opportunity from that very lens of diversity in the tech industry.”

What is an Apple Developer Academy?

“Apple has Apple Developer Academies worldwide. I think we are the 15th one to be open, and there are more to come around the globe. Apple Developer Academies really focus on the app economy in general and on creating pathways for new tech leaders in this 21st century. We cover basics of coding, design and entrepreneurship within the Apple ecosystem. And we'll use what Apple calls challenge-based learning to get to the core of using technology to solve the world's biggest challenges. Students have their own experiences that they'll go through in the Academy, but they really learn to network and communicate and collaborate with industry and community partners to work on solutions that really will have a real impact in the community around them.

“In my role right now, I’m supporting the process and making sure that all the teams are talking to each other and that the process is as seamless as possible until we launch. Once we launch, as the director, my responsibility will mostly be ensuring that everything functions in terms of operations, but also ensuring that the staff and the mentors that are going to be teaching in the Academy have all the support that they need on my end. As I represent MSU in this process and in this project, we are ensuring that the mentors are really the core of the work that we provide. But really at the end of the day, my job will make sure that students are having the best experience that they can in this educational and learning environment that MSU and Apple are creating for them with support from our close partners. The mentors themselves will be doing most of the teaching every day, and I'm looking forward to having that team and that cohort start with us fairly soon this summer.”

What are Apple’s and MSU's goals related to Academy outcomes?

“It will vary from academy to academy and from student to student. The outcome really is ensuring that students have the pathway that they are interested in. What is fascinating with Apple Developer Academies worldwide is that we're looking at the app economy and app development in its entirety. So it's quite different from a coding bootcamp, if you will, where some students' pathways might be in project management or product ownership or business. And we're looking for outcomes that will produce wealth generation within the community, but also for those students who might be interested in either pursuing further education or going into the industry and getting a job. We're looking forward to seeing what those outcomes will be and how we can make sure that we achieve them.”

Why did Apple select Detroit and MSU as its first US academy?

“The relationship that we built with Apple over the years was a great factor. The iOS Design Lab was the first stepping stone in building the confidence that Apple has in MSU to provide that opportunity for students. Detroit has a rich ecosystem in entrepreneurship and technology, and we are really excited to be part of the vibrant existing ecosystem. Detroit is quite unique in many ways, and MSU has had long-term relationships with the city and we're happy to continue that relationship and be embedded within that community.”

What can students who are accepted expect to get out of their year at the Academy?

“So many things. The pathways that I mentioned are one of the main outcomes. But really, the relationships that they will build with each other is what we're looking forward to the most. Exploring different life pathways or professional pathways that they might not have expected when starting at the Academy is going to be one of the most surprising expectations that we'll see happen. But we've seen and we've learned from other academies that often, individuals meet future business partners in the Academy and build businesses out of the work that they do together. Or students might just make friends for life, which is also a great outcome.”

The Gilbert Family Foundation, in cooperation with the Rock Family of Companies, will support the new Apple Developer Academy in Detroit.

“We are so excited to partner with and be supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation and Rock Family of Companies. We have worked and communicated with those groups for quite some time now envisioning what that support could look like and how we will partner in the future. We are really thrilled for this gift and the potential that it will create for the academy itself.

“What I'm really excited to see is the cohort of students that we will bring to the Academy and the changes that they will produce through the work that they do in the community and for the tech industry and the technology that inhabits our day-to-day lives. I'm really excited for the work to happen and to see those students go through the program and be successful.”

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