Student Life

decorated fireplace

The Koessler Room at the Michigan League was set up with chairs  and couches in loose rows facing the two armchairs where President Coleman and Vice President Harper would be sitting.  As students started to arrive, many of them delightedly commented on the fact that, yes, there was an actual fireplace as a backdrop for the Fireside Chat.  Students from various campus organizations talked animatedly while waiting for the Chat to begin.

  • Introductions
    • President Coleman: We have these Fireside Chats about once a month.  We invite people because we want to get the word out that we do it, because you’ve come to our attention, and because we want to meet our students.  Also, it’s a chance for us to hear what’s on your minds.
    • VP Harper: Sometimes people get invited to the Fireside Chats because they’ve complaining, so if that’s you…
    • President Coleman: Have at it!

 

  • Student: I was just reading about the Third Century Initiative, and that sounds very exciting.  Can you tell me about that?  Also I’m in the theater program and we’re wondering how we can get involved with the social aspects of that initiative.
    • President Coleman: Let me first explain what the Third Century Initiative is exactly.  This is something I had announced a few weeks ago.  The idea—which was generated by brainstorming with our Provost, Phil Hanlon—is to stimulate students with immersive learning where you’re active rather than just sitting in the classroom. We’ve sequestered about 50 million dollars over five years and we’re getting proposals with how to enrich experiences for students.  We also really want to stimulate our faculty to tackle existing societal problems.  Particularly we’d like them to take on problems that are just big and tough so we can make a substantial impact in society.

 

  • Student:  The first thing that struck me about the University of Michigan was how beautiful it is.  My dad works at a small college, and that’s what I grew up being pushed towards.  I loved Michigan because it has the benefit of being a large institution but surprisingly didn’t feel like a huge school.
    • President Coleman: So it has fulfilled your expectations—everything what you wanted?
    • Student: Exactly.
    • 2nd Student: I didn’t actually want to come here [to Michigan]. California was my dream…sunny beaches (The room laughed appreciatively at the student’s very longing tone).  My vision of the University of Michigan was actually a castle by a lake with snow throughout the year.  That didn’t exactly turn out to be true, but I’ve grown to love it.
    • President Coleman: What did you come here to study (speaking to the second student)?
    • 2nd Student: I’m majoring in electrical engineering.
    • 3rd Student:  I’m a first year as well, and I actually experienced Hurricane Katrina. 
    • President Coleman: What’s it been like experiencing first the hurricane and then the rebuilding?
    • 3rd Student: It’s a lot like what Detroit is doing now.  They’re coming back.
    • 4th Student: I’m in my first year at U of M as a grad student, but I went to MSU for undergrad.
    • President Coleman: And then you saw the light? (The room laughed and the student smiled appreciatively.)  I started college majoring in chemistry, and it never occurred to me that I would end up as a university president.  That just goes to show that you never know what opportunities will show up… I like to say you save the best for last and that’s how I ended up here.  I love that Michigan has taken its big-ness and worked it to its benefit. We’ve taken advantage of this small setting to make a very large student population feel smaller

 

  • President Coleman: Tell us about you (addressing a student in the front row).
    • Student: I’m from Kalamazoo.  I was picking between Kalamazoo College and the University of Michigan, and the more I looked the more I saw that the opportunities coming here were just better. I was nervous. It’s a massive school, but now that I’m on campus you make friends and see people you know all over the place.  It’s really amazing how small it can feel—I love it.
    • President Coleman: Tell us about you (addressing a second student).
    • 2nd Student: I’m a grad student.  I did my undergrad at Georgia Tech, and it was the biomed program here that drew me—it’s amazing.  It’s also rigorous, but I love it.  North Campus is really quiet, but the bustle of Central Campus makes up for it.
    • President Coleman: You! (Addressing a third student.)
    • 3rd Student: I’m a first year master’s student.
    • President Coleman: What attracted you here?
    • 3rd Student: It’s a great school, and it had the programs that I wanted.
    • President Coleman: You! (Addressing a fourth student.)
    • 4th Student: I’m a transfer student from China.  Once I got here I realized how much more amazing it was than I could have thought.  It took me till then to realize how many resources and opportunities exist at U of M.  I constantly feel like I’m moving forward and meeting new people. I studied in Shanghai and originally just wanted a change in the weather…
    • President Coleman: Yes, there’s a little problem with smog in Shanghai that they haven’t quite worked out yet.
    • Student: If you lived in a dorm there, you feel like you’re living in a refugee camp.  I like it much better here.

