Michigan Engaging Community Through the Classroom

The purpose of this initiative is to provide multi-disciplinary, experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing professional careers that involve direct public service or that engage work on behalf of public clients and non-governmental organizations (e.g., urban planning, public policy, public health, law, engineering, environmental management, social work, information science, business, natural resources). These professions require advanced knowledge and technical skills along with the ability to apply those skills in complex settings.  More importantly, success in these professions—however measured—increasingly requires that professionals have the ability to collaborate intelligently with professionals from other allied disciplines. That requires, in turn, gaining educational experiences that involve multi-disciplinary, experiential

The University of Michigan does not currently have a means dedicated especially to integrating the teaching and public service missions of the university that can support this kind of multi-unit, learning-service collaboration.  Addressing that gap, a group of faculty and program staff undertook the MECC initiative three years ago to facilitate such an educational initiative. The Transformation project will extend and formalize these efforts, enabling us to scale the initiative to serve at least an additional 700 or more students over next few years.

The three primary methods of creating this transformative experience are as follows:

  1. Experiencing a shared classroom experience to discuss methodologies, ideas, and findings.  The team is also designing innovative exercises during the shared classroom time to foster communication skills, test adaptability, and help students stretch beyond their educational “comfort zone.”
  2. Scheduling collective client interviews, research trips, and guest presentations. Students see and hear first-hand how other disciplines approach a situation in the wording of questions, framing of priorities, and engagement in interpersonal communication more broadly.
  3. Collaborating on a shared final presentation to the project clients and larger public. The need to clearly and simply communicate to multiple clients in a single presentation forces students to not rely on technical terminology (jargon) or one unique set of values. It is especially through the deliberation required to synthesize the combined story, findings, and recommendations for such a final presentation that the transformative experience becomes evident to MECC participants.

Key goals include:

  • Identify and engage communities that could benefit substantially from the coordinated efforts of community-focused course projects involving multiple academic units;
  • Enhance the multidisciplinary educational benefits provided to the students;
  • Facilitate interactions among the course instructors to promote additional teaching, research, and service endeavors; and
  • Facilitate interactions among community clients to build relationships and create commitment to carrying forward the students’ work once the courses are done.


Project Team

Elisabeth Gerber, Ford School

Gail Hohner, College of Engineering

Patricia Koman, School of Public Health

Jim Kosteva, Government Relations

Richard K. Norton, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Pla