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Eventually, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have the final say over a law that restricts the collective bargaining of public employees. For now, the controversial legislation has been struck down.

A Dane County judge ruled Thursday that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings act when they passed the bill on March 9. In her 33-page ruling, Judge Maryann Sumi wrote, “transparency in government is most important when the stakes are high.”

Republicans should try to pass the legislation again, opines the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this time with a “more reasonable approach.” The ruling is a big boost to Wisconsin Democrats and their efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker, says the Washington Post.

Elsewhere in the Midwest today:

Amid the backdrop of declining population, Detroit Public Schools have altered their consolidation plan after receiving community input. Meanwhile, towns throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are struggling to survive, writes the Associated Press.

Also in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign a $46 billion state budget, a move that comes without the usual high-profile wrangling, reports our partner station Michigan Radio. In Ohio, lawmakers see township consolidation as one way money could be saved in the future, Ideastream reports.

WBEZ says that lobbyists for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are already in Springfield representing his interests in the state capitol. The new mayor has limited time for action – the legislature adjourns Tuesday. Across Illinois, unemployment rates are dropping in metro areas, says the Chicago Tribune.

The number of homes in the foreclosure process declined nationally during the first quarter of 2011, but they still account for 28 percent of all sales. In Ohio, foreclosed properties sold for an average of $75,397, says the Akron Beacon Journal.

Skip Turner and Billie Rohl work at U of M's Labor Studies Center. They may have to turn over a lot of email soon. They say they're happy to do it.

ANN ARBOR — So what do the words “Scott Walker,” “Madison,” and “Maddow” have in common?  They are among the search terms included in an open records request for the emails of labor studies professors and staff at three public universities in Michigan – Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

The Freedom of Information Act request comes from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.  The center is also asking to review any emails to or from the professors that refer to the collective bargaining situation in Wisconsin.  At first, Ken Braun, the man behind the FOIA request, wouldn’t say why.


Mysterious?  Perhaps not.  Braun is the senior managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center’s online newsletter.  In one post from last year,  Braun wrote this of the Labor Studies Center at Wayne State University:

“This obscure corner of the taxpayer-supported university does a lot that resembles progressive political agitation rather than teaching and research.”

I asked Ken Braun whether his FOIA request had anything to do with that entry, titled “Wayne State’s ‘Wholly Owned Subsidiary’ of Big Labor”.

“I don’t comment on FOIA investigations,” he said.  “That is an interesting article, however.”

Here was Rachel Maddow’s take on the whole Mackinac matter (pronounced “mackinaw” by Michiganders).  Remember, Maddow is one of the search terms in the Michigan FOIA.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Michigan academics aren’t the only ones under scrutiny.  Last month, the Republican Party of Wisconsin requested emails from William Cronon, a historian critical of Governor Scott Walker’s push to weaken public sector unions.

In both states, the lines got drawn fast.  On one side: an apparent concern about the use of public resources for political advocacy.  On the other: fear of academic intimidation and reprisal in a politically charged climate.

Cary Nelson is the National President of the American Association of University Professors.  He falls in the latter camp.


Nelson is also an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He says that, in academia, FOIA requests for financial documents and contracts are fairly common, while broad requests for emails are not.  But when asked for an example of an academic FOIA request that revealed serious wrongdoing, he told this story about his own institution’s use of email:


Over at U of M’s Labor Studies Center, the staff says they have nothing to fear or hide.  Billie Rohl is the center’s program administrator.


Ken Braun of the Mackinac Center says intimidation is not his goal.  Just yesterday, Braun went on an AM radio program and revealed the specific motivation behind his FOIA request.  He said that he was indeed investigating what he called partisan political activity at Wayne State University’s Labor Studies Center.

Marick Masters, Wayne State’s director of labor studies, previously told The New York Times that, “This looks like an attempt to embarrass us.  I haven’t engaged in any partisan activities here.”

In the past, the center has described itself like this:

“The Labor Studies Center is a comprehensive labor education center committed to strengthening the capacity of organized labor to represent the needs and interests of workers, while at the same time strengthening the University’s research and teaching on labor and workplace issues.”

