Veronica Sikora, a junior at Grand Blanc High School, works with a University of Michigan librarian during a recent visit to the U-M Library. About 100 students visited the library for instruction on academic research.
By Alan Piñon
A few busloads of about 100 students from Grand Blanc high school rolled onto the University of Michigan’s campus for what their teacher described as the most anticipated day of their junior year. They didn’t come for athletics, or a run-of-the-mill tour; these advanced placement students came to the library to do some serious work on their semester-long research projects.
“We want to expose our students to real academic research,” said Ava Butzu, an English teacher at Grand Blanc who helped organize the trip for her students. Butzu explained that the combination of the seemingly unlimited research databases available at U-M and the expertise of the library staff really awakens the students to the possibilities of academic research in a way that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
By applying the library’s resources to their projects “they begin to understand the fast-paced nature of scientific study and academic research, as well as the way that perspective influences findings,” Butzu said. “There are usually a handful of kids who say that this assignment was their favorite part of the year, and even more who cite a sense of pride at having worked through such a lengthy project.”
For the librarians it’s a chance to help students get a feel for the type of academic work that happens at place like the University of Michigan.
“It’s a great opportunity to connect the resources of our public university to K-12 students in the state. We hope to enrich their research projects, break down the ‘town/gown’ barriers, and get these high school juniors excited about higher education and the University of Michigan,” said Karen Downing, education librarian at U-M.
The students spent the morning working with librarians and a U-M undergraduate student on their chosen research topics in order deepen the research, and the payoff was more than notable, said Grand Blanc student Sarah Swann.
“When I first started researching, I was frustrated because I couldn't find sources that worked well with my research topic. When I ran out of things to try with only two or three sources to show for it, I asked one of the librarians for assistance. After directing me to a different database, I was flooded with sources. It was a great experience that taught me some new ways to tackle future research projects,” Swann said.
In addition to gaining research experience from the visit, the students were also inspired.
“As someone who dreams of one day in the near future attending the University of Michigan, this experience was more than anything that I could have hoped for,” said Shbeib Dabaja. “It’s left a lasting impression, and has all but solidified my dreams of attending this prestigious university.”
This trip was the eighth year students have worked with staff at the University of Michigan; the first five years they visited the Flint campus, and the last three Ann Arbor.
“This day has become legendary among them as the best day of the school year. Imagine a bunch of teenagers geeked over academic research. It’s the coolest thing for a teacher to hear,” Butzu said.