Role of Higher Education in Detroit’s Revitalization

IMG_20130709_194637Detroit and its allies continue to strive for methods to remedy or at the very least mitigate the struggles that the city continues to face. In light of the city’s recent file for bankruptcy and its not-so-recent postindustrial hardships, community members turn to Higher Education as one of the ingredients for a better future for Detroit. Read more about this in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article, “Detroit, Bankrupt, Looks to Colleges as Partners in Recovery.” So, what do you think? What is the role of education in developing community or revitalizing Detroit?

Because The National Forum agrees that Higher Education certainly has a role in the restoration of Detroit, it has engaged initiatives such as the Building Our Leadership in Detroit (B.O.L.D.) project which provides consultation and research support for Marygrove College. This project ultimately aims to develop and support future leaders of the city who have potential for pushing social change. In addition, the Forum’s involvement in this feat  includes work with over 25 Local College Access Networks in the state meant to increase the number of students entering and graduating college.

Congratulations to Sean Eagle, Summer 2013 UROP Research Assistant at the Forum, on a successful poster presentation!

Sean Eagle,  the Forum’s Summer 2013 UROP student, presented his project poster recently on his work with uLEAD.  Over the course of the summer, Sean has researched the many problems that undocumented students face in Higher Education and it was this on which he presented on. 

What was your most memorable moment at the University of Michigan or the National Forum?My most memorable moment at the National Forum was John’s final meeting as Director of the Forum. People shared wonderful stories about John and there was a slide show with a very funny picture of him in Las Vegas. It was nice celebrating his legacy and seeing the position of Director being passed on to Betty.

What was your greatest achievement at the National Forum?

My greatest achievement at the National Forum was my presentation for UROP. I had been a part of and worked on many significant things relating to the uLEAD Network; however, this was something that showcased the culmination of all I had learned and worked on here at the Forum. I was able to present this to people who knew very little about the problems that undocumented students faced.

What was your biggest take away from the National Forum?
I have learned that it is best to create short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals to achieve a desired outcome. I have also realized that there are organizations out there like the Forum, where like-minded people can come together to tackle social issues found in our community.
What advice do you have for future students at the National Forum?
For future students, take the time to learn the culture here at the Forum. I have never been a part of an organization working for the better good of society. So, for someone completely new to this type of work environment, make sure to observe how the process works, the language used, and become familiar with things such as policies and practices relevant to whatever subject you are focused on.
What is your favorite part of the National Forum?
The people here are nice, genuine and very well-educated. It is great to work in an environment where everyone cares about the issues but also has a sense of humor.
What are your future plans and how did the National Forum contribute to that? 
My future plans are to transfer to a university, hopefully Michigan, and continue my education. The National Forum has made me consider a career that involves helping people on a larger scale, not so much on a case-by-case basis.
If there is one thing you’d like people to know about the National Forum, what would it be?
The people here are fun but professional. There is a lot of work done here at the National Forum and it is all for a good cause. 

Legendary Musician, John Feldkamp, Ascends to Associate Director of the Honors College at EMU

FeldkampThe National Forum is proud to announce the advancement of John Feldkamp in his career as Associate Director of the Honors College at Eastern Michigan University. With his drive and devotion to higher education, he achieved a rapid ascension from his position as Assistant Director on the technical staff to the administrative position he holds today. Having graduated from Eastern Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree back in 2007, John is honored to be back and making change happen at his Alma Mater. Before taking EMU by storm, he served at the National Forum for a year and a half while attaining his Masters Degree in Higher Education from the University of Michigan.

How is the transition going from Assistant Director to Associate Director?

You know, the first time you do something you get to try it, the second time around you get to critique it, and the third time around you really try your best to perfect it. So that’s in terms of the transition, I’d say that that’s where I’ve transitioned to. Now, it’s more about developing a program and experiences…being an office that goes beyond academic advising.

What would you say is your favorite part about the job?

There’s a few, but if I had to pick one I would say that it’s in the moment when you’re meeting with a student and hearing what their interests are. Encouraging them to take a certain class or professor, then, when that students takes that class and comes back and they say they loved it or have that professor come back and say they’re fantastic, it puts you in a place like…an offensive linemen. They’re not in the spotlight of the quarterback but the performance of the line as a whole is based on you. Sometimes the student may not know that you had a role in something and the professor may not know, but the idea that you had that role is so self gratifying. I guess what I’m saying is I like having an influence under the radar.