But you won’t see that description on the center’s website today.  As of this morning, the site is under construction.

Read the rest of this entry »

The patient, Mr. Pointer, is recovering from abdominal surgery. Photo by Kate Davidson.

LANSING — The country is facing a nursing shortage. But schools in our region can’t keep up with the demand for nursing education.  As we reported in our first story, that’s partly because there are a limited number of clinical settings where student nurses can work with patients. So to augment the clinical experience, some nursing programs are enlisting the help of a newfangled dummy, wired with smart technology.

Actually, calling these high tech mannequins “dummies” might be a bit insulting.

Forget those passive plastic torsos you’ve seen in CPR demonstrations. We’re talking about high fidelity mannequins, remotely operated by IT guys with headsets and laptops. Larissa Miller runs the nursing simulation program at Lansing Community College. She can wax poetic about the virtues of the school’s simulated man.

Boxes of skin, spare legs. Larissa Miller runs the nursing simulation program at Lansing Community College. Photo by Kate Davidson.

“Our mannequin can shake,” she said, “which is great, we make him have a seizure right in the bed. He can sweat and it starts pouring down his face. He blinks, he breathes, he has pulses…”

He talks. And his female counterpart can even give birth. Miller has been a nurse for 19 years and she says the technology is exploding.

“Simulation is absolutely one of the fastest paced things I’ve ever watched in education,” she said.

It’s estimated there are more than a thousand places across the country that use medical simulation of some kind – including schools and hospitals in Lansing, Cleveland and Chicago. Miller says that, just like pilots learning to fly, student nurses should do some of their high stakes training in a place where no one can get hurt. In fact, proponents of simulation training in nursing often point to its success in aviation and the military.

To see simulation in action, I join Larissa Miller in a dimly lit control room. We hover behind a two-way mirror like a couple of cops. But instead of a lineup, we’re observing a fake patient, in a fake hospital room, surrounded by real students. They know that Mr. Pointer, aka the mannequin, is recovering from abdominal surgery. His only complaint is a mild headache. But Larissa Miller has more in store for the students – and their patient.

“He’s actually going to have a massive … stroke right before their eyes,” she said.

A stroke, caused by a clot that travels to the patient’s brain. The clues are all there – in Mr. Pointer’s heart rhythm, his rising blood pressure, and his worsening headache.

The scenario is being videotaped with a timestamp. Later on, when the students debrief with their instructor, they’ll see exactly how long it takes them to perform crucial tasks. So, will they call for help in time?

Dean Margie Clark is a booster of simulation training. But she says working with real patients is "priceless." Photo by Kate Davidson.

We’ll find out in a minute. But first, can a mannequin really take the place of a live patient? Margie Clark is the Dean of Health and Human Services at Lansing Community College. She says no.

“The value of going into a facility and working with patients is priceless,” she said. “It would never replace it. But it is a key component for the experience of our students when they get into the clinical, that they can make every minute count.”

That’s because student nurses are often intimidated when they start clinical rotations. Clark says that simulation builds confidence, which helps students hit the ground running. She adds that gains in efficiency could eventually pave the way for shorter rotations, creating room for more nursing students.

Lansing Community College serves students in the state capital. But simulation also holds promise for students at small rural hospitals who might not get to see a live birth or observe children in acute care without traveling for hours.

Still, the technology is expensive. LCC has several mannequins. The one undergoing a massive stroke costs about $70,000. Larissa Miller says the whole lab ran close to $2 million.

Back in the fake hospital room, the student nurses eventually decide to call for help, in the form of a rapid response team. Second year student Travis Pierce emerges full of adrenaline.

“This is fantastic,” he exclaimed. “I feel that the sim labs actually help us better than the actual clinical settings. Because they can simulate these things. And on top of that, you don’t have to worry about someone dying if you don’t figure it out right away.”

The debate is on within the medical community about how big a role simulation should play in training nurses. The answer could be informed by a major study on the effectiveness of simulation, which begins across the country this fall. Meanwhile, in our region, where jobs are so needed, nursing faculty say that any competitive tool can help.

