Seeing what Mt. Pleasant offers beyond the college experience proves crucial for talent retention

As the Middle Michigan Development Corporation prepares to host its third in-person Coming Home event this fall on October 7th, Epicenter is taking time to shine a spotlight on some of the young professionals who have decided to call this area home. Whether they moved away and returned, relocated from another region, or graduated from a local institution and decided to stay, these individuals have found that there is much to celebrate about being a part of Isabella County
Each semester Central Michigan University graduates thousands of students, sending them off into the world to use the knowledge and skills they have acquired.

Lizzie graduated from Central Michigan University in May of 2022.This past May, Lizzie Dilg, 22, was amongst this sea of eager graduates, earning her bachelor's degree in public and nonprofit administration with a minor in leadership. However, unlike some of the others by her side, Dilg, a South Lyon native, had already begun her professional career and had chosen to make Mt. Pleasant her home.

Upon graduating from South Lyon High School in 2018, Dilg made the choice to attend CMU, where she planned to study teaching due to her love of children and education.

Dilg frequently volunteered in her younger years and, alongside her high school friends, created a nonprofit dubbed The Goodfellas Project in order to help those who were less fortunate, including the homeless population, those living below the poverty line, and women and children who were in shelters.

“I have always been really interested in helping people. My parents got me into volunteering and working with others since I was very young. In high school I started a nonprofit with a group of my friends, but I didn’t really know that was a career path.”

As the beginning of her first semester drew closer, Dilg attended CMU and You Day, an event for incoming freshmen that allows them to explore campus, visit the buildings, and meet professors in each building who share information about their programs.

Dilg says, “I walked in and my now-advisor, Dr. Emma Powell,was there and explaining that she was head of the nonprofit department and all of the amazing things that the program does. I told her about my experience, and I think we were both equally excited. So, before I even entered the doors of CMU for real, I switched my major to nonprofit administration and I have been rolling with it ever since.”

During her time at CMU, Dilg held several internships, including Special Olympics Michigan and WCMU Public Media. She additionally interned with Bathande Children’s Reading Group in South Africa, a long-standing group that needed help getting registered as a nonprofit. This became a more complicated internship due to COVID-19, requiring Dilg to assist virtually.

In addition to these varied experiences, Dilg earned her Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential while still completing her coursework.

“It’s usually a credential that professionals have to work for in the field for a couple of years before they can earn it, but through our Nonprofit Program at CMU, I was actually able to earn that before I graduated. It was a really unique experience that CMU gave us. It gives more credibility…it shows people you are dedicated to nonprofit,” explains Dilg.

CMU's Nonprofit Program gave Dilg an edge as she prepared for the workforce.So, when the position of Executive Director of the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum, 5093 E. Remus Rd., opened up in March of 2022, it’s easy to understand why Liz Conway, currently the President & CEO of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce, encouraged Dilg to go for it, even though she was still months from graduation.

Conway says, “Lizzie served as my intern at WCMU Public Media. She impressed me from our very first meeting with her passion, knowledge, and wide-ranging experience in the nonprofit sector. In working with her, I quickly learned that she is a solutions-based, hard-working leader.”

Despite Conway’s confidence, Dilg remained uncertain.

“I thought she (Conway) was crazy. I was 22 and I hadn’t graduated…who would be giving me that job? She said that I would be fantastic and believed I could do it. So I went ahead and applied. I got a first-round interview, and then a second-round interview. Then I was offered the job.”

As executive director, Dilg serves as a liaison between the museum and the community, working very closely with the board of directors. Strategic planning, exhibit development and creation, and partnership-building are all amongst her responsibilities as well. As the Major Gifts Officer, Dilg also spends time working with donors and writing grants.

During her time at CMU, Dilg learned a great deal about Mt. Pleasant and the many things it has to offer, making it easy to accept the job offer in a town that was not her childhood home and not minutes away from family. 

“I am really passionate about the well-being of children and informal learning institutions, and the Discovery Museum is just an incredible resource for that…I absolutely loved the opportunity there. But I have also really grown to adore Mt. Pleasant in the last few years. I learned that Mt. Pleasant is a place that cares about itself and its people. I have been around nonprofits for a long time, and I have never seen anything like the nonprofit sector in Mt. Pleasant.”

Outside of the nonprofit sector, Dilg loves taking advantage of Mt. Pleasant’s plentiful parks, where she can often be found picnicking, hammocking, or having lunch near the Chippewa River. If she’s not there, you might catch her at Max and Emily’s grabbing a bite to eat or downtown at Painted Turtle creating a new piece of art.   

Lizzie lives in Mt. Pleasant with her cat, Toast, and her gecko, Kiwi.And when she finally gets home, her cat, Toast, and gecko, Kiwi, are there waiting to greet her.

Dilg is hopeful that other graduates and young people will take the time to see what Mt. Pleasant has to offer beyond the college experience.

“I think that some people don’t give life after college a real chance in Mt. Pleasant. I have met so many amazing people at CMU, and I have worked with a lot of the students at the high schools. It would be nice to see some of those talented people give back to the community that raised them and helped them. There are so many organizations here who could use the talent that has been developed here. It's a great area to be in.”

Currently, Dilg and the museum are bracing for an upcoming STEM camp in August, rounding out the three summer camps offered there this summer. The museum calendar is full of other events for the community in the coming months, including a fall carnival fundraiser.

Read more articles by Jennifer Veitengruber.

Jennifer Veitengruber has spent the last 13 years as a teacher in Bay City, Michigan. She earned her bachelor's degree from Saginaw Valley State University as a Secondary Education teacher with a major in English and minor in history. In 2019, she earned her master’s degree from SVSU as a K-12 Literacy Specialist. Currently, she is also a freelance writer for Route Bay City. She resides in Bangor Township with her husband, two daughters, and four Labradoodles; her son is currently stationed in Washington with the United States Army. Aside from writing, she enjoys traveling the beautiful state of Michigan, reading, hunting, and time with family and friends.