New ideas, new views of Michigan after Road Scholars tour


When the bus wheels stopped spinning, it didn’t take long for other wheels to start spinning in the minds of 28 U-M faculty and staff members who experienced the Michigan Road Scholars tour from May 6-10.

The tour connected the Road Scholars with people in communities throughout the state — from residential builders in Detroit to civic leaders in St. Ignace. In between they met with K-12 educators, judges, tribal health providers, and businesses large and small in Lansing, Grand Rapids, East Jordan and Traverse City.

The week gave them a better sense of the needs and concerns of people throughout Michigan, more knowledge of the places their students call home, and ideas for future collaborations.

DeLean Tolbert, assistant professor of industrial manufacturing system engineering at UM-Dearborn, was impressed with the way the Grand Rapids Public Schools engages with parents through its Parent University. As a researcher of equality to access in engineering, she’s interested in following up.

“The work they are doing with Parent University really caught my eye and gave me some insight into sharing some of the work that I’m doing,” said Tolbert. “I’ve done research on pre-college engineering education and I think I might be able to collaborate with them. Their work really stood out to me.”

Photo of Mel Atkins II, executive director of community and student affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, talking with the Road Scholars
Mel Atkins II, executive director of community and student affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, talks about the districts programs with the Michigan Road Scholars. (Photo by Terry Kosdrosky)

Brian Hayden, a lecturer II at the Center for Entrepreneurship, will be talking later this month with a presenter to the Road Scholars — Andy Cole, executive director of 20 Fathoms, a tech hub and startup incubator in Traverse City. He hopes he can help create some connections between the U-M entrepreneurial and investor community and 20 Fathoms.

“An easy way to connect would be through some events,” Hayden said. “People in the U-M community go to Traverse City all the time, so while they’re there they can share knowledge and make some connections with the folks from 20 Fathoms. To me, that’s a no-brainer.”

For his part, Cole, a U-M alumnus, was quick to jump at the opportunity to get this new incubator in front of people from his alma mater.

“I think it’s great for folks from U-M to see what’s happening outside of Ann Arbor,” he said. “There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the state of Michigan and in rural communities. I’m particularly excited about the follow-up. We’ve had some success working with other universities, and it’s been key to our own success.”

Photo of Andy Cole of 20 Fathoms making a presentation
Andy Cole, executive director of 20 Fathoms, a technology and startup incubator in Traverse City, makes a presentation to the Road Scholars. (Photo by Terry Kosdrosky)

Meghan Sitar, director of connected scholarship at the U-M Library, saw parallels between how the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District Career-Tech Center is reimagining student evaluations. Stephanie Long, the Tech Center’s curriculum supervisor, told the Road Scholars how the school is moving toward evidence-based reporting and grading, where students prove competence in an area, and away from simply accumulating points.

“What I’m thinking about right now is the evidence-based reporting and portfolio-based learning that’s happening at the Career-Tech Center,” Sitar said. “We’ve been in conversations across campus about what that would look like for our undergraduate education. I think it would be interesting to bring her to campus and have her talk to this faculty group that’s really thinking about how to reinvent undergraduate education.”

In addition to learning from people in communities, the bus trip also allowed the Road Scholars to learn from each other and plan future connections.

“Fields that seem like they should know each other, like pediatrics and social work, we really should know what each other is doing more,” said Jocelyn Schiller, associate professor of pediatrics.

“Often we work in silos and I don’t know what those schools look like. So it’s really informative to find out what kind of work they’re doing to support the same population, which is kids being healthy.”

Group photo of the Road Scholars
Members of the 2019 Michigan Road Scholars tour took time for a group photo on the steps of the Michigan Capitol. (Photo by Terry Kosdrosky)

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