Turning Brain Drain Into Brain Gain

Author: Waugh, Frank

As appeared on December 11, 2012 on WNDU.com

Some of the nation's best and brightest come to South Bend to attend the University of Notre Dame, but most are lured away soon after the graduation caps fly.

In Tuesday night's Just before Six Report, we introduce you to a group of graduate students that's bucking that trend, and sticking around South Bend, for a special cause.

“They believe in South Bend and they believe in this region,” says Nick Easley Executive Director of enFocus.

That is exactly why seven graduate students are sticking around South Bend. Nick Easley is the Executive Director of the group called enFocus. Short for Entraprenurial Focus, that is exactly what this group is doing.

“To me enFocus is a new model of economic development, in the old era of economic development, you really tried to incent companies from outside to come in,” says Easley. “With enFocus it is actually about improving the businesses that are already here.”

Here is how it works, those business like Transpo, the City of South Bend, the School Corporation, and the hospitals, provide funding to enFocus, that is used for a one year living stipend for the members. In return the sponsors get to put these grads to work on various projects.

“With the city, one of the things that we are doing is, we are looking at how to optimize their transportation fleet, with the South Bend School Corporation,” says Easley. “This is because of the recent grading system that was released a lot of people think that there is not a lot of good going on in the schools. What we found is that there are really a lot of good things going on in the schools, but nobody knows about it. So with them it is more of a communication project that we are working on.”

The projects they are working on vary just as much as the skills that these grads bring to the table.

“I did my undergraduate studies in Biology and Santi did his in Electrical Engineering and Political Science," says Khoa Huynh of enFocus. "We have a couple of engineers, we have a science business, we have a mathematician, so we have a very diverse background in our skills and our sets.”

The goal of this diverse approach is to provide new solutions to old problems.

“We are plugging into a group that is already trying to work better and we just facilitate that and give in our perspective from the technical standpoint, how do you go and implement that,” says Santiago Garces of enFocus.

“Everybody that we have worked with, they have told us that they are so excited you guys are here,” explains Huynh. “It is something new, it is something fresh, we want you to come in here with your naiveté, tell us what you think.”

While most of the projects are fairly young, this eager group is already generating a buzz in the community.

“I consider them our little dynamo, and what is powerful about it, is that you have this raw energy,” says Kevin Smith the VP of the Board for enFocus. “But we are wrapping it with mentors from our community that have deep knowledge and wisdom, and you have that mixture of that wisdom and the energy and boy there isn't too much you can't do. So it has been pretty exciting watching them.

They are hoping that excitement continues for years to come.

“Ultimately this is about turning ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’ and so we want to make sure that these guys stay here, they have opportunities to be employed in the area or start their own organization,” says Easley.

About 70 percent of their time is devoted to the projects provided from the sponsoring organizations. The group tries to spend 30 percent of their time on other projects that help the community.

They recently worked on developing the courtyard at the Center for the Homeless in Downtown South Bend.

And coming up Wednesday Just before Six, we'll take look at a seven bedroom apartment downtown that is helping these guys work, even when they are away from the office.