J-School's Mike Castellucci helps secure MSU's partnership with Apple for Developer Academy

The proposal that led to Michigan State University's newly-announced partnership with Apple to bring a Developer Academy to Detroit was bolstered by School of Journalism's Mike Castellucci.

MSU had been working with Apple for 18 months to bring the Developer Academy to Detroit. That's when Jeff Grabill, MSU Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning and Technology, contacted Castellucci, a Professor of Practice in the School of Journalism who is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.

Grabill asked Castellucci to produce a video to tell the story of why Detroit should be chosen for the Developer Academy, which is Apple's first in North America. The only other academies are in Brazil, Italy and Indonesia.

The three-minute video was the final component of the application, and would be viewed by the top decision makers at Apple.

"I think it was impactful. Apple tells me that it was," Grabill said. "Mike was exceptionally generous with his time and his energy and his ideas. He put together a really lovely video about why Apple should be investing in a city as creative and dynamic as Detroit is."

Castellucci, who is known in the broadcast industry for producing videos with his iPhone, told the story of Detroit's renaissance through the words of Natasha Miller, the Community Engagement Manager for Science Gallery Detroit, a Michigan State effort. She is also a poet and longtime Detroit resident. Castellucci also featured patrons of the Hope Village Farmer's Market.

Castellucci said the video seemed like it would be important in Apple's decision-making process at the time of shooting, writing and editing the piece.

"Jeff and his team literally said, after all their work, it's coming down to this video," Castellucci said. "That's all the higher echelon at Apple wanted to see. So it did seem important at the time, but you never know if these things will come to fruition, especially the prospects of the first (North American) Apple Developer Academy choosing MSU and Detroit."

Grabill credits Sarah Gretter, the Associate Director of the Hub for Innovation and Learning and Technology, with the idea to bring in Castellucci. Gretter has been the point person for the Apple relationship.

Grabill said Castellucci's affiliation with Apple brought credibility to the video and the story it told.

"It goes back to things your grandparents may have said to you. 'Kid, would you rather be lucky or good?' And the answer is always lucky," Grabill said. "I think in the case of Mike we got to know him at about the right time. And we got to know him because Apple knew him as an Apple Distinguished Educator. It mattered to Apple that he was an Apple Distinguished Educator.

"We could have used someone else, but it wouldn't have been as good. I don't think anyone works as hard as he works. The amount of time and effort he put into this was really extraordinary.

"But it also mattered to them that it was him. And trust me, part of the story inside Apple was, look, here is one of our Apple Distinguished Educators, using an iPhone and all of our technology, to produce what you're looking at."

Castellucci said hearing the announcement was "unbelievable."

"I think what I'm personally most proud of is that I was given the freedom to do it my way," Castellucci said. "For it not to be a typical Chamber of Commerce pitch done by a big production company, but to do it with my brand of storytelling. To focus on a few Detroiters, their lives, and what it would mean to them.

"And I don't know if (Apple CEO) Tim Cook watched it. I sure would like to know!"

The developer academy will be open to all students in the state of Michigan. The Academy program lasts one year and students will go through a curriculum covering coding, design, entrepreneurship and an array of professional skills. After that, MSU will offer an additional one-month program for students who are considering app economy careers and looking to better understand what it means to be a developer.

"These academies are rare and because of the work we have been doing with them on campus the last couple of years, we've built an iOS lab on campus, they have become really good thinking partners with us, and perhaps us with them," Grabill said. "It's a completely unique learning experience, it's highly effective. They get great outcomes at their other developer academies."

Apple plans to bring in up to 1,000 students at a location in Detroit which has yet to be determined. Grabill said he hopes it starts up in-person by fall of 2021.

"It represents for Apple and for Michigan State an investment in Detroit, which is intended to be inclusive and equitable in terms of how the academy goes about its business, who it includes, and the outcomes that it gets," Grabill said. "It puts Michigan State and Apple in a partnership position in which we can imagine other kinds of elements to the partnership given that we are working together on the academy."

By Richard Epps