Key initiatives: Engaged learning


LSA student Jaclyn Tolchin went to Gabon on Africa’s West coast and came away with a new perspective on how to go with the flow.

Nicole Rojas was “happily surprised” to find out that as an engineering freshman she could design a product for an organization that works to alleviate hunger in Detroit.

Vince Moceri enrolled in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business to study finance and, after working with a community group through a social entrepreneurship course, concluded “businesses can be agents for good.”

Caitlin Dickinson, a student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, works at the campus farm as part of the Sustainable Food Program, an engaged learning project. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Engaged and multidisciplinary learning opportunities at U-M have been a priority during the tenure of President Mary Sue Coleman, who in 2007 funded 100 junior faculty to spur collaborations across disciplines, and in 2011 announced $25 million to develop new approaches to teaching and learning, as part of the Third Century Initiative. Further commitment came in November, when Coleman, Provost Martha E. Pollack and others announced engaged learning as one of three priorities for the “Victors for Michigan” $4 billion fundraising campaign.

“As we approach our third century, the University of Michigan is modeling itself for the immense challenges facing the nation and the world,” Coleman said when announcing the TCI. “As we have for decades, we will be aggressive in developing new approaches to teaching and research, and fresh ideas that will improve people’s lives.”

To date, the five-year initiative has funded 62 projects, with another round to be announced shortly. 

“She and Phil (Hanlon) found a way to provide funding to make engaged learning a centerpiece of the University of Michigan looking forward,” said James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education.

Holloway’s recent appointment, recommended by then-provost Hanlon and Pollack, further represented the leadership’s commitment to enhance learning. The position expanded a previous role focused on international affairs to include undergraduate research, service and other engaged learning.

“Our graduates must be able to work effectively with others who are different from themselves and in settings that are much different than anything they’ve experienced,” Coleman said.

Take those lessons Tolchin learned in Gabon. “We waited for lunches that never happened, for a bus that didn’t come until the next day, for taxis that took hours. In American society, these situations would just be disastrous, but in Gabon they were nothing to get worked up about. If the bus doesn’t come today, we’ll just go tomorrow. … There’s always tomorrow.”


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