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Student Project Showcase

The student projects collected on this page come from undergraduate and graduate classes conducted as a part of the Great Lakes Theme Semester in Winter 2020. Students researched a wide array of topics from the very local to the regional. We invite you to review their work and discover the depth and breadth of the research interests and skills students brought to bear on their subjects.

Liana Ysabel Bautista

Op-Ed: An Indigenous Perspective on the Spread of Infectious Disease

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented turmoil and disrupts the way that we conduct our daily activities. When seeking answers to how the spread of coronavirus could have been limited or what can we do to anticipate the next pandemic, we can turn to the indigenous Anishinaabe tribes’ concept of “aki” and their solutions to the invasive species in their communities. Paralleling the spread of these species to the current spread of coronavirus, we take away key lessons on our relationships to natural wildlife and how they influence human behavior concerning the spread of disease. The difference in how we perceive others and our surroundings ultimately determines the outcomes of a population’s health.

Malin Andersson

Fighting for Water in Detroit: Images of the Activist Response to Injustice

There is a water affordability crisis in the city of Detroit, defined by mass water shutoffs. The hardships faced by citizens lacking running water are often overlooked by the government or even actively silenced. This photo essay makes visible the faces of those affected and highlights the strength of the people who have risen up to advocate for themselves. The water crisis in Detroit has revealed the strong grassroots organization within the city. This essay focuses not only on how people are protesting and marching but also on the ways that help is coming to those who cannot afford to pay for water. The mass water shutoffs in Detroit have continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting African-Americans and those with a low income disproportionately. It is important for every citizen to be aware of this violation of human rights. Water affordability is an emerging crisis and is not unique to Detroit alone, so it is essential to be reminded that the basic human right to water should always be preserved. 



Michael Anderson

Water Politics through the Lens of Aki

In the early 1900s dozens of hydroelectric dams were constructed along the rivers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to power mining operations around which the local economies flourished. The dams flooded river valleys consuming thousands of acres of land, hundreds of houses, and the livelihoods of westerners and natives that inhabited them. Still today, tribes fight for the justice promised to them by the power companies while world leaders push evermore mightily for clean energy. Are the rewards of hydroelectric energy worth what it has cost us as a society? This presentation explores the question through the lens of Aki - an Anishinaabeg word representing the idea that land belongs simultaneously to no one and everyone. 



Sharika Elahi

Mutual Aid: How We Can Learn from Communal Housing Movements

This project is an analysis of what it means for us socially and psychologically when we own our land and resources privately versus when we are part of a collective. As participants of a culture where the private ownership of property remains a key feature of success, I explore how we can begin to imagine new versions of success and adult life that diverge from this mainstream narrative of the American dream. I argue that one of the material effects of living in a capitalist society, in which individualism and privatization are prominent values, is that we turn to each other for help less often. Mutual aid efforts, which have recently entered into the forefront of public consciousness, rely on our ability to turn to others in our community for support. How can we build up successful mutual aid efforts if many of us do not feel comfortable with the idea of receiving help from others? How can we mobilize all people to get involved in forms of resistance in which we depend on each other? To answer these questions, I look to different examples of communal housing, such as joint households in old Bangladesh, Robin Kimmerer’s discussion of communally held Native American land in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, and my own personal experiences living in Ann Arbor cooperative housing. What I find from these examples is that we should not think of mutual aid as an alternative form of assistance in which we turn to each other rather than to charities, but as an opportunity to create the conditions for something new. An effective way around psychological barriers keeping us from seeking help is to ground mutual aid efforts in collaboration, rather than the idea of aid itself. We must consider: what could I do with others that I can’t achieve alone?



Charlotte Fuss

Water Resilient Communities: A guideline for the design a water resilient Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood

The aim of the project is to develop a communal network of plug-in solutions which are resilient to rising water levels and flooding. Through an evaluation of the current “kit-of-parts solutions” for flooding and stormwater management, a solution is created to restore Jefferson Chalmers into a water resilient community, demonstrating a step process for evaluating solutions to create water resilient communities. It is well known that worldwide climate change is leading to rising sea levels, warmer temperatures. For Detroit and Jefferson Chalmers in particular, this increase in rainfall is overwhelming combined sewer systems and causing an increase in flooding, overall.