 

  • Student: I’m part of the Student Sustainability Initiative.  I’d like to hear your feedback on one of our projects.  There’s a study that students between age nineteen and twenty-five are as unhappy as they’ve ever been.  Because of that, I’m trying to bring a happiness report card to U of M to figure out if we can improve students’ happiness and experience overall. 
    • President Coleman: This reminds me of Professor Peterson who works in positive psychology—one of his colleagues visited a few years ago and expressed the opinion that nations are so obsessed with measuring GDP that they neglected to measure perception of wellbeing within a population.  I believe he’s been working on a program with the army to help soldiers in a similar way.  It’s really very interesting and, you’re right, something we certainly need to monitor closely.
    • VP Harper: We do have a very nice Wellness Zone in the third floor of the Union. If you have seasonal depression, they actually have special lighting installed there to help treat it.  I spent some time there, and I noticed that it made my anxiety better.  We also have physical wellness programs for many of the same reasons.  What are students unhappy about?
    • Student: There are worries about financial issues, constraints on our time, the fact that relationships are very important to us as humans and sometimes college isn’t conducive to developing those relationships.
    • President Coleman: That’s very interesting.  Let’s continue this conversation afterwards.

 

  • Student: Thank you for supporting MPowered Entrepreneurship—we’re about to hit 1500 pitches.  I just want to say thanks for the support.  I spent my summer working on an entrepreneurship, and I was really impressed to see your name on a lot of different initiatives.  What we’re wondering is if there’s anything we can do as your school to help you.
    • President Coleman: We had an idea to put together a group of people ranging from academia to government in order to create ideas to spur improvements in society.  There’s the believe that we need to return to entrepreneurship since it’s how we started.  America started with entrepreneurism, and we as a nation did really well.  We were happy doing so well and continued advancing to the point where it now takes less people to accomplish certain things.  That leads to loss of jobs and a far less happy populace.  Last year one project was getting about 135 universities to agree to enhance entrepreneurial efforts.  U of M is doing more than most places, and we’re finding that students are interested. They want to understand how they can take these techniques—in all areas, not just technology alone—and utilize them.  But to answer your question, I need to hear what you need.  Get your suggestions to me.

 

  • Student: For my internship I’m working in the Dean of Students Office doing critical incidents work.  I’m really getting to see the interworking of the University, and I’m so impressed with how progressive the University is and how on top of current issues they are.
    • President Coleman: I love every university I’ve been at, but what U of M does so well is try to anticipate rather than react. That’s where Vice President Harper comes in and where we see how good she is. We as a university say, “How can we position ourselves not to be surprised rather than finding ourselves in a position where we’re reacting?”
    • Second Student: I know critical incidents work really arose from the Virginia Tech shootings.
    • Third Student: I was actually at Virginia Tech when the shootings occurred, and what many students were angry about was that they never received an email. The shootings happened at seven, and I was in class at nine which I obviously wouldn’t have gone to if I’d known.  As it was, I had no idea what was going on.
    • President Coleman: We’re a big University.  Things are going to happen.  You can’t hide your head in the sand and pretend otherwise, so we try as best we can to anticipate the possibilities.

 

  • Student: I’m a junior in the School of Public Policy and in MPowered.  In the last ten years Lansing has seen an enormous economic downturn, and cuts to higher education really concern me.  What are we doing to maintain diversity?
    • President Coleman: I came here in 2002, and there’s been a budget cut every year I’ve been here…I hope it’s not because I’m here (She and the students laugh).  We’re working constantly to make sure that if you get in here, we can find a way to make sure your family can afford it.  We know people are scared to take on loans, and 70% of our undergrads get financial aid from us. It is based on need—20 years ago scholarships used to be nearly entirely merit based, but now it’s largely need based.  We’ve got a lot more scholarships than we used to have. For in-state students, it’s guaranteed that we will find a way for you to afford an education here.  We’re still working for out of state—things can always be better.  A lot of stuff we’re doing with sustainability, IT rationalization, changing retirement, etc. etc. etc., is because it’s saving us hundreds of millions of dollars to help us help our students.
    • Second Student: A friend of mine, whose family is in the lower socioeconomic range, got in to U of M and was seriously stressing out about how he was going to pay.  He got need based scholarships and was completely covered.
    • President Coleman:  That’s what I really like to hear.

 

  • Student: I have a grad school funding question: I don’t know if you guys are aware, but there’s an initiative to unionize the GSRAs on campus to make sure our benefits would never get cut.  My question is whether or not the University has any control over how we get paid.  I believe the grant comes from the federal government and then goes to the school.
    • President Coleman:  The University has a policy that GSRAs’ pay will always be the same—I don’t understand the issue.
    • Student: There’s a fear the University will cut funding in hard times.
    • President Coleman: I can’t really comment on that, but I can tell you what our policy has always been and that we’ve always tracked it the same way.

