By Stephanie Garbarino, a recipient of The Frank Cianciola Work Excellence scholarship, awarded annually to an outstanding student employee who works in the Michigan Union. It is named in honor of Frank Cianciola, former Michigan Union Director and Senior Associate Vice President for Student Life.
No matter where you roam on campus in Ann Arbor, the words "the Michigan Difference" are found throughout any given classroom, building, or program. Of course, with thousands of undergraduate and graduate students that populate this vibrant community, these words could not possibly strike the same chord in each and every individual who claims to undergo the Michigan experience. What, then, is the “Michigan Difference” to me? How can I define how my Michigan experience has not only impacted my life, but changed who I am as an individual?
Ultimately, my own, personal "Michigan Difference" has been shaped through my experiences working within the University Unions – the doorway to a plethora of vibrant cultural and informational journeys. When I first started working for the Center for Campus Involvement, I was thrown into running a program on campus called "dance nights," in which student dance organizations taught basic lessons for students on campus. As I sat through break dancing, swing, bhangra and belly dancing lessons, I was not only exposed to a new form of body art, but a whole new culture. The same was true for my next program undertaking: film connections. In this program students who wanted to show an educational film collaborated with the Center to share a message with the campus community. Needless to say, my eyes were open to issues I had never known to exist – from animal rights to problem of gangs in Latin America.
Each and every semester, I've opened myself up to new experiences that are offered here at Michigan. I became involved with Women's Forum, a program for women on campus seeking to empower women, promote dialogue, and raise awareness of women's experiences. Having been given complete creative control, I began to see the possibilities laid out before me to enrich not only my own knowledge about women's rights, but to eventually affect the impact I can have on others. My passion for Women's Forum events began to shape my educational experiences at the university, and that same year I declared a Women's Studies minor in gender and health. Only in my third year, I began to feel that there was simply not enough time to experience everything Michigan has to offer.
In my fourth and final year working for the University Unions, I have continued old programs, and tackled new ones. Ultimately, all of these experiences have shaped how I see the world. Were it not for my own Michigan experience, I am almost certain that my viewpoints and opinions would not have left the vicinity of my own backyard. Of course, while I cannot be passionate or active regarding all the issues and cultures the Michigan campus has exposed to me, I have learned that there is a lot to be gained simply by exposure, listening, and involvement.