Michigan’s only HBCU closed in 2013. Now it’s reopening

i 4 90689626 michiganand8217s only hbcu closed in 2013 now itand8217s reopening as a free design school

In March 2022, historical past might be made. Detroit’s Lewis School—a traditionally Black school that closed in 2013 beneath monetary stress—will reopen to college students. It’s the primary time ever {that a} traditionally black school or college (HBCU) has reopened after closing.

And never only will lessons resume; they are going to be free, as will room and board.

The newly opened faculty known as the Pensole Lewis School of Enterprise and Design. The “Pensole” comes from Pensole Design Academy, a nonprofit design program in Portland, Oregon, that focuses on instructing underrepresented college students expertise for the shoe-design trade. Pensole was based in 2010 by D’Wayne Edwards, a former design director at Nike.

D’Wayne Edwards, founding father of Pensole Design Academy in Portland, Oregon [Photo: courtesy Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design]

Pensole Design Academy is particularly not a school. It’s extra like a commerce faculty. Edwards brings in firms to sponsor applications to show the abilities that generalized design college students usually lack. In flip, main footwear and attire corporations together with Nike, Adidas, and Levi’s will provide internships, and generally jobs, to those college students.


Pensole is likely one of the few establishments that’s actively coaching younger college students of coloration to repair an imbalance in the design trade, the place only 4.8% of workers are Black. “How will we get extra numerous workers?” Edwards asks. “On the design facet, that’s arduous to do.” Over the previous decade, Pensole has graduated 2,000 college students—95% of whom are “racially and ethnically numerous”—and 500 have acquired internships or jobs by way of this system.

Edwards argues that the businesses he works with actually do need to rent extra numerous designers, however they’ve bother discovering them as a result of design has been a white trade from the earliest days of training. Edwards himself did a research on the state of variety at design faculties three years in the past. He discovered that Black college students made up only 9% of enrollment at 96 faculties instructing artwork and design in the U.S. Half of these college students pursued artwork quite than design. And half dropped out by their junior 12 months (which is statistically standard for Black college students throughout increased training). When all of it shook out, Edwards calculated about 1% of scholars really ended up in the pipeline for design jobs.

[Photo: Marlene Ann Brill/Wiki Commons]

HBCUs may assist fill this hole, however Edwards notes that fewer than 10% of the roughly 100 present HBCUs provide design programs. The significance of HBCUs for Black professionals in America can’t be overstated. As the tutorial nonprofit The Hechinger Report outlines, only 3% of all schools are HBCUs. However these organizations output 27% of Black graduates in STEM (science, expertise, engineering, and math), 50% of all Black academics and medical doctors, and 80% of Black judges in the USA. Logic dictates that the identical might be true for design if design applications turned extra widespread at HBCUs. However HBCUs have an issue of their very own: They’re closing. As many as 20 have closed for the reason that Nineteen Thirties; six have closed in the previous 20 years.

Edwards has secured funding to reopen Lewis School, and he has a plan that can enable his Pensole commerce faculty mannequin to harmonize with two- and four-year school levels. The reopening is made potential by way of contributions from the Gilbert Household Basis and Goal (the sum of which Pensole Lewis isn’t disclosing). Its coursework will encompass certification lessons, which might be funded by company donors. An organization like Nike, as an illustration, may fund a course on a design subject like CMF (coloration, materials, and end), or it may fund a business-oriented course like product advertising.

[Photo: courtesy Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design]

“As a substitute of a governing physique saying we’re instructing the proper factor, an organization tells us we’re instructing the proper factor,” Edwards says. Companies give lots of of thousands and thousands of {dollars} to subsidize increased training annually, however Pensole’s skills- and course-focused mannequin is unprecedented in the design trade. The mannequin offers firms extra management of training, but it surely additionally produces graduates who’ve expertise that employers need. These certificates might be earned in weeks or months, they usually can stack as college students acquire extra expertise. Edwards imagines that in the long run, these certificates would possibly even stack right into a formalized affiliate’s diploma.

Within the meantime, Pensole Lewis will enable college students to accrue school credit score in the event that they select, by way of a partnership with Detroit’s School for Artistic Research (CCS). Which means a design or enterprise course taken at Pensole Lewis will switch to hours at CCS. It is a essential a part of this system, which permits college students to toe-dip freely into design whereas securing a extra formalized affiliate’s or bachelor’s diploma.

Pensole Lewis does nonetheless want the state of Michigan to reinstate its accreditation earlier than opening. Assuming that works out, in the primary 12 months Pensole Lewis plans to welcome 300 college students to this system. “It’ll only improve yearly thereafter,” Edwards says. Open enrollment is slated to start in December for coursework beginning in March 2022, with company class companions but to be introduced.


For now, all Edwards will say is that Pensole Lewis will train about much more than footwear and attire design. To study extra, you’ll be able to signal as much as obtain updates on the Pensole Lewis site.