Double-check: DEI initiatives for K-12 students see increased effectiveness with student involvement

Thursday, March 8, 2018 - 7:07pm


Roseanne Chao

In line with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan’s overarching strategy to “recruit, retain and develop a diverse community,” the University of Michigan is increasing efforts to reach into the K-12 distribution across the state and attract a wider variety of applicants to the University. However, the task of letting potential applicants know about the University’s efforts requires more than just administrative initiatives; student organizations are also working to connect lower-socioeconomic schools to the University and make a University of Michigan degree attainable.

CEO and DEI Partnership

Cited in the DEI plan as a K-12-focused body, the Center for Educational Outreach was given the responsibility of serving as the campus-wide K-12 Outreach Hub by extending the presence of the University across the state, providing training for students and faculty working with community partners and improving the University’s overall capacity. As the DEI plan enters its second year of implementation on campus, CEO hopes to continue improving upon their relatively new initiatives.

William Collins, executive director of the CEO, outlined the history of the center, which was established in 2008 as a result of former University President Mary Sue Coleman’s efforts to create a more diverse community on campus.  Collins highlighted some of the CEO’s main goals: Familiarizing all parts of the state with the University, encouraging collaboration between outreach groups on campus and providing services for these K-12 communities.

“Its purpose was to, first of all, expand the footprint of the University of Michigan around the state and more parts of the state would become familiar with the University and what we do,” Collins said. “To synergize efforts on campus that try to get different people doing outreach work to work together and collaborate and gain some efficiency, and to offer programs of its own — which we did initially as well.”

Additional focuses of the CEO include reaching out to individuals with an interest in increasing college accessibility and promoting success in their K-12 education.

“Our purpose has been to partner with schools, community organizations, parents, principals, counselors, teachers, anyone who has an interest in college access, to encourage excellence in schools,” he said. “That is, we wanted students to perform their best, to do well, to expect that going to a selective university like the University of Michigan was a reasonable aspiration for themselves, and to develop a college-ready within communities that perhaps originally did not have a culture of sending students on to college.”


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Student Involvement

In order to connect CEO’s resources in K-12 schools across Michigan back to the students already at the University, CEO offers to consult services to various groups on campus when organizations want to reach out to K-12 students. Sheri Samaha is one of the program managers at the CEO, and she explained how the center worked with MUSIC Matters, a student organization that builds community through large-scale events on campus.

“Students like MUSIC Matters would come to us and ... they were interested in bringing a summer program together — and they actually did a summer camp called Move — and we were significant in helping them build that as far as consulting with the curriculum, transportation, etc.,” Samaha said.

LSA sophomore Matthew Szuromi, MUSIC Matters member, praised the center for helping the organization not only with large-scale tasks such as further establishing relationships with other organizations, but also with smaller details like the right mannerisms to use with younger kids. 

“They open a lot of doors for us,” Szuromi said in an email interview. “They have so much experience in the field of educational outreach. It is such a benefit to be able to learn about the strategies behind reaching out to children ... We have made great relationships with other departments and organizations facilitated by CEO. Just yesterday, we were invited to the University Outreach Council, where we got the chance to interact with a great group of professionals who specialize in outreach. In that meeting alone, we got a ton of interest and people offering to help out our cause.”


Roseanne Chao

Another CEO supported project, Research Education and Activities for Classroom Teachers, was started by a group of graduate students in the College of Engineering and organizes a one-day workshop where University faculty and students present their research to K-12 teachers in order to educate teachers on how to facilitate discussions about higher education in their own classrooms.

In an email interview, Rackham student Rose Cersonsky explained she, along with Rackham student Leanna Foster, started REACT with the help of CEO as a way to expand outreach efforts to educators at the K-12 level and encourage more pre-college students to engage with the University. In April 2017, Cersonsky and Foster brought the idea forward to CEO, and the first workshop was held in June.

“Leanna and I wanted to push our outreach efforts beyond their previous scope, as she and I noted the difficulty in getting graduate student volunteers to more than 5-10 schools a semester and the general limitations of distance and availability,” Cersonsky wrote. “Together, she and I came up with the idea to equip and train teachers to conduct our outreach activities in their classrooms. With the support from CEO, it grew into a much larger idea of giving the teachers a touch point to the university, where they can spend a day immersed in the research conducted here.”


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Following the workshop, two feedback opportunities were given, one immediately after the workshop and another six months later, Cersonsky explained. While suggestions from the first round offered ideas to include more “grade level-specific content,” the second round focused on the usability of workshop points in classrooms. Cersonsky said out of the 55 percent response rate, many teachers said while they did use their experiences from REACT more frequently than other methods that might inform their teaching, they hope to see more ways to involve students in University research. Without direct involvement in University efforts, students seeing the outcome of REACT training won't see the University as an academic institution that's within reach for lower-socioeconomic status schools

“To address this, we plan on including a more comprehensive and organized list of student opportunities to the teachers in this year’s workshop,” Cersonsky wrote.

