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The Story Behind Semester in Detroit

Semester in Detroit is an initiative created and driven by students. Based on their passion for the city, in the fall of 2006, four U-M undergraduate students set out to create a program that would fulfill their vision of applied education, community engagement and social justice.

The Semester in Detroit program began under the guidance of Assistant Professor Stephen Ward, who teaches in the Residential College and Department of Afro-American and African Studies, during his course, “Urban and Community Studies.” The University of Michigan had recently begun a Semester in Washington program, adding to a number of off-site University programs, which made students ask, “Why not have a Semester in Detroit?”

Rachael Tanner, Aditi Sagdeo, Molly McCullagh and Jaime Nelson, fomer students in Professor Ward’s course, drafted a proposal and sought guidance from members of both the University and Detroit communities. As word of the program spread, other students were eager to get involved and became a part of the Semester in Detroit Student Planning Team.

The idea quickly caught the attention of top administrators in the University.  With support from students, faculty, staff, and administrators, the Semester in Detroit Student Planning Team worked diligently to bring in new partners and interest.  In July 2008, the U-M Office of the Provost provided the initial three years of funding for the program. 

The inaugural Semester in Detroit took place in Winter 2009 with 14 participants, partnering with organizations such as Alternatives for Girls, Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, and the Urban League of Southeastern Michigan. 

Now in its twelfth semester, the program has hosted over 175 students and has developed long-term partnerships with over 50 non-profit organizations within the city of Detroit.