Intergroup Relations

Photo of David Sweetman

April 2015

David Sweetman (Class of 2001) is part of a lucky group of Alumni to have taken “I, Too, Sing America” with Dr. Charles Behling, former Co-Director and IGR legend! David remembers this class as one of the formative experiences in his undergraduate career. He continued his studies at Michigan earning his M.B.A. in 2009 and then completing a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior with an emphasis in leadership from the University of Nebraska in 2010. A fun fact about David is that he’s an avid traveler and has gone to six continents, 36 countries, and over 100 cities. Today, you can find David in the LSA Building as the Director of the College of LSA’s Information Technology group.

Q: What made your class with Dr. Behling so special for you?

A: I came from a working-class town.  While that instilled me with a strong work ethic, not many people went away to college and everyone “looked a lot like me.” As a first-generation college student, I was the exception and not the norm, both in my family and in my community.  I really had no idea what to expect in the breadth of perspectives and backgrounds I would experience in college.

One of the big realizations for me going through the class was that, in talking a lot about identities, I came to realize and understand that I was in a status of holding privilege in most of those identities. But, I had never really seen those things because I didn’t really have the chance to before.  It opened up my eyes to how some of the privilege in life that I had was just because I was born who I was.  It also opened my eyes to the very different experiences my classmates sometimes had based on their non-privileged identities.

Understanding some of the implications of that and working it out in the class with such a diverse group of students helped the class as a whole better understand each other and our world. So it was a very special, trusting place as a small whole-year class of about 15-20 students in the context of a University of tens of thousands. We developed personal relationships with not only the classmates but our instructor as well. It was a place to make sense of this big huge change happening in our lives of moving to a college town and what that means for everyone coming together from different backgrounds sharing this common experience.

Q: Do you have any specific memories from the class?

A: The strongest memory isn’t a specific instance, but more the collective of the experience. To this day, I have such a warm, positive feeling towards the memory and that’s what sticks with me most.  One specific thing I remember was Charles having our class over to his house at the end of the semester.  That really made me feel special that our esteemed professor would have us to his house, and was one of only two times that ever happened in all my college experiences.

Q: What organizations were you involved with throughout your undergraduate years?

A: Being part of the Marching Band was a significant and defining part of my undergrad career – this common experience shared over four years created strong friendships - including where I met my best friend of all: Julie, now my wife of over 12 years.  The Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program was another great experience that I participated in for a number of years and was a site leader. Finding community and feeling a part of something at the large university was very important. The IGR class, Marching Band, and ASB are where I found those pockets of tight-knit communities.

Q: How do the lessons from the class with Charles influence the work that you do today?

A: They are lessons I have continued to refine through further education and work experiences and use pretty much every day.  In particular, the lessons apply in a lot of the work I’ve done to change or merge cultures within organizations.  That’s basically about how people can work better together and better realize their potential.  The perspectives from the class helped me to understand how change can happen and things can shift.  I work in IT. It might be surprising for me to say it’s not fundamentally about the technology. But it’s not. It’s about the people.

There’s always something new and something different. As I think about the dynamics of everyone that works here at Michigan, we have many thousands of faculty and staff that naturally form groups based on the sections of the University they work for and specific interests they have. The dynamics of each group become normalized within those groups over time and often create silos of misunderstanding and lack of true appreciation of the great work of other parts of the University. Part of what I have a part in leading at a broad University of Michigan IT standpoint is to break down those group barriers. Often, the reasons those were formed made sense at a time, but they’ve become walls separating groups and we need to break them down.

Q: Are there any guiding lessons you use in your life?

A: As a volunteer outside of work, in 2002 I co-founded a youth leadership organization. It’s called MYLead (Michigan Youth Leadership). We focus on leadership development in high school sophomores. This is an issue I gravitate toward because of the life-changing potential of this experience at this critical juncture in their lives.

This year we’ll bring together about 350 students from across the state. It’s a 3 day leadership immersion program.  Leadership is so much about having confidence in yourself. That’s something we work on and I’m very passionate about helping people realize their own potential and work on honing those skills toward the goal of becoming greater leaders in their communities. There are over 120 people involved in making MYLead happen and everyone’s a volunteer. We have one conference in May and one in June, they’ll be held at MSU.

Q: Do you use IGR dialogue skills in that conference?

A: Yeah it’s a similar experience crammed into a weekend. They have small groups of about 8 people that meet, discuss, and reflect throughout the conference and inevitably one of the big “ah ha” moments from those dialogues is that, “Wow, I’m from this part of the state and you’re from that part of the state, and our daily life on the surface is so different, but our hopes and aspirations are so similar.” That’s a powerful realization to have as a high school sophomore.

Q: Any closing words of advice/wisdom to current students?

A: Your time here at Michigan and beyond is going to fly by, even if it doesn’t feel like it day-to-day. There are so many opportunities to take advantage of - carpe diem -  the biggest regrets we have in life are not where we tried something and it didn’t work out.  Rather, the biggest regrets are the chances we don’t take. So, just go out and do it.

Our time is limited: only 168 hours per week.  We can’t change that, we can’t store up that time to use it later and we can’t re-live moments.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  How are we going to spend our limited time?

We must focus on those things that are most important to us, those things that matter most to our life and the lives of those around us.  What is most important to you is a question only you can answer.  

You may wake up one day and be approached by a current IGR student about doing an alumni interview, and as you reflect about your past IGR experience and what to say, you’ll find it way crazy that you’re 15 years out - it sure doesn’t feel like it. While some of the days may have been slow, the years flew by and that undergrad experience is now, unbelievably, in the somewhat distant past.  And you’ll be asked what you did with all those precious years and hope you have something somewhat insightful and maybe even inspirational to say (well, at least that’s what happened to me)! Carpe diem.