Universities, especially public universities, are places that change lives. Teenagers from around the world arrive at them, each with their own strengths, interests, insecurities, and big challenges. And just a few years later, these young adults leave their universities, ready to tackle the world. There is still some trepidation, there is respect, but there is a security that comes from knowing that they have unusual knowledge, special experiences, and a whole bunch of opportunities waiting for them. Most importantly, as part of their university experience, these young professionals have learned how to interact with people who are not like them, and have grown as individuals from those encounters.
Much has been written about higher education, especially at public universities like the University of Michigan. Yet, most of this work focuses entirely on one type of relationship, which is at the center of universities: the relationship between students and their professors. Nobody questions the importance of this relationship, but working in a university is about much more.
Universities require infrastructure and personnel to make them run. This aspect of the university has almost nothing to do with professors, and very little to do with students. All day, there are custodians, maintenance workers, campus police, bus-drivers, and health professionals that make the university go and keep students safe. Many of these workers do not have degrees from the University of Michigan, yet they still play crucial roles in the daily operation of this campus. There are also administrative, financial staff and—most importantly—staff who are often better educated than most professors to deal with special needs of students. Sometimes these needs relate to career planning, other times they are about mental health or dealing with financial difficulties. These staff members are the ones that support faculty and students in their research administration; without them, there is not one research grant to work on, not one invention, not one startup company.
Yet, there are even more individuals that enable students to have rich university experiences. There are grateful alumni who give back and support both students and the university. Many current student workers and volunteers become active in their environments and enable businesses in the vicinity of the university. In fact, the impact of this workforce and the research is a life-changing force for the entire region and the entire state. Most areas of economic growth nationally have at their center an active, engaged university.
The key purpose of M-BARC is to celebrate the University and the life-changing impact it has had on the surrounding community over the past 200 years. But, M-BARC seeks to do so by exploring and documenting the social network and interactions at the heart of the University of Michigan. We will never understand our university in the future if we don’t examine the diverse, expansive community that makes daily life here possible. There is value in seeking to understand the collective experience of a university, one where people come together each day to build an experience unmatched in the nation, an experience that changes people’s lives.