Second year nursing students Travis Pierce, Shelby Feldpausch, Staci Pierson (kneeling), Jennifer Meaton, Ashley Neybert and Jamie Hill. And of course, Mr. Pointer, center. Photo by Kate Davidson.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, the stroke the patient experiences was described as a “hemorraghic” stroke.  It should have been referred to as an “ischemic” stroke.

Training the next generation of care providers becomes increasingly important as the population ages. Photo by Kate Davidson.

ANN ARBOR — Nursing is a hot career. The federal government says the field will create more new jobs than any other profession this decade — almost 600,000 jobs by 2018. But there’s a bottleneck. Schools in our region can’t keep up with all the people who want to become nurses or other health care workers. In the first of two stories, Changing Gears is examining some of the high tech tools schools are using to help ease the training crunch. Emily Morris is 24. She’s from Michigan and always wanted to be a nurse, but was turned away from an increasingly competitive four year program. So in late 2008, she applied to the nursing program at Schoolcraft, a community college in Livonia, Michigan. She says she was told to report for class more than two years later. 

In Michigan, Emily Morris would have spent more time on a waiting list than in her nursing program. Photo courtesty of Emily Morris.

“At that point, I was so discouraged and so frustrated,” she said. “The waitlist … I mean there’s nothing that could discourage me more.” 

But she didn’t give up. So while she waited for the fall of 2011, Morris finished her nurse aid certification. She worked in real estate and even on a dude ranch. She says she kept checking the list, but never got bumped up. 

“Not enough people dropped out I guess.” 

Finally, a hospital in West Virginia offered Morris a job and the chance to attend a nearby school with no waitlist. She took it, even though it meant leaving Michigan. 

“It’s the only career field that I could really see myself being happy in for a long time,” she said. “And I know that it’s good job security. It’s just that getting there is very frustrating.” 

So why the wait? One of the big factors is a shortage of qualified nurse faculty. But it’s also a finite number of hospitals and other clinical sites where students can train. Every future nurse, every physical therapy assistant and every radiology tech has to spend time with patients. 

Katherine Howe says it's important to protect patient safety while educating new nurses. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Katherine Howe is associate Dean of Nursing at Henry Ford Community College. At times, there have been more people on the waitlist there than in the two-year program. 

Howe says patient safety is key.  There are limits to the numbers of students that teaching hospitals can safely accommodate. 

“Is it really fair to have one group of students there for eight hours,” she asked, “another group of students there for another eight hours, and then even on midnights and weekends?” 

Craig Morea is training to be an occupational therapy assistant. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Many health specialties experience clinical shortages, not just nursing.  At the Crestmont Healthcare Center in Fenton, the occupational therapy room is bright and cheerful and looks like a conference of grandparents, in wheelchairs.  This facility only takes one student at a time. 

For two months, that student was Craig Morea. He’s a second year student at Mott Community College, training to be an occupational therapy assistant. On the last day of his rotation here, Morea was warming up the shoulder of an elderly patient, Shirley Teffner. 

“This sounds crazy but I fell out of bed,” she said. “And when I fell, I hit on my shoulder.” 

Shirley Teffner tucks her weak arm close, the way a bird favors a broken wing. She likes Craig Morea. He’s gently coached her to get out of bed by herself again. 

“The joy that I could see in her face and her smile,” he said, “it was very rewarding, to me.”

It’s also a crucial part of his education. 


So the question remains: How to safely get more students like Craig Morea into more clinical settings like Crestmont? Well, a few years ago, a group in Oregon asked itself the same question. And it came up with a Web based tool called StudentMAX, which matches nursing schools with open clinical sites. While faculty used to arrange rotations through old fashioned relationships and tons of inefficient calls and emails, they now just enter their needs online. Versions of the software have been deployed in the greater Cleveland and Chicago areas, as well as southeast Michigan. Here, the tool is reported to have helped open up about 20% more clinical slots. 

Still, clinical space is a finite resource. So some nursing programs are making greater use of simulation — as in high tech dummies that sweat, speak and even give birth. 

We’ll bring you that story in our next report.

Here’s the microphone! Changing Gears has three programs this week where you can tell us what matters to you.

