Speaking in Ojibwe, the Native American dialect of the Saginaw tribe, students at Saginaw High School recited a newly learned mantra —“The Trojans will go to college.”
As one of the faculty members who is a part of the Wolverine Express program — a program that brings University faculty, staff and students to Michigan high schools to promote higher education — Margaret Noori, director of the University’s Comprehensive Studies Program, led the high school students in the chant last month, hoping to encourage underrepresented students like them to pursue a college education.
Wolverine Express was created this past fall as a program of the Center for Educational Outreach in conjunction with the University’s Diversity Council. The schools involved in the Michigan College Advising Corps, a program that places University graduates in underrepresented Michigan schools to serve as college advisers, were chosen for the Wolverine Express program.
William Collins, executive director of the Center for Educational Outreach and a member of the Diversity Council said he felt the new initiative would complement the advising program well.
“We married the Wolverine Express to our Advising Corps Program,” he said. “It meant a great deal of work in a relatively short period of time.”
The creators came up with the idea last summer and developed the initial stages throughout the fall, working with high school principals and counselors to determine the best ways to assist students. Collins said when they were ready to begin, all eight schools in the advising program also wanted to be involved with Wolverine Express.
Because many of the students in the schools would be first-generation college students, they may not know what is necessary to do to get started in certain job fields, Collins said.
“The background information of what one needs to do to pursue a particular career is often missing for many of these students,” he said.
For example, students don’t necessarily make the connection that becoming an engineer requires extensive knowledge of applied mathematics, or that medicine involves advanced science and chemistry skills, Collins said.
“One of the things that happens when faculty members go into these schools is students have the opportunity to interact with them directly,” Collins said. “It allows them to identify with what that person is doing.”
The purpose of Wolverine Express isn’t to recruit for the University, Collins said, but rather to encourage students to pursue higher education. This message is important, he said, because the United States has shifted focus from primarily manufacturing jobs to service jobs, particularly in the state of Michigan.
“The jobs that are available to young people today increasingly are jobs that require post-secondary education,” Collins said.
Noori, who is also a lecturer of American Culture and English, emphasized the significance of a college degree when she spoke to Saginaw High School Students. She told the students that their education is extremely valuable and can’t be taken away by others despite difficult economic circumstances.
University alum Ryan McBride, who is serving as a college adviser at Saginaw High School through the Michigan College Advising Corps, said he estimates that more than half the high school’s student body participated in Wolverine Express. He said the program was beneficial to the students because they had a chance to meet professors and learn from their research and knowledge.
“It gave them a really good glimpse into what college is like,” McBride said. “It exposed them to people who work in higher education.”
He said the program inspired the students and “gave them the confidence that they could pursue higher education.”
She added that it is important for schools like the University to focus on reaching out to these students.
“I think it’s easy for schools like ours to become potentially elitist and selective in ways that aren’t necessarily the most healthy …(Diversity) makes for a stronger structure,” Noori said.
While visiting Saginaw High School, Crisca Bierwert, chair of the University’s Diversity Council, set out to inspire the students by giving a brief lesson on the Treaty of 1817, explaining how the state of Michigan bought the land on which the University was built, and at its inception, the University only had 11 students enrolled.
“I told them that this is a story of small beginnings and big accomplishments, and I hoped it would inspire them to go to college,” Bierwert said. “I told them that I thought they could all make history, and that they would all make history.”