What Mott's $9 Million Grant Means for Flint and Michigan State University

Could a city that was once a giant in the auto manufacturing industry be the next hotbed of public health education and research? The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation hopes the answer is yes. And it's giving a $9 million grant to Michigan State University’s School of Public Health in Flint, Michigan to expand MSU's presence and fuel the revitalization of Flint, the funder’s hometown.

With the grant, Michigan State will expand its footprint in the city, doubling the number of medical students working in local hospitals and housing a master's degree program in public health there. Michigan State's President, Lou Anna K. Simon, told the MLive website that the school will occupy the building that once housed the Flint Journal newspaper. The building was constructed in 1924 and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition, the school plans to recruit top public health researchers to create a health research team that will study the effects of financial and social factors on people's health. Flint, unfortunately, may be the perfect laboratory for such research. The closing of auto plants over the years and the resulting layoffs have taken a heavy toll on the city — economically and socially.

Although the Mott Foundation is not generally known as a funder of higher education projects, its hometown does hold a special place in the foundation's heart. One of Mott's grantmaking programs focuses specifically on the needs of Flint. The funder hopes this grant will give the former manufacturing center a new image.

"Having strong faculty and researchers based in Flint, and performing community-oriented research could help the area become nationally known as an innovator in the field of public health," Mott Foundation President William S. White said in a news release from the funder. He added that medical students from Michigan State have trained in Flint for many years and that the university has a strong relationship with the area hospitals. "This public health project adds an exciting new dimension to that work," White wrote.

Neal Hegarty, vice president for programs at Mott, added that Michigan State's expansion in Flint will be an economic driver that strengthens health care and education in the city.

Health care has been a major driver of growth for many local economies, and higher ed institutions are often part of this picture, so Mott's on the right track in thinking this investment could yield big returns for Flint, a city that could use some good news.