University President Mary Sue Coleman smiled and greeted students, including one who told her he wanted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to speak at Spring Commencement, at her on-campus home yesterday. Two other students representing student entrepreneurial group MPowered gave Coleman a T-shirt, which she said she’d wear while riding her bike.
The students were among the hundreds who waited in line for more than an hour yesterday afternoon for the opportunity to spend a few moments with Coleman at her annual open house. Coleman fielded a wide array of questions from students who wanted to know everything from whether she actually lives in the President’s House at 815 South University Ave., where the open house was held (yes, she does), to whether Coleman received a note left at her front door last winter in which the writer asked for a snow day. (Coleman got the letter, but there was no snow day.)
The event was scheduled to last an hour, but Coleman, standing on the patio in her lush backyard, continued to greet students an hour after the open house was scheduled to end. In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the stream of students ceased, Coleman said she enjoyed meeting students from every corner of campus.
“Everybody that I talked to really expressed delight at being at Michigan,” Coleman said. “The new students were really excited to be here and to find out about campus, and the senior students got nostalgic about their last year.”
LSA freshman Anthony Keilani said his brother, a University alum, spoke highly of Coleman and recommended that he go to her open house.
“(It’s) great that I’m connected to the president of a huge university and that she wants to get to know me,” Keilani said. “I appreciate that, and it makes me feel comfortable to be here.”
E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, also attended the event and mingled with attendees. At one point, she handed out cookies to students waiting to chat or get their picture taken with Coleman.
In an interview at the event, Harper said occasions like the open house allow University administrators to remain in tune with students’ needs.
“It’s important, in part, because one of the things we want to be careful that we don’t ever do is to get so distant from our students that we don’t know what’s going on or know what they’re experiencing,” Harper said.
Michigan Student Assembly President DeAndree Watson said in an interview at the open house that there has been a long history of University presidents reaching out to students. Watson, who greeted students as they mingled in the first level of Coleman’s home, said it’s important for students to know they can communicate with Coleman and other administrators.
“A lot of times the highest level of leadership at a college level can seem distant to students, and these types of events — where the president takes time to interact with students on an individual basis — helps bridge that gap,” Watson said.
Some students said they went to the open house to share their views on campus issues with Coleman, while others said they went to tell her more about their student organizations.
LSA junior Charlotte Rath said Coleman’s home was “simple, but nice” and was thankful for the opportunity to speak with Coleman, even if it was for just a few seconds.
“I came out to thank Mary Sue for everything she’s done for the University and just for serving as an awesome female role model,” Rath said. “And you don’t get this opportunity very often, so it’s nice that she’s doing it.”