Dustin Dwyer

Reporter/Producer

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.

Dustin earned his bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida. He's also lived in Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington D.C. He's always happy to explain - with detached journalistic objectivity - why Michigan is a better place to live than any of the others. 

screen grab from Rob Cantor on YouTube, Microsoft Paint by Dustin Dwyer

I should have known. 

Two weeks ago, I was making a rare visit to our Ann Arbor office (I live in Grand Rapids), and I stumbled across a video I thought would be great for our website. The video featured a singer named Rob Cantor as he performed – or at least claimed to perform – 29 celebrity impressions in one song. And they were good impressions, crazy good. 

montage of screen grabs from robcantor's YouTube page

Update: Rob Cantor has posted a new video showing how he faked every one of the 29 celebrity impressions, using the voices of 11 different impressionists. I'm a fool.   

How's your work day going? Productive? Ready for a break? Good. 

Rob Cantor is a Los Angeles-based musician who grew up in Michigan.

You might know him as the guy in the yellow tie from Tally Hall, a band that formed while Cantor and his band mates attended the University of Michigan in 2002.

Tally Hall took a run at stardom after signing with Atlantic Records. They had some appearances on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and, as the band's Wikipedia page claims, Tally Hall continues to have a "relatively significant cult following."

More recently, Tally Hall's band members have been working on solo projects, and Cantor is promoting a new solo album.

That brings us to the crazy video Cantor posted today.

flickr/Schlüsselbein2007

As many as 200 kids per year from the west side of Grand Rapids will get a chance at a free college education, thanks to a new scholarship program announced today. 

The scholarships come out of a program that started a few years ago at Harrison Park Elementary in Grand Rapids. The Challenge Scholars program, a project of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, started with a single class of fourth-grade students, with the goal of doing whatever it would take to prepare those kids for college. 

"From about 2008 to 2011, we just did a deep dive into 'what are we going to do?'" says Diana Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. "We started with the fourth grade, but really what we're trying to do is influence that whole school."

So the school got what Sieger calls a "college pathways coordinator," a person who basically prepares kids and their families for what it will take to be ready for college. The school also got added support in math and literacy. 

But 97 percent of kids at Harrison Park Elementary are eligible for free or reduced lunch, which means many of them are living in poverty. Just getting them prepared for college wasn't going to be enough. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The video above comes from a march to end violence organized by the Muskegon YMCA last weekend. The man speaking is Zawdie Abiade, who happens to be running for mayor of Muskegon. He also happens to be a former gang member. 

"The gang was the only community I felt understood me," Abiade says. "What we need is somebody and people who understand what it is to be isolated, to be rejected, to be discriminated against, to be misunderstood."

Dustin Dwyer

 This is the second in a three-part series from State of Opportunity about a gun battle that happened in Muskegon on July 9th, and how violence continues to plague the city. Part one of the series is here

I met Carmesha Rogers as she recovered in her room at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon. She was surrounded by humming medical equipment and cellophane balloons. She was hooked up to tubes, but she was able to sit up in a chair to talk.

This was less than a month after a bullet hit her in the head, and  passed through her brain.

Dustin Dwyer

Last month, a disagreement on a residential street in Muskegon turned into a massive gun battle. Six men were armed. Dozens of shots sprayed in all directions.

At the house directly behind the gunfight, three children played on a porch.

And one woman ran into the line of fire to try to save them.

Today we begin a three-part series about the incident, and look at how the dramatic rise of gun crimes in Muskegon is putting more kids at risk.

Dustin Dwyer

 

In 1998, Amy Valderas was a single mom with three kids, all under the age of seven. She had no work experience, and lived with her sister. So she went to sign up for government assistance. But instead of welfare benefits, she got a job offer.

“I was very hesitant at first,” she says. “Because I was always with my kids, and I was worried about transportation, daycare, all kinds of stuff, you know.”

But she took the job anyway. Soon she was working 12-hour days on the factory floor, and coming in on weekends. She thought about quitting.

Christian Haugen / Flickr

In honor of July 4th, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. A young woman from Mexico shared her story with us.


For some, the journey of getting to America can be just as challenging as starting a new life in the country.

“We walked here, basically,” a young woman from Mexico told us. “My mom brought me and my brother here when I was eight.”

“We crossed the border... and we just walked for hours and hours.”

Today, the 17-year-old lives at the Salvation Army’s Teen Parent Center in Grand Rapids.The Salvation Army asked us not to use her name, or the name of her one-year-old son.

Dustin Dwyer

 Today, on State of Opportunity, I report on a unique program that started more than a decade ago at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids. The initial idea was to help lift people out of poverty with the promise of a stable job.