Where do you see yourself in future with respect to Higher Education?

I’m thinking hard. I’m currently deciding on whether to remain in administrative staff for a while or go back to school and do a doctoral program and work my way through academic affairs. That’s kind of the fork in the road that I will see in the future.

How long were you at the National Forum and what was your focus while working there?

I was there for a year and a half. The question presented in the project I was a part of was along the lines of: How can we retain Michigan students in Michigan upon graduation? Reportedly, Michigan was losing intellectuals upon graduation but ideally it would be really great to retain the talent that has been invested in. So, John Burkhardt really wanted to find a link between student service or service form among college students and increased likelihood or odds of staying in Michigan. So, the research I did was a part of that overarching question.

What would you say was one thing you enjoyed about working for the National Forum?

I got the chance to work with great people. An example is John (Burkhardt). He’s passionate about the issues, makes it very personal, and instills this sense of altruism among the staff and students. He really does care about the things that he does. It’s very powerful when making things meaningful for everybody.

Anything you’d like to tell younger generations of students in education?

Be able to relate to people you don’t know. I enjoy what I do…I think it presents challenges and excitements every day. But, that’s important. And that’s important to know. I think it should be where every moment when you’re on the job it’s something special.

Interview with a Graduate: Gina Gallagher

 Gina Gallagher

Gina-GallagherWhat was your most memorable moment at the University of Michigan or the National Forum?
The most memorable experience I had was working on the Once Upon a Time grant process. This project was undertaken through UM and CSHPE by way of Dr. Burkhardt’s philanthropy class. Everything from class discussions and picking nonprofits to planning the Impact conference was a hugely memorable experience for me. The project was a great synthesis of both my education at UM and the work done at the National Forum.

What was your greatest achievement at the National Forum?
There have been so many rewarding projects that I have had an opportunity to work on while at the National Forum.  In general, I am so proud of the work the Communications Team has done this year on the National Forum’s communications strategies—the work undertaken there now reaches a wider audience than ever and will continue to grow. Additionally, my work on the uLEAD project was such a wonderful experience—the website is already such an incredible resource for higher education practitioners, and I look forward to watching it grow even more after my departure.

What was your biggest take away from the National Forum?
One of the most valuable lessons I learned this year at the National Forum was the benefit of support from peers—not just from my colleagues, but from our spectacular “legendary musicians” who continue to support team members even after they have left their official roles at the National Forum. Legendary musicians are an incredible network of people, and I am very proud to be able to join their ranks.

What advice do you have for future students at the National Forum?
Take advantage of any opportunities presented to you—do not limit yourself just to your own research or your own team’s work. If you have an interest in any function of the National Forum outside of your own role, ask questions and join in the discussion. One of the many reasons that the National Forum is a uniquely rewarding place to work is that team members are allowed and encouraged to stretch their experiences and knowledge whenever possible.

What is your favorite part of the National Forum?
My favorite part of the National Forum was absolutely the people. I feel so grateful to have worked under our fearless leaders, Dr. John Burkhardt and Dr. Betty Overton. I was also very lucky to work with Amy Puffenberger, the Office Manager and leader of the Communications Team. In addition to the wonderful leadership at the National Forum, my interactions with my colleagues there were incredible and educational. From water cooler chatter to intense research discussions, I learned something everyday from my colleagues and their work.

What are your future plans and how did the National Forum contribute to that?
I am about to embark on a career in Development—this summer, I begin a position at Indiana University as the Associate Director of Development for the School of Informatics and Computing. My experiences at the National Forum enhanced my understanding of the financing and communications strategies that go into institutions higher education. My work at the National Forum helped me see development from all angles—higher education institutions, research centers, foundations and communities.

Interview with a Graduate: Marisol Ramos

Marisol Ramos

Marisol-small.What was your greatest achievement at UM/the Forum?
I am happy with progress related to the uLEAD project and believe that while there is still a lot of work to be done with the website, the uLEAD Network has the potential to support the work of the Forum but also support access for undocumented students.

What was your biggest take away from UM/the Forum?
My biggest takeaway was to be fearless and continue learning from all my experiences (whether good or bad). I think you always come out a little wiser if not stronger.

