Patterson 2023 Spring Break Trip

Written by Osetemega Iribiri

Day I

Sixteen students and Ambassador Carey Cavanagh of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce spent three days visiting organizations in Ohio, Michigan, and Canada. The first stop on Monday, March 13, was the United States Air Force Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Students were introduced to Mr. Young, who guided them on a short tour through the IPC and explained the history of the facility, its uses, and how it had come to acquire foreign aircraft and missiles which were on display. Next, students were introduced to a panel of Patterson alumni who spoke about their roles within The National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and National Space Intelligence Center (NSIC). Panelists discussed how the facility contributes to wartime actions, how space threats and hypersonic weapons are analyzed, and the uses of military intelligence on foreign air and space forces, as well as their day to day roles and expectations. 

Thor Industries Factory and Manufacturing Center in Jackson Center, Ohio, was the next stop. Thor is a major producer of luxury R.V.s, generating about $8.2 billion and employing about 22,500 men and women. One unique thing about its employees is that most are also relevant in their communities as farmers, fighter fighters, and community leaders. The students observed in real time the bespoke step-by-step manufacturing of these iconic recreational vehicles that make them span about forty years. Generally, it takes the workers about 5-7 days to complete the construction of one R.V. vehicle. All R.V. vehicles are rain checked to ensure they are waterproof. This process was witnessed by the students. For thirty minutes, 10k gallons of water, approximately 23 inches of rain, were poured on the vehicle. In this process, a worker sits inside the vehicle to ensure no part leaks. If  a leak is found, it is reworked, otherwise, it proceeds to the next stage of production. The water used for the rain check is recycled.

Day 2

On March 14, students visited the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Detroit Tunnel and Ambassador Bridge. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers graciously allowed the students to witness operations at North America’s busiest trade border crossing. They also showed them the different technologies that enable them effectively carry out their federal tasks, such as immigration control, customs enforcement, radiological detection, drug interdiction, and smuggling prevention. In a practical session, a contraband item was planted on a student, and students formed a semi-circle while two K9s circled them. The students observed how K9 units can detect and sniff contraband items in real-time.

Students were also briefed by the agricultural specialists at the CBP. The officers emphasized that when certain items are seized, especially gift items, it is essential to note that they are not just food but hold sentimental value to the carrier because of their cultural significance. Therefore, when confiscating them, they must show extra care and sensitivity.

An example is this gift box. A businessman brought it into the country as a gift for his business partner. For him, it  was not just food; it  was a gift and symbol of his culture that he carefully selected.  The box was worth about $200 and was confiscated because of the presence of raw eggs within the moon pies. It is also worth noting that the CBP is also a self-funded organization.

Later that day, students with passports/visas crossed the Canadian border and went to the International Joint Commission (IJC) Great Lakes Office in Windsor, Ontario. They were hosted by Mark Burrows , a physical scientist at the IJC. Students learned about the IJC mission, U.S.- Canadian management of Great Lakes and Boundary Waters in terms of the Great Lakes restoration, water quality, invasive species, and pressing environmental issues. 

They then met with the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and were hosted by VP Heather Grondin. The “Gordie Howe International Bridge” is scheduled to open in 2025 and, unlike the Ambassador Bridge, will directly connect with a highway both in the U.S. and Canada.  The overall project has an expected cost of $5.7 billion, financed entirely by the Canadian government.  This bridge will augment the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest economic border crossing, which carryies 25% of cross-border trade (400M daily). 

Day 3

The final day began with a visit to the Japanese Consulate at the G.M. Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan. This visit was special because it was the first time since the pandemic that the consulate has agreed to host in-person visitors. Students met with the Deputy Consular General, who shared his 33 years of experience as a diplomat. He also shared that he has barely spent two months in Michigan and was recently transferred from Barbados. The consulate currently has 9 Japanese and 21 local staff. The consulate’s jurisdiction spans both Michigan and Ohio, supporting about 900 companies and 2,400 people. He shared that his assignment usually entails meeting with other diplomats, businessmen, bureaucrats, and economists to create a win-win situation. Three other consulate staff from the public relations and political analysis units were also present. It was an interactive session, and one of the takeaways  was that language is only sometimes a barrier to such appointments. However, it is essential to have both an interest in the culture and subject matter competence. The visit ended with Ambassador Cavanagh inviting the Deputy Consular General to Kentucky and emphasizing Kentucky’s position as a hot spot for the Japanese automotive industry.

Next was the visit to the U.S. Coast Guard/Royal Canadian Mounted Police Coast Guard Station on Belle Isle, Michigan. There, U.S. Coast Guard/Royal Canadian Mounted Police briefed the students on the U.S.-Canada “Shiprider” program. It is a program that enforces maritime law, performs counter-narcotics operations, and search & rescue operations on US-Canadian waters. It has been in operation for about 11 years and is the only one of a such bilateral agreements in the world. Before US-Canadian officers begin operating at the station, they undergo two weeks of special training in US-Canadian coastal laws. The officers, however, pointed out that in all their functions, the preservation of life is prioritized over other functions, such as arresting an offender. They highlighted that their major struggle is human smuggling. Students were also allowed to inspect the patrol boats. 

Subsequently, the next stop was at Cass Corridor, Detroit, Michigan. Students leisurely observed two of Detroit’s renaissance; Shinola, a famous watches and bicycles manufacturer, and Jack White’s Third Man Records vinyl pressing plant (the most modern in the U.S.). These two stops were not guided tours.

Next was the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan. It is 61 years old and is the largest mosque in North America. Its founder, Imam Jawad Chirri, came from Lebanon to Michigan with the desire to propagate the Muslim faith. The mosque has subsequently been a refuge for those fleeing war-torn areas such as Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The architecture is unique and well thought out. There is a frequency of dorm and star-shaped fittings and designs. The mosque hosts inter-faith events and is open to both Sunnis and Shias. It’s usually open from 4am  to 11pm. Every Sunday, it feeds about 250 people for free. It was also opened during the pandemic, gave about 8k vaccines, and held food drives. The mosque lights up in different colors to raise awareness, such as blue for autism and pink for cancer awareness. One unique thing about the mosque is that it is not owned by any family or heir. It is managed by a board. It was built by community effort and has been left as a place of prayer for generations. As you walk within the building, you will see the names of those who have contributed to the building and sustenance of the mosques, such as a group of women called the Bricks of Heaven.

The last stop was a visit to the Executive Director of the America Arab Chamber of Commerce, Fey Beydoun. She charged the students to be the best at their craft and stay through to whatever big picture they have envisioned for themselves. Using herself as an example, she shared that she doesn’t just sit on boards for accolades and benefits. She joins boards and organizations because they align with her professional goals. One such goal is creating an enabling platform for US-Arab businesses to thrive in Michigan. She also shared that she had just received a grant to fund an initiative to get start-ups in Michigan up and running and would be stepping down from her position as Executive Director of the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce.

Overall, it was a thoroughly informative and enjoyable experience. It was beneficial to see how different state, private, and public organizations work and how the things learned in the classroom play out practically. Before the students hit the road back to Lexington, they said goodbye to Michigan, purchasing ice cream, drinks, and baklava from the famous Middle Eastern shop, Shintala Bakery and Café. It was an interactive, informative, and remarkable trip. 

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