Pensole Lewis students compete in initiative to increase diversity in design

The Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design recently celebrated the first step in their three-year partnership with PepsiCo to develop Black designers and increase representation in the design industry. Students were asked to design and create a student lounge on campus and present their designs to a panel of judges. 

The winning design was created by students Rodney Banks and Angel Buckensf and dedicated to a close friend and mentor of Pensole Lewis founder Dr. D'Wayne Edwards, author Kevin Carroll, who helped to inspire Edwards to start the Pensole brand. It features Detroit’s iconic skyline and a Pepsi globe for seating to serve as a space for creativity and empowerment.

Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design certainly knows the impact of empowerment. In 1939 Dr. Violet T. Lewis opened the Lewis College of Business on West Warren Street in Detroit, offering students courses in typewriting, bookkeeping, stenography, penmanship, and office management. The school moved to Ferry Street and expanded to over 300 students throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Lewis' daughter, Dr. Marjorie Harris, took over as president after her parents’ death and the school found its permanent home on Meyers Road on the northwest side of Detroit. Enrollment reached 550 students in the 1980s and the school was designated a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

“Two of the most rewarding jobs a person can have is to be a doctor where you can save lives, and an educator where you can save lives,” Harris said in a 2001 interview. “You can save lives by giving them a view of what they never dream of- and not only do you change the life of one individual's life, but you can change the life of the whole family.” 

However, the school wasn’t able to sustain itself. Lewis College of Business lost its accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission in 2007 and the school permanently closed in 2013.   

Enter Portland footwear designer Edwards. Edwards founded the Pensole  Design Academy in 2010. In 2021 he successfully spearheaded an effort to resurrect what was Detroit’s only HBCU and the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design was born in 2022. It was the first time an HBCU was able to reopen after being closed. The school is a joint venture with the College for Creative Studies (CCS) as they have provided legislative and administrative assistance, as well as accreditation. Target and the Gilbert Family Family Foundation are also supporters.

Detroit has a rich history of design within its automobile and manufacturing industries. Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design seeks to galvanize that by being a pipeline for career education and professional development in the design industry. Just as Violet T. Lewis used her educational acumen to uplift Detroit’s workforce, Edwards is doing his version of the same. Detroit has been in a long transition as its workforce has witnessed the constant shrinkage of industrial jobs. 

Today, PepsiCo’s support and program with Pensole Lewis provides mentorships from designers with the PepsiCo Design & Innovation team, apprenticeships, and resources for aspiring Black designers. Edwards joined PepsiCo Senior Vice President and Chief Design Officer Mauro Porcini and MillerKnoll Senior Vice President of Global Real Estate, Architecture and Development Matthew Stares in Detroit to select the winning lounge design, with Radio Personality Angela Yee as host.

"It really feels like a huge accomplishment,” says Pensole Lewis College student, Angel Buckens, who was part of the winning design team. "I am so grateful just to be in the room with so many talented people in the industry. Presenting in front of the VP's and presidents of businesses felt very empowering afterwards. Being up there gave me an extra boost of confidence that I needed."

"In addition to receiving the apprenticeship, let alone in New York, a place I have never been, I am so excited, I really can't wait for this summer. I want to thank Dr. D'Wayne, MillerKnoll, and PepsiCo for their guidance throughout this process."

“Five to 10, to 15 years from now I think we’ll look back at this moment as a pivotal point. And for that to actually happen in the city of Detroit is something I’m looking forward to bringing to the planet. I think It elevates the HBC community. But it really expands the consciousness of what's possible specifically here in the Midwest,” Edwards also says. 

Photos Supplied. 
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