What advice do you have for future students at UM/the Forum?
Be curious and thoughtful. During many brainstorming meetings, I often found myself incredibly challenged at an intellectual level. I took every opportunity and free time (Ha!) I could to explore new topics I found interesting and learn something new each day. I also think its important to remember to be thoughtful. Everybody is incredibly busy, often juggling work, family life and schoolwork among other things. A thank-you would go a long way. Cookies or being a good listener are also very much appreciated.

What is your favorite part of UM/the Forum?
At the Forum, I always felt incredibly blessed to be working with so many talented folks who were as passionate about not only the issue of undocumented students but were committed to the mission and values of the National Forum.

What are your future plans and how did UM/the Forum contribute to that? 
I am currently working with the Michigan Department of Education until September. I am excited to take the next couple of months to figure out next steps, including continuing my education.

Tapping into Big Data for Educational Research

by Lara Kovacheff Badke, PhD candidate

Lara Kovacheff Badke.Fall 2012The University of Michigan’s Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies (ICOS) recently offered its inaugural “Big Data Research Camp”, in which I had the opportunity to participate.  Before this intensive weeklong experience, I happily completed five years of doctoral studies without ever having to give much thought to the research terms ‘Python’, ‘SQL’ and ‘API’.  Fast-forward five days and I’m now an amateur “Pythonista” (Python programmer; stress the amateur qualifier!), can manage basic data with structured query language (SQL), and understand the fundamentals of application programming interfaces (APIs).  What exactly is big data – you may be asking yourself – and what does any of this mean for higher education researchers?

Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data are created.  Through credit card and ATM swipes, climate information, GPS signals, Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, YouTube videos, pictures sent on smartphones, prescriptions ordered, and other cyber connections, we leave behind digital trails of social interactions and information.  This is big data.  These numbers conceal infinite facts.  Surely these figures reflected in our modern digital exchanges could be used to provide new insight into traditional and emerging topics (how people behave, an example of a traditional topic; or mobilization of mass global political and social movements, an emerging topic).  With such copious amounts of data available in our 21st century existence, researchers are left to wonder how they might begin to both harness and make sense of it all.

There is no easy and immediate answer.  It is an unfolding area, in which best practices have yet to emerge using big data ethically and for social, as opposed to commercial, gain.  As a field, higher education is making strides in its use of big data research to inform practice in order to make better decisions; decisions affecting such areas as performance-based state funding, improving student outcomes, and allocating resources.  Finding the value in linking large data sets, using them to obtain information that would not be available from any one set alone, and collecting and interpreting relevant material, are data literacy challenges of our modern age.  We cannot even fathom the full extent to which big data might help social science research advance knowledge and disseminate truth.  It is both daunting and exciting to be a part of this growing movement, one fraught with privacy concerns, ethical dilemmas, and yet boundless possibilities.

For more information on big data resources, please visit the University of Michigan’s Advance Research Computing resources (  If you are interested in participating in next year’s big data camp, watch for announcements on the ICOS website ( in late winter 2014.

Interview with a Graduate: Jaqueline Duarte

Jaqueline Duarte

photo (1)What was your most memorable moment at UM/the Forum?
The beginning of the year orientation and the end of the year “picnic.” Coming into the Forum feeling totally like the newbie and now really feeling like I am really apart of the team and valued as such just feels amazing!

What was your greatest achievement at UM/the Forum?
I think it will be seeing the HOPE Village Initiative (HVI) write up complete. (Having worked on its IRB and all three deliverables, some more than others of course, but still all three.)

What was your biggest take away from UM/the Forum?
It has been an enlightening experience that I feel so privileged to have been able to have had as an undergraduate. Working with such bright people has only made me really believe I can do it, too. It’s been motivating and inspiring to say the least. So I guess, as cheesy as it sounds, my biggest take away from UM/the Forum is that I can truly be whatever it is that I want to be if I work hard at it.

What advice do you have for future students at UM/the Forum?
I would tell future students to strive to be the very best that they can be while always putting their best foot forward because there WILL be people here at Michigan who will take notice and will help!

What is your favorite part of UM/the Forum?
I love the ability to speak my mind and be heard. The Forum makes me feel like what I have to say makes sense and is worth something. It makes me confident that my contributions really do matter and moreover that my work does make this world a better place.

What are your future plans and how did UM/the Forum contribute to that? 
I aspire to one day get a PhD in higher education to do research that will influence education policy to ultimately improve the numbers of students of minority/marginalized groups. So doing research in which we assess Detroit has truly made me that much more ambitious and determined to stay on the path to get that PhD.