 

  • Student: I’m curious where you get your news from.  Do you read certain magazines…?
    • President Coleman: If I don’t get my paper newspapers in the morning, I freak out.  I read The Detroit Free Press and The New York Times every morning.  If I don’t, I feel like I’m naked when I go out the door.  I read The Michigan Daily and check in online with CNN and a few other online sources.
    • Student: No NPR?
    • President Coleman: Oh of course! I wake up listening to NPR.

 

  • Student: In the Inter Fraternity Council we work really hard to make the social scene safer, but still a good time.  What’s the administration’s view on Greek life and how we can improve?
    • President Coleman: I’m glad you’ve made the point that you want to make things safer. I worry deeply about safety within Greek life.
    • VP Harper: Three issues: 1. Safety.  2. I’m concerned about the fact that students pledge to sororities and fraternities about four to five weeks into the school year.  If you don’t get in and don’t have many friends yet, you feel rejected.  You’ve been here for barely a month, and you already feel like you’re nothing.  How can we make that less devastating—it’s such a personal rejection.  3. We also noticed how in the dorms it tears up the floors.  Say for example two roommates are in a sorority/fraternity and one is out.   
    • Second Student: On your second point, I was a winter pledge.  I did first semester normally, learned about the university, and then decided to join. Other universities do it that way only.
    • VP Harper: If I could wave a magic wand fix and it, that’s exactly what I’d change.
    • Third Student: I’m from Massachusetts, and I knew maybe one person coming here. I loved rush—you meet a ton of people just going through it, and it was a great experience for me.
    • Fourth Student: One thing you could do is have people brainstorm ideas to improve the rush process. It’s so outdated.

 

  • Student: I read that you guys are getting a partnership with Google.  What are the implications of that?
    • President Coleman: We have all these email systems on campus, forty-two or forty-five, something crazy.  It’s inefficient.  It was great when email first started, but at this day in age Google can offer it to us at a much better cost with much better features.  The contracts have been signed and I think we’ll save a whole bunch of money when this rolls out next year. We’ll try to do it slowly, we know when things happen quickly people freak out, and we certainly don’t want that.
    • Student: What does it mean to merge the emails?
    • President Coleman: There are people who know a whole lot more about this than I do. The goal is to give you what you need while saving money for the University.

 

  • Student: Regarding Wolverine Access, I was wondering if for each course that a student puts in his/her backpack, it could be recorded so we know where student demand is located.  Currently you don’t get put on a waitlist until you actually register.
    • President Coleman: A few years ago we saved the money to hire fifty more professors in areas of high student demand, but you’re right, that would be a great way to identify particular classes students want to take from semester to semester.
    • Second Student: I would like to express opinion that I hate distribution requirements.
    • President Coleman: You should bring it up with the faculty.  We leave all those decisions to them.  There is also a student government within LSA that you can bring it up with to generate a change.

 

  • Student: So you said you have a science background.  I’m also premed, and I’m wondering how you feel about the school’s ability to prepare us for what’s next?
    • President Coleman: I have to trust that the faculty is doing its best to prepare you when you get to the next level, whatever it may be.  I’ve heard back from so many students who said U of M was excruciatingly difficult, but they say that when they get to grad school they felt so well prepared. Because of that, I have to trust that the faculty is doing something right.

 

  • Student: Other universities equivalent to ours have showcases for their actors, and that’s what we’ve been pushing for.  There are so many initiatives to help the research based students get jobs, and we want the same treatment for theater.  We’ve been going to Advisory Boards in an attempt to get it.
    • President Coleman: I think you’re going about it in exactly the right way—working together with your department chair to get your proposal heard.  I don’t know enough about it to say whether it’s a good idea or not.
    • Student: We want to be on your radar. We want to be like Ross. If you go through the Ross Business School and do well, you’re getting a job—a damn good one. We want the same thing for a theater showcase.  We’re basically asking what the University is going to do for me after four years of working my butt off here.
    • President Coleman: I thought your arguments at the Advisory Board meetings were very persuasive, so keep going for it.

 

  • Student: I’m an RA at North Campus.  The Residential Life Initiatives have done so much to improve student life.
    • President Coleman: We’re always looking to see what more we can do to improve student life.  Let us know if you have ideas.  It looks like we’re out of time, but thank you so much for coming!  I’ve learned so much from all of you today. 

 

Close.

 

This Fireside Chat took place in the Koessler Room of the Michigan League.

If you are a current student and would like to attend a future Fireside Chat, please contact Lindsey Ferguson at linlajoi@umich.edu or by calling our office at (734)764-5132.