Detroit's HBCU Pensole Lewis college has 'huge plans' for the future

Posted at 5:29 AM, Nov 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-22 06:45:50-05

(WXYZ) — Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design is Detroit's only Historically Black College, and it reopened last year with a new name after closing in 2013.

Their approach at the college: Merging industry and education.

When it opened last year, its president had a central goal – attracting and keeping creative talent right here in the City of Detroit.

That means people like Isaiah Walker, who recently completed a masterclass at Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design.

The five-week accelerated course is a partnership between the school and different brands. The companies cover the cost, and even help people with housing for students who needed. After the five weeks, a select few are offered internships.

“We designed the school that way because we wanted to give kids a real taste of what it looks like and feels like. More importantly, what it feels like to work in a corporate environment," President D'Wayne Edwards said. “What ends up happening for the corporation, is it becomes a 5-week job interview.”

The very first masterclass was with Carhartt. It's a brand WAlker knows well coming from a family that works in the Big 3.

Having spent time in New York and even designing his own clothes, Walker said the masterclass sharpened some of the skills he already had.

“Doing it with Carhartt made me look at things from more of a functional standpoint, more of a corporate standpoint," he said.

Walker landed an internship with Carhartt and is now a technical designer there.

“What attracted Carhartt from a brand standpoint to this program?” I asked.

“We really believed in what Dr. Edwards was doing," Alex Guerrero, the senior VP and GM of global product and brand creative for Carhartt, said. “We want to make sure we have diverse talent coming to Carhartt.” 

The students worked with Carhartt design leads, who both mentored and observed these prospective students.

“I really wanted kids to do either one of two things. To finish. Love it or hate it. No middle,"

Edwards is carrying an important torch, one that started in Detroit just before 1940 when Violet Lewis opened a Michigan branch of the Lewis College of Business.

Her goal back then was to help Black Detroiters find long-term employment, not just education. Edwards is moving that mission forward with a focus on creative industries.

“We have huge plans of making sure that people know who she is. And the first step was we changed all of the colors of the college to honor her. So that’s why the colors are shades of Violet," Ewards said.

So far, Pensole Lewis has completed five master classes with around 30 students each. The college has several more lined up with companies like Versace, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors and Vans.

Walker wants to continue exploring design, moving on to product design next, with plans to do it in the city.

“My biggest goal of them all is to be a creative director for a major brand, or maybe my brand," Walker said.

Pensole Lewis is also announcing its new permanent building location, which will be in the City of Detroit, sometime in January.

You can learn more about Pensole Lewis and the masterclasses at their website,