President Greg opened his final meeting as president with a wallop of the Rotary bell. All stood to sing “God Bless America,” then Barbara Eichmuller stepped to the podium. Her Inspiration centered on freedom and resilience, which she emphasized with a quote by Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating someone because of the color of his skin.” Next, Henry Johnson led us in spirited renditions of “The Happy Wanderer” and “The Victors.” Remarking on Barbara’s Inspiration, Henry remarked, “That was very sobering.”
Greg, returning to the podium, greeted everyone in his usual warm way, and thanked all the meeting volunteers. After wishing a happy birthday to those members celebrating this week and next, he announced: “Remember, we don’t meet next Wednesday, the 3rd. I hope many of you will show up to march in the Fourth of July parade. We’ll meet on Maynard Street between 9:00-9:30.” Up on the screen, Greg brought his audience’s attention to a photo of the hand-propelled personal mobility carts Rotary International is helping to finance in Africa and elsewhere. “For the parade, they’ll be painted red, white and blue. Please join us in the march, which Christie Bacon and her committee have put so much work into planning.” Yes, it’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the Fourth, and to show our commitment to the community. And wear your Rotary shirts, if you have them!
Golf and Tennis Outing: Past President Ashish Sarkar came forward to stir up some more volunteers for our biggest fundraising event. To use Henry’s word earlier, it began soberly: “I was here last week to ask for volunteers,” Ashish began, his mouth as flat as a mailbox slit. “Out of more than 70 [meeting attendees], I got two responses. I’m very disappointed.” You’d have thought he was asking for nighttime reconnaissance volunteers during the Monte Cassino assault. Unable to deflect Ashish’s frigid stare any longer, several members blurted, through coughs, their willingness to help out. Far from being thanked, they received a collective nod from the PP, who immediately went on to other things. “We also need more sponsors” — in other words, “ask people and companies!” “You will be recognized. Our goal is to clear $55,000.” [Note: If they ever remake “Beau Geste” for the umpteenth time, Ashish would do a beautiful job in Brian Donlevy’s old role as the sergeant. His way of saying “I need volunteers” is eerily similar to “You’re next — up in the tower! And laugh, like a hyena!”]
Speaker: Dennis Powers, who tag-teams the speaker intros with Barbara Niess-May like World Wrestling’s Tanaka Brothers, began his remarks about Carla O’Connor, Wolverine Pathways director, thus: “President Schlissel has made ‘equity, diversity, and inclusion’ a mantra for the University of Michigan. The Go Blue Guarantee, for instance, makes the University financially accessible to all Michigan residents accepted for undergraduate study…The University also casts a wide net in its admissions process in order to bring in students from underrepresented communities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“However, just having such students on campus does not equate to success in these efforts…There is a difference between starting college and finishing it.” Dennis expanded by citing, again, sobering data regarding graduation levels among students receiving “up to 100% of tuition at any college or university [through the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program]” — “White students are completing degrees and certificates at a rate of about 50%. The rate for African-American and Latino students, though, is approximately 15%.” He aptly quoted a University of Pennsylvania professor, Laura Perna: “We should be asking questions.”
“Here at the University of Michigan,” continued Dennis, “the effort to ensure that [students complete their education programs] is Wolverine Pathways…a supplemental education program to prepare high school students from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds to increase their admissibility to the University…Carla O’Connor…will update us on how well it is faring….”
Hearty applause greeted Ms. O’Connor. “I came to this directorship last June, having been with the U-M’s Department of Education for 23 years,” she began. “I benefited from a program similar to Wolverine Pathways. Its goal is to increase admissibility to elite colleges — and, we hope the students will come to the U-M.” She then explained the mechanics of Wolverine Pathways: “It’s a year-round education enrichment program…We’ve partnered with Ypsilanti schools. [These are often] families who fiscally can’t provide their kids with [an elite college education]. Also, they can be students of parents who attended college, but colleges not as competitive as the University of Michigan.” Carla cited the U-M admission rate, a dramatic “5,000 a year, from about 50,000 applications.” Bottom line, “the students have to be prepared. The first year at the U-M is very predictive of their success in life.”
Basically, Wolverine Pathways is an elite college prep program for at-risk students. Math literacy, as one would expect, is of paramount importance, with science and critical reading/writing a close second. And like a press gang during wartime, the pressure for stellar high school GPAs is irresistibly affecting the young — with U-M Dearborn reaching down as far as the seventh grade for a 3.0. By ninth grade, the threshold’s up to 3.4. “Math has been established as the standard…with enrollment in Algebra I or more rigorous math [a must].”
Preparation is indeed key. “It’s critical that young people have math literacy,” Carla declared in describing the challenges awaiting the new U-M student. And math isn’t all — “Michigan’s first year writing course is a big hurdle.” What to do? There is a Summer Enrichment component that provides high school grads “interdisciplinary, project-based instruction” as well as “career, research and service internships.” There is also “Transitional Support: ‘success connects,’ faculty mentors, and a Scholarship Agreement” that spells out the student’s responsibilities; all this to minimize the chances of students getting lost academically, unable to connect with study groups, or becoming otherwise overwhelmed. “Since we started this, in winter 2016,” Carla noted, “we’ve had 946 scholars,” coming mainly from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit.
An appreciative ovation resounded through the ballroom. Greg thanked Carla, gave her the maize and blue gift bag, and, addressing the members for the last time as president, shared his now-famous Thought of the Week: “As John Wayne said, ‘Life is tough, but it’s a lot tougher if you’re stupid.'”
A collective thought seemed to ring the ballroom: ‘Thank you, Greg Stejskal, for your leadership, humanity — and humor!’