On the Air Listen to our leadership series, and then take part in Power and Performance, a call-in show this Thursday at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT on Michigan Radio, WBEZ and ideastream. It’s produced by Sound of Ideas, the daily public affairs program at ideastream. We’ll be broadcasting a toll-free number where you can dial in and participate.

On the Web We’re hosting a live chat here at during our call-in show. Tell your friends, and bring your ideas. The entire CG team will be here.

In Person Come to our event this Wednesday afternoon at the University of Michigan. We’re presenting, “Don’t Go!” with the Ross School of Business. We want to talk about the reasons why students don’t stay after they graduate — and what might keep people here.

Changing Gears joins forces on Feb. 16 with the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan to present, “Don’t Go! What Will Keep You Here?” It’s a 90-minute panel discussion and conversation aimed at college students, who come to our region’s universities by the thousands each year. But many of them leave after graduation to find their fortunes elsewhere.

The program will feature speakers Mike Miller of Google Ann Arbor, Luke Song of Mr. Song Millinery, a Michigan native who came home to design world-famous hats,  and Sara Jones, a 2010 Ross MBA who founded Heart Graffiti, which is taking a unique twist on graduation jewelry. We’ll also hear from Donald Grimes, a University of Michigan economist, who’ll have numbers tracking  the student exodus. I’ll be moderating.

The public is welcome to participate in the event, which will be held at 5 p.m. at the Blau Auditorium at the Business School (701 Tappan Street, between Hill and S. University).

Changing Gears is spending the next few years looking at ways to reinvent the Midwest economy. Today, we kick off our first week-long series: Reinventing Pittsburgh. Once, it was the Steel City, just as Detroit was the Motor City. But while Detroit struggles to find its new identity, Pittsburgh is undergoing an enormous transformation, shifting to an economy that includes technology, medicine, education and yes, steel.

Can Pittsburgh be a model for the Great Lakes region? Later this week, we’ll be looking at how Detroit and Gary, Indiana, are following Pittsburgh’s lead. But first, we look at where Pittsburgh was.

Pittsburgh Skyline from Station Square
Photo by flickr user jmd41280

Download audio file (PittPartOne_web.mp3)

Download the audio here


More Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5


When I first got to Pittsburgh, I did something foolish.

I pulled over in a parking lot, grabbed my microphone and digital recoder, and headed straight for tailgating Steelers fans.

“Mind if I grab you for a second?” I asked a fan.

I was asking for it. I had come to Pittsburgh straight from Cleveland. The cities share steel, snow, and mutual hatred on the football field.

Even worse, they just happened to be playing the Clevleand Browns that day.

A man yells: “Cleveland sucks!”

OK, heckler man. But what’s so great about Pittsburgh?

This is what I heard from a sampling of tailgaters: “Everybody loves Pittsburgh. Even people who leave Pittsburgh love Pittsburgh like this guy here. It’s Pittsburgh; we know how to survive. All of our jobs are on the rise. Yes, Pittsburgh’s economy is booming.”

It’s like these people work for the chamber of commerce.

More people chimed in. “Pittsburgh is probably one of the most livable cities around. Meds and Eds. That’s the new manufacturing: medicine and education. We were very industrial and then they figured out we have to do something else. What are you laughing about? I’ve only lived here for a year. You should be knowing this stuff.”

They should know this stuff. This is a whole new Pittsburgh.

Photos by Erika Gatz

Unemployment is 7.4 percent: nearly two percent lower than the national average. And, recent census data shocked this city.

For the first time in decades, the population actually went up. Just a little, but it’s a sign the city has officially come out of its steel depression.

“I never have ever badmouthed US Steel,” said former steelworker Colin Meneely. “They paid me for every minute I worked.”

It’s not hard to find a former steelworker in Pittsburgh. I found him working in an office downtown.

Colin Meneely
Colin Meneely

Before it all collapsed in the early 80s, MeNeely spent many minutes working in the industry.

“I did,” he said. “I worked in US Steel’s Clariton Works as a tar plant foreman.”

It was good pay, good benefits, and you didn’t need a college education. But it was messy work.

“There’s always the danger of explosion or fire,” Meneely remembered. “It was a bad place to work. You didn’t leave your papers on your desk because they’d be dirty by the end of your shift.”

