By Alicia Gillman

Twenty-two students, alumni and staff members attended the second annual Alternative Summer Break (ASuB) trip in Chicago, IL August 21-26, 2016. Participants were divided into three groups and volunteered with either NeighborSpace, Inspiration Corporation, or Pacific Garden Mission addressing the issues of Food Security, Urban Renewal and Homelessness/Hunger, respectively. Some of the work at the service sites included maintaining community gardens, prepping and serving meals, general cleaning and maintenance of facilities.

Throughout the week, students engaged in both individual and group reflection activities that allowed space for them to think critically about the work they engaged in and ways that they could bring what they learned back to Flint. Participant Peyton Kerns stated, “This trip has taught me so many life lessons and I’ve also made so many great friends along the way.” ASuB 2016 was truly a week that lasts a lifetime, leaving a large impact on the organizations served and the participants.


By Gary Ashley

The University of Michigan-Flint’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program enables students to learn about issues such as homelessness, poverty, hunger, violence, environmental issues, and complex social and cultural issues. Students listen to and understand community needs and continue a commitment to community service and social change. This year, instead of travelling to other areas to volunteer, the ASB board decided to stay back and serve with the Flint community.

ASB 2015 focused on: education, homelessness and hunger, animals, urban gardening, urban renewal and underprivileged children. From those topic areas, the board decided to work with the following sites: Boys and Girls Club, Carriage Town Ministries, Dailey Elementary School, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, Kind Karate, North End Soup Kitchen and Salem Housing. We had 61 individual students volunteer throughout the week of spring break, for a total of 188 service days. At 5 hours per day, the students donated approximately 940 hours throughout the week. According to the Independent Sector, these hours can be billed at $22.13 per hour for $20,802.20 worth of service. The University of Michigan-Flint students once again made a colossal impact on the Flint community and beyond!

What ASB Alumni are saying about the program:

“Alternative Spring Break has been one of the most rewarding experiences during my tenure as an undergraduate and even alumni. To the critics that think that going on vacation is going to be a much more enjoyable experience, I can prove you wrong. Aside from monetary reasons, you are giving back to the community in several different areas. With our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to volunteer a few hours in a week let alone give up a whole week to do so. Not only can you actually make a larger impact with a week, but you can see things actually get accomplished. One of the projects that was done during one of the years that I volunteered for Alternative Spring Break was a wheelchair ramp for a disabled Veteran. Not only do you get to see the completed project, but we got to see the emotional reaction from the Veteran that touched everyone involved. The best part is you get to meet new people that share the same passion for volunteering as you do.”

“Finding an organized way to get involved in the community can be a difficult task. One of the things that I loved most about ASB was how easy it was to get involved in a handful of organizations in just one week. To me, ASB was about more than just volunteering. Being a part of the ASB team was an amazing experience that created lasting friendships with the students involved, and a permanent attachment to the community which we served. These friendships and relationships don’t simply end when the week is over, or even when you graduate. I have been a part of ASB for the last 4 years so it is not something that fades away. The memories stay with you, and it has a lasting impact on who you are, especially who you are as it relates to the community that surrounds you. That is why I think it is so important to stay involved in one way or another, even after graduation. Participating as an alumni reinforces relationships, builds stronger connections, and closer bonds between you and the people you serve and serve with. The impression that it leaves is permanent, and will always leave the desire to reach out to those in need. ASB truly does last a lifetime.”

“My favorite part about Alternative Spring Break is staying at Carriage Town Ministries. By staying in their success houses, students are able to get a different perspective on the homeless population and on the city of Flint. Additionally, the houses provide an environment for students to bond and connect. At the end of the week, total strangers come out as friends, brought together by a desire to do service. My goal as a board members is to help people make connections, see the importance of service, and reflect on how those things fit into their lives. Those goals are achieved through the setting of Carriage Town Ministries.”

Alternative Spring Break 2015 would not have taken place without the generosity of Student Government, Campus Den, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Campus Activities Board, the Alumni Association, the Flint Crepe Company and Tropical Smoothie Café. We were able to travel Detroit on Friday for a thank you, an educational trip and also to make the connections between Flint and Detroit. Through Alternative Spring Break, this year we were able to work alongside the community that we all either live, work, or go to school in. We are looking forward to another great year in 2016!

by Nic Custer

Shop Floor Theatre Company, an ensemble-based theatre company and Innovation Incubator tenant, is preparing to open their initial production, State of Emergency, at the end of February.

The writing team recorded interviews to craft an original script about the effects of Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager law, on the city of Flint.  The verbatim play focuses on the one-year period between PA 4’s enactment in the city (November 2011) and its repeal during the recent elections (November 2012). Writers interviewed street-level activists, residents, a councilperson, professors, Mayor Dayne Walling, former-Emergency Manager Michael Brown, a state of Michigan treasury department official and others.

