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Updated 11:00 AM July 16, 2007




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Spotlight: From artist to activist

A young high school graduate enters the University hoping to leave it as a promising engineer. Another enters with a goal to pursue a law career. But after meeting with Debra Mexicotte, both gain something else—a love of the arts.

(Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Mexicotte, assistant director for the Office of New Student Programs, Arts at Michigan, laughs at the notion that her passion for integrating the arts with more mainstream fields of study somehow is unique. “There’s political theatre, but you could also say a lot of politics is theatre,” she says.

Mexicotte uses the arts to integrate undergraduates into the University’s academic life. “I always tell students that 10 years from now, when we’re sitting and talking about their undergraduate experiences, we won’t be talking about the ‘B’ they got in class, but how the arts have allowed you to see the world and express yourself in it.”

Beginning at orientation, Mexicotte’s team encourages undergraduates to participate directly in the arts through various student organizations, workshops and/or community programs on campus, to help integrate them to the University’s academic life.

“This year, we are also piloting an online student interest survey through the orientation checklist to create, among other things, an art interest portfolio,” Mexicotte says. This will give undergraduates access to links and information about various campus arts programs the moment they arrive in the fall.

The one-time fine arts student at Case Western University also serves as vice president of the Ann Arbor Board of Education, after previously serving as secretary and parliamentarian. Mexicotte, who has an autistic son, also once led the Ann Arbor Parental Advisory Committee for special education (AAPAC). “I’d say one of the positive effects of working with the AAPAC have been that parents don’t feel so isolated,” she says.

While her humanity propels her politics, her children help drive her activism. One daughter just graduated from Huron High School; her son finished eighth grade at Clague Middle School and her youngest daughter has completed eighth grade at Scarlett Middle School. “Since I’m on the school board, I get to go to all the graduations and see the parents all full of pride,” she says. “In order to be a small part of that accomplishment is reward enough.”

Along with the emotional reward comes tangible evidence of Mexicotte’s contributions to local public education. She is a part of the board that helped put the funding in place to build the new Ann Arbor Skyline High School. “The community had been trying to decide on a new high school for at least 10 years,” she says. Voters approved a $240 million bond for construction and district renovation.

“I do have a passion for public education,” Mexicotte says, adding it is a driving force behind our society. “It has been astonishingly instrumental in making possible entertainment, entrepreneurial and civil rights advancements in this country.”

“I don’t need to have a global impact,” she says. “I am happy to know I may have helped a small group of students and families—my neighbors—by standing up for public education.”

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