20th Road Scholars tour aims to connect U-M to state’s communities


Kamran Diba, associate professor of anesthesiology, came to U-M in mid-2017 and feels a need to get a better sense of his new home state. So he’s joining 28 other U-M faculty and staff members for the 20th Michigan Road Scholars tour running through Friday.

The weeklong trip will take participants from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses through the state to learn about its economy, politics, culture, educational systems, health and social issues, history and geography.

“I want to gain a better understanding of the diversity of this state,” said Diba, who is also a principal investigator of the Neural Circuits and Memory Lab. “What are the different economic forces at play? Where do our students come from? What are some ways I could help make a difference? That’s what’s on my mind as I prepare for this trip.”

The tour — which is in its 20th trip this year — allows scholars to leave their classrooms and research for a week to listen and absorb as they traverse the state and meet community leaders, business owners, policy makers and nonprofit managers.

“The goal is to try to get faculty thinking about their work in the context of this state,” said Dana Sitzler, associate director of state outreach for Government Relations and organizer of the Road Scholars tour.

“It’s easy to get a little wrapped up in academic work. This tour helps them see the larger context of where their students come from and what is really happening in Michigan.”

That’s what motivated Line van Nieuwstadt, clinical associate professor of engineering practice at UM-Dearborn, to join the Road Scholars tour.

“UM-Dearborn’s mission and success are intimately connected to the state of Michigan’s prosperity,” she said. “We in academia have the tendency to live in a bubble we call the classroom. If we are to educate future healers, policymakers, and builders we must learn about the world that shapes our students’ character and capacity.”

In this episode of the Michigan Minds podcast, U-M professors Bethany Hughes and Pamela Jaggertalk about what they hope to learn on the week-long bus trip, and how it could inform their teaching or research once they return.

In her years organizing the tour, Sitzler said she sees faculty energized with new ideas by the end of the weeklong tour.

“I do think they start thinking about their job a little differently when they come back,” she said. “There’s always an energy and a spark that happens sometimes and I think that’s important for the work the university does.”

Shanna Kattari, assistant professor of social work, hopes what she learns from the tour can help shape her future research. She does community-based work and, like Diba, is new to Michigan.

“It’s really important to me to learn about my new state and all of the different facets that make up Michigan,” Kattari said. “I do community-based research and it is incredibly difficult to know what type of research is needed when I don’t know much about the communities in my new home, and what their needs are.”


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