The 2019 Michigan Road Scholars Tour took 28 faculty from three campuses to 23 meetings in ten cities across the state. We met judges, politicians, nurses, administrators, educators, and business owners. This trip exceeded my expectations by a mile and I feel like all Michigan faculty should go on this trip.
What makes this trip so unique is the large number of intense conversations you have in rapid succession. Because the visits are highly concentrated, you’re able to see themes and patterns more easily. Here are seven themes that emerged from the trip:
1. Entrepreneurs can have an impact anywhere they go. An entrepreneurial mindset is critically important and needed in every sector and in every community. My perspective was valued at every step of the tour, especially because the faculty who opt to go on this trip value new approaches and collaboration. I believe there should be a CFE faculty member on that bus every year from now on. Fun fact: Did you know Eastern Market in Detroit is launching a food-centric startup accelerator? Cool, right?
2. Selling skills are needed in every setting. It didn’t matter whether we were in a government building, a startup incubator, thriving non-profit, big city, or small town – everybody needs to sell their ideas and recruit resources to get the job done. Seeing this was a great reminder to focus on helping students develop selling skills and to see selling as a positive thing that everybody needs to learn.
3. Communities with high speed Internet punch above their weight class. Access to high-speed internet is the #1 difference between communities that are thriving and those being left behind. Access to high speed internet is today what access to electricity and indoor plumbing were a century ago. For example, Traverse City has the most robust tech scene of any city in Northern Michigan and also the best internet. People who can live and work from anywhere in the world choose to be there and build companies. Nearby St. Ignace, equally as beautiful and beloved by those who know it, is struggling to attract workers and housing developers to help take the community into the next century. Many factors account for this difference, but nothing would level the playing field better than fast internet. I plan to explore this more in the months ahead – if you can help please let me know.
4. Most human knowledge and interesting stories are still in people’s brains and not accessible online. More than half the things we saw could have been learned online, but the interesting bits – the stuff that made it memorable – were the stories and perspectives you get by spending time with people. I’m torn about what to do about that. Half of me wants to begin a project like StoryCorps-on-steroids to record the lessons and stories inside people’s brains everywhere. There’s some missing platform to facilitate the collection and sharing of oral histories for companies, families, communities. The desire to archive and share collective knowledge is universal. But another part of me wants to go in the complete opposite direction – to unplug from technology completely and spend my life traveling and luxuriating in the inefficiency. Not sure where to go with this one. Need to think on it a bit more.
5. Putting kids in jail seems like a bad idea. My most enduring memory from the trip is seeing a twelve year old kid in a juvenile detention center wearing an orange jumpsuit. My son is twelve so it really hit me. The staff at the detention center were friendly and nice but the whole premise of the institution was obviously not designed with the kids in mind. I know embarrassingly little about the criminal justice system but my interest is piqued and I look forward to reading and exploring this topic more.
6. Collaboration is harder than it sounds. I’ve always heard that U-M has a decentralized structure, which forces each of the programs to be strong in their own right. I felt that strength in every conversation with faculty on the bus – these conversations were my favorite part of the trip. But I don’t observe any incentives to collaborate in any meaningful way outside of your department. There was a lot of talk about collaborating but when resources get tight everyone retreats back to the work inside their own department. This is my impression based on a few dozen conversations over a week – not any sort of complete evaluation using data – so take it with a grain of salt. If you think I’m off base on this or have a solution to propose, please reach out to me directly.
7. The number of people doing good, meaningful work every day is staggering. Sometimes sitting at home reading the news it seems like the world is crumbling and everyone is inept. Our tour left me with exactly the opposite impression – in every organization and community we visited I was overwhelmed by the talent and dedication we saw. Frankly it made me feel a little self conscious about my own work ethic and impact. If you’re ever feeling bummed about what’s going on in the world, step out of your bubble and go travel. Talk to people. The world is full of inspiration and good news.
Other Road Scholars probably noticed different things and had different takeaways. We’re getting together in a few weeks to reminisce and catch up and I look forward to hearing what memories have endured for them. Stepping out of my bubble and sharing a meaningful experience with a group of interesting strangers was an investment in my career and life that I recommend to all. Keep your eyes open for the 2020 Road Scholar Tour application!
Brian Hayden has been an instructor with the CFE for the past five years. Check back for more updates about Brian’s journey around Michigan this summer.