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Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC)

Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC) is an initiative exploring the benefits of multi-disciplinary teams at UM working on stakeholder-based community engagement efforts. During the semester-long process, students from different disciplines learn from each other as they collaborate on complex projects.

What is MECC?

The MECC initiative integrates multidisciplinary and civically oriented engaged learning simultaneously. It taps into existing courses and brings them together to work on related client-based projects rather than creating new courses. 

Taking that approach, the existing courses continue to serve the needs of the individual programs while also providing a vehicle for meta-disciplinary learning. 

MECC also coordinates and promotes collaborations of community partners with the goal of enhancing UM’s public service and outreach mission. The initiative is innovative and unique in its design.

MECC has worked within communities all around the state of Michigan. From exploring ways the Traverse City region could make progress on the workforce housing issue to partnering with local schools, stores, and neighborhood groups to improve living conditions around Metro Detroit to address the increasing need for refugee support, our projects are varied and speak to the ever-evolving community needs. Click here to learn more about past projects based on region.

Are you a community member looking for assistance with a complex project?  Are you a faculty member who is interested in collaborating with faculty and students from other disciplines on complex community projects? Contact us to learn more!

Current Projects

The Detroit River

The Detroit River is in large part the reason Michigan exists the way it does today. Just looking at a road map, it is easy to recognize Detroit as the hub of the state with both major arterials (Woodward, Jefferson, Michigan and Gratiot) and freeways (94, 96, and 75) radiating outward to all parts of Michigan. The river is the region's defining geographic feature, an international border, a major shipping route, the site of the busiest free trade crossing in the world and connects the largest 3 Great Lakes to the ocean, more than 750 miles away. The Detroit River has defined Michigan's oldest and biggest city, and for the last 100 years impacted the development of the world's largest concentration of the automobile industry. So much to tell and communicate to visitors and local residents about an 18 mile river (actually a strait) and yet there is still so much to tell.

Many of the cultural and artistic elements and unique stories of the river's basin are often overlooked. It was the last vital link in the Underground Railroad to Canada, influenced the sounds of both MoTown and Movement, the largest techno music festival in the world, while also being home to Indigenous people who have lived along its shores continuously for the last 300+ years (in Canada). Over the last 150 years, the region has cultivated a wide and diverse range of institutions, Universities, organizations and NGOs that address these and other aspects of our region's story but there is no one mechanism or place that captures the full impact, on-going influence, and narrative of the Detroit River. Partnering with a coalition of local stakeholders, the University of Michigan's MECC Initiative seeks to address this missed opportunity.

The Ambassador Bridge as seen from along the riverwalk in Detroit, photo by Melinda Verhage

The stated goal of the envisioned 2 year Detroit River MECC project is to provide the State of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources a template on how to best tell compelling, expandable and comprehensive narratives for all its special and historic places. Starting with the Detroit River is a strategic choice for the University of Michigan. In addition to being an extremely complicated, nuanced and rich story to tell that will test our faculty, students and stakeholder partners, The Detroit River is an essential part of UM's own history and future. University of Michigan is making major investments in Detroit.

Major themes to be addressed during the Fall 2020 semester include the following; documenting existing pieces in the River's narrative infrastructure and identifying what is missing; whose voices are not being heard; what is life like today along the river and how has it changed over the last generation; and what differences exist in policies, actions and laws between Canada and the U.S. that pertain to the river's well being. Exploring and framing the project's initial boundaries are the following course at the University of Michigan, as well as a cohort of valued stakeholders:

Damani Partridge: UM LSA, African American Studies: ANTHRCUL 356 - Topics in Sociocultural Anthropology/ AAS 458 - Issues in Black World Studies Fall 2020, Section 001 - Filming the Future of Detroit

Jaime Delp: UM, LSA, English Department: English 322 Literary Journalism, The Detroit River & Why Stories Matter

Kristin Haas: UM Honors College HONORS 241:Detroit and Gentrification Now: A First Year Writing Course

Maria Arquero de Alarcon: UM: Urban Design: ARCH 509 / URP 551: Physical Planning and Design Workshop: The Fluid Commons

Jade Marks, Kira Berman, and Jiangyun Li: UM Museum of Natural History

David Porter: UM English and Comparative Literature

Robert Marans: UM Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning and a member of the board of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Kimberly Simmons, Irene Moore Davis, Shantell Browning Morgan: Detroit River Project

Linda Walters: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Karen S Duperry: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

This is not an exhaustive list, though it does highlight those that are helping get this project off the ground and running. We also have an invaluable group of students working in the classroom on a wide variety of projects. Madeeha Ayuba, a second-year Master of Urban Design student at Taubman College enrolled in Maria Arquero De Alarcon’s class, is currently working on her project entitled “WATERBORNE”.

“Waterborne unfolds the nexus of this narrow transnational fluid edge by establishing a timeline that reveals its historical narrative, peak industrial use and present de-industrialization. Our project interpretes the inherent qualitative and quantitative flux of the edge of Detroit river and the ways urban morphology has been influenced in form, function, use, movement and transformation. For many years, the Detroit River functioned as an industrial powerhouse and water-based transcontinental highway,” Ayuba said.

Future semesters will begin to dive into creating new narrative structures, exhibit design, curriculum development and event planning.

Article by Greta Guest discussing the project

Design Summit 3

The Student Design Summit, hosted by the Cultural Center Planning Initiative, is an exciting opportunity for students to engage in contemporary design practices to re-conceptualize spaces in the community. The Design Summit is also hosting the Student Design Competition, which this year asks students to imagine how technology can be used to expand the outreach and impact of cultural institutions. More information can be found on their website.

Grand Traverse Community Scorecard (Advancing Sustainable Regional Growth through the Power of People & Metrics)

A multi-disciplinary team of graduate students from the University of Michigan’s School for the Environment and Sustainability is undertaking a 16-month project in support of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation’s newly formed Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan. The Coalition is composed of local leaders in Northwest Lower Michigan and their aim is to boost transformational change around identified regional sustainability goals through network collaboration and clear metrics tracked via a Regional Scorecard.

To best support the future of the Coalition, the student team interviewed community leaders across the Great Lakes to identify key strategies for kick starting and sustaining actionable change toward sustainability goals. The students will compile their results in a series of case studies highlighting the challenges and successes from pioneering efforts toward sustainable change. Additionally, the students completed interviews with community members from the Grand Traverse region to provide local context and added relevancy to the Coalition. Together, these key local and regional interviews will form the basis of strong recommendations that can be applied to sustainability efforts locally and in other Great Lakes coastal communities.

This work began in 2019 and has occurred concurrently with several major short-term projects from other Schools within the University of Michigan. These include the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Information, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The project will officially conclude in April 2021.

For more information on the Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan, you can visit their website at https://nwmicommunitydevelopment.org/.

MECC Contacts

Paul Fontaine, Program Manager/Lecturer
(248) 571-1926

Melinda Verhage, Project Manager
(858) 735-3158

Plan Your Future
Housing, Community, and Economic Development
Land Use and Environmental Planning
Physical Planning and Design
Transportation Planning
Global and Comparative Planning