History of Art faculty member Nicola Barham was one of thirty Michigan scholars selected to be part of the Michigan Roads Scholars tour for 2019.  The group spent a week living and travelling together in May throughout the state of Michigan, meeting members of the diverse communities that call Michigan home, and learning about their lives and work in various parts of the state.

“It really was an exciting, action-packed week”, Barham recalled.  We began with a personal tour of the remarkable superior energy and environmental design (LEED Gold-certified) automotive assembly plant in Delta township. It was great to hear the stories of workers on the shop-floor, to see the pride they took in the cars they were building, and to come to understand the complex systems of assembly co-ordination and quality control that are necessary to make the plant work.

Other memorable visits included a meeting with the staff of The Empowerment Plan, an NGO in Detroit that produces a durable and innovative coat that transforms into a sleeping bag, and works to break the cycle of homelessness through employment and training for homeless parents. “The energy of the place was electric at the moment the staff met their weekly target”, Barham remembered. “It was a privilege to learn about this visionary program that is transforming the lives of families while producing a revolutionary product that will provide protection for people who find themselves in situations of homelessness.” The coats are shipped across the globe.

A third key experience of the trip for Barham was meeting with a variety of communities and services in the town of St Ignace on the upper peninsula.  “We were able to tour the impressive facility of the Sault Tribal Health and Human Services Center,” Barham explained, “and to hear about the town’s community health services in action.”

In sum, Barham concluded that the trip was a special way to end her first year as a faculty member at Michigan, travelling alongside colleagues from across the divisions of the University to better get to know the state—and the student—we serve.  “We have a diverse body of students in our classrooms, many of them from the varied communities that make up the State”, Barham explained.  I feel much better positioned to serve our student body having seen the diversity of Michigan in all its industry, creativity and service.”

The Michigan Roads Scholars tour selects faculty from across the university to be part of this public outreach trip each year.