Accrediting Higher Education Quality for the Public Good

By Dr. Betty Overton, Ph.D.


A response to “Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality?” by Ellen Hazelkorn

Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2013

Betty Overton-Adkins

In our society and indeed in the world, higher education is still one of the primary doors through which citizens move to achieve personal intellectual growth, to prepare for a work life, and to improve one generation over the next.  Obtaining a college degree makes a significant contribution to the welfare of individuals and provides a route to social and economic growth.  However, in recent years the value and quality of the higher education experience are being questioned, and the quality of our primary outputs — college graduates — are being challenged.  An old commerical asked us “where is the beef?”  The academy is being asked, “where is your quality?”  Show us.  If the academy is being asked to show its quality, that means our publics are not seeing “it” in the students to whom we hand diplomas every year.  Ellen Hazelkorn’s opinion piece, “Has Higher Education Lost Control Over Quality?” appeared in the May 23, 2013 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  In this brief article, Hazelkorn joins a growing chorus of voices questioning the quality of our institutions and their products.  In response to these concerns, she sees new non-higher education players entering the discourse to describe and market quality.   Her conclusion, “while higher education has traditionally been the primary guardian of quality, its role has effectively been usurped.”

There is no denying that questions about quality abound—from parents, the business commmunity, and legislators at all levels.  The questions are causing the public (in its various forms) to ask for new forms of proof.  Show us you are still worth the trust and investment, they say.  Many in the public are no longer willing to trust the men and women who inhabit the halls of ivy to affirm that they have taught well. Teaching well is important but not the end game.  Nor are all of the other input measures we have used as a proxy for quality—endowments, library and laboratory resources, types of degrees, faculty, and the other prestige measures that have been used for our quality assessment process.  The new lexicon of quality is being framed as measureable learning outcomes and cost benefits both to the students and to the society.   In a March 2013 speech to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, Jamie Merisotis, President of the Lumina Foundation for Education, described this new focus on quality:

In short, our commitment to quality is not only about increasing the attainment of degrees on a national or global level, but also about making certain that the degrees that are awarded are valuable for those who attain them. (Merisotis, 2013).

So who is responsible for assuring the quality of our institutions?  The answer is not simple.  There are multiple players.  Certainly it is the institutions themselves who must do this through their hiring and scrutiny of faculty, review of teaching, and assessment of student outcomes and other activities.  State governments which charter institutions to operate in their jurisdictions also have some responsibility for ensuring that their citizens are protected from unscrupulous and low quality operations. But since the late 19th century in the U.S., higher education has also organized and given authority to groups of regional organizations, called accreditors, to provide ongoing reviews of the work of the academy.  In the current debate about quality, it is these organizations that are often the ones getting a black eye for not more effectively ensuring the quality of our institutions.  Indeed, the new rankings cited in Hazelkorn’s piece are framed as attempts to fill the void left by the deficits in the accreditation process.  The rankings, as she admits, have tended to muddy the water even more, as each uses different and sometimes contradictory standards of measures.  Even the federal government’s entry into the “quality assessor” arena has not clarified the situation but added another voice to the chorus.  Parents, students, funders, investors, public officials, and others now have a dozen or more places to wade through, to compare and contrast, and although more information is often a good thing, these new sources leave searchers with perhaps no clearer picture of what quality means, especially when it is defined in terms of what students learn, than they had previously.

Is there a solution?  There must be.  However, I am not sure that the plethora of new rankings and reports are it.  Few everyday citizens even know they exist—despite the hype of reports like the U.S. News & World Report rankings or the federal government’s new website.  Additionally, the parents who need this information the most, parents of first generation or low-income students, usually don’t access this information.  The accrediting associations have one advantage; most people have some vague sense that institutions need to be accredited.  Even if they don’t know fully what that means, they understand there is an approval process, and they know there are organizations that exist where they can “report” an institution.  So the accreditation agencies may have the most visibility with “the public.”  Therefore, they may be the organizations to whom the largest number of individuals might turn, beyond the institutions themselves, to seek answers about quality and to get redress for issues of quality.  But the accreditors do seem stuck in old modes of review, action and reporting. Until very recently, all they told us about an institution was whether it was accredited or not, unless an institution was perhaps on probation and that condition was rarely explained. They seem timid about pronouncements about the quality of an institution and unsure of their footing in their tightrope walk between their member institutions and their role in protecting the integrity of higher education as an industry. The debate about the personal and public benefit of higher education is mirrored in a similar dialogue with the accreditors between the institutional and public purposes of their existence. However, for now, scrapping them, as some have suggested, is probably not the solution.  Throwing the baby out with the bathwater has always proven a costly solution.  But finding new ways to base accreditation on agreed upon rigorous standards and differentiating among levels of outcome attainments might more accurately reflect the reality of our current higher education landscape.