Executives noticed the company had high turnover rates for entry-level job positions, and many of the people in these entry-level jobs were cycling on and off of state assistance. The goal was to fix the turnover problem and end the cycle of dependence at the same time. 

Dustin Dwyer

This week, State of Opportunity is focused on how race shapes opportunities for Michigan's children. Tomorrow you can tune in to Jennifer Guerra's hour-long documentary exploring the topic. The documentary airs at 3 p.m. and at 10 p.m. 

I think many adults are aware that race still plays a big role in children's lives. But many adults aren't sure how to talk about it with kids. Today, on State of Opportunity, I have a story looking at some strategies that can help. 

One of the biggest takeaways for me, both as a journalist and as a parent, is to embrace the uncertainty. My biggest fear in talking about race with my daughter is that I'm going to say or do something wrong. What if I accidentally make her racist?

http://www.daymonjhartley.com/

 Today, on State of Opportunity, I report on a troubling fact of charter school expansion in Michigan: Some of the state's best charter schools are struggling to compete against low-performing charter schools. The reason, simply enough, is marketing. Low-performing schools can easily outspend high-performing schools on advertising and recruitment gimmicks. 

The Education Trust-Midwest

Michigan is falling behind most other states when it comes to improving student achievement.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from Royal Oak-based Education Trust-Midwest.

The report looks at the improvements in student achievement in Michigan from 2003 to 2011 and compares it to the improvements other states have seen.

On almost every measure, Michigan lags well behind the national average.

From the report:

Sadly, we have little to be proud of today. Our state’s educational performance is lackluster by practically any reliable measure.

Amber Arrellano of The Education Trust-Midwest says part of the problem is Michigan has relied primarily on charter schools to improve student outcomes, and not all charter schools have been successful.

"We're actually putting tens of millions of dollars and subsidizing the growth of some of our worst schools in the state. And that’s just not a good use of our taxpayer dollars," she said.

Arrellano says more school choice can improve outcomes, "but when the Legislature decided to lift the state cap on charter schools a few years ago, they did not include any performance standards for who gets to expand here."

Arrellano says there are high-quality charter schools that improve student performance in Michigan, but she says the lower quality charter school operators are expanding more quickly.

Arrellano says research from Stanford University shows that charter school operators with less successful track records are actually expanding more quickly than those with better track records.

flickr user el frijole

 Today, on State of Opportunity, we're taking a look at research done by University of Texas psychologist Rebecca Bigler. 

Bigler's work focuses on how kids develop prejudice, particularly around race and gender. But to study kids' attitudes, Bigler has conducted a series of experiments using summer school students and colored t-shirts. 

Dustin Dwyer

We think of scholarships as a way to help more students go to college. But there’s a new scholarship program in Michigan that has nothing to do with college. It offers scholarships to babies.

If you have a baby and you want to have a job, or you need to have a job, you have to find childcare. And childcare costs money—thousands of dollars a year.

Dustin Dwyer

 About 200 Michiganders will benefit from a new scholarship program announced today. 

But if you want to be one of the lucky recipients, there's a catch: you can't be any older than two. 

The state's Early Childhood Investment Corporation announced today that it's partnering with the Women's Caring Program on a new $700,000 program to help low income families afford child care. 

Dustin Dwyer

  Part of what makes State of Opportunity different from other reporting projects is that we try to spend a lot of time following the people in our stories, to learn what their lives are really like day-to-day. 

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

Battle lines are beginning to emerge in the fight to increase preschool funding in Michigan.

State lawmakers held their first committee hearings this week on a proposal to increase funding for the state's preschool program by $65 million in next year's budget. Governor Snyder wants another increase the following year, which would more than double the state's current investment in preschool. 

During a joint House committee hearing today in Lansing, there was plenty of skepticism of the plan coming from members of Snyder's own party. 

Preschool-age boy practicing writing his name at a table in a Head Start classroom.
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The debate over federal spending cuts has made Head Start a major topic of conversation in Washington. Leaders from both parties warn that tens of thousands of kids will lose a chance at Head Start’s preschool program, if the across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to happen.

To some critics, cutting Head Start would be a good thing. They think it is a failure, and not worth the money. 

flickr user Southworth Sailor

Today, I reported for State of Opportunity on some alarming new statistics on child abuse and neglect in Michigan.

You can click here to get the full story.

There is some debate about how to interpret a few of the statistics in the story.

One of the things I discovered while reporting the story is that it's actually hard to get good numbers on abuse and neglect in Michigan.