Steve Lee remembers those days too.

“When I first came to Pittsburgh to interview at Carnegie Mellon, I said this is the ugliest place I’ve ever seen in my life.”

It was 1971 and he went to Carnegie Mellon anyway.

“I’d come to school at the end of summer vacation and for two weeks, my eyes would run,” Lee said. “I’d have a sore throat just from all the junk in the air.”

Lee studied architecture. That meant he spent a lot of time working late into the night…and sometimes into the mornings. And, as dawn approached, he’d look out his window, and see a magnificent sight.

“The sky was just throbbing and red as the open hearth furnaces were being stoked.” Lee said it made him realize Pittsburgh is an amazing place.

“But I was very young,” he said. “I didn’t realize we were at a moment of huge transformation.”

That huge transformation was about to hit Colin MeNeely, the steelworker. The facility where he worked was shut down.

“I think it was 1982 and this area was just horrible at that time for employment,” he said.

Sabina Deitrick is the keeper of startling statistics. She’s with the University of Pittsburgh.

“This region lost 150,000 manufacturing jobs in roughly little better than half a decade: the early to mid 80s. And about 67,000 of them in steel alone,” she said.

This was not some long, protracted decline like the auto industry or manufacturing. Virtually overnight, 150,000 jobs were wiped out. News reports at the time covered the plight of steelworkers who drank more and felt aimless.

“It’s the magnitude and the speed at which those closings occurred that had just an incredibly strong effect on the deindustrialization of the Pittsburgh region,” Deitrick said.

There was no time for denial. The world had changed. Globalization, deregulation, choose your villain. Steel was over. And, the future was uncertain.

I asked Steve Lee to take me on a driving tour of the new Pittsburgh.

He now runs that architecture department where he was once a student.

Pittsburgh’s hills are San Francisco  steep. We’re heading down toward the city’s three rivers to the Pittsburgh Technology Center.

With steel a fraction of its former self, the air and water are pristine now. And, after a couple downtrodden decades, many steel mill sites have new uses.

One is home to biomedical research and students learning to be the next video game designers.

I asked him what it would have looked like here fifty years ago.

“Well, you certainly wouldn’t have seen the river and the bike path that’s running all the way along there–all the way to downtown,” Lee said. “This would have been huge shed buildings with massive rolling mills inside that were just creating just unbelievable sound.”

Across one of Pittsburgh’s three rivers is another former mill. It’s now home to condos and upscale retail.

Lee says it’s the former Jones and Laughlin site.

Look toward downtown and you’ll see the city’s tallest building. At the top are the initials for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“For anyone from Pittsburgh, it’s not the UPMC building, it’s the US Steel tower, and it will remain that to everyone’s death,” Lee said. “But obviously, it’s a huge icon of the shift from basic industry to service industries in the region.”

Today, the hospitals are the biggest employer. There are 1600 technology companies. Google has added more than 150 employees there.

A generation ago, 40% of the economy was heavy industry. Today, no one thing dominates.

And, in those nearly 30 years since he was shown the door at US Steel, Colin Meneely has reinvented himself too. After clerking in the Port Authority’s law department, he realized he needed some education to get ahead.

“Graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at age 44 and went straight to law school,” Meneely said.

Before long, he was senior council at the region’s transit agency and much like the city itself, doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about his days in the steel industry.

Special Thanks to: Erika Gatz, Rick Sebak and WQED, Tiffani Emig and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Carnegie Mellon University, Steve Lee, and everyone else who gave their time to help with this production.

Ashley Steele and her son, Richard Peake

Ashley Steele was one of the first students to go to college on the Kalamazoo Promise. She wants her son Richard to go as well. Photo by Kate Davidson.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Five years ago this month, a group of anonymous donors made a radical promise to Kalamazoo. They would pay for almost every high school graduate to go to a state-supported college or university.
Download audio file (20101104_davidson.mp3)
Download the audio here

Changing Gears has been profiling towns across the region as they try to reinvent themselves for the new economy. (Our previous segments looked at Sandusky, Ohio and Kenosha, Wisconsin.) In some ways, the reinvention of Kalamazoo comes down to the chance one young woman got to reinvent herself.

