A Saginaw Valley State University alumna’s community-minded values helped her become selected for an innovative corporate leadership course associated with one of the world’s largest automotive companies.
Claire Gembrowski, who works in purchasing at Ford Motor Company’s Dearborn campus, was named to the latest Ford Thirty Under 30 Fellowship class. She was one of 30 people selected from a national pool of 300 applicants.
The honor means Gembrowski, who received a bachelor’s degree in management from SVSU in 2011 and later an M.B.A. from University of Michigan-Flint, will participate in a year-long philanthropic-driven leadership development initiative. The fellowship pairs the company's employees with nonprofits from their local communities.
The Freeland native said the opportunity fits with the values she learned growing up.
“I was raised Catholic and was taught that volunteering is something you should do,” she said. “If you have the means to volunteer your time, money or talent, you should.”
Rene Palileo, manager of employee engagement for The Ford Fund, said employees turn in a written application for the fellowship. If their application is chosen to continue in the process, a committee consisting of Ford and Ford Fund executives as well as former Thirty Under 30 fellows rate the applicants. The committee rates them based off how strongly each applicant represents Ford's seven cultural “truths:” "putting people first, doing the right thing, being curious, creating tomorrow, building Ford tough, playing to win and exemplifying the 'one Ford' philosophy."
Palileo said Gembrowski represented each of these “truths,” and helped bring them out in her fellow employees.
"Claire’s volunteer experience and genuine interest in helping the community was a strong point," Palileo said. "Being an SVSU Cardinal, Claire embraces the innovation and transformational work Ford Motor Company Fund provides and, as a Thirty Under 30 fellow, will help broaden our reach in the future."
Gembrowski and her Thirty Under 30 team will work with The Grandmont-Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC). The organization focuses on preserving and enriching Grandmont-Rosedale — a Detroit neighborhood — and its economy.
"A problem GRDC continues to come back to is millennial engagement in their group,” Gembrowski said. “They have a senior citizen group that is extremely passionate, but the population in that area is very diverse. There are young families, new residents, renters and the like.”
Gembrowski said her team hopes to solve this problem by creating a junior society that supports the larger organization.
"I think, generally, millennials want to give,” she said. “I would say they are even a bit more passionate than other generations about helping and leaving some kind of impact. The tricky part is that millennials have the desire for something immediate and for instant gratification. The long game is not part of the vocabulary.”
Millennial lifestyles are a problem for more established organizations, Gembrowski said. These organizations want long weekly meetings and volunteers who are coming in for longer periods of time. She said this structure does not appeal to younger generations.
“You need to find ways that fit into the over-committed lifestyles of many millennials that still make an impact,” she said.
Gembrowski’s team will canvass for like-minded individuals within and near the neighborhood. She said some younger people have already expressed interest in volunteering for the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood group.
She hopes her team can find enough junior society participants for it to continue on its own after the Ford Thirty Under 30 Fellowship cohort leaves.
“The fear I have is that there are certain people who are the doers and people who are not,” she said. “So, we need to find the passionate people and give them some sort of power and freedom to help.”
Gembrowski’s work at Ford has exposed her to communities from across the world. She said she has worked with several departments within Ford and had the opportunity to spend last year in Valencia, Spain working with Ford suppliers in lean manufacturing.
“Ford has something called an ADP, an accelerated development program,” she said. “You do a job swap, so I was able to work in the same job function, which was a supplier coaching of lean, but I got to do it from another region.”
Gembrowski enjoyed the experience and Spain’s culture.
“It was difficult coming back from Spain because you get used to a certain lifestyle,” she said. “I loved the culture. I feel like I fit right in. I come from a big family, and our culture is quite close. We really value doing things together, and that is what is valued in the Mediterranean culture.”
After returning from Spain, Gembrowski worked to bring some of the Spanish culture back to her American co-workers, such as meeting up for coffee outside of work.
She has also continued her local volunteer work since returning. She said she felt the need to help children who were not fortunate enough to have the warm childhood she experienced. She volunteers as an English tutor regularly with Mercy Education Project, a Detroit-based nonprofit that helps girls and women receive an education.
Gembrowski’s motivation to volunteer was a major reason she applied for Thirty Under 30.
“Having that giving sort of mindset, I was excited about this project,” she said. “It combines business and philanthropic endeavors, which is a perfect fit for me.”
While she hopes to learn more about business from the fellowship, Gembrowski said she does not have definitive career goals. Rather, she simply wants to avoid being stagnate.
“I haven’t loved every assignment I have had, but I have tried to be self-aware so that, whenever I get to a point where I think I have learned all I can from a job, I say, ‘Give me more or give me something different,’” she said. “I am lucky to have worked at two different companies — Nexteer and Ford — that have allowed me to do that.”
Gembrowski said current SVSU Scott L. Carmona College of Business students can set themselves up for success now by taking advantage of their coursework in real-world settings, such as co-ops or work experiences.
“What served me well was the co-op opportunity,” she said. “While everyone has a different capacity, I would say try to work while you’re in school. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a restaurant or the bookstore on campus — try to get some work experience to connect to your schooling.”
She also said students should take the time to build up their soft skills before graduating.
“It’s the soft skills — like time management, organization, having high expectations for people, expecting people to do their part and keeping people motivated — that lead to success,” she said. “As easy as that is to say, when you’re working in a corporate environment or a non-profit, when people get stressed, that can be hard to actually do.”
Gembrowski said she is thankful for the groundwork for success SVSU provided her.
“SVSU has played a big role in my life,” she said. “I am very thankful financially, and I went to a great university. I walked away with no debt, I received a great education, made great friends and had work experience through my co-op. It was a great foundation for me.”