Social work alumna named Challenge Detroit fellow, brings systems change perspective to city's revitalization


An alumna of the Wayne State School of Social Work is contributing her social work training and perspectives to a multidisciplinary program aimed at strengthening Detroit by improving the breadth and caliber of the city's young professionals.

Tina Saad, who graduated from Wayne State with a B.S.W. in 2017 and a M.S.W. in 2018, is among approximately 30 fellows named to the 2018-19 class of Challenge Detroit, a leadership and professional development program that invites "tomorrow's leaders to live, work, play, give, and lead in and around the greater Detroit area for one year." Fellows contribute intellectually and through hands-on service with the hope that they will be motivated to work or start a business venture in Detroit and serve as professional and cultural ambassadors for the city.

Saad, who was selected on the strengths of a one-minute video (, a 250-word essay and several interviews, was matched with host company DTE Energy, where she will work with the corporate citizenship team four days a week beginning in September. The fifth day of the week will be devoted to work on impact projects with local nonprofit organizations as part of the fellowship.

Saad, who as a master's student received macro training under the programs Innovation in Community, Policy and Leadership concentration, said she pursued her graduate degree in social work after "a fantastic experience working for the Wayne County Prosecutor's office" during her B.S.W. training.

"There were certain moments during my time at the Prosecutor's Office when I realized that there is only so much that can be done for its citizens on a municipal level," Saad said. "The rest is up to talented and dedicated individuals who are committed to serving the entirety of Detroit's population. Social workers bring a much-needed human-centric perspective to this endeavor by making sure Detroit's residents are the main authors of the solutions and strategies that are implemented in the city. So often people have a hero mindset where they want to swoop in and save the city - but the people of Detroit don't need saving. They've been living and making it through here, and we need to learn what they are doing right and what they need from us."

Saad has experience in community-based impact projects, having created a trash impact study during her M.S.W. field education placement with Belle Isle Conservancy. In partnership with Riverside Kayak Connection, volunteers for the study have pulled more than 1,000 pounds of trash out of the Belle Isle Park's waterways - something Saad hopes will increase awareness of the need for recycling receptacles on the island among state policymakers and funders. Saad hopes to use her experience on the study and with Challenge Detroit to pursue a social venture providing a mechanism and incentives for Detroit youth to establish college savings accounts.

Social Work adjunct faculty Marijo Upshaw, who created the school's popular social entrepreneurship course and who serves as a mentor to Saad, said that "as a social worker, Tina brings a systems entrepreneurship perspective to her work that makes a great fit with Challenge Detroit's mission to drive positive social impact through innovative and collaborative programming."

"Challenge Detroit leverages the talents of emerging professionals across disciplines, and we're excited that Tina has an opportunity to demonstrate social work's value in solving complex and protracted societal challenges," Upshaw added. "While pursuing an M.S.W. at Wayne State, Tina gained critical knowledge and skills that she can use to affect positive social change as she works with her sponsoring agency to build organizational capacities and increase corporate civic participation with local communities."

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