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University of Michigan Announces Semester in Detroit

University of Michigan’s President Coleman announces Semester in Detroit. View the video.

The University of Michigan will begin a new “study abroad” opportunity for students in winter 2009, but students will not be far from their friends, nor faculty far from classes: the new academic program is in Detroit, Michigan. For the winter semester 2009, around fifteen students will live, work, study, and play in Detroit, just as if they were abroad. They will live in a dormitory of Wayne State University, work at various community organizations two full days per week, and take their courses at the UM Detroit Center. Courses include two required classes and several electives. The program is called “Semester in Detroit.”

Two years ago undergraduate students from UM’s Residential College (RC) came up with the idea in a course in the Urban Community Studies minor. They talked with many faculty about their desire for a semester in Detroit and found Margaret Dewar and Charlie Bright (faculty director of the Residential College) interested in making the idea a reality. Why hadn’t anyone thought of this before now? Dozens, if not hundreds, of programs affiliated with the University of Michigan are involved in Detroit, from tutoring opportunities to literally cleaning up the streets. The university has an outstanding relationship with the city of Detroit; why not let the students experience the city for an entire semester?

As professor of urban planning and director of the Ginsberg Center, Margaret Dewar was eager for such an opportunity. The Ginsberg Center manages many programs through which students are able to engage in community service, and her urban planning courses are focused in Detroit. Dewar believes in a university “where community service and civic engagement are embedded in teaching and research and where every student has opportunities to participate in service that advances the student’s education and the community partner’s agenda.” Dewar is working with Charlie Bright, director of the Residential College and professor of history and social science, to make Semester in Detroit a reality. The RC is a living-learning community at UM and offers students the opportunity to “take the initiative in shaping their own education, to participate actively in classes and in extra-curricular programs and to engage with the University community as well as the outside world.”

Semester in Detroit (SiD) combines the goals of the Residential College, the Ginsberg Center, and even the urban and regional planning program. One of the two required courses for the program will concentrate on the city planning of Detroit and will be taught by June Manning Thomas, centennial professor of urban and regional planning at Taubman College. The course will focus on the past, present, and future of planning in Detroit and will be taught at an introductory level, so it is open to all students participating in SiD.

The other required course is a reflection seminar, allowing students to consider the ideas they have learned and issues they have come across in their internships in community organizations. Other courses include “Detroit Connections,” taught by Assistant Professor Nick Tobier of UM’s School of Art & Design; an RC Urban Community Studies course in public history taught in collaboration with Mosaic Youth Theatre by Assistant Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies Stephen Ward; and a creative writing course called “Writing in Detroit” taught by RC Creative Writing faculty member Lolita Hernandez. In addition, arrangements are being made with Wayne State University’s department of urban planning and geography to create opportunities for SiD students to select from a range of courses.

In addition to coursework, students are also expected to participate in community service. Detroit is home to hundreds of community-service and cultural arts organizations that reach the nearly one million people who reside in the city. A core experiential component of SiD, each student will be placed in an internship with a community service or arts organization that matches his or her interests. The required reflection seminar will allow students to discuss the opportunities and lessons they have learned in their work.