After Collins attended a meeting in 2017 and brought Kim Lijana, associate director of CEO, into the project as REACT started to get off the ground, the collaboration between CEO and REACT has made the program much more effective, Cersonsky said.

“They have been nothing but endlessly supportive, through financial support, planning guidance, facilitating partnerships with other student groups, and by providing context for our outreach efforts within the larger goal of the University,” Cersonsky wrote.


According to a report from Equality of Opportunity Project as published in the Upshot, 9.3 percent of University students come from the top 1 percent income bracket — the highest of all “highly selective” public schools in the study. Without any financial aid, the in-state cost of attendance for first and second-year undergraduate students is $29,526 yet the median family income of a student at the University of Michigan is $154,000, and the University ranks last out of 25 highly selective public universities and Big Ten schools in economic mobility.

With the expenses of attending the University in mind, one part of CEO’s work involves ensuring students and families from low socioeconomic backgrounds feel the University is an option for them. Collins explained a crucial step has been raising awareness of the Go Blue Guarantee, a financial aid package that provides any admitted student whose family makes under $65,000 a year with a full-tuition scholarship, and financial aid resources.

“We want to make it clear to (students from low socioeconomic backgrounds) that yes, going to college is expensive, but your first task is to complete the FAFSA so that you’re expected family contribution can be determined,” Collins said. “A lot of families, particularly from low-income families, they see the price tag of going to a place like Michigan … and they’re rather put off by the sticker prices. What we want to do is make it clear to them that there’s a lot of financial aid.”

In addition to these external funding resources, CEO administers its own assistance programs such as the Watson A. Young Scholarship, awarded to middle and high school students who plan on participating in summer programs at the University. The scholarship is need-based, and allows younger students to experience the types of programming within higher education

“One of the ways we encourage people to go to college and not be put off by the cost is to help them understand that there are resources that can be available to you,” Collins said.

Another CEO initiative, the Wolverine Express, allows a diverse group of faculty and staff an opportunity to visit underprivileged high schools across Michigan to promote college and share their own experiences.

Collins explained the intention of sending a diverse group of University representatives is to ensure students have a chance to hear a multitude of faculty and staff experiences.

“A variety of people went so that the students in that school could get different perspectives on what the life of a chemistry professor is like or the life of a psychology professor is like, and when we do Wolverine Express we always have a variety of faculty who come with us,” he said.

According to the CEO, the Wolverine Express visits between four to six schools across the state annually. From 2016 to 2017, 67 University faculty and staff reached out to around 2,100 high school students through the program. There has also been an 80 percent increase in faculty members expressing interest in participating in Wolverine Express since last year.

Along with faculty-directed programs, the CEO has recently launched its Youth Hub in February of this year. CEO Program Manager Adam Skoczylas said one of the goals for Youth Hub is to translate the work of the CEO into resources for those on campus and prospective families.

“We’ve created Youth Hub as kind of a marketplace of opportunities where youth and families can come and explore what U-M has to offer and then also be able to explore it in ways that they can find a thing that meets their schedule and meets their interests,” Skoczylas said.

Skoczylas also hopes Youth Hub makes accessing different programs and resources easier for students and families.

“There are so many opportunities at the University of Michigan, some run by student organizations others run by faculty, some run specifically by schools or colleges or even other units involved,” he said. “We want to create an easy and accessible way for the community to find these opportunities and take advantage of them.”


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Looking Forward

When looking towards the future, CEO hopes to continue building upon all of its current initiatives so as to continue garnering higher turnout rates and positive reactions. Collins said a greater emphasis on faculty engagement is becoming especially important, and with increased faculty interest in participating in outreach comes a greater ability to demonstrate to local high schools what the University has to offer.

In addition, CEO hopes to further its partnerships with student groups, particularly those who are interested in taking part in initiatives that visit local communities to raise awareness of the University’s merits.

“We have a lot of students with a lot of energy, but they aren’t necessarily fully informed or well prepared with resources and so forth to go into communities,” Collins said. “We want them to understand you’re representing the University of Michigan when you go out so we want you to take accurate information with you.”

These sorts of relationships are examples of what CEO hopes to continue improving and implementing. Skoczylas explained without these relationships with both students and faculty, garnering support and groundwork for DEI related initiatives would be much more difficult.

“All of our work is about relationships,” Skoczylas said. “Building relationships that inspire faculty to take greater ownership and initiative for developing DEI related programs in educational outreach of their own.”

Collins agreed with Skoczylas’s sentiments,  emphasizing the role of CEO in facilitating relationships so as to increase involvement of student or faculty-led outreach.

“You don’t do outreach by staying here on the University of Michigan campus in your… offices,” Collins said. “If you want to do outreach and engagement it does mean getting out into the community, working with people in the schools, meeting parents and students, and that really is around the state. In order to do that, you have to cultivate relationships and maintain them over a period of time.”

This article is the first installment in the series “Double-check,” a look into the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives and their effectiveness on campus and beyond.