Amelia Jelic 

Preserving Indigenous Language is Necessary for the Conservation of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are thought of as a very important resource for millions of people across the Midwest. The idea of water as a commodity for humans to buy, sell, or use has led to issues with water quality, harmful algal blooms, and overuse. In order to prevent these dire issues, we need to change the way we think about water and the environment in general. In the Great Lakes specifically, Indigenous language and knowledge are important pieces of this process. This op-ed explores the Anishanaabeg concept of aki and how, through Indigenous language, we can engender reciprocity with the land and water we depend on.



Mukshatu Khanam

River en Route: A Stormwater Management System in Neighborhood Revitalization

Detroit River is a small yet significant junction of the greater Great Lakes system and that helped Detroit to flourish as a heavy industrial city. Since the last decade, Detroit is losing population and facing issues of urban blight. The Detroit River is having more combined sewer (CSO) pollution than before because of more frequent rainy days during summer which is causing serious health hazards for all Great Lakes residents. This proposition investigates the opportunity of daylighting the original network of creeks that ran through Detroit to draw a new layout of resilient green-blue infrastructure. The project vision is to integrate the ecological system of runoff water filtration before it goes back to the river and at the same time a new urban space for the residents of the neighborhood. The integration of greenways with daylit creeks proposes repurposing the stormwater management system and provides an urban destination for neighborhood revitalization.



Kathryn Mallory

Urban Aquapunctures: Detroit, MI

Large infrastructure with not enough residents to pay taxes for the upkeep, high fines from the EPA, causes the city to be in a perpetual feedback loop. Commercial drainage rates are expensive for property owners. The combination of potential green credits, capital partnership program will help fund Aquapunctures. The EPA fines will go down and therefore the city can reallocate money to invest back into the city.



Clarisse Owens

A Layout of our Food System

This presentation covers changes in the food system of the United States over the last century. The infrastructure and energy sources used to produce and distribute food have impacted the way that individuals view and interact with food. Within this, there are racial, environmental, and economic injustices that have led to inequities across the food and health of humans. Progressive legislation, mutual aid, and grassroots movements are some suggestions for fixing the food system. These solutions are inspired by practices of indigenous groups of the Great Lakes region that prioritize reciprocity with environmental systems and communities. 



Maggie Stagner

Cultural Conservation

Conservation efforts and ideology vary across different cultures. Stark differences are particularly apparent between the efforts of the Anishinaabeg populations, native to the Great Lakes region, and other populations inhabiting the same area, North Americans of primarily European descent. The books and stories that are read to children in the two cultures demonstrate some of the fundamental differences in how humans relate to their environments. Typical Western English books hold humans central to most story lines with very little focus on the realities of nature. Anishinaabe stories teach the celebration of and respect for nature with an emphasis on reciprocity by blending fiction and fact. There is a genuine and foundational appreciation for the environment in this native population. Their children are taught from a very young age how to respect and care for the land they live on. Countering the Western preservation of what humans need to survive, the sustainability and conservation efforts in native cultures are concentrated on the protection of everything living.



Ryan Montgomery

Cosmologies, Development, and Land

Beliefs shape your thoughts and lead to actions, whether this is on a personal or global scale. This story offers one perspective of American development: from our initial cosmological choice through the collapse of the Native American “Middle Ground” and the development of Capitalism. Had the United States chosen to follow a cosmology other than Manifest Destiny, such as Skywoman Falling or Biblical Creationism, the world as we know it may look dramatically different.



