Forty-five minutes away from Ann Arbor, situated in the heart of Detroit on the same block as a McDonald’s and a handful of liquor stores, is probably the last place most high school students would think to start their application process to the University.

But according to Tyrone Winfrey, associate director of the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions located on Woodward Avenue, the Detroit-based location is often the very first place that local students get a feel for anything maize and blue.

“This office has really been a beacon for families to have access to the University and to be visible in the Detroit community,” he said.

Offering one-on-one appointments, application preparation workshops and an in-office financial aid advisor, Winfrey said the Detroit office has become a sort of one-stop shop for students and families who haven’t had much experience navigating the bureaucracy of higher education.

But more than just answering questions about when to apply or how to prepare for the University, Winfrey said his office also brings students to campus so they can get their own taste of Ann Arbor’s atmosphere.

The Application Tailgate sponsored by the Detroit office brings potential students to the University on football Saturdays so they can complete an application and experience the Big House all in one day. The Slice of Life program gives recently admitted students the chance to shadow an undergraduate for a day of classes, studying and dorm life.

For many students, those might seem like lessons to be learned from family and friends, but Winfrey said many of the students he encounters don’t know what everyday college life is like.

“Even though Detroit might only be 45 minutes away from the University, sometimes for certain students it’s like being on the other side of the world,” Winfrey said. “It’s away from the urban areas, and it’s away from the neighborhoods they grew up in.”

For those students, Winfrey said it’s important to remind them that the University is within their reach – an effort that he said his office increased dramatically after Michigan voters passed the ballot initiative that ended race- and gender-based affirmative action programs in November 2006.

“In the past, affirmative action was utilized, but for students now, no matter their race, ethnicity or gender, we have to look at preparation,” Winfrey said. “So to me, Proposal 2 has basically made us make sure the students are prepared, because the one thing I’ll say about this university is that it has not changed its standards.”

And to help with that process, his office doesn’t just wait for questions or hand out pamphlets to high school guidance counselors. According to Winfrey, extensive outreach — even to students who have just begun kindergarten — is one of the most important ways his office builds a “pipeline” for qualified prospective students.

In the fall of 2007, for example, Winfrey made almost 50 visits to 27 different Detroit-area high schools, where he spoke to both groups and highly-qualified individual students about the benefits of a University of Michigan degree.

But over the years, Winfrey said he’s found that, particularly in urban areas, discussing the intangible benefits of a diploma isn’t always enough. That’s why his office started a program known as the “M is for U Spotlight,” where representatives from concentrations that range from Kinesiology to Engineering travel to schools with Winfrey to explain what the programs have to offer.

Winfrey said Application Days, where students turn in their completed applications to the Detroit Admissions Office staff, and Decision Days, where they are notified of their acceptance decision by the staff in person, are other important components of the outreach efforts.

“It’s a recruitment tool that is in the urban community to make sure that those who have first-generation or socioeconomic challenges feel that they have access to Michigan,” Winfrey said. “Because even in 2008 we’re still dealing with the whole thing that they don’t know about college and their parents didn’t go.”

And for LSA freshman Jasmyn Nicole Irvin, a Decision Day at Detroit’s Renaissance High School was how she was notified of her acceptance to the University.

Though she applied to other schools like Bowling Green University and Michigan State University, Irvin said she chose the University of Michigan because it had the most to offer. Once she was accepted, Irvin said she didn’t even bother waiting around to see how much financial aid the other schools would give her.

Irvin eventually received a partial scholarship from the University, and when she and her mom had questions about financial aid forms, she said Winfrey’s office was the first place they went.

“My mom just took it right down to the Detroit office, and it was taken care of,” Irvin said. “They helped her fill out the forms, and they showed her exactly what she needed to do.”

And even after all of her paperwork was complete, Irvin said the programs offered by the Detroit Admissions Office helped her prepare for life at the University.

“I got to know the faces of the people who work in that office,” Irvin said. “And they helped me more than anybody else.”

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