The state Department of Human Services provides a monthly fact sheet that includes the number of cases that were investigated, and how many were confirmed. But the numbers only cover two months worth of reports, and there's no detail on the nature of the cases, or where they occurred.

The Michigan League for Public Policy worked with the DHS to publish some more detailed measures of abuse and neglect in the latest Kids Count report.

From my perspective, even this report leaves as many questions as answers. 

That said, the statistics we do have are cause enough for concern.

Here are four to keep in mind: 

Dustin Dwyer

Yesterday, we aired an hour-long special on State of Opportunity about the importance of early childhood education. If you missed it, you can hear the full audio here. You can also download the audio on iTunes. Just search for the State of Opportunity podcast. 

This report is the result of months of work, and thousands of hours of research by Jennifer Guerra, Sarah Alvarez and me. We interviewed neuroscientists and psychologists for the latest findings on how children's brains develop. We talked to economists and policymakers about the financial payoff for investing in children before they go to kindergarten. We packed a lot of information in our special, and I hope it helps give you a sense of why preschool is so important for disadvantaged kids.

But, knowing that life is busy and your time is limited, I also wanted to share some of my main takeaways. So, after months and months of reporting on early childhood education, here are the five most important things I've learned: 

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

The data is in, and the Midwest economy seems to be on the path of recovery. Our long, regional nightmare still isn’t over for many workers, but there are plenty of signs for optimism. Businesses are hiring, productivity has increased.*

Tax incentives have become the weapon of choice among states battling for new business investments. Niala Boodhoo reported in December that offering incentives has become a sort of strategy game for Midwest states hoping to one-up each other as everyone fights to grow jobs. But, as Niala reported, these are games with millions of dollars in tax breaks and thousands of jobs on the line.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

Funny or Die

The RoboCop statue is definitely happening in Detroit.

Dustin Dwyer / Changing Gears

This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.

We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.

CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.

Here’s what you do: Click on the video, and pop it out to full screen.

As you watch, remind yourself that this is the place they call the Rust Belt.

Remind yourself that this is the place that cannot keep its talented young people, because they say it’s too cold.

Too uninspiring.

Too boring.

Remind yourself that they say those things.

Remind yourself that none of it is true.

Then, get back to work.

Dustin Dwyer

In many ways, the headquarters for Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich. is like a factory. It’s in an old building with brick walls. The floor is smooth, cold concrete. A noisy printer rattles off new orders.

But of course, it smells amazing in here. Designers stand at long wooden tables, primping and pruning flowers. Red tulips. White daisies. Yellow roses. And just about any other flower you can imagine.

Bing Goei, the owner, says this work is more like artistry.

“I think you have to be born with that.” he says. “I was not. I admit it.”

Goei says this with a laugh.

But he was born with something else that turned out to be its own asset. He was born with a foreign birth certificate. His parents were Chinese. He was born in Indonesia, then moved to the Netherlands. From there, they moved to Grand Rapids, like a lot of Dutch people before them. Except, they have a Chinese name.

And like many of those immigrants before him, Goei worked hard. He started in the flower business in high school. Now, Eastern Floral has seven locations, about 60 year-round employees – twice that around Valentine’s Day – and the company has over $5 million in annual revenue.

Goei says being an immigrant, and being an entrepreneur, there’s a connection there.

“Almost every immigrant that comes to this country has come because they see America as that land of opportunity,” he says. “So immediately, their drive is to fulfill that dream.”

The data on this backs Goei up.

The Kauffman Foundation reports that immigrants are twice as likely as people born in America to start a business.

Richard Herman is an immigration attorney in Cleveland. Herman and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Robert Smith wrote a book called Immigration, Inc.

YouTube

Last night during the Super Bowl, Chrysler ran a follow-up to its much buzzed-about commercial from last year’s big game.

The new commercial, dubbed “It’s Halftime in America” ran, appropriately enough, during halftime.

user trevorpatt / Flickr

Detroit is a city that fascinates a lot of people.

Its story is not a simple one, though it has sometimes been a dramatic one. So maybe it’s not surprising that we seem to hear every week about a new documentary film being made about Detroit.

Changing Gears hasn’t had a chance to see all of these documentaries, but we’ve heard about an awful lot of them.

And we’ve noticed some patterns that we thought could be helpful in case you ever decide to make a documentary about the Motor City.

So, here is our DIY guide for how to make a Detroit documentary:

fotopedia.org

You may have heard the promos on air: This afternoon, Changing Gears will host a live web chat with teachers across the Midwest to talk about the many changes in the past year, and what the future may bring. The web chat accompanies a piece by Dan Bobkoff that’s airing across the Changing Gears partner stations today.

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