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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Schlissel tours state to discover new home

By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 2, 2014

The Michigan Daily is publishing an article each day this week to cover the start of University President Mark Schlissel’s first semester. He will be formally installed as the University's 14th president during a day of inauguration festivities Friday.

University President Mark Schlissel’s two-week trip around Michigan did more than just include a sunset cruise and a winery tour. It made a big impact on his vision for the University’s role in the state.

Prior to starting his new job as the University’s president in July, Schlissel said he wanted to take a few weeks off during the transition. His wife, Monica Schwebs, suggested a trip around the state to offer an opportunity to learn about their new home.

The couple visited areas of Michigan where large populations of students come from, as well as places of interest across the state. The trip included stops in Detroit, Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Lansing, Midland and the Upper Peninsula.

According to the Office of the Registrar’s Fall 2013 Enrollment Report, 3,479 University students hail from Wayne County, home to Detroit and Dearborn. Another 1,083 students reside in Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located. Lansing’s Ingham County produces 575 students and Traverse City’s Grand Traverse County produces 234 students. Two-hundred-and-thirteen students are from Midland County.

The couple’s first stop was Detroit, where they visited the Detroit Institute of Arts and chose to sign up for a membership. They also saw the Renaissance Center, which is the world headquarters of General Motors, and enjoyed the Midtown neighborhood’s mix of shops and eateries.

“Detroit was in many ways the most interesting,” Schlissel wrote in an e-mail interview. “Having heard and read so much about its economic difficulties, it was exciting to see strong signs of renewed investment and the seeds of recovery."

In recent years, the University has expanded its efforts to engage with the city of Detroit, including the creation of a Detroit Center and Semester in Detroit, a program that gives students the opportunity to spend a term living and learning in the city.

However, Business sophomore Corey Johnson, who is from Detroit, said the University could increase its connections with Detroit, including more participation in improving the city’s public schools.

“There are quite a few students who come from Detroit and Metro Detroit, and it is necessary for him to see where we come from,” he said.

In Lansing, Schlissel and Schwebs walked the plaza connecting the State Capitol with the Judiciary Building and visited the Michigan Historical Museum.

Schlissel will likely be a frequent visitor to Lansing. During her tenure, University President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman traveled to the state’s capitol to lobby for increasing funding for higher education, which has seen extensive cuts in recent years.

The couple also traveled to Grand Rapids, where they enjoyed the downtown area and public space in front of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

LSA senior Nick Ellis, who is from Grand Rapids, said he watched this downtown area become reinvigorated over the course of his high school years.

“It looks beautiful now, truly revitalized,” Ellis said. “There is a new plaza, art galleries and new apartments. I love to hang out there when I’m home.”

He said it’s comforting to know the new president is making an effort to engage with his hometown.

“Grand Rapids has always been second to Detroit,” Ellis said. “It really has so much to offer. It would be great if the University could build up a stronger tie to the west side (of the state).”

On the other side of the state, Schlissel visited the Dow Chemical Company in Midland, where he met with company leaders who have worked with the University on issues of sustainability.

Schlissel’s father worked for Dow as a pharmaceutical salesman and took many trips to Midland.

Schlissel and Schwebs also spent time in some of the state’s most popular vacation destinations, including Glen Arbor, Mich. and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They also took a winery tour in the Leelanau Peninsula and trekked to the Upper Peninsula, where they enjoyed a sunset cruise on Lake Superior to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

“I was struck by the size and beauty of the state,” Schlissel said. “Lake Michigan is every bit as pretty as Cape Cod.”

One of Schlissel’s final destinations was the 10,000-acre U-M Biological Station on Douglas Lake in Northern Michigan.

Biology Prof. Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the University of Michigan Biological Station, ate lunch with Schlissel and Schwebs and gave them a five-hour tour around the station.

“President Schlissel was very outgoing, very interactive with the staff, students, faculty and researchers,” Nadelhoffer said. “He clearly understood what we did here before he came; he had learned about that on his own.”

Schlissel said he was impressed by the station and noted it is a great setting to do important environmental and ecosystem research.

On top of learning about the state that Schlissel will now call home, he also said the trip provided an important chance to evaluate how the University can better interact with the state that it’s meant to serve.

“There is room for increased engagement all across the state,” he said. “It reinforced my belief that the University must take very seriously its role as an engine for the state's economy.”