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Grads aim to make positive impact in community

Dan Brombach | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Many recent Notre Dame graduates drove away from the dome in the spring, but seven members of the Class of 2012 stayed in South Bend in hopes of attracting more young professionals like themselves to the area after college.

As part of the Notre Dame Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters (ESTEEM) program, these students have spent the past two years working with the project, called “En Focus.”

The recent graduates decided to stay in the area for another year to work with En Focus, invigorate the South Bend community and combat the “brain drain” that draws young people away from the city.

Graduate Andrew Wiand said the organization hopes to make a constructive impact in the community by bringing fresh and innovative solutions to some of South Bend’s less efficient programs.

“We’re going to bring technical solutions and a ‘get the job done’ attitude to some things that might not typically work for the city, like schools, hospitals or transportation,” Wiand said.

Seventy percent of the program’s effort will be dedicated to technical and consulting projects, while the other 30 percent will focus on finding ways to bring community events and Notre Dame students to downtown South Bend, Wiand said.

Wiand said these projects aim to create opportunity in South Bend, fostering an atmosphere that will draw businesses and young talent from Notre Dame and around the nation.

“Right now we don’t necessarily have that innovative environment Notre Dame kids want to go to,” Wiand said.  “We want to create an atmosphere that attracts people and makes them stay, and in order to do that we need to create opportunity.”

Deciding to stay after graduation and focus on development in South Bend stemmed from an informal conversation with the seven graduates during last year’s spring break, Wiand said.  

“We were sitting in a North Carolina bar watching the University of North Carolina play Duke in basketball when we began discussing a potential program to innovate South Bend’s economy,” Wiand said.  “We got to talking about things we can do for South Bend, and then pitched our idea to the director of the ESTEEM program, David Murphy. He took the idea into action, put together a board of directors, got us sponsored and got us work to do.”

A Notre Dame graduate who grew up in South Bend, Wiand said he hopes to improve community relations with the University through his work at En Focus.

“I wanted to stay in South Bend to bridge the gap between the University and the city that I’ve perceived for years now,” Wiand said.  “As a double domer from South Bend, I feel I can approach the issue from both sides.”

Sponsors will provide the graduates with a stipend while they work to increase cost efficiency and spur increased development of the South Bend economy.

“Our broad goal is to provide value for these sponsors and for the community, whether it be through cost reduction, increased performance or through a focus on innovation,” Wiand said.

Wiand said he and the six other graduates will move on after working for a 12-month period but would like to keep the program sustainable in the future by recruiting Notre Dame graduates to take their places.

Ultimately, Wiand said he hopes En Focus will help South Bend thrive and adapt to a rapidly changing economic climate.

“I think we can make South Bend a 21st century city,” Wiand said.