SIFE Dearborn's passion for impact leads to regional win

June 18, 2012

Tyler Whitsett stands with trophies Tyler Whitsett poses with SIFE Dearborn's regional and national trophies

The lights dimmed as the music of Coldplay blared over the sound system. A wall of giant screens broadcasted an introduction of the competitors. Suddenly, the crowd erupted into screams and applause as an announcer’s voice bellowed from above: Welcome to the 2012 SIFE USA National Exposition.

Yes, it would have been easy to get swept up in the pageantry of the competition. But for members of University of Michigan-Dearborn’s SIFE chapter (SIFE Dearborn), the final objective was never about winning.

“Let your passion lead you,” said Tyler Whitsett, president of SIFE Dearborn, before they presented at the Exposition. “Our work is not about winning this competition; it’s about having an impact on our region.”

Of course, for the past few years, Dearborn SIFE has done both, earning recognition because of their work in the community. This year, the organization won their league at the SIFE Regional Competition and then placed in the top 60 teams nationally.

Their goal for 2011-2012 was straightforward: Empower youth to live lives of continued success. To accomplish this, SIFE members sought to develop programs that would strengthen three key areas – financial literacy, self-efficacy and entrepreneurship.

Programs included:

  • Lemonade Day, a partnership with Huntington Bank that taught Metro Detroit youth the basics of entrepreneurship and allowed them to operate their own lemonade stands;
  • Entrepreneurship Academy, a two-week camp that showed high school students how to formulate business plans;
  • Gear Up, a program for 7th graders that taught the basics of global trade and basic financial principles; and
  • Expanding Horizons, a partnership with SIFE Windsor that developed a 10-week computer skills and entrepreneurship course for Young Detroit Builders participants. The SIFE chapters also constructed a new computer lab with a Lowe’s Community Improvement Grant and furnished it with 10 remanufactured computers.

Whitsett and members of SIFE Dearborn intentionally chose to focus on youth development.

“We know that age—especially 6th to 12th grade—is important in developing a sense of self and community,” he said. “We hope to help shape who they need to be as leaders and allow them to take that knowledge and make it their own.”

SIFE members will concentrate on moving projects forward next year.

“We are at a point where we can take the next step and be innovators, or squander our opportunity,” Whitsett said.

He says the organization hopes to partner with SIFE programs throughout Michigan to grow Lemonade Day and work with organizations across campus and the Detroit region to strengthen programs for youth.

SIFE Dearborn members also plan to continue to do well at competitions. The focus, however, will continue to be on results for the community.

As Whitsett reflected on his way home from this year’s National Exposition, the music and cheering still echoing in his head, it hit why he works with SIFE. “Continued social impact,” he said. “I want to do something on a daily basis to make an impact.”

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