OU, Pontiac maintain partnership for city sustainability

Alyssa Ochss, Staff Intern

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Pontiac was in bad shape when Deirdre Waterman first became mayor of the city back in 2013, and the OU-Pontiac Initiative enacted in 2014 pushed to alleviate some of the city’s stress.

Waterman said the city had lost a lot, foreclosures had happened and the Pontiac was “demoralized” and “diminished.”

“The city was just reverberating from the fact that they had just been under the emergency manager for 11 years,” Waterman said. “The city had suffered a lot of trauma from financial crisis.”

Waterman said she spent the first year of her time in office rebuilding the financial stability of the city and getting back organizations and groups that had been cut by the emergency manager. She had also been one of the people that had kept the Pontiac Public Library from closing.

When it comes to the OU-Initiative, Waterman said it was the university, the deans, provost and the president at the time that had reached out to her to establish the initiative. Some of the plans included having students from OU as interns in Waterman’s office, a plan that she intends to continue and bring back, as well as integrating students into middle schools and high schools as mentors.

Teresa Rodges, the coordinator for community service partnerships at OU, said the initiative is a “mutually beneficial partnership.”

“We have students working with the middle schoolers and high schoolers in Pontiac,” Rodges said. “The students love it because they get to make a difference in the community and help.”

The William Beaumont School of Medicine is part of the initiative, and Rodges said it is one of the schools and programs that they are going to continue as well as come up with new projects.

These types of projects provide “experiential learning,” Rodges said, where students are getting real experience in the field rather than just working on a mannequin in class. The Pontiac students and people benefit from these projects as do the students of Oakland University.

The initiative is going smoothly, according to Rodges, but there are still a few things to fix.

“We had to identify and engage new as well as current leadership for the OU-Pontiac initiative in the coming year,” Rodges said, “as well as goals and objectives.”

Rodges said she is excited that OU is committed to community engagement and partnerships: “We’re able to address critical issues in the community for everyone,” Rodges said.

Rodges is currently hiring students to tutor and help students in the high schools and middle schools, and they need more people.

Waterman said this initiative was well received in the Pontiac community and has it recently awarded grants to help support the city.

“I think we have proven that this [program] has sustainability,” Waterman said, “and we want to build sustainability into the program because we feel that has been a vital asset for both communities and we continue to build strength in the programs.”