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From 1st-5th May 2023, I participated in the “Michigan Road Scholars Tour.”  Sponsored by the U-M Office of Government Relations, the program takes about twenty-five faculty from the three campuses on a bus tour around the state, introducing them to the economy, government, culture, educational institutions, health and social systems, history, and geography of Michigan, and promoting mutual understanding between the University and citizens.  It was an amazing experience which gave me a real sense of the enormous diversity and potential of our state.  We visited a vast range of organizations and met many people who were eager to tell us about their work and to hear about us in turn.  It was gratifying to see how many were led by U-M alums or by people whose children were students or graduates of the University.  We came away with many ideas for future collaborations between U-M and the organizations that we had visited. 

The Mackinac Bridge
9 Bean Rows Farmstead

Throughout, I was struck by the passion, commitment, and creativity of the people we encountered: they gave an image of Michigan as a dynamic, future-looking state.  Not least was the wonderful experience of getting to know the other faculty on the bus during the rides between locales, over meals, or after a long day, I learned about the fascinating work and experiences of colleagues from other parts and campuses of the University, in fields ranging from Environmental Science to creative writing and film-making, from book conservation to land-use law, from pulmonary medicine to computer engineering, from management and business to gerontology.  We had a lot of fun and have continued to meet informally since our return.

We traveled from southeast Michigan (Ann Arbor, Detroit, Lansing) up to the northwest (Traverse City, Suttons Bay, Harbor Springs).  We crossed the Mackinac bridge into the Upper Peninsula (St. Ignace) and returned via northeast Michigan (Alpena, Thunder Bay) and finally Bay City.  Many organizations were concerned with the environment: for example, we visited a center in Detroit dedicated to regreening the city — Detroit lost half a million trees between 1950 and 1980 — by planting thousands of trees and offering landscape certification classes to Detroiters with barriers to employment.  We learned how the environment and transportation were major concerns from the UP to Bay City.  We visited the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine center at Thunder Bay and were taken out in a glass-bottomed boat to view the centuries’ old underwater shipwrecks.  We saw the ways in which the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa works on the conservation and management of tribal natural resources.  We visited an organic farm cooperative, had a tasting at one of the numerous small wineries in northern Michigan, and enjoyed a farm-to-table lunch. 

Going shipwreck hunting in Thunder Bay
Daimler plant, Detroit

Another major theme was education.  The Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools told us about the department’s challenges and also their new initiatives.  We visited a community college, toured the vocational department in a correctional facility in Ionia, and learned about K-12 education in northern Michigan.  We visited a historical museum in Bay City and watched a performance by a community theater group in Traverse City.  And we were introduced to some of Michigan’s biggest industries: we rode in carts around the massive, 3 million-square-foot Daimler truck plant in Detroit; we visited the 120-year old Lafarge cement plant in Alpena (the second largest in the world) and the monitoring center of Enbridge’s controversial line 5 across the Straits of Mackinac.

Days were intense: on the bus at 7 am, back at the hotel at 9 pm or later.  But they were energizing too.  We were all sorry to see the tour end.  But there will be an impressive reminder.  The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Copemish, near Traverse City, propagates the world’s most ancient trees.  We came away with four giant sequoias, all grown from the third oldest tree in the world (c. 3000 years).  One has been given to the University Botanic Garden.  Working with the University’s Landscape and Grounds department, we have arranged for the other three to be planted one on each of the three U-M campuses. Although they are still very small, they will one day be over four hundred feet tall.  So watch for a tree planting ceremony!

Profs Richard Janko (Classical Studies) and Mingyan Liu (College of Engineering) with their giant sequoias