What is possible?  Given the National Forum’s focus on “the public good,” this issue of quality, especially as it manifests itself through the accreditation process, seems like one that is ready made for some consideration, and it is one to which we plan to give some attention over the next few years.  We understand the primary purposes of accreditation as institutional improvement and consumer protection, and we seek to engage two primary areas of work related to this topic:  1) examining the structure and process of accreditation to gauge what we need to know to make determinations of quality and 2) the public’s need for critical information for decision about institutional quality.

As our country and the world continue to tout the importance of higher education for global competitiveness and social mobility, this issue of higher education quality will loom large for us.  We must address this issue for the public good.

Interview with a Graduate: Ally Goltz

Ally Goltz

Ally GoltzWhat was your most memorable moment at UM/the Forum?
I think my most memorable experience at the University of Michigan was being a member of the Michigan Dance Team.  I got to experience so many great games in the Big House and it is something I will never forget.

What was your greatest achievement at UM/the Forum?
My greatest achievement at the National Forum was watching the social media outlets really take off.  Being a Communications major, I was able to use the skills I developed in the classroom and bring them to the National Forum.  Knowing how important and widespread social media is today, I knew it was important that the National Forum established its online presence.  Watching that come together over the last year and a half was awesome.  The National Forum team has such exciting things to share with the world and now our voice is being heard!

What was your biggest take away from UM/the Forum?
Find what you’re passionate about and run with it.  If you’re working for or towards something you love, you’ll be more successful and have fun along the way!

What advice do you have for future students at UM/the Forum?
Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge.  There were a lot of things I was apprehensive about doing, especially as an undergraduate, because I thought I didn’t have the experience.  Truth is, with hard work and dedication you can do anything you set your mind to.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Whether it’s from friends, teachers, or the National Forum staff, the people around you want you to succeed.

What is your favorite part of UM/the Forum?
Both the National Forum and the University of Michigan are incredible centers of learning where a diverse group of people can come together.  Whether you’re working towards a common goal or simply connected because of the love of a single letter M, you become inspired by the people that surround you.  No matter if I was in class, at work, or in the streets of Ann Arbor, there was a sense of community and camaraderie unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  I’m going to miss it.

What are your future plans and how did UM/the Forum contribute to that?
I am currently working as a Summer Fellow at the public relations firm, Ketchum, in Los Angeles.  My experience writing for the National Forum, as well as being an ambassador for the University of Michigan Athletic Department through the Michigan Dance Team, inspired me to go into public relations.

Interview with a Graduate: Amicia Bowman

Amicia Bowman

Amicia BowmanWhat was your most memorable moment at UM/the Forum?
My most memorable moment at the Forum was when I was applying to post graduation jobs and needed people to look over my resume and cover letters. My co-workers were very helpful, willing, and quick when I asked if they could look over my drafts. Also, I will never forget and will always appreciate how much Amy Puffenberger has helped me and supported me in my academics, career background, and interests. She bought me chocolate cake the last day of my senior year!

What was your greatest achievement at UM/the Forum?
My greatest achievement is in the works and it will be writing the interim and final reports for the Hope Village Initiative.

What was your biggest take away from UM/the Forum?
The Forum, by far, has been the best workplace for me. The atmosphere is so welcoming and friendly.

What advice do you have for future students at UM/the Forum?
Use your resources in the office, ask questions, take initiative, and know that learning is what life is all about.

What is your favorite part of UM/the Forum?
I love the team meetings because that is when everyone can catch up with each other and when we can voice our thoughts about a project, grant, idea, etc.

What are your future plans and how did UM/the Forum contribute to that?
Thanks to the Forum, I have applied to several jobs on campus and have received interviews. The Forum has given me the opportunity to expand my networks and gain the skills needed to write reports, proposals, and manage an office. My future plans are to get a Master’s in Social Work.