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Home » Discover Rackham » Connecting to Community as a Graduate Student

Graduate school is a rush – both intellectually and temporally. Last August I moved from Indianapolis to Ann Arbor for a 16 month Master’s program in the School of Social Work for Community Organizing. I initially struggled to find ways of not only getting to know this community but also to find ways to engage with a positive impact. Connecting to my community is personally important to me and I feel it’s essential to share and build relationships with communities around me. Graduate students are uniquely positioned to engage their professional and academic experience and can be the leaders of reflective, intentional, and meaningful community engagement that applies their discipline’s academic rigor to community action and impact.

But how do graduate students navigate community engagement opportunities in their short and busy time in Ann Arbor? The answer I found was the The Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning.

I’ll give you some examples. My colleague Emily Thoreson is currently working as a Graduate Intern with Ginsberg's Literacy Initiatives to design programming to engage community members in dialogue around the Great Michigan Reads novel Station Eleven. Through this experience, Emily is leveraging her Social Work background to think deeply about effective community dialogue, while harnessing her knowledge of literacy for program design.

Similarly, as a Graduate Social Work Intern at the Ginsberg Center, I work on internal capacity assessments and am now exploring community partner feedback to strategize opportunities for improving and expanding Ginsberg Center services. It was an exciting opportunity to be part of the team collecting feedback from community partners this January. The event was hosted at the United Way which filled up with organizations ranging from the Center for Independent Living to the Ann Arbor District Library. I could barely keep up taking notes of the many ideas and feedback expressed to improve community/University partnerships and envision future beneficial services. Now, I am exploring the feasibility of our options and designing programmatic steps and models that will be resources for the Ginsberg Center and the greater University.

I see graduate and professional students – including myself and Emily – as key contributors to community benefit because we focus our academic rigor and critical reflection toward appropriately applied action. We have expertise and flexibility to directly connect research to community application; or to complement our studies by diversifying our experiences. In other words, graduate students can be conduits through which to share the talents and resources of the University with the greater community through mutually educational and beneficial exchange. Working at the Ginsberg Center has been foundational to connecting my education to ethical practice. I have not experienced another professional environment so full of intentionality, reflection, experiential wisdom, and deep caring.

Whether it’s a volunteer, internship, or work-study position, the Ginsberg Center has a menu of opportunities where graduate students can build community, learn and enhance awareness of self in community, and expand the possibilities of impact – not just in the University of Michigan, but also in Washtenaw County, Southeast Michigan, and beyond.

If you’re seeking an experience as a Graduate Student that connects your academic interests with community engagement, contact the Ginsberg Center at [email protected]. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be challenged, engaged, and transformed.

Missy! Orr is a Master's candidate in the School of Social Work for Community Organizing and the M.S.W. Intern at the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning. She is passionate about cultivating resilient communities.