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Feb 9 /

Found in Detroit: Personal and Professional Growth


It was one of my last weeks in business school, and my professor was asking each student about job prospects post-graduation.  Some had high-figured salaries to flaunt, others were proud to name-drop the organization where they would be working, while others had mediocre jobs that were going to pay the bills. Then the spotlight came to me.  I told the class I was moving to New Orleans with no job in hand–or in mind–and with a puzzled look my professor let out a sigh and moved onto the next student.

To this day I think back on that moment and smile with great satisfaction.  After college, some buddies and I jumped in a car and drove to New Orleans to look for work. We weren’t sure what type of work we’d find, so to prepare for what was to come I was sleeping on the floor of my bedroom to prepare for the possibility of being broke and not having a bed. That was my first move away from Michigan and one that would keep me away for over eight years.

Over those eight years I lived in various cities, worked abroad, earned a master’s degree and started a family.  When I was accepted to become a Fellow I happened to be living in New Orleans, again. People would ask my wife and me where we were moving and what I’d be doing. We told them we were moving to Detroit.  Each person met our response with a puzzled look on their face and let out a sigh. The irony was not lost on me. The question on people’s mind was clearly similar to that of my professor and classmates: “What the heck are you doing?”

Returning to Detroit for the Fellowship was a unique opportunity to be connected to new people and communities with whom I didn’t interact when growing up as a Michigander.  The chance to be a part of a group of ambitious mid-career professionals, to connect projects in an attempt to improve infrastructure and to address social issues was quite alluring. To aid Fellows in their task, DRF provided mentorsand professional coaches in order to better handle difficult professional and personal decisions and build leaders out of those who chose to be part of the fellowship.

I can’t speak to my impact on others. However, during my time in Detroit, I was amazed at the impact others had on me.  My colleagues in DRF and the professional colleagues and community members I worked with triggered in me something substantial: They helped me grow into a leader.

My time back in Michigan was brief, and before I knew it I was moving onto yet another adventure. Still, one thing is for certain: I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help from the wonderful people in Detroit.


Mike Madej was a 2013-15 Detroit Revitalization Fellow at The Greening of Detroit. Mike currently works with the Peace Corps as a Regional Recruitment Supervisor in Dallas. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF) is a leadership and talent intervention for mid-career professionals seeking to engage in meaningful full-time work and leadership development over the course of two years. On January 23 the fellowship program launched the application for our next cohort. To learn more and apply visit