The University of Michigan is a world-class university with its main campus in the idyllic small-town Ann Arbor, Michigan. Students and Ann Arbor natives often refer to their little slice of heaven as “28 square miles surrounded by reality.” The reality coming to mind now is the high poverty, crime, and population decline plaguing Detroit, Michigan, just forty miles away. And while many UM students may be content continuing to ignore those realities, many academic spheres at the University are working to raise awareness and draw the “leaders and best” to Detroit.
As a former Global Site Plans contributor Alexandria Stankovich has pointed out, it makes sense for architecture and urban planning students at the University of Michigan and other Detroit area universities, to take advantage of Detroit as an “urban laboratory.” And while the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan has a wide variety of lecture series and design-related activities focusing on Detroit, other academic departments and student groups at the University are taking it upon themselves to widen the base of interest in Detroit’s revival. Academic programs like the Semester in Detroit or student groups that organize weekly volunteers in Detroit like the Detroit Partnership, are geared toward the social justice-minded university student, promoting the collaborative effort needed to tackle Detroit’s problems from all angles.
The Semester in Detroit is an academic program through the University of Michigan’s Residential College that seeks to educate students on the history and challenges of Detroit today, while engaging students in hands-on internship experiences in organizations across the city, from small businesses like City Bird store and art gallery to non-profits like the Eastern Market Corporation. The Detroit Partnership, on the other hand, is a student-run organization that seeks to foster long-lasting relationships between the University and Detroit communities by engaging student volunteers in activities ranging from tutoring for Detroit Public School students to teaching ESL classes at local community centers.
The Detroit Partnership also organizes an annual day of action for students unable to commit to a weekly engagement. Going beyond the obvious need for innovative planning practices, by having students engaged in issues ranging from education to homelessness, University of Michigan graduates can leave dreamy Ann Arbor ready to address the wide variety of problems in Detroit today.
What are other ways university students can engage with their region’s social and planning issues?
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