From a startup incubator in the heart of Detroit to a school district in rural northern Michigan, the weeklong Michigan Road Scholars tour of the state energized 29 U-M faculty and staff with new perspectives and ideas for action.
Days and evenings packed with opportunities to listen to community leaders, business owners large and small, students, government officials and nonprofits showed tour participants a side of the state even Michigan natives hadn’t seen before.
It also gave the faculty plenty of ideas for putting to work what they learned in their teaching, research, and outreach.
This year marked the 19th Road Scholars tour. Combined with President Mark Schlissel’s focus on public engagement, it underscores how many faculty have been involved in this kind of engagement, and the ongoing interest many have in becoming more active.
Laurie Buis, assistant professor of family medicine and of information, found the trip invaluable in helping expand her research into informing policy. Her work focuses on the use of mobile technology for chronic disease self-management, especially in underserved populations.
“I’m kind of done having my research stop at publication,” Buis said. “Why am I doing this if I can’t effect change? I want to be a better communicator of my science to the public, and to policymakers. In order to do that I need to see different parts of the state through a different lens.
“So many things have an impact on our health — for instance education and socioeconomic status. So, getting a better understanding of health issues statewide was important to me.”
In cities large, medium and small, some common themes were apparent. For example, there’s a glaring need for skilled-trade talent. And growth in many communities is hindered by a lack of affordable housing.
But participants also saw how people and communities came together to make a difference, such as the success of the Traverse City Intermediate School District Career Tech Center, which serves students in a five-county region.
Maureen Linker, professor of philosophy at UM-Dearborn, saw another theme: the common values families share across the state despite differences in the issues they face or the way they vote.
And that’s a notion she will use in the classroom.
“There are all these hidden gems throughout the state in terms of innovation, creativity, hard work and the need for families to build communities,” she said. “So, one thing I want to bring back is this idea of family and all the values we have in common whether we’re in southeast Michigan or the Upper Peninsula.”
The tour sparked an interest in community involvement for John Carethers, professor and chair of internal medicine and professor of human genetics, as he saw challenges he didn’t know existed and ways that organizations are finding to address them.
“I’ve seen that a passionate person can make a big difference in a community,” he said. “We’re a little insulated at the university, and I think we have to be more aware of not only the issues around the state but the power of a community to make a positive difference.”
Faculty also came together as a group during the week, learning from each other and forming new connections across disciplines and campuses.
“Every time I changed seats on the bus I felt like I was getting a mini TED talk from one of my colleagues,” Linker said. “I learned so much, and it’s such a great opportunity to bring together people from Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn. I think there’s more we can do in education to find coalitions of similar interests and ways we can support each other.”