Pop-up tents and exhibits showcasing the future of the University of Michigan littered the Diag on Friday as the University concluded celebrations for its Bicentennial. 

The events began with the dedication of a new statue called “Arriving Home” — a stainless steel and acrylic spiral which reflects colors that change depending on time of day and sun angle — located near the C.C. Little Science Building. According to Diane Vasquez, co-founder of Voices of the Staff, the circular nature of the statute reflects that “the staff are important to the University in the continuum” and the ever-changing colors represents diversity amongst staffers.

The statue was built to honor past and present University staff for their hard work over the years, as well as the Bicentennial celebration itself. The idea of creating a marker honoring the University’s staff originated from the Voices of the Staff members — an employee engagement program consisting of University staff members — in 2013, who believe staff members that contribute to the University, should be recognized publicly for their dedication. Designed by artist Dennis Oppenheim in 2007, the artwork was gifted by University alumni Jagdish and Saroj Janveja who donated the funds for the statue in recognition of their appreciation of the staff’s commitment to the University’s goals. The President’s office matched Janveja’s donation.

The couple previously funded public art placed outside of Michigan Stadium, the Museum of Natural History and the soon-to-be-completed Biological Science Building, among others.

Jagdish Janveja said he felt he owed the University something in return for all that it has done for him, and hopes future generations will feel similarly.

“I’d like to inspire the students and staff to give back to the University where they are studying and spending their life at,” Janveja said. “This is a way of giving back. I am trying to encourage everybody else to help the university in whatever way you want to (enrich) the people for the incoming generations.”

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Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, discussed how the statute reflects the University’s community.

“With its many hues and constant prismatic changes, the piece is an apt reflection of our community, constantly changing and evolving, comprised of many colors, backgrounds and beliefs,” Thomas said.

University President Mark Schlissel then explained why the University chose to dedicate a campus site to its employees.

“We wanted to commemorate the amazing work of the past, but also recognize that all of our future goals for Michigan’s third century and beyond rely on the dedication and intellect of our talented staff,” Schlissel said.

After the dedication, attention turned to various smaller presentations held under tents in an effort to keep out the pouring rain.  The tents stretched from the Diag to the Chemistry and Kraus Natural Science Buildings.  Food and drinks were provided to students and passersby at the event.

The featured tent in the center of the Diag held various displays highlighting the revolutionary new programs and groundbreaking innovations coming out of schools and colleges at the University, and were designed to be interactive in their format.  

Among these activities were presentations by the College of Pharmacy highlighting the college's programs in personalized medicine and the Ross School of Business with speakers including Business Dean Scott Derue. Photos could also be taken with props sponsored by the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus.

Both the College of Pharmacy and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital used virtual reality headsets. The College of Pharmacy utilizes VR technology to examine human lungs, among other uses, while C.S. Mott uses their VR headsets to provide an entertaining and positive distraction for young patients. Those who attended the exposition had the chance to try on both pairs of VR headsets.

Since 2015, volunteers from the Ann Arbor-based technology school GameStart have partnered with C.S. Mott to provide VR headsets that allow patients to experience roller coasters, submarines and other virtual worlds.  GameStart’s work goes hand-in-hand with that of the Jim Harbaugh Foundation to help provide VR headsets for patients.

The remaining tents held exhibits on the value of teaching and education in the 21st century and showcased some of the scientific advancements from the College of Engineering and other schools and colleges.

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Christie Donahue, assistant director of program development at the Center for Socially Engaged Design, explained the importance of problem-scoping and social, economic and cultural contexts related to engineering design.

“A lot of times, engineers are handed the problem that has already been defined for them and some requirements that have already been defined for them,” Donahue said. “We support students who want to go out into the field and identify needs with the actual people that they are designing for.”

Engineering junior Abby Chapin discussed her admiration for the Woven Winds project, part of the student organization BLUELab which teaches STEM education and helps create a working wind turbine that stays at local Ann Arbor schools.

“You learn a lot about engineering but also about education,” Chapin said. “That’s what is really important to me, the interaction between engineering and education.”

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