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Scholars program aims to instill community spirit

If the 1980s were the “me decade,” and the 1990s were the era of the Internet millionaire, then perhaps the time is right for a new perspective, David Schoem hopes.

Call it the “we decade.”

Schoem, faculty director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program (MCSP), is doing all he can to promote a community that brings together the nurturing atmosphere of a residential college, a sturdy inter-disciplinary academic rigor, and an outreach that creates benefits for the student, the faculty and society-at-large.

MCSP is a University initiative that has created a small community of undergraduate students who live and attend classes in Couzens Hall. While fulfilling their core academic distribution of course requirements, students focus on ways in which their academic experiences can intersect with the greater needs of the community. MCSP students are taught by University faculty representing a variety of disciplines.

Schoem says the primary objective of the program is “to prepare students for participation in a diverse democracy and civic engagement by integrating the ideals of a learning community with those of community service learning. We create an environment that fosters academic success.”

Many of the students who apply to the program have some history of community involvement in their high-school years, so the MCSP credo of “making a difference” is not new to them.

But for some students, particularly those who may already be heading down a particular, and less altruistic career path, those at MCSP hope the opportunities and experiences presented within the coursework can lead to dramatic personal re-invention.

Frank Beaver, professor of film and video studies, focuses his scholarship within MCSP on documentary films that deal in community culture. His classes include both theory and analysis of documentary filmmaking, and film production. Beaver has found that the message of “doing well by doing good” appears to have resonance with many students.

“Last year, one of the films we studied was about a pediatric dentist who performs work on children who come to the University hospital because of other serious illnesses. In fact, eight of the children had AIDS,” Beaver says. “The film was called ‘A Beautiful Smile.’ One of the students who was involved with the film decided that that’s what she wants to do with her life.”

Although such personal turnarounds may be the exception rather than the norm, the move toward a reintegration of social responsibility into the daily life and study of young Americans is not isolated on campus. At a recent MCSP retreat held at the U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens, faculty, staff, students, and community partners participated in a panel discussion moderated by Edgar F. Beckham, a senior fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Beckham has made a career of creating mutually beneficial links between the academic, non-profit and business communities.

The dean of the college emeritus at Wesleyan University, Beckham, who consults with educational institutions on campus diversity and its relationship to liberal education, civic engagement and pursuit of academic excellence, spent eight years as coordinator of the Ford Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative, which provided more than $20 million in support of campus diversity activities at colleges and universities across the country.

Other panel members included Lorraine Gutierrez, director of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning; Tony Chambers, associate director of the Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good; and Robert Muha, youth director of Latino Family Services.

Speaking at the end of the six-hour retreat, Schoem reflected on the message carried by Beckham to the attendees.

“Mr. Beckham encouraged us to continue to get a better look at the greater whole, the increased capacity, of the program, and to explore how MCSP, the University and the community might change as we accomplish that,” he said.

The retreat served as the kickoff for events set to run through the month of October. Classroom visits, local area community partner agency visits and a bus tour of Detroit are scheduled, as is a second gathering at the Botanical Gardens, set for 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1.

For more information about the Michigan Community Scholars Program, visit

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