Detroit Tech School Trains Vets, Returning Citizens for Tech Careers

Tucked away in Southwest Detroit, not too far from the geodesic Buckminster Fuller domes built by Jack White’s brother, sits the Detroit School of Digital Technology (DSDT).

Unlike many other tech schools, DSDT is a woman-owned organization that specializes in training veterans, residents returning home from being incarcerated, and other adults for a career in a variety of technical areas, including drone technology, film and television production, Web design, coding, and more.

“We give them fast-paced, hands-on training and tools, as well as real-life, on-the-job training,” says Jamie Kothe, who owns the for-profit school.

It typically takes DSDT students 120 to 560 instruction hours to earn certification or a diploma depending on the area of study, she says, and tuition costs range from $5,399 for certification to $17,995 for a diploma.

Kothe was recently one of 102 entrepreneurs nationwide chosen to be a 2018 American Small Business Champion by SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer business mentors. She’s also a bit of a renaissance woman, with a background that includes a degree in mortuary sciences from Wayne State University and years working in medical and surgical sales. She’s also a certified paramedic, masseuse, and phlebotomist.

Next week, Kothe will travel to Reno, NV, for a special training and networking event for SCORE winners. She has a shot at one of three $15,000 grand prizes, with winners announced in September.

DSDT opened its doors in the fall of 2016, but it didn’t start enrolling students until last May, Kothe says. So far, 180 students have graduated from the school and 96 percent of them landed a job afterward, usually no more than 60 days after graduation, Kothe says.

Rocket Fiber, DTE Energy, and Vetbuilt are some of the employers DSDT works with to place students after they’ve been trained, and the school also collaborates closely with Michigan Works, the state’s employment office. The only pre-requisite required of DSDT students, who must be 18 or older, is a high school diploma or GED.

DSDT has also started a call center to create paths to employment for students whose criminal records are having a negative effect on their ability to get a job. The idea came after a suggestion from Governor Rick Snyder. “Snyder said they all had a hustle,” so they might as well use it for something legal, Kothe says.

The tech school has a wide array of partnerships with social service organizations supporting the populations DSDT students are drawn from, such as groups helping veterans and low-income Detroiters. Students typically come to DSDT after a referral from one of those service organizations, which also pick up the cost of tuition, Kothe says.

“We’re a for-profit school, but [no student] has paid yet,” she adds. “Somebody always fits one of the programs.” Most students are between the ages of 20 and 45, with a few more male students than female, but still “a good combination,” she says.

The tech school is getting by so far with revenue from tuition fees, Kothe says, but she’s currently seeking an investor help buy the DSDT building. The school occupies only the first floor, leaving the upstairs free for additional academic space and a community event center.

Kothe has ambitious plans for 2018. Her goal is to help find jobs for at least 50 veterans and returning citizens after their graduation. She’s meeting with an automotive company this week to talk about adding classes pertaining to the development of mobility and autonomous vehicle technologies. She also plans to open a second, satellite location in Detroit during the last quarter of the year.

“Our mission is to empower and employ individuals,” she says. “We have changed Detroit and we want to continue to put Detroit back on the map.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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