It’s unusual for a promise to become a brand. But if you drive through the streets of downtown Kalamazoo, you’ll see banners lining the main drag. They boast: “Home of the Kalamazoo Promise.”

Tucked into a side street are the offices of the Kalamazoo Promise. As the executive administrator, Bob Jorth is a kind of quiet kingmaker. He spent a recent morning signing the certificates that tell high school seniors how much of their college the Promise will fund. The numbers were high: 95%, 95%, 70%, 100%, 100%, 100%, and on and on.

The earlier that children enroll in Kalamazoo public schools, the more money they get when they graduate. It’s an incentive to come to Kalamazoo and remain. Jorth says that so far, about 2,000 students have started college on the Promise.

Ashley Steele is one of them.

When news of the Promise first broke, Steele was just trying to get through her senior year at Kalamazoo Central High School. Her father died when she was little. For most of her childhood, her mom was incarcerated.

Steele vividly remembers the first time her mother was arrested. “It really impacted me,” she said. “I didn’t understand why the good guys were taking my mom away. Who was the best person I knew at eight.”

That experience inspired what Steele calls her “passion for the law.” But before the Kalamazoo Promise, she thought a two year degree was all she could afford. That would make it difficult to achieve her goal of becoming a juvenile probation officer.

Enrolling in four year college, Steele said, “wouldn’t have happened. There’s no way I would have wanted to take out that much loan. I would have spent the rest of my life paying it back. But with the Kalamazoo Promise, I don’t have to.”

Now Steele is a criminal justice major at Western Michigan University; she already has an associate’s degree.

Steele is representative of her peers from the first Promise class in one way. It will take her five years or more to get her bachelor’s degree. Of the nearly 350 Promise students who graduated high school in 2006, about 60 have earned BA’s so far. Promise officials say that number should rise.

Richard Peake is 3. If he starts kindergarten in a Kalamazoo public school, he should be eligible for a full ride to college. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Still, the Kalamazoo Promise can’t guarantee that students who make it to college are prepared to get through it. That’s where pressure on the Kalamazoo Public Schools comes in.

Michael Rice, the KPS superintendent, says the district has grown 20% since the Promise first made headlines, reversing years of declining enrollment.

Increasingly, it’s because families are staying put. “That’s a very, very powerful change within this community,” he said.

Rice points to another change – an aspirational one. In the last few years, the number of Kalamazoo students taking advanced placement courses has more than doubled. But Rice says the district hasn’t fully arrived. A third of kids here never graduate from high school.

Still, the Kalamazoo schools are where Ashley Steele wants to send her son. After she started college, she had a baby. Today, that baby is three – a friendly little boy named Richard with big brown eyes and a Spiderman obsession.

Steele sees Richard growing up differently than she did, because of the Kalamazoo Promise. She wants him to be proud of the fact that she continued her education.

“And I’m hoping that the Kalamazoo Promise will still be around when he gets ready to go to school,” she said.

The Kalamazoo Promise is supposed to continue in perpetuity. But not every community can boast anonymous benefactors with very deep pockets. That presents a challenge for cities around the country that want to replicate the Promise. It’s also something we’ll report on in our next story from Kalamazoo.

Joseph Arducan at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Joseph Arducan is one of the oldest kids in his class.  At 43, he’s a senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  The veteran auto worker is one of the region’s many displaced workers who’ve decided to go back to school.  Ann Arbor reporter Kate Davidson is following Arducan on his new road from Chrysler to the classroom, and beyond.

In class, Joseph Arducan looks like the model of efficiency.  He sits in the front row, typing notes on his laptop.  He also tapes lectures so he can check his notes against them later.  But Arducan’s system is redundant for a reason.  He types with two fingers.  He feels slow.  He doesn’t trust his memory.

Today, that memory is being put to the test.  The professor hands back the results of the class’s first psychology test.  He’s written a comment, in pencil, on Joseph Arducan’s.

Arducan reads it out loud.  “He wrote: ‘What do you mean when you talk about you get bad memories?’” he says.  “‘You did great.’”

But when I look at the same sentence, I read it as: ‘What do you mean when you talk about your bad memory?’

