This article is part of the Daily’s ongoing coverage of the Mackinac Policy Conference. Follow staff reporter Kevin Biglin on Twitter and check the site for more updates.

Mackinac Island, MI — University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel took center stage to discuss the role the University plays in economic, social and personal mobility Thursday afternoon at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Schlissel opened with an anecdote about University alum Grace Hsia’s innovative efforts to come up with a warming blanket which helps new-born infants in developing countries. Schlissel said her company, Warmilu LLC, will be sending 15,000 baby blankets to Kenya, Somalia and India this year. 

“She invented this blanket,” Schlissel said. “It doesn’t require electricity. It can be reused a hundred times. The heat lasts for three to six hours. That’s making a difference. It’s one of many stories I could tell you that would represent the impact of the education at the University of Michigan on our state.”

Schlissel said the goal of the University when it began in Detroit was to serve the public good. Schlissel said the school, now over 200 years old, has a reputation for developing talent among its students as a research and education institution.

“A big part of our mission has to do with generating human capital,” Schlissel said. “The talented people that we’re talking about that will drive our economy, you weave all these stories together across a span of 200 years and you get the impact of the University of Michigan. It’s a 200-year legacy of generating talent.”

The president also spoke about Mcity, an autonomous vehicle testing site, and its ability to help the state lead the way in the next generation of the automotive industry.

“We’re helping industry partners… to make sure the future of the creativity of the auto industry remains right here in southeast Michigan where it belongs,” Schlissel said.

He admitted there is plenty of room for improvement, though, since the state of Michigan ranks No. 34 in educational attainment with only 26 percent of Michiganders having a four-year college degree or more. To improve this, Schlissel said research universities such as the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University all must provide better outreach to people of all socioeconomic background in the state.

“It’s an area where our state has a very significant competitive advantage,” Schlissel said. “What’s special is the faculty members teaching students at a research university are all amongst the leading scholars in their field.”

Schlissel also spoke about some of the scholarships the University offers, such as the Blavin Scholarship, which is given to students who lived in foster care. He said this is one of the ways the University recruits talents from all areas of the state, both urban and rural.

“Socially, perhaps the most important thing the University does, is it provides an education that can change lives,” Schlissel said. “We have a special scholarship for kids coming out of foster care.”

Having satellite campuses in Flint and Dearborn has helped the University achieve their goal of recruiting students of all socioeconomic backgrounds in the state, Schlissel added.

“Our capacity for developing talent from all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum is really profound,” Schlissel said.

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