Student view:

DETxMSU program

Sept. 14, 2016

This summer 60 Michigan State University students and faculty lived, worked, played and learned in Detroit as part of DETxMSU. The pilot program immersed students from six colleges throughout the city where they were partnered with stakeholders to work on projects ranging from entrepreneurship and business to urban design to media production.

Stephanie Onwenu is a senior from Detroit majoring in landscape architecture.

I was truly honored to be selected to participate in the DETXMSU pilot program this summer by Dr. Dalton and Dr. Crawford. The DETXMSU pilot program was a huge learning experience for me. I was able to be a part of an amazing team of undergraduate and graduate Spartans, working together to produce magnificent urban designs for our clients and our portfolios.

During this month of intensive learning, I was able to improve my leadership and presentation skills. Along with my skills, I have greatly improved my digital and hand graphic abilities, which will be a great benefit for me in the upcoming semester and study abroad.

I learned an abundance of history about the city, infrastructure and the future vision that I share with others. Something that I am very proud of accomplishing during the pilot program is taking leadership and being an ambassador to my fellow Spartans for the city of Detroit.

Knowing that the majority of my team members were visiting Detroit for the first time through this program, one of my goals for the summer was to make sure each one of them left with a confident perspective of the city. Living and working in Detroit for a month is one thing, but creating and building those experiences is what I feel is the key satisfaction to life.

My vision was to cast a new light within my peers, in hopes that they would maximize their experiences here and leave with a positive outlook.

As a future landscape architect and Detroit native, I plan to utilize my talents and skills to give back to my community and to continue building what was once a moving and developing city.

Han Liang is a senior majoring in urban and regional planning and landscape architecture. She is also enrolled in the Master of Arts in Environmental Design program.

Before coming to Detroit, I had little hope for the city to succeed. It’s dangerous, and people don’t care about their property. How wrong I was! Being here, I felt so safe. I talked (and, more importantly, listened) to Detroiters and learned so much about the community.

They brought a unique perspective to my learning. The portrayal on the news is not the human perspective. Let me sit and draw this beautiful environment. In this visual medium, I can showcase the people and my newfound connections to this environment.

During the first week here at DETxMSU, we got to know each other’s design processes and critique each other’s work. A typical class would require the professor to provide input; Dr. Dalton asked us to think about each other’s work. It is great exposure to professional practice where we are often asked to provide insight and critique work about which we have very little knowledge. It’s all about thinking on our feet and understanding how we each bring a unique perspective.

We started in the traditional classroom to select an underutilized parcel of land in Detroit. We were given options and allowed the opportunity to explore new sites. Each of us needed to change the site for social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability.

It was scary to take on that much in such a concentrated time span. I worked on making a boulevard more accessible for the local people. I tried to keep in mind that when people feel safe to walk past a business or come to this space to walk for its unique experience, the economics improve.

Our other experience was to work on a grant-funded project with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Our task: envision a section of Belle Isle for long-term sustainability. It was daunting working for a real, paying client. I was not an intern but someone who was expected to deliver office work. A 3.5 is no longer good enough; our team came together to express our talents to get the key jobs done!

It was hectic. I am so glad I did it. I learned that people need to truly understand a community before designing for it. While I explored my creative potential on my own site, I brought an outside the box mindset to our client.

I hope I can always go outside the box to understand community complexities and diversity and bring these ideas into a functional, social, cultural and economic environment.

Amal Shaaban is a doctoral student studying planning, design and construction with a concentration in environmental design.

That which intrigued me most about this course is the fact that I developed new skills and discovered myself. I developed both soft and technical skills during the DETxMSU summer course. I learned how to be an efficient team player and how to tolerate and adapt different opinions and feedbacks. Working in an office environment taught me to appreciate arriving on time, meeting deadlines and respecting and valuing my colleagues’ opinions and private spaces. This environment and time with city officials was also a wonderful lesson in professional behavior.

I learned hand sketching with different mediums: drawing on napkins, sketchbooks and computer surfaces. I learned from my professors that sketches are all about capturing the character of the moment and not only what we see in front of us. During this summer course, I also learned SketchUp, which was one of my summer goals. Now I can confidently add this new digital skill to my resume. I learned that I like challenges and adapting them to my own benefit. I can achieve any task assigned to me.

This summer course was all about applying theory to practice. For our group project in Belle Isle, we used three different theoretical schemes to achieve three different master plans for the park. Visiting Belle Isle and listening to the needs of the DNR’s staff helped me develop a good understanding of the social and spatial characteristics of the different spaces and buildings in Belle Isle.

I learned a lot about Detroit during this summer course. I was fascinated by the city’s old rustic and new modern juxtapositions. I discovered that the city is safe and full of positive and dynamic energy, reflected in its public spaces and the frequent construction sites.

Detroit is rich with interesting public spaces. The field trips to downtown and midtown areas were good opportunities for me to closely monitor how people use public spaces. I became more aware of the importance of programing a space, since this highly affects the public use of it. For example, shading and diverse seating options are two crucial elements for designing successful public spaces.

I learned how to design cities for the public and how to serve communities with physical design. In addition, this course was a great opportunity to satisfy my inclination toward exploring new graphic skills and improving my personal design abilities.

Rachel Wilke is a senior from Ann Arbor majoring in landscape architecture.

From designing one site last semester, to designing two sites in one month was a jump to say the least. This change of pace was a thread that I found tied the whole month together for me. Living and working in Detroit provided such a rich experience that my suburban upbringing never allowed. While working for the DNR and meeting their southern chief and their day-to-day operations at Belle and in Bright, I learned so much about what landscape architects can do to better this planet.

Our projects included individual sites to explore urban design and expand our creativity and a team project to envision a sustainable Belle Isle for the DNR and Detroit.

This was really fun for me to work on something urban and also to express my ideas with sketches and innovative technology. Using SketchUp, a 3D modeling software, was a huge growing point for me in my learning career and being able to work with peers. This experience was unique in that my classmates and I used our personal and academic backgrounds to push each other.

When else do I get to two Ph.D. students to push me to be greater? I learned to look at the world through someone else’s eyes and practice different ways to problem solve. When you take people from different backgrounds in age, education and culture and put them in an intimate group, it creates a holistic learning environment.

I truly learned and witnessed the adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” When working in such a cohesive group, it is not your individual product that shines but the abilities and contributions of all the members. My time in Detroit enhanced my education and allowed me to see solutions through multiple viewpoints and consider strategies I may not otherwise have in a traditional classroom.