On Wednesday, the Ross School of Business hosted the um3detroit conference, a series of events that brought together faculty, researchers and several local leaders in a packed auditorium to discuss social issues impacting the city of Detroit.

The event featured well-known local leaders such as Daniel Little, chancellor of the University of Michigan – Dearborn, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Stephen Henderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

University President Mark Schlissel opened the event by explaining the purpose of the event was to bring together the wide array of organizations and community members doing research and work focused in Detroit.

“Well, I have come to realize that a very large number of Michigan faculty and many students are doing projects — engaged research, service projects, fundamental research — trying to both understand the challenges that are facing Detroit and help, to actually make a difference,” he said. “I wanted to get together the breadth of our community doing Detroit-focused research to talk to one another, to tell each other what we are doing, to try to provoke collaborations, to give the community a sense of the breadth and scale in the ways we are engaging with Michigan’s most important city.”

Following Schlissel’s opening remarks, several faculty members explained their research projects during the “Lightning Talks,” a series of seven-minute presentations. These presentations covered topics ranging from air pollution in the city  and its correlation to poverty levels in the city’s neighborhoods, to studies of Detroit’s post-crisis housing markets.

William Collins, Executive Director of the Center for Educational Outreach, discussed the breadth of research being done at the University, and how it contributes to innovation.

“We are a very large University, very dynamic in innovation, very decentralized University, so it is very easy for a lot programs to be created, developed and authored, but not easy to know about them,” Collins said. “So the opportunity to learn about the extent of these programs and activities, to share information about them, to collaborate, meet people, these are the types of things that are valued in events like this.”

Additionally, speakers also emphasized the shared efforts between the University’s three campuses and the city. This theme was furthered by flyers which stated “three campuses researching and learning in and with Detroit.”

Little spoke about the unprecedented success of um3detroit in connecting leaders who are committed to making positive changes in the city.

“I am very happy that the University is showing leadership and trying to establish solid, sustainable and genuinely engaged ways of partnering with the city of Detroit,” he said. I think this is the most powerful assembly of faculty, research groups from all three campuses, the most powerful coming together that I have seen in the 17 years that I have been chancellor.”

Little also emphasized the importance of Dearborn’s role as a metropolitan university to impact Detroit.

“We are particularly interested here in Dearborn because we define ourselves as a metropolitan university,” he said. “What that means is that the campus itself is dedicated to making an impact in metro Detroit.”

He then discussed the importance of the event in connecting different research groups which could otherwise remain unaware of each other’s work.

“One of the things which I think the event has done is that it has acquainted many of us with the work that other of us are doing,” he said. “I think the University’s leadership is really committed to having a genuine and ongoing positive relationship with metro Detroit”.

The theme of the University-Detroit connection was furthered by Duggan, a graduate from the Law School, who spoke about his upbringing in Detroit and about his personal ties to the University.  

“I was born in the city, I was there as a child and I remember an amazing city and I watched the decline,” he said. “After my first year in Law School, my first day in Law School, in fact, the dean stood up and did a speech. He said ‘I don’t care if you are here to change the world or make a lot of money, we value you all the same.’ I thought ‘man, that’s cold. I am here to change the world, isn’t everybody else?’ ”

Duggan also praised some of the most recent collaborations between the University and the city of Detroit.  

“In this University it’s been interesting, you have folks here doing it before it was popular,” he said. “Your College of Engineering, for more than five years now, is running a great robotics program with 200 Detroit students, introducing these bright and talented kids to a future that they would otherwise not have imagined. The College of Architecture and Urban Design and the Stamps Schools are working on projects in Brightmoor. It’s so impressive looking at all the boards, all the different things people are doing in Michigan.”

Following Duggan’s remarks, the audience moved to other rooms in the Business School and split into eight smaller discussion groups, each with a focus on a particular social issue currently affecting the city of Detroit. Participants discussed ways to foster sustainability and innovation in Detroit, as well as ways to alleviate poverty in the city.

One of the groups, in particular, addressed the University’s new interdisciplinary initiative Poverty Solutions, launched in October 2016. The Poverty Solutions initiative seeks to bring together researchers from several disciplines to develop actionable ways to prevent and alleviate poverty.

Schlissel highlighted Poverty Solutions and also some of the University’s ongoing initiatives devoted to promoting social welfare in Detroit.

“We have many existing collaborations with Detroit, both with the city government, through the mayor’s office, but also with community groups and neighborhoods all around the city,” he said. “We have our Poverty Solutions initiative, our new work in poverty, collaborating with the mayor’s office to set up a collaboration between foundations of philanthropists of the city government and of the University, trying to identify new ways to ameliorate poverty and to test the efficacy of what is already underway.”

The conference came to an end with remarks by Henderson, and a series of short film and music exhibitions, as well as posters showcasing topic discussions in literacy and reading in youth.  

Schlissel concluded by discussing the importance of connecting the various groups doing work in Detroit to foster communication and innovation.

“I am really excited by the turnout,” he said. “And like many things in Michigan, we are very decentralized. So groups doing research in Detroit for years may not know all of the other people doing research in Detroit. So if we could come together, share tools, share relationships with government officials and with community groups it will increase the impact of our work.”

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