Community Immersion

Enhancing Student Learning Through Community Immersion and Research Internships in Detroit

Housed as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the University of Michigan, the Detroit Community Based Research Program places students in community based organizations working on issues such as urban development, environmental justice, food security, community assessment, and sustainability. Students work in Detroit and the immediately surrounding area for 10 weeks over the summer on a research project of need for their community organization. This program provides the opportunity for students to gain experience and skills conducting research in a community setting, completing a project that directly benefits the organization and the communities they serve. Students also work on and learn about the role of and challenges faced by these community organizations.

The power of community-based research is that it allows students to see the direct impact their work can have on an organization and local community. As a result of working with non-profit organizations, students also leave the program with enhanced levels of civic engagement and awareness of community issues. In conjunction with the research placements, students in the program also attend weekly seminars aimed at developing practical skills for working in a community setting and conducting research. Topics for the seminars include: the role and history of community based research in Detroit, intergroup relations and social identity, qualitative research, professional writing, survey development, organizing for social change, careers in non-profits, and social entrepreneurship. Finally, students engage in active reflection and online community building through weekly blog posts.

In the summer of 2013, the program was enhanced by providing opportunities for students to live in, as well as work in, Detroit. This new program element was implemented to enable participants to better understand the context in which the organizations they work for exist, visit and learn about an array of community programs that are working on issues similar and different from those of the organizations in which they are working, participate in neighborhood and community events, and form a community of activist scholars. In addition, it is hoped that this immersive learning experience will make students more likely to continue working on regional issues throughout the remainder of their undergraduate years and beyond.

That same summer we were also able to more fully integrate our community partners into the program through weekly presentations at the program’s seminars by staff from the community based organizations. Seminars were planned around the skills students needed to function effectively in a community setting, as well as the expertise of our community partners. Having seminars taught by experts in the field added an exciting new dimension to the program, promoting greater engagement with seminars topics, as opposed to a traditional classroom model. Having community partners take on this role also gives us the ability to show them how much their time and knowledge is valued, and further adds to the collaborative model we have created. The ability to live and work in the City of Detroit with other program participants, while learning about community-based research and non-profit organizations from community leaders provides students with a highly active and unique learning experience.

Funding from the Third Century Initiative will allow the Detroit CBRP to continue these new program elements in the summer of 2014 while we seek out sustainable funding sources to continue to grow this program into a national model for community-campus partnerships.


Project Team:

Jenna Steiner, Director, Community Based Research Program, College of Literature, Science and the Arts