U-M program at Marygrove leaps into connecting college and community

The University of Michigan Marsal Family School of Education is offering a new bachelor’s degree that blends the world-changing capabilities of a leading public research university with community-based learning on the beautiful Marygrove Conservancy campus in Detroit. The new degree — Learning, Equity, and Problem Solving for the Public Good  (LEAPS) — builds on the existing partnership between the U-M Marsal School, Detroit Public Schools Community District, Starfish Family Services, Marygrove Conservancy, and The Kresge Foundation. 

This new program — LEAPS — will be offered by the Marsal School beginning in the fall of 2024. LEAPS is an interprofessional, four-year program leading to a U-M bachelor’s degree in education that prepares graduates to be learning leaders in a world that presents challenges that defy simple solutions. Professors Barry Fishman and Leslie Ruppert Herrenkohl serve as the founding faculty co-directors of the new program. They have partnered with Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje and Associate Dean Kendra Hearn as well as a large group of faculty, staff, and students to develop this new major. 

“A lot of programs focus on knowledge and skills, which are important,” says Herrenkohl, “but we believe that LEAPS will become known for focusing on wisdom, or how and when to put knowledge and skills to good use in contexts that matter. I think more than ever, at this moment in history, we need people who are able to be human in places where technical skills are absolutely necessary, but not enough.”

Jay Meeks, a Marygrove community resident and the LEAPS program manager, says that students emerge as “learning leaders”, prepared to work in a variety of places and careers in addition to the traditional classroom. LEAPS is about bringing more versatility and possibility to what a degree in education can mean to a student as they enter the workforce. LEAPS students engage with the study of learning and education through a process of applying their classroom learning to real-world challenges in urban settings and beyond. 

The LEAPS major represents the first time in the school’s history that first-year students will be admitted directly into the Marsal School. LEAPS learners will spend their freshman year living in dorms and taking classes on the Marygrove Conservancy campus in Detroit. Most students will move to the UM-Ann Arbor campus in their second year, while continuing to have experiences in—and build relationships with — the Detroit community throughout their course of study.

Students will take part in experiential and place-based instruction led by U-M faculty as well as Detroit community members and institutions. The learning experience will prepare students to be leaders, facilitators, and change agents who know how to make progress in the face of uncertainty, working to address persistent social and systemic inequities and knowledge gaps that thwart transformative change at all levels of society. 

LEAPS will engage students in apprenticeship-based learning through community-based research projects and collaborations from the moment they enter the university, through the completion of a culminating capstone project. Throughout all four years of the program, students will engage in research- and practice-based apprenticeships. 

The curriculum consists of courses focusing on how people learn and how to address different kinds of societal questions with a range of research methods. “The focus is on how we answer questions,” says Fishman, “At its core, this is what a research university is built to do.” But it's also something that we very rarely teach undergraduates directly. In LEAPS, students engage with problem-solving right away. We want students to be able to help community-based organizations answer their questions and make progress on the problems and challenges that they face. That will be a core part of being prepared to participate in the research mission of the university.”

LEAPS partnerships will center community members as full participants in knowledge building and in shaping program experiences as key stakeholders through roles such as community educators, scholars, and artists. Community members are and will continue to be invited to learn more about and actively shape the kinds of engaged scholarship pursued by U-M, opening up new pathways for future engagement, including through undergraduate and graduate study with U-M. 

Graduates of the new bachelor's degree program will be prepared to pursue careers in management, community action, health care professions, legal professions, entrepreneurship, community action, business and, of course, teaching. They could also build careers as educational advocates and work as advisors or consultants in efforts to become decision-makers in different facets of education.

“We believe that our graduates will be well versed in what they know, but also prepared to be able to articulate and demonstrate
what they know after completing our program,” says Meeks.

The first cohort of LEAPS students will apply to the University of Michigan Marsal Family School of Education in fall 2023 and start their Marygrove residency in fall 2024. 

"Having the LEAPS program from UM-Ann Arbor on our campus will provide excellent opportunities to connect college freshmen with the community.  After renovations to the classroom spaces and dorms are completed, and those areas are activated with the first round of students, our campus will serve infants to freshman scholars (from the University of Michigan). I'm thrilled to be a part of how this campus is evolving into a community campus," says Robbie Walker, the Director of Operations and Strategy. 

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