Nearly 30 U-M faculty and senior staff from Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint took to the state’s highways and byways last week for the 16th annual traveling seminar known as the Michigan Road Scholars.

From May 4-8, they engaged with communities as disparate as Detroit and Onaway, Alpena and Battle Creek. After a stop at the Capitol in Lansing, they went on to Traverse City, St. Ignace, Kalkaska, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

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“This was the trip of a lifetime. As a west-of-the-Rockies person, I have a much better sense of my new surrounds and am awestruck as well as proud now to be a Michigander,” said Joan M. Greve, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Medical School.

“This program also helped identify activities in Detroit to which my lab and I can contribute. I am extremely grateful that my university invests in us in this form. It is truly unique and phenomenally valuable.”

Since its first year, MRS has sparked academic-community collaborations that enhance local assets and solve local issues in the short and long term. 

“The tour gave us all an opportunity to leave the confines of the ivory tower and connect with aspects of the state that most of us were not familiar with,” said Seung-Jin Lee, assistant professor of earth and resource science, and mechanical engineering at UM-Flint.

“It was extremely valuable to learn about the successes, opportunities and challenges faced by organizations such as Ponyride, Alpena Community College, Moran Iron Works, and Kalkaska Screw Products. The overall experience has allowed me to rethink my approach in connecting with students and develop research and service activities that benefit local communities.”

Tom Moran talks about the work they do at Moran Iron Works in Onaway with Road Scholars Mark Zacharek, Megan Piersma, Rebecca Zurier, Brian Jacob, Chandan Kumar and Seung-Jin Lee. (Photo by Dana Sitzler)

MRS was established by the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations to increase knowledge and understanding between the university and the people and communities of Michigan, help faculty and staff appreciate the communities and cultural histories of U-M students, and cultivate awareness of the state’s distinctive geographic, economic, cultural and political attributes.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the Michigan Road Scholars tour was realizing how different the east side of the state is from the west side,” said Gabriel Duque, associate librarian at the Ann Arbor campus.

“I sometimes tend to generalize when I think of our student population, so as a librarian, visiting the incredibly diverse places our Michigan students come from will definitely let me better serve our students.”

Jolene Bostwick and Brian Jacob (foreground) look through viewing windows to see shipwrecks located within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Dana Sitzler)

The MRS program deepens scholars’ understanding of the complex ways the university is connected to the entire state, and also encourages public service and research that ameliorate problems and advance solutions through research, service, and collaboration in Michigan’s urban, rural and Native American communities.

“As someone born and raised outside the United States, I can only begin to imagine the challenges faced by native tribes such as the Ojibwa in revitalizing their language and culture,” said Lee. “I believe U-M faculty and staff should continue to be strong advocates for these needs through their research, teaching and service activities.”

The scholars also stay alert to issues of the environment, public health, community and economic development, as well as K-12 and higher education.

The stop in Alpena impressed Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor of performing arts technology at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, who was struck by the relationship between two-year and four-year colleges and universities.

“The visit to the Alpena Community College was particularly informative for me, because it illustrated the synergistic roles that community colleges and universities can fulfill.”

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