02/08/2012 02:09 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

Rallying Rivals for a Common Cause

Here in Michigan, our loyalties run strong -- and we take our rivalries pretty darn seriously. The Mitten vs. The U.P. Ford vs. GM vs. Chrysler. And my personal favorite: U of M vs. MSU.

I bleed Green and White, wear my Michigan State Spartan shield with pride, and get misty-eyed over memories of East Lansing. And admittedly, whenever I step foot into Wolverine territory, the proud Spartan in me stands tall.

On one such recent visit to Ann Arbor, for a conference held by University of Michigan business students, I engaged with many emerging leaders particularly around the big question for our state: what will it take to revitalize Detroit? Time and again, the conversations turned to education. I was deeply struck by the passion among these students, who insisted that the future of Detroit hinges upon our state's ability to prepare our future leaders for the 21st century knowledge economy. Even more inspiring was the desire among them, and many of their collegiate peers, to take action.

Similarly, students at Michigan State recently held a campus rally to protest the unjust reality that many kids from underserved backgrounds across Michigan simply aren't receiving the caliber of education they need to compete with their college-bound peers. In my hometown of Detroit, students' reading and math scores are among the lowest in the country, continuing a trend that landed Detroit near-last on a recent Men's Health analysis of the most- and least-educated cities. I commend our state's college students for taking a stand against this injustice.

Our friendly rivalries aside, U of M and MSU students alike are stepping up in meaningful ways to make an impact in the lives of students and the future of our state and country. Compelled by the conviction that a quality education can open doors of opportunity, last year nearly 1,000 graduating seniors across Michigan vied for the chance to teach in some of our country's highest-need urban and rural schools through Teach For America.

During my senior year at Michigan State, I too was compelled to apply to Teach For America. I wanted to make an impact for kids who grew up like me -- in a proud but struggling Detroit neighborhood, where breaking the cycle of poverty demanded that I receive an excellent education to prepare me for college. Through continuous support from Teach For America and colleagues in my school, coupled with a lot of hard work, I helped my 8th graders in the Bronx -- whose backgrounds, like mine, would predict that only half would make it through high school -- move two grade levels in a single year. Since I returned to Detroit as executive director of Teach For America in 2010, I've seen the remarkable impact that our more than 200 teachers are making in their classrooms across the city, working alongside other community efforts.

This week marks the final application deadline for Teach For America's 2012 teacher corps. As college seniors contemplate the role they want to play in the world upon graduation, I hope that Spartans and Wolverines alike will answer the call to make a difference for kids living in poverty here in Detroit and around the country. We must ensure that our children, regardless of their background or zip code, receive the kind of education that will allow them to reach their full potential.