Well, it turns out that for Joseph Arducan, bad memory and bad memories are colliding, here, in this classroom.  And to make it to graduation, he has to overcome both.  We’ll return to those memories in a moment.

Taking A Buyout, Taking A Gamble

Joseph Arducan is not alone in facing an uncertain future.  Over the last 20 years, the country has lost millions of manufacturing jobs.  Arducan worked as a toolmaker at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly plant when he saw the writing on the wall.  So in the spring of 2009, as the company headed for bankruptcy, he took a leap of faith and a buyout.  He says he gave up a six figure salary and a top union job. 

“It’s hard to walk away from that,” Arducan says.  “I mean somebody in their right mind in this economic downturn would say, ‘You’re working for the Big Three.  You have no degree.  You’re making that much money with all that benefits.  How can you be that dumb to walk away?’  It’s because I look at them every day.”

Them are his wife Lori and his two daughters, ages five and eleven.  Joseph says his degree is being paid for by Michigan Works!, a workforce development association that’s using federal money to send him to school.

The Classroom Experience

Joseph and Lori Arducan at their home in Chesterfield, Michigan. With Jenna, 5, and Lexus, 11. Photo by Kate Davidson.

Many auto workers go to community colleges when they return to school. 

But some, like Joseph Arducan, are determined to make it to the University of Michigan.

“They have an incredible work ethic,” says Martin Hershock, an associate professor of history at the Dearborn campus. 

But he says the transition to academia can be very difficult.

Joseph Arducan says he’d like to become a physician’s assistant, but his confidence is shaken.  That’s where the bad memory comes in.  Arducan says he can’t study too far before a test, because he just forgets.  And he struggles with computers.

“Now, everything is computer,” he says.  “Everything is, you know, the 21st century, which I am very far behind in.

His five year old daughter Jenna is sprawled on the carpet, drawing pictures with an iPhone.  Joseph Arducan didn’t have a smart phone or a computer growing up.  He didn’t even know how to use Microsoft Word when he left Chrysler last year.  Now some assignments take forever.

“I’ll sit in the basement for hours on days,” he says.  “And I’ll finally ask her, Lori, how do I do this?  Because I don’t want to ask.  I don’t want her to be in college.”

“We see him more now,” his wife Lori Arducan says.  “He’s physically home more now.  But I think we spend less time with him now.  That’s one of the things that’s hard.”

What’s Next?

The class is about personality development at the beginning of life. Photo by Kate Davidson.

The uncertainty about what’s next may be even harder.  If Joseph Arducan doesn’t go into the health field, he might try criminal justice.  Or social work.  But what he’s really passionate about is his psychology class.

And that’s where the bad memories come in. 

As a child, Joseph Arducan was abused by his father.  Now, in middle age, he’s using this class to try to understand the effects of that abuse. 

Arducan says he and his siblings were homeless for a time.

“We lived in a car, we hid from him,” he says.  “In the middle of winter and nothing to eat.  My mother used to scavenge out of the dumpsters, looking for cans of food from the restaurant.”

And that’s why work is the most important thing to Joseph Arducan.  It’s more important than family.  To him, it’s what makes family possible.  So right now, school is his job.  And if you’re wondering what he got on that psychology test … well, he got an A-. 

“See, hard work pays off,” he says.  Only five people in class did better.

Joseph Arducan flashes his easy going grin.  And he hopes that a year from now, he’ll be flashing his diploma. 

“I will cry the day I get that degree,” he says.  “And it may only be the University of Michigan-Dearborn, but to me, it’s still the University…  And I went there and I made that decision knowing that, no matter how hard it gets, that degree is going to carry its own weight.”

But will it be enough to get Joseph Arducan work in Michigan?  We’ll be following that journey.

Part I is here.

A month ago I posted about the revolution in digital fabrication and the emergence of the first killer app…the MakerBot Cupcake desktop CNC machine…

Printer with ABS plastic

My Bot constructed from 50 year old douglas fir plywood.

Under $1,000 for the complete 3d printer kit including print material – easy to assemble, totally open source, customizable, out-pacing demand, a win on many levels…and…

Pulley printed in ABS plastic

A pulley it printed.

…it works!!