Making a Difference: Detroit Connections

Detroit Connections is a suite of courses that take Stamps students, staff, and faculty into two partner schools in Detroit for weekly art workshops and collaborative projects with Detroit youth.

Thanks to Charlie Michaels for sharing the following updates:

Detroit Connections: Change By Design

September 7:
The semester in Change by Design is off to an action-packed start. Our students began with a team-building project to design and pitch a “better ramen noodle” experience. After eating ramen noodles on their own and then at a restaurant with their group outside of class, students were asked to pitch a new and improved eating experience to the class with a physical prototype descriptive of their idea.

Moving forward into the semester, student groups designed and floated small vessels on the Huron river in preparation for a collaborative boat-building project we will work on with our high school partners at Detroit Community High. While the UM students made ambitious floating vessels out of cheap materials, they worked with our high school partners to design and float smaller vessels out of found materials. Student teams had approximately half an hour to construct a floating vessel and float them in trays of water. We tested the weight bearing capacity of each teams vessel using pennies. The winning boat held 49 pennies!

In the coming weeks both groups will work together to build a functioning catamaran out of wood and oil drums that can be launched on the Rouge River, which flows through the neighborhood directly behind the school. This ambitious project is based on plans given to us by David Murphy, a University of Michigan alum who designed and built a similar catamaran out of oil drums and wood. His mission: to enable Third World fishermen to build a safe, reliable, seaworthy cataraman out of cheap locally accessible materials. This inexpensive fishing boat would increase productivity by allowing the fishermen to reach deeper waters, helping them to sustainably feed their families. Plans for Murphy's catamaran will be distributed through the Peace Corps and other humanitarian groups to communities wherever the project might be useful. The ship that David build will sail from Connecticut to Haiti along inland waterways. Learn more about his project here.

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October 7:
Change by Design students have been continuing these past few weeks on their collaborative catamaran building. Divided into two groups, students alternated days working together on the boat and going for walks around the neighborhood together. By arming them with drills and saws we’re building skills and confidence in our high school partners while empowering them to take on such an ambitions project with us. The boat is coming along slowly but surely – we have an interested group of DCH students that Nick and Charlie are continuing to work with on Friday mornings to finish the boat while UM students move on to begin work on their final projects in groups.

On their walks around the neighborhood, student groups were given disposable cameras and notebooks with the talk of documenting things of interest and making notes and observations with a beginners mind. After out walks, we returned with the developed photos and compared notes and images in small groups. UM students facilitated conversations about the photos, which resulted in new discoveries about how our high school partners perceive and understand the neighborhood surrounding the school and their lives in other parts of the city.

We’re using the conversations that stem from the neighborhood photographs to launch into discussions about the future ambitions and dreams of our high school partners. Questions like “What is something unrealized in your life?” and “If you could do anything right now, what would you do?” formed the basis this week for developing a personal identity “crest” from past, present, and future goals. Students were then asked to make a simple, wearable object that represented these ambitions – or imagine a device that would help them get where they want to go.

All of these conversations and activities are pointing our student groups in the direction of developing collaborative human centered design projects that respond in some way to the lives, conditions, dreams, and desires of our high school partners.

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Detroit Connections: in the Classroom

September 7:
Melanie’s course is working with Mr. Cieslik’s 4th grade class at Bennett Elementary School. Enrollment is high this semester with 20 UM students enrolled in the class and 25 4th graders. Their first day involved introductions, dividing into groups, getting to know each other, making nametags, and receiving their sketchbooks.

On their second day of class together, our students led their 4th grade partners through a drawing assignment that asked them to transform an everyday object into something new and imaginative by interpreting the object’s shape and form in a new way. For instance, a roll of scotch tape becomes a sea worthy ship, or a pair of scissors becomes a monkey in the jungle. We posted the drawings on the wall inside the cafeteria for the school to see - right next to the food murals by last winter’s class.

As always, our Bennett 4th graders are energetic and appreciative of what we do!

October 7:
Over the past few weeks our college students and their 4th grade partners have been creating characters and stages for group puppet shows. College students led their partners in building puppets out of found and recycled materials: paper bags, plates, etc., and asked them to be as descriptive as possible about the puppet they were creating. While their puppets took shape, each student came up with a name, personality and story to accompany their new character.

After the individual puppets were made and their personalities formed, each group worked together to construct a story involving every character in the group. Together they came up with a setting, storyline, and basic script from which they constructed props and puppet stages out of cardboard and paper. Each group performed their puppet show for the rest of the class and their teacher Mr. Ceslick.

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