Photo Courtesy of UM-Dearborn website

By STANLEY E. HENDERSON, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Life

“This is not just a place to go to school. This is a place to make a difference.” New freshmen, transfers, and grad students heard me say that at New Student Convocation last week. I’m always trying to challenge students to think of this place not as a passive institution where things happen to you, but as a community where you make things happen as a member, a participant. But how do you make things happen and by so doing make that difference? Here are two opportunities to get started making a difference just as the new academic year begins:

First, have you noticed the hole in the buckthorn hedge along Evergreen? It opens the campus onto a crosswalk that leads to the Union at Dearborn. For over 450 University of Michigan-Dearborn students, it’s a pretty important place: their home for the next year. For over 8500 other students, it may seem like just new construction across the street. They think, it “has nothing to do with me.” In fact, it does have a lot to do with every student. What might seem like just a housing complex to some includes the newest addition to our campus: the Victors’ Den in the Union at Dearborn.

Let me give a context for the Victors’ Den. The University Center (UC) has been full since the campus moved into it in 2004, and student organizations have struggled with a lack of meeting and activity space ever since. Former UC director Kathy Herr used to say, ‘What we need is a third floor!” Well, think of the 15,000 square feet of space we are leasing as the Victors’ Den in the Union at Dearborn as that UC third floor; it’s just slid across Evergreen into a spectacular new facility.

The Victors’ Den name was chosen in a student contest sponsored by Student Government. We’re actually calling it “The Den,” again to connect it in people’s minds as part of the UC. We sometimes call the UC the campus’ “living room.” Now we also have a Den to go along with the Living Room; just slid across Evergreen.

There’s method in my madness of tying the Den to the UC. All of the spaces in the Den – two large meeting rooms, four small group meeting rooms,with flat screens that can be connected to your laptops, an event/performance space to be called “The House of Maize and Blue”, and roughly 7,000 sq. ft. of “gathering” space, including six 70-inch flat screens and one 90 inch behemoth – can be reserved through the University Center. The process is just exactly like any UC space: same policies, same procedures. Think of this as though we just added all of this space for meetings and activities to the UC; just – you know what’s coming – slid across Evergreen.

The Victors’ Den is a blank slate for making a difference on campus, and students are already making things happen. One freshman I’ve talked to is planning a theatre club that could do performances in the House of Maize and Blue. The Jazz Club and the University Choir will finally have consistent practice as well as performance space. Whether you live in the Union or not, think about your club meeting there, or plan to use one of the small meeting rooms for your class project team. You can actually write on a wall in each room!. Think about planning a tailgate with the Michigan game on all seven flat screens; but sorry, no alcohol allowed in the Den. The Den is a vehicle for making a difference in student life at UM-Dearborn. Here’s your chance to make it happen!

Just as some wouldn’t have thought that the Union would be more than just housing, so the second opportunity this fall to make a difference might not seem that way at first glance. On September 23, a group of seven faculty members and administrators from different universities will begin a two and a half day visit on our campus as part of our re-accreditation process with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). They will be gathering information on our mission: teaching and learning, integrity, and resources.

What’s that have to do with students, you ask? In a word, everything. The University’s re-accreditation is essential to ensuring the quality of your future degree. Every student should be interested in this process; and, in fact, the HLC visitors consider our students part of the process. An open session with students will be a part of the visit so that the HLC team can hear your input. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard about this community of higher education. I am very confident that, even though there are always issues and things that can be improved, our students’ voices will impress the visitors with knowledge of what our values are and how you feel you can make a difference here. It’s what we are all about. Watch for more information on the Student Session with the HLC team in the next couple of weeks, but plan to be a part of making a difference for re-accreditation.

The semester is just a week old, but I am already energized by the possibilities of the differences you will make this year. Whether in the Victors’ Den, or with the HLC Team, or in your classes, or in some other area where your passions take you, we’ll be counting on you to participate, to contribute, to make a difference in our University of Michigan-Dearborn community. Have a great year!