This Marygrove alumna has returned to the campus to continue the institution’s legacy of educating the community and preserving history.
As of December 2019, Marygrove College is no more. But the northwest Detroit campus remains – and will continue to prioritize education under the tutelage of Marygrove Conservancy, established in 2018 to oversee operations for the 53-acre campus. Chief Operating Officer Racheal Allen is a graduate of Marygrove College, and she’s returned to the historic grounds determined to keep the party going.
Marygrove’s groundbreaking P-20 partnership is inching closer to completion. The campus will become an interconnected web of cradle-to-career educational institutions and programs. An early childhood education center is scheduled to open fall 2021, and a K-8 elementary and middle school is under construction now.
A high school – The School at Marygrove – opened with an inaugural ninth grade class last September, and, come fall, they’ll launch 10th grade. The School at Marygrove is currently a Detroit Public Schools Community District application school that grants preference to students from a two-mile catchment area.
Allen says, “It really is meant to attract students from the neighborhood, although it’s a magnet school that attracts students from all across the city. (DPSCD) really wanted to give priority to those who are of the neighborhood, because that’s what the Marygrove campus is about. Although we serve those from all over the city, the conservancy is really making a concerted effort to prioritize programming for those in the Fitzgerald and Bagley communities.”
She says partnerships, like the one with DPSCD, have been crucial. Also at the table is the University of Michigan School of Education, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, IFF, Starfish Family Services and, of course, The Kresge Foundation, whose headline-grabbing $50 million endowment is making it all possible.
“Having those organizations as partners is really critical to envisioning what state-of-the-art programming looks like versus what we traditionally see,” Allen says. “And so, it’s been really nice to have the kind of meetings where we’re really dreaming up the type of campus that should exist.”
As programming evolves, additional partners will prove necessary. Allen says they’re actively looking for organizations who want to be on the Marygrove campus. In September, they’re introducing their impact incubator to host and support nonprofits who fit within their P-20 vision.
As the campus reopens after a months-long shutdown, the conservancy is specifically hoping to be a beacon for those businesses and orgs hit hard by COVID that may not be able to afford space elsewhere. Marygrove hasn’t been immune to the economic difficulty, either. The campus is home to a number of event spaces that are usually rented out for weddings, business functions and the like, so they’ve taken a revenue hit along with the rest of the world.
“When the opportunity came to come to Marygrove, it felt like a role that could not have been better created for someone,” Allen says, who came on board as COO in December as the institution was transitioning from historic college to something brand new. She was a teen mom and high school dropout, but Allen did eventually graduate with a 4.0 GPA and says, “I could’ve had my choice of colleges across the country, but the only school I applied to was Marygrove College.”
Allen graduated from Marygrove in 2006 and started her career in education and entrepreneurship. She was a principal before moving into education operations. She says, “I really fell in love with being able to manage physical plans and all of the behind-the-scenes ways that large organizations operate.” The native Detroiter also worked for Detroit Downtown Partnership managing their cleaning and hospitality program before her newest gig.
“Not only did I have that tie to the Marygrove community – a place that is very special to me, for the last 20 years – I also intimately know operations and older and historic buildings that have these really unique challenges. It’s a dream job. I literally pinch myself when I go on campus every day.”
The Marygrove Conservancy is committed to hiring and contracting with small, local and minority-owned businesses and to making sure the community is at the forefront of every decision made. Allen says it’s important that “people who look like me are represented in the way that this organization is developed.”
She says they’re also determined to continue Marygrove’s legacy of arts and cultural engagement. They’ve developed the Center for Detroit Arts & Culture to provide programming related to literary arts, music, dance and more. “Although the college no longer exists in its traditional way as an educational institution,” Allen says, “we believe that there is a ton of value in making sure that those types of programs continue.”
Pamela Alexander, director of community development for Ford Motor Company says …
Ford Congratulates Racheal Allen on her new position as chief operating officer of Marygrove Conservancy, a new force to help ensure that education is the foundation for success. Ford Fund believes that education is key to making lives better, creating social change and building sustainable communities. And that’s why Ford Fund invests more than $16 million annually to support education initiatives that empower people to envision and lead change in their communities or in their own lives.
Ford Fund believes the best way to learn is by doing – by taking classroom knowledge and applying it in the real world. Our belief in the power of learning and doing something meaningful with that education is a key driver in the educational investments we make around the world.
Ford is proud to recognize Racheal Allen on her new role, and we’re excited to watch Marygrove Conservancy become the positive force for change that the metro Detroit community needs. For more information about Ford’s educational programs, please visit community.ford.com.
Marygrove Conservancy is looking to partner with community-based organizations. For more information or to get involved, visit marygroveconservancy.org.