Open house to kick off student-led co-learning project in Detroit


A student hopes to find out how cities like Detroit that experience bankruptcy or other economic hardship “get made and unmade and remade anew.” Another wants to examine the geography and politics of urban demolition, specifically how backfill materials are chosen and distributed in blighted areas. A third student plans to explore music writing and themes of racialized death, spirituality, horror films, and rage during the 1990’s.

These and nine other projects will be launched this summer as part of the Detroit City Study, the first undertaking of a Campus of the Future focus that challenges U-M students to think about the role of universities over the next 50 years. The four humanists, four social scientists and four education scholars will conduct the work in a new space intended to foster what program leaders call co-learning.

The study will host an open house from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the U-M Detroit Center, Orchestra Place Monts Hall Gallery, 3663 Woodward Ave., Detroit.

more information
  • U-M’s Detroit City Study will host an open house 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Michigan Detroit Center, Orchestra Place Monts Hall Gallery, 3663 Woodward Ave., Detroit
  • To RSVP for the event, contact Shira Schwartz at
  • Projects proposed by students 

Students across campus were invited to help design the campus of the future as part of the university’s bicentennial. Most of the concepts are still being formed and will be revealed when U-M celebrates its 200-year anniversary in 2017. But one group was itching to get rolling and offers a first look at how education can be transformed in the here and now.

Twelve graduate students will lead research projects this July and August as part of the Detroit City Study. In its simplest form the study is a space in the U-M Detroit Center that will bring the students together to conduct research in three overarching areas—Learning in the City: Urban Education, Place-Making and Sustainable Humanities.

But project organizer Shira Schwartz said having the students in one place is about more than logistics. It’s about the opportunity to be a presence in the heart of the city, working with the community, in an academic incubator in which the students can feed off of one another.

“A challenge for academia is to think of how we can encourage people to talk to each other more. We don’t really have graduate student collaboration space,” said Schwartz, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature. “But when we do get together there’s a kind of academic storytelling that leads to new collaborations that have the potential to be more relevant and useful. There is a thirst among graduate students to do real educational work in the community that they are not always getting the opportunity to do.”

As city study stewards who will receive a $1,500 stipend to conduct their research, the students will collaborate and engage with peers and the community as they tackle subjects like the importance of green spaces, arts as a community revitalization catalyst and the impact of education reform on a beleaguered city.

The Detroit City Study is built on the concept of co-working. In many communities, organizations have created spaces for freelancers and employees without local business headquarters. In many cases, these spaces are simply offices where people can do their work, but others are shared by people who have similar values, who will use them to work independently while taking advantage of the synergy of having multiple projects in the same space.

Schwartz said the project blends theories of pre-modern and contemporary Jewish collaborative learning with these co-working space models, creating a concept that positions knowledge as a practice of sharing.

“The Detroit City Study gives us a perfect glimpse of the campus of the future,” said Mika LaVaque-Manty, associate professor of political science. “It’s a blend of scholarship and social engagement that involves collaboration across the boundaries of disciplines, communities, and spaces. And it’s student-initiated.”

Other concepts that explore the future of the residential research university will be shared during a colloquium Oct. 26, 2017. Students are lead by faculty mentors LaVaque-Manty and Joanna Mirecki Millunchick, professor of materials science and engineering and and faculty director of M-STEM Academies in Engineering. Both have also been named Presidential Bicentennial Professors.

Sponsors include the Institute for Humanities, Office of the President, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan Bicentennial, Campus of the Future, Vice Provost for Global and Engaged Education, and the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs.

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.