By Gary Ashley
As a public institution, the University of Michigan has a responsibility to the state of Michigan, its history, and its people. Each of the three University of Michigan campuses find ways to honor this responsibility through teaching, learning, and service. As coordinators who oversee the respective Alternative Spring Break programs on the Flint, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor campuses, we saw the University’s Bicentennial Celebration as a unique opportunity to engage students from the three campuses together in a high impact learning experience centered on service within community in a way that has not been executed before.
Typically, Alternative Breaks engage small groups of students from the same campus with similar interests in service and volunteerism in an experience that yields intrapersonal awareness, interpersonal skills, and deeper understanding of the world (Jones, et. al., 2012). This project will bring together a diverse group of 30 students from all three campuses to learn from and with each other. Facilitated by a group of three student leaders (one from each campus), they will work to learn about their role in addressing community issues within the state of Michigan while directly meeting community-identified needs. We will be working on the west side of Michigan. Once the community partners have been confirmed, we will determine the social issue that these experiences will explore.
By Nic Custer
After two years of planning, more than 100 Flint Southwestern Academy students put the final touches on a wetland restoration project next to their school. The 150-foot-long excavated site was designed and constructed as part of University Outreach’s Discovering Place program and will retain rain and snow melt to create a plant and animal habitat and outdoor learning space. Rows of donated pine trees were also planted behind the site by students. Discovering Place works with Flint-area teachers to implement place-based education projects connecting students’ curriculum requirements with their surroundings.
Teachers Linda Heck and Kim Hatfield have worked with Discovering Place for the past five years using the place-based education program to expand the connections between in-class lessons and real world examples. Over the years, students worked with Genesee County Conservation District staff to learn about the importance of wetlands for people, animals and water retention. The project, which aligns with green and blue infrastructure goals in the Flint master plan, was an important collaboration between the city of Flint and community stakeholders as well, according to City Planner Adam Moore. He said the project is part of a city strategy to responsibly maintain the city’s more than 1,800 acres of parkland.
Hatfield said the pool gives students a sense of ownership of the space having been involved in the design and physical work to change the grass to a wetland. She said it is also great that students who couldn’t help build the site will be able to benefit from the site long after it is completed.
By Nic Custer
UM-Flint Social Work professor Todd Womack has been creating important multi-semester partnerships through his SWK 304- The Urban Context course at Joy Tabernacle Church in Flint’s Civic Park neighborhood. The goal of the course is to provide social work students with a real world, understanding of historical, economic, political and demographic issues that affect urban populations in the U.S., with a focus on Flint in particular.
Professor Todd Womack leading his students in a discussion about how to best address community needs
This semester the class has partnered with Civic Park residents who are trying to create neighborhood-scale food and beautification businesses. University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator has been working with the social work students, not only to explain some of the necessary components of a successful business but also to teach them how to help residents build their own business model and create a start-up cost analysis that will help community members prepare to launch their ventures.
Innovation Incubator staff member Nic Custer explaining a start-up cost analysis to Social Work students
The class culminated in a presentation for community members at the end of the semester, where students were able to dialogue with stakeholders and present their final projects. Community partners will continue to develop their neighborhood businesses in the Winter semester through an ongoing teaching partnership with the Innovation Incubator.