Director and Co-Founder Andrew Morton said Public Act 4 is an urgent issue affecting Flint and the state but he doesn’t feel there have been enough of the necessary dialogues necessary to understand this issue.

Morton said that while the work is directly relevant to the Flint community, it also contributes to a larger, national conversation, especially relating to verbatim and ensemble-based techniques. He mentioned attending a recent Network of Ensemble Theatres conference in New Orleans where he overheard Michael Rohd, a nationally renowned playwright, casually speaking to someone over dinner about the interesting work being done in Flint.

Early on in the process, Shop Floor held unrecorded story circle sessions with community members to gauge their level of knowledge and identify voices that the script writing team wanted to interview in depth. One of these sessions was held in the Innovation Incubator co-working space. University Outreach at UM-Flint coordinates the Innovation Incubator located at the Northbank Center. Learn more about the Incubator at

Kendrick Jones, Producer and Co-Founder said that their individual office, located in Northbank 238 next to the co-working space, provides a lot of positives. It is centrally located downtown, so it offers access to the university campus, governmental buildings and the business community. He also appreciated the aesthetics of the Northbank Center. Jones said that the historic and appealing exterior of the building gives other businesses a positive sense of the theatre company because of their professional setting.

The main incubator co-working space has also been utilized by the company for conferences, large meetings, auditions, and for important business meetings with vendors and other theater companies, according to Jones.

“It’s great having a space to work from and have meetings in. It helps us feel that this is a serious business or has the potential to be, not just a hobby done in our spare time,” Morton commented.

Shop Floor is growing and both Morton and Jones said that the space and infrastructure (internet, tables, chairs, use of conference rooms), which University Outreach provides through the Incubator space, is vital to the group’s success. Jones mentioned that several other theatre projects are in the works and the company is already booked through 2015.

Rehearsals began in January, shortly after the completion of the script. The ten-member cast, made up of students, alumni and community members, has used the Vault space in the Northbank Center basement for evening rehearsals.

Shop Floor will present a mid-afternoon preview performance for students and residents at Beecher Community School’s ninth grade academy Randall Coates Auditorium, 1020 W. Coldwater Rd., February 22.

The show officially opens February 23 with a 7 p.m. performance at the UM-Flint Theatre, 303 E. Kearsley St. Shop Floor will have two shows at Flint Community Players, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy., (March 2, 7 p.m. and March 3, 3 p.m.) and two final performances downtown at the Masonic Temple, 755 S. Saginaw St. (March 8 and March 9, both at 7 p.m.)

All performances are free and followed by talk back sessions and refreshments.

The February 23 performance will be simulcast online through Newplay TV, an online livestreaming channel, specifically created to show new theatre works. Audiences from all over the world have the ability to watch the production live. There is at least one viewing party scheduled to occur in Saginaw and Morton said there may be another set up in Detroit. Check out for details.

Jones and Morton gave a live “webinar” tele-conference about the production on February 8 in a joint venture with Michigan State University EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation. These lectures generally focus on new ideas being used in Michigan, such as urban food systems, microenterprise development and promoting youth entrepreneurship.

Shop Floor will present at the MSU EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation annual summit this fall. They will show video of the performance, give a final report and discuss their process. MSU EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation also funded a portion of the production.

This June, Shop Floor has been invited to present at the 2013 Americans for the Arts annual conference in Pittsburgh. Members of the production team will speak about the play and ways to evaluate its larger social impacts.

Jones said he wanted to particularly thank the University Outreach staff: Jonathan Jarosz, Barb Urlaub, Sherry Hayden, Sara McDonnell and Lindsay Stoddard. He said without their patience and support, Shop Floor wouldn’t be where it is today.

Most of Shop Floor’s production costs were paid for by an initial Ruth Mott Foundation grant. The foundation approached Morton and Jones to create a verbatim theatre company after the success of last year’s production, Embers: the Flint Fires Verbatim Theatre Project, which through similar techniques examined the glut of Flint arsons in 2010.

Visit for more information.

University Outreach was pleased to partner with Keepers of the Shiawassee and several other organizations to promote the Shiawassee River and its long-term protection.  Thanks to a generous grant from the Fenton Community Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, interpretive signs were created and placed near the river in Fenton, Linden, and Argentine; a water trail guide was developed; and plans for building a canoe/kayak launch in Argentine are underway!

