Growing up in Novi, Caitlin Kozak came to Detroit for what she calls "touristy" reasons -- Tigers games and other events -- and wasn't familiar with the city beyond that.

But that's changing now that the University of Michigan junior is spending the semester in Detroit, taking classes and volunteering with community groups for U-M course credits.

"I'm interested in urban planning issues, so I'm learning a lot about that," she said Tuesday.

Kozak was among dozens of people at the university's Detroit Center on Tuesday afternoon. The center, located at Orchestra Place, is the most visible symbol of the university's presence in the city, said Addell Austin Anderson, the center's director. The center has been open since 2005.

On Thursday, the university's ties to Detroit will be celebrated when the U-M Board of Regents transports its regular monthly meeting east from Ann Arbor to the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit. On the agenda are reports from a variety of Detroit-based university programs.

"Detroit is our birthplace, having been founded there in 1817," U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said in a letter posted to a new Web site developed by U-M to tout its ties to Detroit. "As we approach our bicentennial, the university's bonds with the city and metropolitan area are deep and strong."

Most U-M programs are run out of the Detroit Center.

"This is the gateway for the Ann Arbor campus to the city, but also for the metropolitan area to the Ann Arbor campus," Anderson said.

Among the offices is an admissions center, run by Tyrone Winfrey, who also is a Detroit school board member. He said the center works with schools from Detroit and the surrounding areas, not only to get students into U-M, but also into college in general.

Between 150 and 200 Detroit Public Schools students apply to U-M each year, Winfrey said, with between 80 and 90 enrolling.

Another interaction between DPS and U-M comes in the Michigan Engineering Zone, where 13 teams of Detroit students are building robots to compete in FIRST Robotics competitions, learning from a combination of retiree volunteers, industry workers and university engineering students. Between 75 and 80 students can be found in the large shop room each night.

As for Kozak, she's excited about what else she is going to learn during her 12-week program in Detroit.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything," she said. "I think the key is not to come in thinking you're going to save the city, but just interacting with the city and learning from what's here."

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or