Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, October 26, 2009

Michigan Community Scholars Program celebrates 10 years

A decade ago students at the university asked then Interim LSA Dean Patricia Gurin to create a living-learning program to merge civic engagement with academics so students could make a difference in their communities.

That program, the Michigan Community Scholars Program (MCSP), on Friday celebrated its successes at a 10th anniversary reunion. Organizers expected 100 graduates and current MCSP students to attend.

Director David Schoem says that while student service projects have had an impact in the community — 185,700 community service hours logged over the 10 years — the MCSP experience also has an impact on students.

“It transforms lives,” he says. “These students break through the social segregation of society and their home neighborhoods. They go on to productive professional lives and living situations with people of all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities.”

Schoem says students who participate demonstrate higher comparative retention rates, as nearly 100 percent of all first-year underrepresented students of color who participate stay in school.

Each year, the program brings together 150 first- and second-year students — historically half are students of color and international students, and half white students — to live in Couzens Hall. Students typically learn of the program through admissions recruitment materials and apply once admitted to U-M.

Through small courses, service projects, leadership opportunities, social programs and study groups, MCSP students strive to model an ideal community full of responsibility, diversity, collaboration and caring.

“They’re working on issues of hunger, they’re doing Habitat for Humanity, they’re working in natural environment areas,” Schoem says. The program also initiated SHOCK — Students Helping Others Choose Knowledgably — in which groups go to area schools to talk to elementary students about the dangers of substance abuse, and LUCY — Lives of Urban Children and Youth, which brings U-M students to Detroit schools to tutor and mentor children, in collaboration with the School of Education and support from the Office of the Provost.

A student’s coursework, in small seminars with faculty who are uniquely dedicated to students and teaching, is designed to complement his or her work in the community. The program also seeks to ease the transition for students from high school to college and to prepare them for leadership roles.

Nationally, MCSP and its faculty and students have been recognized by CNN, Newsweek and in many scholarly and public newspapers and TV.

Schoem says that while the program temporarily will leave Couzens Hall during renovation work in 2010, it will return a year later to high-tech classrooms and renovated meeting spaces.

Other MCSP projects include:

• An Environmental Action Team working on sustainability projects including green building issues at Couzens Hall and letter-writing campaigns urging the creation of clean energy jobs.

• Cooking dinner for families at Ronald McDonald House while their family members are patients at the U-M Health Service.

• Helping raise money to combat hunger at the CROP Walk in Ann Arbor; joining the Focus: HOPE Walk in Detroit.

• A scarf-knitting project to benefit the homeless.

During Welcome Week, all 150 students in MCSP participated in a day of community service, making blankets for children with cancer at the Comprehensive Cancer Center and worked with the City of Ann Arbor to remove non-native plants and overgrowth in local parks and nature areas. MCSP is funded by LSA and University Housing.