Despite only being in the middle of her sophomore year, Marissa Cloutier has taken advantage of the opportunities Albion College has to offer.
The Grosse Ile product originally arrived on campus as an economics and management major, but realizing she didn’t have a passion for that work, Cloutier allowed Al Pheley, the director of Albion’s Institute for Premedical Professions and Health Sciences and Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service, to guide her to a biology major that will likely lead to a career in health care. In addition to her major, Cloutier is concentrating in the Ford Institute and playing on the women’s tennis team that captured the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship and competed in the NCAA Division III Championships her first year.
Cloutier took two trips during Albion’s recent break between semesters. The first was a weeklong December journey to Honduras with a group from Global Medical Brigades where she worked in a temporary clinic that saw more than 450 patients in three days. Her second weeklong experience was closer to home as she got an intensive look at revitalization efforts in Detroit along with 19 other Albion students in the Sleight Leadership Program.
Having demonstrated leadership ability in her first three semesters on campus, Pheley nominated Cloutier for the Sleight Program. The Albion delegation toured Detroit landmarks such as the Heidelberg Project, the Eastern Market, and the Detroit Institute of Arts’ special exhibit (Detroit Revealed); volunteered at the Earthworks Urban Farm; and visited the Capuchin Soup Kitchen before making small-group presentations focused on revitalizing Detroit.
Although her father spends a lot of time working in downtown Detroit consulting with DTE Energy on smart grid technology, Cloutier did not have much experience with the issues affecting the area.
“I didn’t know what to expect [going into the Detroit experience],” Cloutier said. “I knew the city was struggling, but I didn’t know exactly where those struggles stemmed from or how the people there felt about those issues.
“I was really surprised to hear so many people were optimistic about the future of Detroit,” she added. “There are a lot of people working toward change and making the city a better place. There are so many people downtown who are trying to start up businesses and working on community service projects. The people are optimistic, but progress has been slow because the leaders can’t agree on the project to tackle first.”
After hearing from community leaders, the Albion students were placed in groups that were tasked with developing grant proposals for community improvement. Cloutier’s group met the challenge by introducing a plan where art students from around the country would live in hostels and paint murals on buildings.
Coming up with the plan was not easy as the students, much like the city leaders Cloutier referred to, had to work as a team to bring the idea to finality.
“It took a long time to come up with an idea because everyone had great ideas and no one was willing to let go of their idea,” Cloutier explained. “We were holding tight to what we wanted to do. It took a lot longer than it would have if there was only one leader in the group, but in the end the project was better because there were so many people who were willing to voice their ideas and back up reasons why they would work.
“We called our project ART Detroit, or Artistic Revitalization and Transformation,” she added. “The project would introduce art students into the city, and there is a large artist population moving into the city because studio space is cheap.”
Cloutier says her desire to work with intelligent and motivated students is one of the important skills she is gaining from the Ford Institute.
“Public policy, and the Ford Institute in particular, interest me because I think it’s important to stay up-to-date on current events and issues in politics because it affects me and my family,” Cloutier said. “I like debate, discussion, and history, and it will stand out on a résumé because few students applying for medical school have public policy concentrations. Pre-med involves a lot of studying, and [the public policy concentration] allows me the opportunity to interact with people.”
Cloutier took two trips outside the U.S. during her first year at Albion. She traveled to Puerto Rico during spring break with the tennis team for a week of training, and visited Poland at the end of the academic year as one of 22 students participating in the Holocaust Studies Learning Project. As in past weeklong trips taken every other year since 2001, the group spent much of its time restoring a Jewish cemetery in the town of Wroclaw.