Jaylen Armey, Anna DeVeaux, Fernanda Ryan, Anjali Shakya, Caitlin Shyuu

Aquatic microplastics: A unique niche for microbial communities with consequences for human and environmental health

150 million metric tons of plastics currently circulate the waterways. Our study aimed to identify the difference in microbial colonization between plastics and naturally occurringsubstrates. We hypothesized that if submerged under the same aquatic environment plastics with the same chemical composition but different physical characteristics will select for differentmicrobial species due to the surface area available for colonization. We also seek to corroborate data that states that anthropogenic input provides unique colonizing microbial communities.Two deployments containing plastics and naturally occurring substances were placed on the Huron River near the city of Ann Arbor and Cordley Lake with low anthropogenic input. For controls, existing substrates were collected from the bodies of water above mentioned. SEM imaging was done on the remains of the deployments and DNA extraction for 16sRNA todistinguish the phylogeny of the existing bacterial species. High anthropogenic input substrates had low diversity of species but high individual count, versus low anthropogenic input with lowindividual count but high diversity in species. Among identical chemical plastics, the smooth plastics were more readily colonized than the rough ones, indicating that surface area was not afactor but rather easily accessed areas were preferred by microbial colonizers. Plastics microbial colonies indicated that plastics select for the higher microbial count

Theresa Benton and Esther Ladkau

The Rouge River: Redlining, Riverbanks, and Restoration in Metro Detroit

Once so toxic and polluted it caught fire, the Rouge River is a symbol of the struggle to achieve equitable restoration that enhances environmental justice in Michigan’s most socially diverse region.

For over one hundred years, the Rouge River has been a vital component of southeastern Michigan's industrial machine. It has transported goods to and from faraway places, provided hydropower, and received enormous amounts of industrial and municipal waste. Affected to this day by the wounds of that abuse, the Rouge struggles to heal as it faces a larger adversary: development and sewage from its densely populated, concrete-encased watershed. A history of segregation and environmental injustice within the watershed complicates the restoration of the Rouge River as those communities situated on the most degraded parts of the river are also those with the fewest resources to do anything about it. This situation leaves the Rouge and its citizens with some complicated questions regarding its shifting identity: is it a sewer, a lost cause, or an untapped recreational resource? Who decides? And who pays for these changes?



Mackenzie Dalton, Alexandra Eason, Catherine Kim, Esther Ladkau, and Hunter Schotts

Midland, Michigan: Confronting Chemical Contamination

Concern over toxic pollution from Dow Chemical’s plant in Midland, Michigan, pushes environmental activists and government agencies to clean up contamination in the face of corporate cover-ups, legal disputes, and conflicts of interest.

Similar to other industrialized areas around the Great Lakes, Midland, Michigan, has suffered from water pollution since the early 20th century. Chemical industries in Midland began using the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers to dispose of industrial waste in the early 1900s. The resulting toxins accumulated in the soil, fish, and wildlife, causing harm to both the environment and the people living and working in the region. As scientific and public awareness of water pollution increased throughout the U.S. and the Saginaw Bay area during the 1960s, government regulations and new federal environmental regulatory agencies helped limit the public health impact of toxic waste. Although progress to clean up and restore polluted areas has occasionally been confrontational and difficult, the efforts of local activists and environmental organizations have helped keep parties responsible for carrying out remedial actions for the Tittabawassee River.

This case examines the motivations and roles of Dow Chemical Co., bureaucratic agencies, and environmental NGOs in historical and modern activities involving chemical contamination in Midland, Michigan. From the manufacturing processes that produce toxic waste to the legislation that aims to prevent chemicals from contaminating bodies of water, we will look at historical and modern events that have shaped water quality in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers and led the way to a cleaner future.



Great Lakes Writers Corps

The Great Lakes Writers Corps was developed in conjunction with the University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Theme Semester, 2020. In this pilot program, scholars selected from across the curriculum completed a three-semester experiential course sequence in which they designed and undertook self-directed immersion research projects embedded in Great Lakes communities and then developed their findings into publishable text, audio, or multimedia nonfiction narratives.

The purpose of this course sequence, which will be offered again in 2022, is to learn and practice engaged literary journalism through–

  • Observation, Experience, & Community Engagement
  • Primary Source Interviews & Background Research
  • Interpretation & Storytelling 

Participants in the Great Lakes Writers Corps in 2020 included Audrey Jacobsen, Kianna Marquez, Kianna Marquez, Regan Monnett, Madison Murdoch, Miriam Saperstein, Kathryn Sullivan, Kate Walsh, Ben Biber with faculty Molly Beer and Katy Rossing.