↑ top

Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC)

Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC) is an initiative exploring the benefits of multi-disciplinary teams at UM working on stakeholder-based community engagement efforts. During the semester-long process, students from different disciplines learn from each other as they collaborate on complex projects.

What is MECC?

The MECC initiative integrates multidisciplinary and civically oriented engaged learning simultaneously. It taps into existing courses and brings them together to work on related client-based projects rather than creating new courses. 

Taking that approach, the existing courses continue to serve the needs of the individual programs while also providing a vehicle for meta-disciplinary learning. 

MECC also coordinates and promotes collaborations of community partners with the goal of enhancing UM’s public service and outreach mission. The initiative is innovative and unique in its design.

MECC has worked within communities all around the state of Michigan. From exploring ways the Traverse City region could make progress on the workforce housing issue to partnering with local schools, stores, and neighborhood groups to improve living conditions around Metro Detroit to address the increasing need for refugee support, our projects are varied and speak to the ever-evolving community needs. Click here to learn more about past projects based on region.

Are you a community member looking for assistance with a complex project?  Are you a faculty member who is interested in collaborating with faculty and students from other disciplines on complex community projects? Contact us to learn more!

Current Projects

Chikaming Township Lakeshore Erosion

The Chikaming Township Lakeshore Erosion MECC project’s goal is to investigate and find environmentally sustainable solutions for managing the Lake Michigan shoreline as it faces increased erosion due to high lake levels, resulting in loss of public beaches. Our principal stakeholders are David Bunte, Township Supervisor and Doug Dow, Planning Commission from Chikaming Township as well as Thad Taylor, City Manager for the City of Manistee. Initial participating University of Michigan courses were led by Professor Richard Norton, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Professor Oday Salim, U-M Law School; and Professor Paul Seelbach, U-M School of Environment and Sustainability. We also work with Professor Erin Bunting and Professor Ethan Theuerkauf from Michigan State University's Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences.

Collaboration between the students and faculty from Taubman College, Michigan Law, and MSU during the winter 2021 semester produced an Environmental Planning Guidebook for Michigan’s Great Lakes Coastal Communities.

The Detroit River

The Detroit River is in large part the reason Michigan exists the way it does today. The river is the region's defining geographic feature, an international border, a major shipping route, the site of the busiest free trade crossing in the world and connects the largest 3 Great Lakes to the ocean, more than 750 miles away. The Detroit River has defined Michigan's oldest and biggest city, and for the last 100 years impacted the development of the world's largest concentration of the automobile industry. Many of the cultural and artistic elements and unique stories of the river's basin however, are often overlooked. It was the last vital link in the Underground Railroad to Canada, influenced the sounds of both MoTown and Movement, the largest techno music festival in the world, while also being home to Indigenous people who have lived along its shores continuously for the last 300+ years.

The Ambassador Bridge as seen from along the riverwalk in Detroit, photo by Melinda Verhage

The stated goal of the envisioned 2 year Detroit River MECC project is to provide the State of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources a template on how to best tell compelling, expandable and comprehensive narratives for all its special and historic places. Major themes to be addressed include the following: documenting existing pieces in the River's narrative infrastructure  and identifying what is missing, whose voices are not being heard, what is life like today along the river and how has it changed over the last generation, and what differences exist in policies, actions and laws between Canada and the U.S. that pertain to the river's well being. Exploring and framing the project's initial boundaries, the Fall 2020 semester, saw a cohort of valued stakeholders and UM courses, including literary journalism and urban planning, come together and collaborate. Now in its second semester, another UM course in science communications is joining the team to continue working on telling the story of the Detroit River.

Article by Greta Guest discussing the project

Design Summit 3

The Student Design Summit, hosted by the Cultural Center Planning Initiative, is an exciting opportunity for students to engage in contemporary design practices to re-conceptualize spaces in the community. The Design Summit is also hosting the Student Design Competition, which this year asks students to imagine how technology can be used to expand the outreach and impact of cultural institutions. More information can be found on their website.

Grand Traverse Community Scorecard (Advancing Sustainable Regional Growth through the Power of People & Metrics)

A multi-disciplinary team of graduate students from the University of Michigan’s School for the Environment and Sustainability is undertaking a 16-month project in support of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation’s newly formed Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan. The Coalition is composed of local leaders in Northwest Lower Michigan and their aim is to boost transformational change around identified regional sustainability goals through network collaboration and clear metrics tracked via a Regional Scorecard.

To best support the future of the Coalition, the student team interviewed community leaders across the Great Lakes to identify key strategies for kick starting and sustaining actionable change toward sustainability goals. The students will compile their results in a series of case studies highlighting the challenges and successes from pioneering efforts toward sustainable change. Additionally, the students completed interviews with community members from the Grand Traverse region to provide local context and added relevancy to the Coalition. Together, these key local and regional interviews will form the basis of strong recommendations that can be applied to sustainability efforts locally and in other Great Lakes coastal communities.

This work began in 2019 and has occurred concurrently with several major short-term projects from other Schools within the University of Michigan. These include the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Information, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The project will officially conclude in April 2021.

For more information on the Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan, you can visit their website at https://nwmicommunitydevelopment.org/.

Improving Rural and Underserved Areas Access to Broadband

The Improving Rural and Underserved Areas Access to Broadband MECC project plans to work with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Connected Nation Michigan (CNMI) to provide a roadmap and framework to be presented to the Governor of Michigan including actionable items and economic breakdowns on how to best provide rural and underserved areas access to broadband. The winter 2021 semester will be laying the foundations for this 2 year project, with participating University of Michigan faculty including Edward Happ and his team from Data4Good as well as Cliff Lampe and his School of Information (UMSI) students.

MECC Contacts

Paul Fontaine, Program Manager/Lecturer
(248) 571-1926

Melinda Verhage, Project Manager
(858) 735-3158

Plan Your Future
Housing, Community, and Economic Development
Land Use and Environmental Planning
Physical Planning and Design
Transportation Planning
Global and Comparative Planning