The University Record, March 25, 1998
The Media Union is a popular site for the Office of State Outreach¼s 'sneaker' tour participants. Besides demonstrations in the virtual reality lab, community and business leaders, educators, technology coordinators and arts managers see the advanced visualization and animation lab, the electronic music and video/performance studios, and spend time in the training facility. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
By Janet Nellis Mendler
News and Information Services
They've traveled from Bay City, Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Holland, Battle Creek, Mt. Clemens, Midland and Detroit to spend a day at the Universityćand they're not prospective students. These visitors are community and business leaders, educators, art museum directors, city officials. They're here to meet with faculty and researchers who can, perhaps, help them better serve community needs.
"Sneaker" tours to discover U-M resources are just one of the functions of the Office of State Outreach, headed by Lewis A. Morrissey. Each tour is customized to reflect local community interests and needs as outlined by the local leaders.
"It's imperative to a successful outreach awareness program that we introduce communities to U-M resources that are relevant to their needs and that they choose to learn about," says Morrissey. "We build the tours around their selections."
Educators from the Bay/Arenac Intermediate School District sought technological innovations that could be implemented in the classroom. They went online at the Media Union to see how the University's cyber-mentoring program works, then traveled to the School of Education for a lesson on the Web. They left with a list of sites for history, science, math and writing after applauding the presenter's juggling skills, a technique to hold the attention of his students if his computer is slow to boot.
"We couldn't begin to offer these tours without the cooperation of faculty, staff and students from throughout the University," says Richard Carter, one of two outreach officers who spend much of their time "on the road" meeting with community leaders. Carter's territory is the east side of the state; Susan Froelich travels to the west side, and is often in the Grand Rapids area two days a week.
Earlier this month, community arts leaders toured the Kelsey Museum, the Monet exhibition at the Museum of Art and the U-M Hospitals' Gifts of Art program, ending their day at the virtual reality lab in the Media Union.
"It was wonderful to have the opportunity to experience the depth and variety of the University's cultural resources, to meet the people running the museums, the Gifts of Art program, the Media Union, as well as to connect with other state arts and cultural administrators," said Brenda Nienhouse, executive director of the Holland Area Arts Council.
Tours sometimes pay reciprocal dividends, according to Morrissey. University representatives were invited to explore distance learning initiatives and tour the teleconferencing facilities at Grand Valley State University's downtown Grand Rapids' campus, and one of the U-M presenters was invited to speak at a technology conference in Grand Rapids.
Similarly, a visit from a Bay City municipal group concerned with environmental clean-up and riverfront development has led to the type of relationship-building that the program envisions. David Jude, a researcher with the Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences, is working with city officials to explore solutions. Meanwhile, the Academic Outreach office is working with Bay City Central High School to implement a writing program that involves University students as mentors, using as a prototype a program in place at Murray-Wright High School in Detroit.
Angus Mairs, a program manager at the School of Education, has been instrumental in organizing tour segments that showcase the School's technology innovations. "Certainly we are in the business of delivering effective ideas to educators," says Mairs. "Outreach to us means that we expect to learn a lot from what practicing educators bring to our programs. They are the ones making school systems work. And we are working hard to develop a sense of mutual commitment and benefit that, I believe, ought to be fundamental to the idea of outreach at a university like ours."
The sneaker tours and the ongoing contact with community leaders provided by Carter and Froelich are two of the three major programming components developed since Morrissey was named to head the outreach program, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for University Relations. Its mission is to "provide year-round personal contact and a direct line of communication between the University and communities across Michigan, thus helping to build bridges between faculty, staff and students, and the public and private leadership of these communities."
The third component is an on-line database, the Community Assistance Directory (CAD), coordinated by Shelagh Wilcox. The CAD, Wilcox explains, is a user-friendly Web site that provides information about the University's outreach projects across the state, including descriptions and contact persons. It is searchable by county, subject area, program title and key words at http://www.state.outreach.umich.edu.
"Is a community facing an environmental problem? Does it need help spurring business growth? Are schools using the latest technology most effectively to educate children? By searching the CAD, state residents can then make direct contact with a U-M source," says Wilcox. To keep CAD current, project managers receive an automatic reminder as the end date nears to update the program or notify the CAD administrator that it should be archived.
Wilcox meets individually with department leaders, encouraging them to add their projects. Recently she met with representatives from units with ongoing major outreach efforts. The session served not only as a CAD update, but also introduced unit outreach coordinators to one another.
The outreach office also is involved in a number of special projects around the state. The office identified outside funding to help sponsor a trip aboard the University's research ship Laurentian for winners of the Michigan Envirothon, an annual competition for middle and high school students. And, it is working with the Department of Physics to present the popular fall "Saturday Morning Physics" presentations to lay audiences outside southeast Michigan.