Illustrator Gayle Vandercook poses with the sign installed at Bush Park in Fenton

Illustrator Gayle Vandercook poses with the sign installed at Bush Park in Fenton

The Shiawassee River gets it start in north Oakland County and Holly, Fenton, Linden and Argentine and flows all the way to the Saginaw River.  The Keepers of the Shiawassee is a volunteer group that is developing the river as a paddling trail by organizing cleanups, installation of signage, and canoe/kayak launches.  “The Shiawassee River is one of our greatest resources and has the opportunity to provide recreation and economic development to our region” stated Maggie Yerman an advocate for the Shiawassee River and key organizer of Keepers of the Shiawassee.

University Outreach provided support to Keepers of the Shiawassee to complete the project and brought together several partners to work collaboratively on the project including: Headwaters Trails, Inc., Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation, the City of Fenton, City of Linden, and Argentine Township.

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The water trail would not stop in Genesee County, the development and promotion of the river is spearheaded by Friends of the Shiawassee River in Shiawassee County.  At the end of the day, these collective groups hope to see a paddling trail that’s nearly 100 miles long from Holly all the way to the Shiawassee Flats.

Download: Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail Map

In winter 2008, University of Michigan-Flint’s University Outreach staff received a grant from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust to plan for the creation of an educational and resource exchange initiative to serve Flint-area teachers and community members. The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI), a program under the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, connects schools and communities through the concept of place-based education (PBE). With PBE, students learn academic content while studying issues or problems of local importance. This approach builds enthusiasm for learning and results in higher academic achievement. GLSI features three components: place-based education, sustained professional development for K-12 teachers, and school-community partnerships.

Administrators and teachers from Westwood Heights School District and Beecher Community Schools, community leaders, community-based organizations, and non-profits were involved in the participatory planning process that created the Flint Confluence Initiative, an education initiative that meets local needs.

The Flint Confluence Initiative Provides Support to Flint-Area Teachers to Engage in Community Development Projects with Youth.

The grant awarded to the Flint Confluence Initiative will help teachers and community-based organizations to be leaders in urban-issue PBE that centers on topics such as urban food production, green building, land restoration, etc. The Flint Confluence Initiative will provide leadership, expertise, support for classroom teachers, and material and financial resources for the collaborative, community-based work of local organizations and K-12 schools in their regions. The 20 month implementation period is underway and includes 12 teachers from six elementary, middle and high schools in the Beecher and Westwood Heights school districts.

The Holiday Inn Gateway was the setting December 1 for Boost Mid-Michigan, a regional conference of business entrepreneurs. The consortium connects university- and business community-based ventures with support resources and capital, and is funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation. In these gatherings throughout Mid-Michigan, local entrepreneurs are prepared to successfully present their ventures to investor audiences. Consultants, coaches and entrepreneurial support professionals help participants prepare a three-minute investor pitch, and a few will be selected to present  to private investors from BlueWater Angels and Great Lakes Angels in January.

Investors listened to 20 presentations, including those by Flint-based student entrepreneurs Suyash Joshi of, Jose Aliaga of Aliaga Development, and Casey Schaaf of Ecodev Engineering. These entrepreneurs also participated in Moving On Up, a business concept competition hosted by Launch at the University of Michigan-Flint. Student entrepreneurs used short videos to present their ideas to investors. The competition was funded by the C. S. Mott Foundation, the Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Michigan University Commercialization Initiative.

The winners of the Moving On Up Video Pitch competition:

Overall Winner: $2,000

EcoDev Engineering, Casey Schaaf – Moving On Up Grand Champion


Campus Winners: $250

Easy Saver Card, The CEO Club – Lawrence Tech Campus Champion

PC Power, Tyler Farrar & Mike Ellenbaas – Kettering Campus Champion

Epic Technology Solutions, Paul Knific & Eric Knific – UM-Flint Campus Champion

Student Business Concept, Ryan Robinson – Baker College Campus Champion

Capto Video, Jon Chema – Mott Community College Campus Champion


Category Winners: $100

FCC Program, GASC Entrepreneur Class – K-12 Class Social Entrepreneurship Champion

BMP Landscaping, Matt Patterson – K-12 Student Business Champion, GASC III – K-12 Class Business Concept Champion

LivLuxMag, Corey Stokes & Donyale Walton – Creative Economy Business Champion

Special Needs Day Care Concept, Renee Barnes – Service Economy Business Champion

The Stand-Up Economist, UM-Flint Economics Club – Collegiate Club Champion

Aliaga Development, Jose Aliaga – International Business Concept Champion

Youth of Tomorrow, Marc Alexander – Social Entrepreneurship Champion

Change Your World, Angela Simone – On-Line Social Entrepreneurship Champion

UM-Flint Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby – Special Judges Award

Both Boost Mid-Michigan and Moving On Up were designed to nurture an entrepreneurial culture in mid-Michigan.  Launch received dozens of videos from aspiring entrepreneurs with some very good ideas. The angel investors who viewed these videos and heard other business pitches are serious about helping these creative people thrive here in mid-Michigan.