Skip navigation
Return to Issue

President's Message



  • Author:
    Lou Anna K. Simon
  • Published:
    Fall 2015

MSU AND DETROIT:PARTNERS THEN AND NOW

Michigan State University’s Detroit connection goes back to our very beginnings, and our enduring bonds of alumni and community engagement have only grown stronger with time.

The year of MSU’s founding, J. C. Holmes of Detroit was secretary of the Michigan State Agricultural Society, which was a strong proponent of a state agricultural college. Meeting in Detroit in November of 1855, Michigan’s Board of Education directed Holmes to make “full and ample inquiries” regarding the buildings, materials, and resources needed to launch the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, as MSU was first called.

Holmes delivered his report the following January, when the board approved construction of an all-purpose college building and a boarding house. Later that year, the board appointed Holmes as Michigan State’s first professor of horticulture. MSU’s Holmes Hall bears his name.

Today a lot of knowledge, talent, and innovation connects MSU and southeast Michigan, including the nearly 45 percent of our Michigan students who come from the counties of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne. Those counties also are home to 37 percent of our alumni who live in Michigan.

Michigan State is deeply invested in Detroit—from working with its public schools and advancing the arts to supporting economic development and entrepreneurship and providing a range of programs that improve health and quality of life.

Among the many ways Detroit, in turn, supports MSU, is by helping many of our graduates launch their careers. The Big Three automakers are among the top employers of our 2014 graduates, as are Quicken Loans and metro Detroit-area health systems.

I’m often in Detroit, representing the university in work with our partners, alumni, and community leaders, and attending meetings of the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Business Leaders for Michigan.

Michigan State’s engagement in Detroit over many years isn’t just a natural consequence of the city’s prominence. It’s an intentional result of our land-grant mission to work with our stakeholders where they live, as partners in empowering individuals for better lives and as co-creators of solutions to their most pressing problems.

One of many ways we’ve engaged with Detroiters where they live is by participating in photo exhibitions featuring portraits of the people of Detroit, the city’s greatest asset. In 2013, we produced Detroit Resurgent, a display of 62 black-and-white portraits accompanied by interviews with residents in their working environments. The exhibition also became a book published by the MSU Press.

The most recent exhibition was connected to Taking Back Detroit, a compelling May 2015 National Geographic magazine and online feature written by veteran Detroit journalist and MSU alumna Susan Ager, ’75, for National Geographic’s Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg, ’84, also a Spartan graduate.

The people of Detroit are at the heart of this issue. Profiles and interviews of five Detroit-area Spartans and an opening essay by longtime Detroit Metro Times writer and MSU alumnus Larry Gabriel, ’75, remind us what makes Detroit a strong and spirited world-class city, still rising.