The University Record, May 22, 2000

Road Scholars take ‘listening tour’ of state

Editor’s note: Theresa Maddix, associate editor of the Record compiled the following journal from her experiences on the Road Scholars tour.

Alpine Township, is fighting to remain agricultural. Alpine Township Planning Director Frank Wash (left) discusses zoning with Urban Planning Asst. Prof. Aseem Inam. Behind Wash and Inam, bus driver ‘Dean’ talks with Lew Morrissey. To the right, engineering Prof. William Schultz prepares to take a digital shot of bedding plants at Mast Greenhouses.

Day One

The first day centered around urban renewal, in Detroit and in Flint. Linda Smith, a Detroit native who could find her way around the city blindfolded, told us, “Detroit is moving.” As director of U-Snap-Bac, Smith is actively involved with the upward swing. At the project’s Morningside Commons site she said, “Our job is not to stay in the neighborhoods. Our job is to empower residents to take back neighborhoods.”

Next, we toured Focus Hope and met the inspirational Eleanor Josaitis. Josaitis co-founded nationally recognized Focus Hope with Father William Cunningham in 1968. Our tour centered on the Center for Advanced Technologies, the Machinist Training Institute and the Information Technologies Center. Josaitis shared three lessons she has learned along the way:

1. “Listen to the fear.”

2. “You’ve got to learn to outsmart ’em.”

3. “Don’t ever lower the standards. Heighten the bar.”

Looking into the future, Josaitis said, “I want to really concentrate on the ‘digital divide,’ because it is real.”

Leaving Detroit for Flint, the bus buzzed with talk of possible partnerships between the U and Focus Hope. This buzz didn’t end even after disembarking from the bus on day five. Every spot brought fresh ideas.

That night, after a visit to Mott Children’s Health Center, Flint storyteller Cathy Johnson entertained the group with interactive tales at the U-M-Flint Alfred P. Sloan Museum.

Day Two

Dale Larson, the new body shop planner at the GM Flint Commercial Truck Center, kicked off the second day by telling us about the 121,024 vehicles the 2,900 employee plant will produce this year. The tour itself was amazing, showing modular pieces fitting smoothly together to form huge commercial trucks.

Then we were on to lunch with precocious high schoolers at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, and then farther north to Hartwick Pines State Park.

At Hartwick, Ranger Ann Stephens took us through the only remaining old-growth forest in the Lower Peninsula. Old growth, she explained, is “an area of trees allowed to gain their age through natural purposes.” Michigan’s white pine can live up to 500 years of age.

We then visited Director James Teeri at the U-M Biological Station. Teeri showed off the University’s vast resources at the facility: its enormous shoreline and long-range study area of Douglas Lake, its Wet/Dry Deposition Station that even collects sulfur falling through the air from West Virginia, its downstairs “cellar”—“the first place on earth to study the soil life chain.”

A machinist-in-training works on one piece of a ball-peen hammer at Focus Hope in Detroit.

Day Three

Tribal Chairman George Bennett began day three at the Peshawbestown reservation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. “We’re in the business of nation building,” he explained. The tribes help the local community as well, putting “$2.5 million a year into the local community to build infrastructure.”

After a fabulous lunch at the Leelanau Sands casino, the group headed on to a scenic tour of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, followed by an evening reception at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.

Center Director Eugene Jenneman led the festivities, introducing a performance by a young Interlochen string quartet and presenting a showing of David Barr’s interactive art work, ‘Synergy.’ Walking through the outdoor piece highlighted the cut and polished Vermont marble for the tour members.

Grand Rapids' downtown area (with bridges on Grand River above) is revitalizing itself, along with other downtowns across the state. Photos by Theresa Maddix

Day Four

On the fourth day, we went to prison, emptied our pockets, were properly frisked and taken inside. The well-manicured, over-crowded facility we entered was built in 1974, with a design based on a college dormitory.

Though rich discussions carried throughout, on wide-ranging topics from education to HIV testing to mental illness, no one seemed reluctant to get out when the time came to leave.

After a warm welcome and lunch at Muskegon Community College, the bus headed to Alpine Township, north of Grand Rapids. Township supervisor Sharon Steffens directed the bus on a tour addressing the issue of urban sprawl. Her township is desperately trying to preserve its apple orchards and remain agricultural. For now it is succeeding.

That night we visited the Grand Rapids Public Museum where Mayor John Logie entertained the group with the flair of a 19th-century politician. Then it was on to dinner at the fabulous Gibson’s Restaurant and an impromptu percussive performance by Michael Gould, assistant professor of music.

Day Five

The final day began early with Brenda Nienhouse, director of the Holland Area Arts Council, speaking to the group about community arts in West Michigan. When we arrived in Kalamazoo we ate a quick breakfast and toured the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. The newly-renovated building features a huge Dale Chihuly blown glass piece in the entry way and an Alexander Calder mobile right inside.

From there it was on to Lansing and members of the legislature. We met with State Treasurer Mark Murray, who told the group, “I think in normal times it will be pretty challenging for the universities of the state to get increased funds of more than inflation plus a point.”

To wrap up the tour, the group met with Representative Liz Brater and a representative for Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith. The now-weary group came alive in this first summation of the trip.

“I never imagined before,” said Robert Barnett, associate professor of English at U-M Flint, “that I would be able to collaborate professionally with an architect and a musician.” Now, Barnett said, he has a project in the works where the three can work together with the Grand Traverse Band.

But other professors emphasized that they did not go on the trip to set up “collaborations” or pursue “interdisciplinarity.” If that happened, that would be positive, but many really just wanted to learn more about the state.

Additional photos of the trip are available on the Web at www.umich.edu/~urecord/Road.