1. The University of Michigan’s Detroit Ecosystem

    November 21, 2019

    While the University of Michigan’s formal mission statement relies on more lofty language, at its core, U-M’s mission is to serve the public through education and research.

    A few weeks ago, we announced that U-M will serve as the anchor of the Detroit Center for Innovation to be built in downtown Detroit. The goal of this project is to further the economic development of the city and region, and U-M’s role is to provide a pipeline of talent and platform for research collaboration to help stabilize, grow and attract businesses and entrepreneurs to Detroit. We will provide advanced educational programs through the center, which could include senior-level undergraduate and graduate courses and stackable certificate credentials in areas such as mobility, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, privacy, data science, financial technology, entrepreneurship, sustainability and advanced manufacturing.

    This new project is just the latest part of a growing ecosystem of U-M engagement with the city of Detroit and its people. The University of Michigan’s footprint in Detroit is deep and broad, dating back to our founding there in 1817 and involving collaborations on public K-12 education, college readiness, community engaged research, service learning, public health, economic development and a partnership on economic mobility with the mayor’s office.

    As a great public research university, we feel an obligation to focus our academic strength on the challenges and the opportunities that face the public we serve. There is no more impactful place to do this than in the Detroit region. The problems and opportunities confronting Detroit are similar to those of other post-industrial cities that are being forced to adjust to a rapidly evolving and technologically driven global economy. Strategies developed here are likely to be of value elsewhere, increasing the impact of our work.

    Detroit is our state’s largest and most important city. In 1960, it was America’s wealthiest city according to the U.S. Census, but just six years ago it became the largest ever to file for bankruptcy. In 1950, it was our nation’s fourth most populous with over 1.8 million residents, and now it is ranked 23rd in the U.S. with only 673,000. Despite several years of improvement, Detroit has the highest poverty rate of any major American city, about 35 percent, with over half its children living in poverty.

    Michigan’s Poverty Solutions Initiative brings together faculty and students from an array of our schools and colleges to collaborate on finding new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty.  One aspect of this work is The Partnership on Economic Mobility between U-M and Detroit. Embedded in the mayor’s office, the partnership is working on housing, education, workforce development, mobility, health and assessment projects side by side with city employees and community leaders, and tapping into important philanthropic support.

    Our regional campus in Dearborn is positioned as a metropolitan university, providing outstanding undergraduate education for about 9,500 students from Southeast Michigan and beyond and collaborating with partners in the city in novel and creative ways. One such program, Public Allies, supports leadership apprenticeships embedding trainees within non-profits around metropolitan area and thus helping build their capacity. UM-Dearborn has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for its important role in the Detroit metro area as a Community Engaged College or University.

    We engage with Detroit’s high school students via our Michigan Architecture Prep program, a for-credit high school curriculum aimed at juniors who want to explore architecture and urban planning as a career. This Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning program also provides students with coaching on how to apply to college. Our College of Engineering runs the Michigan Engineering Zone robotics program in Detroit serving about 370 high school students and their teachers who participate in First Robotics competitions and learn about possible careers in engineering. Similarly, the “Doctors of Tomorrow” program, run by University of Michigan medical students and faculty, is focused on mentoring Detroit students towards careers in medicine.

    This fall, a new Detroit public school opened that represents a novel collaboration between Michigan’s School of Education, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Starfish Academy, and the Kresge Foundation. Extending from pre-school through college, this P-20 teaching school will combine the training of urban public school teachers with the implementation of a specifically designed K-12 curriculum. Faculty and students from the schools of social work, nursing and dentistry will also teach and learn at the P20 school while providing wrap-around services to its students.

    In 2016, the University of Michigan launched its Wolverine Pathways pipeline program designed to help talented students from districts in Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti develop the skills and receive the mentoring to be strong applicants to selective universities like U-M. Nearly 90 percent of the first two cohorts of graduates applied to college, and a significant fraction of them are U-M students in Ann Arbor or Dearborn. As a benefit of participating in Wolverine Pathways, admitted students receive a full tuition scholarship. Likewise, students from Detroit and all around the state who come from families at or below $65,000 of family income qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee, a program that provides four years of free tuition.

    U-M students in 2006 began the work to create our Semester in Detroit, an innovative effort administered through our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts’ Residential College. More than 300 undergraduates have engaged in the program’s semester-long immersive experience, living, learning and working in the city. SiD unites the values of reciprocal engagement and rigorous academics, and counts more than 60 non-profit organizations as partners.

    This is the 20th anniversary year of the Detroit Partnership, a service learning program that links over a thousand student volunteers with community organizations in Detroit. The partnership provides transportation for weekly visits to the city by student volunteers and coordinates a Detroit Partnership Day each Spring that brings together all volunteers and their community partners for a day of volunteerism, programming and celebration.

    The Detroit Community Academic Urban Research Center, established in 1995, joins faculty researchers and community partners to work on issues like childhood asthma, housing foreclosures, diabetes, heart disease, air pollution, access to nutritious food and safe places to exercise, and educational achievement. The URC helps newly involved faculty understand how best to work with community partners to achieve academic goals of proportional value to the community.

    The University’s presence in the city is anchored by the Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue. It provides shared space for many of our Detroit-focused programs. In the years ahead, this function will move to the Rackham Building in midtown, a much larger facility that will house offices for our community engaged research programs, space for our high school focused educational and pipeline programs, and provide a front door to the university in the city.

    Work with our community partners in Detroit is guided by a set of principles developed through our long-term commitment to this work. Principles include:

    • Principle of Recognition for the expertise and knowledge within the community
    • Principle of Respect for individuals, communities, and their resources
    • Principle of Equitable Partnership focused on reciprocal relationships, transparency, and accountability

    The University of Michigan is committed to continue and grow its collaboration with the city of Detroit and its communities through the fulfillment of our mission of teaching, research, and service, to the benefit of the city and its residents.