Bringing Faculty & Communities Together



Universities are a space for teaching and learning, but they do so much more. Connecting faculty and communities increases knowledge and understanding of educational systems, economic issues, and societal challenges. The Michigan Road Scholars Tour, a five-day traveling seminar for faculty throughout Michigan, does just that. 

The educational tour enables faculty from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses to not only see the state that many U-M students call home, it also provides unique opportunities to interact with the people who live there. 

The Michigan Road Scholars Tour is an annual event (it was paused for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic). The 2022 tour took place May 2-6 and included stops in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Traverse City, Pellston, Sault Ste. Marie, Brimley, Midland, Warren, and Detroit. 

Sixteen faculty toured the state and were able to hear directly from community members. They discussed a wide range of topics, including equitable development, educational needs on tribal lands, the problem of homelessness, and more. 

“I and many of my colleagues lived most of our lives elsewhere before coming to Michigan. We arrived completely unfamiliar with the different geography, the history of growth, the industry, and economic activity of different regions. Of course, we may have traveled on our own to visit ‘Up North,’ but we were tourists and barely scratched the surface,” said Lawrence (Larry) Seiford, professor of industrial and operations engineering in the College of Engineering. 

“Engagement activities like the Road Scholars provide a true immersive learning experience with an interdisciplinary group.”

Lawrence (Larry) Seiford

Seiford added that through conversations with community members, he and his colleagues were able to learn through multiple dimensions including economic, historical, and scientific. 

“We return transformed by our experience — energized, informed, and inspired — and it will impact our future research, teaching, and service. Our minds now stretched by so many new ideas and insights never will regain their original dimensions,” he said, thanking the community for the “tailoring.” 

Folafoluwa (Fola) Odetola, associate professor of critical care medicine and health services research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, said that the tour was well worth the wait the pandemic occasioned.

“It was great to traverse the state to learn about the political, social, and legal determinants of individual and population health, wealth, and well-being. I learned about the efforts made by Michiganders to fight racism, social injustice, inequality, and inequity, while looking for opportunities to empower themselves, collaborate whenever possible, and thrive despite significant hardship and obstacles,” Odetola said. 

“Ultimately, the fact that we are all one human family rose above the manmade social inequities. I observed focused efforts at preservation of culture and nature, the perseverance of the human and communal spirit, innovation and creativity, empowerment, compassion, and resistance against social injustice,” he said.

“It was an instructive and invigorating once-in-a-lifetime experience.” 

Folafoluwa (Fola) Odetola

The Road Scholars tour encourages faculty to identify ways they can address state issues through their own research, scholarship, and teaching. Randal (Randy) Singer, assistant research scientist in ecology and evolutionary biology at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts said he and his colleagues learned valuable information from a variety of important groups across the state. Many of those groups are open to collaboration and further discussions, and there are many ways faculty can integrate what they learned into their work, Singer explained. 

“The University of Michigan is an important institution within the state, but accounts for a small percentage of the total Michigan population. Our state is incredibly diverse, beautiful, and is making some amazing advances in industry, culture, research, and economic development. Through this program faculty are able to see, hear, and learn from the rich and diverse communities across the state. By participating in this tour I feel that I am better equipped to relate to and understand the struggles of my students, collaborators, and community members who come from Michigan. I also feel inspired to extend my interests and collaborations outside of the U-M/Ann Arbor communities,” he said.

Singer found one stop particularly compelling. While in Sault Ste. Marie, the Road Scholars talked with Cecil Pavlat from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. 

“The time we spent with Cecil was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had with regard to learning about Native American history in Michigan and the modern history of tribal communities in the area,” he said. “Cecil was an open book about how tribal communities interact with the rest of the state and discussed some of the struggles, shared traumas, and social and economic advances his community has made over the years. I learned that there is still work to do with regard to empowering and supporting tribal communities and preserving their culture through language, tradition, and spiritual practice in an age of increasing technology and loss of interest by the younger generation.” 

Michela Arnaboldi, earth and environmental sciences lecturer in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, had many favorite moments during the tour as each experience was unique and each stop enlightening. She reflected on a visit with Muskegon Heights City Manager Troy Bell on the second day of the tour.

“It is heartbreaking to hear about the injustice and economic repercussions that our communities of color have suffered and are still suffering today. We like to think of racism as something that we overcame but it is alive and hiding behind political and economical constructs that find new expressions every day,” she said. 

Another moment that struck Arnaboldi was the day they spent between Traverse City, the Biological Station, and Sault Ste. Marie. 

“This day had so much to offer. I loved our dinner conversation with Cecil Pavlat, an Anishinaabe Culture Bearer and Anishnaabemowin instructor, and our lunch conversation with the people from Upbound at Work. I find the attitude toward nature of Native People inspiring and we had the privilege to hear about a Michigan graduate who is on the spectrum about his struggles while a student here. As a lecturer, that gave me much to pause and reflect,” she said. 

She found many other stops inspiring including the visit to Bay Mills Community College—the first fully accredited, tribally controlled college in Michigan, and the Empowerment Plan in Detroit which employs individuals experiencing homelessness through an innovative and supportive business model. 

Cyril Grum, professor of pulmonary and critical care in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, noted the dedication of groups across the state to advance solutions that help Michiganders in a variety of ways, and said that hearing from individuals directly, including those with Upbound at Work, really helped emphasize important takeaways.

“The week contained many meaningful experiences that demonstrated the passion of many in our state to improve the lives of others,” he said. “One example was the work of the Autism Alliance of Michigan, whose mission is to ‘lead efforts to raise expectations and expand opportunities for people touched by autism across the lifespan.’ Upbound at Work [part of the Alliance] in Traverse City is remarkable in finding employment for persons on the autism spectrum. Hearing the perspective of both a person afflicted with the disorder and an employer brought home the great benefit that a right match provides to both the employer and the person.” 

Michigan Law School Clinical Professor Emeritus Paul Reingold said all of the hosts were thoughtful, dedicated, and committed and that at each stop the faculty realized how many connections there were between the issues communities are facing and work they and their colleagues conduct. 

“The chances for collaboration seemed endless, whether it be through teamed research, placement of student interns or fellows, inviting people to our classrooms, or bringing University resources or expertise to bear in a way that could benefit both the UM and the host’s needs.”

Paul Reingold

“The U-M Road Scholars program is a great way for a diverse group of faculty to learn about Michigan’s cities, towns, businesses, schools, organizations, and government, across the state,” Reingold said. “We asked endless questions and heard about challenges facing communities, industries, politicians, planners, and workers in a wide array of public and private settings. We came away amazed at how little we knew and how much is happening beyond our daily view.”

Prakash Sathe, teaching faculty in the College of Engineering’s Industrial and Operations Engineering, said being a part of the Road Scholars was a great and noteworthy learning experience.

“Without exception, this was one of the most memorable experiences in my life,” Sathe said. “Living in Ann Arbor is like living in an academic cocoon. We do not get any firsthand experience of issues and concerns facing various communities in the state. On the other hand, we have no exposure to wonderful things that are happening at the grassroots level to address these concerns and help our underserved communities.”

Sathe added that he has already followed up with three of the organizations they visited on the tour to provide assistance in improving efficiency in their operations using his research work.

“It was so inspiring to see the local initiatives supported by private, as well as state government agencies, to encourage economic development and improve standards of living of our fellow Michiganders in need of such support,” he said.

Learn more about the Road Scholars Tour, which is funded by the Office of the Provost and administered by the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations State Outreach Office.