e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Road Scholars, Day Three

So far, I've managed to avoid the "road scholar walk of shame" (i.e., being the last person to get on the bus in the morning). It's not easy, what with the 7:00 a.m. departures and all. We were munching on yogurt and quiche at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology by 7:30 WMCAT combines instruction in arts for at-risk high schoolers in the Grand Rapids area. The Center also offers vo-tech certification programs. Great facility, supported entirely by private donors. We heard stories of high school kids who have to take several buses to get to the Center and do so gladly to learn in a supportive environment. Ditto, the adults who become certified in areas like pharmacy tech, breaking, in some cases, multiple generations of poverty and public assistance.

From WMCAT to Metro Health, a radiation oncology center operated by UM Hospitals, for an inside look at how the facility supports the needs of cancer patients going through as much as 6-8 weeks of daily radiation. Great facility in the middle of scenic, wooded Wyoming, Michigan. Well-designed, too, allowing patients in many areas of the Center a very tranquil view.

On to Holland, Michigan, not to look at Tulips but to experience Herman Miller Inc, one of the furniture manufacturers that help anchor the economy in the Western part of the state. We got to see one of their desk chair assembly lines, modeled after the Japanese automotive industry which allows line workers more agency (the ability to stop the line, etc.). The line is much shorter when the product is an office chair instead of an SUV, so you can really get a neat panoramic view of the whole process. HM does a lot of interesting things in terms of labor on the line. Folks change jobs frequently for ergonomic reasons (I'd like to be the person at the end who actually sits in each chair, although I'm sure the job's more complex than it looks), and the line is programmed to go fast enough to meet the day's target number of chairs, which fluctuates because the company only builds chairs that have already been ordered. On heavier days, the line goes faster and more workers staff the line. The company prides itself on sustainable practices and is working to send nothing to landfills by 2020.

Next we headed north to Cadillac for a reception with business, education, and community leaders in Cadillac who have remarkable, synergistic relationships with one another. Cadillac and the surrounding communities deal with high poverty rates and several social problems (including teen pregnancy) boast very high numbers here. To their credit, this group of civic leaders have come together to attract manufacturing and diversify beyond the tourism and agriculture sectors that anchor the area. They all seemed to have such strong committments to improving quality of life in the region. I think many of us were struck by the number of community leaders who wore many many hats. The superintendent of schools runs a huge Christmas Tree farm, for instance. To be honest, this looked like it was going to be a blah evening, but ended up being a highlight of the day.

For the third night in a row, I'm ready for some serious sleeping.

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