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Research, education, service: How we spent our summer vacation

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

From rural America to a remote village in Africa, and places in between, many University of Michigan students spent the summer months immersed in research, education and service.

Two students from the School of Music Theatre & Dance and the Stamps School shared their engaged learning experiences that included teaching locals about water filtration and technology, and learning about the culture and life experiences of people quite different from themselves.

Ian Crowley, a Stamps School of Art & Design senior focused on sustainable design and community engagement, has traveled to Gabon, in Africa, two summers in a row to help locals in one village.

He and three other students from the school, with faculty member Joe Trumpey, delivered ceramic water filters and taught a group of students and some of the area residents how to use them.

One of the lessons Crowley took away from the experience is the role of outsiders in lending a hand.

“Being able to serve people is something I find really fulfilling,” he said. “But, also kind of taking a step back and realizing you are in someone else’s home, in somebody else’s country, trying to figure out what the best way to serve them is, or if they even want you there. So these are really difficult and interesting things to consider when you are doing this kind of work.

“One of the big things that I’ve learned about this is that I absolutely need to be working with other people. I’m really interested in design but not necessarily clean cut product design. I’m interested in design that is going to help people in their daily lives.”

Johnny Mathews, III spent the summer working in the administrative office of Urban Bush Women in New York City. The School of Music, Theatre & Dance student, who is a dance major and performing arts management minor, said the work helped him understand all that goes on behind the scenes of a major production.

His responsibilities included organizing many of the details for participants in the organization’s Summer Leadership Institute, which culminated with performances held at New York University. Mathews also got to participate in the institute.

The arts organization uses dance to share “the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people,” according to its website. A large part of the institute was dedicated to talking about race and the arts.

“This experience made me think about how inaccessible art is for disenfranchised people, whether it be due to cost or content, we need to continue to work towards making art an experience for all,” Mathews said.

“By being immersed in the administrative team for most of my internship and then being involved in the Summer Leadership Institute with current and past members of the company, I was able to witness first hand Urban Bush Women’s commitment to sharing the stories of peoples in the African Diaspora and to engage with their community. Through discussion about people’s identities, I better understand and recognize my identities and have gained some new tools to better express those identities in my art making.”

For more information on the Engaged Learning Initiative at U-M, visit the Engaged Michigan website.

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