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How VMLY&R Is Carving Open Creative Career Possibilities for Detroit’s Students of Colour


Kapria Jenkins speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about launching the agency’s Detroit Experience Studio, an immersive programme for students to explore different opportunites in the creative industries

How VMLY&R Is Carving Open Creative Career Possibilities for Detroit’s Students of Colour

For Kapria Jenkins, her vision at work is clear: keep students at the centre of every decision that VMLY&R’s Detroit Experience Studio (DES) makes. 

Kapria launched, and is the executive director of, DES, a 10-week immersive programme from VMLY&R and WPP for Detroit’s Black and brown high school students to explore creative careers and build skills in marketing, advertising and design via an experiential curriculum. 

Launched in November 2022, DES was built on the fact that Detroit is 86% people of colour, yet people of colour make up less than 6% of the local advertising industry. Just 4% have VP or higher titles. “DES is the space for Black and brown high school youth in Detroit to maximise their creative potential and transform the advertising industry,” says Kapria, a proud native Detroiter who was born, raised and educated in the city, and has spent most of her 20-year career there. 

VMLY&R marks Kapria’s first step into the advertising industry. Her career includes 20 years of leadership experience in philanthropy, communication and diversity, equity and inclusion. Prior to joining VMLY&R, Kapria served as development director for buildOn, a global education nonprofit, driving all aspects of philanthropy in the Detroit area and expanding programming in the US and developing countries. From 2016 to 2020, Jenkins served as the director of corporate philanthropy for The Children’s Center in Detroit, where she was dually charged with serving on the core team that leads and drives the entire agency as well as stewarding all aspects of corporate philanthropy and volunteerism.

“I love my city,” she says, “and want Detroit students to have every opportunity to succeed and leave their mark here. I understand how a spark of inspiration can change a young person’s trajectory. Like many students, during my senior year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. That was until a radio personality from 97.9 WJLB came to my school to speak at a career day. After listening to a brief presentation, I knew I wanted a career in radio. DES is for students like me who are trying to figure out their next move and need a spark of inspiration along the way.”

DES accepts 20 students each semester - it runs two semesters each year, and its first students graduated this past January. Students must be Detroit residents, currently enrolled as a junior or senior in a Detroit high school, and have a serious interest in creative endeavours, such as art, design, writing, strategy and technology. All students are people of colour from Detroit public schools.

Application rolls throughout the year, with in-school recruiting sessions scheduled six to eight weeks prior to the start of the DES semester. Students complete a brief online application and accepted students are notified three to four weeks prior to the start of the semester. The application process consists of standard information and a video or written submission sharing more about why they want to join the program. 

The programme is 10 weeks long with two classes per week that are two hours long. 
In addition to free transportation, meals, swag, supplies, and access to laptops and other digital devices, students also receive a $600 stipend after successfully completing the course, averaging $15 an hour, to ensure they aren't forced to choose between an income or the programme.

Throughout the programme, students explore careers, build foundational skills in marketing, advertising, and design, and gain what Kapria says are ‘real-life experiences’. With access to top industry professionals and mentors, and hands-on activities, students can expand their creativity and develop career pathways based on their unique talents and passions. They also get to work with real clients on a cumulative project. 

“We strive to create an experience where students feel they belong here and can see themselves working in the advertising industry,” says Kapria. “I hope every student eventually comes back to work for VMLY&R. However, we do not push our students into any particular career direction. We create space for them to learn, explore, create and decide what they want to do.”

Reflecting on the programme’s first graduated students, Kapria was bowled over by how hard they worked. She and the team also learned that some students wanted to longer than 10 weeks, so they brought back three students as peer mentors to help guide incoming students. Moving forward, in addition to the DES 10-week core programme and through a partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District, the DES will expand its programme to offer in-school and summer learning opportunities. 

“Next year, my heart’s desire is to see more students successfully complete our programme, find their spark and fearlessly chart their own path,” says Kapria. 

“Only together can we progress forward.”


Learn more about the Detroit Experience Studio here.

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VMLY&R, Fri, 28 Apr 2023 15:45:51 GMT