By Benjamin Tupper

Matthaei-Nichols children’s education intern Ben Tupper writes about our participation in the summer Wolverine Pathways program. It was an amazing and collaborative learning experience for everyone, he says, and it offered the opportunity to design, implement, and reality-test a program that will help kids connect the theme of stewardship to their own lives.
Summer is a busy time for everyone at Matthaei-Nichols and the Children’s Education department is no exception. Transitioning from school-year to summer programs, we fervently prepared for the arrival of the Wolverine Pathways Scholars. This groundbreaking new program is the brainchild of U-M associate professor Robert Jagers. The pathways moniker is apt: schoolkids who complete the program and are accepted at U-M get full-tuition, four-year scholarships.
At Matthaei-Nichols the education department works with schoolchildren and young students year-round, both leading and designing hands-on learning experiences that also bring in projects-based pedagogies. Our team spent the better part of two months this summer building a program that would take advantage of our incredible site and knowledgeable staff to scaffold a collaborative educational experience that is both relevant and connected to youths’ lives.

Wolverine Pathways Scholars take a photo opp break from
their lab session at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
What we have to offer makes so much sense, given the goals and the direction of the Wolverine Pathways program, says Matthaei-Nichols director Bob Grese. “The opportunity for us to participate in Wolverine Pathways fits squarely within our Nature Education Initiative to bring diverse, underserved audiences to Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and provide them with exciting opportunities to learn about nature and environmental stewardship,” he explains. The four-day program held at Matthaei was a learning experience for everyone. For the scholars, it was an opportunity to explore a new area, learn about stewardship, and contemplate the importance of becoming environmental stewards in their own locale. For staff and interns, it was an opportunity to see a design in action, work with new people, and to be a part of something that has the potential to impact hundreds of youth from the local area.

Notebooks, cameras, collection nets, and clipboards at the ready for
the Pathways Scholars. This summer,over 200 Southfield and Ypsilanti
school-district childrenvisited Matthae Botanical Gardens for an intensive
4-day session in which they went out into the field to collect samples of
and from Fleming Creek. After, the students analyzed the water
to determine the creek’s healh. The students also participated
in other activities conducted by student interns and staff at Matthaei,
such as building mason bee houses in the Children’s Garden or eco-
conservation—pulling invasive plants, for example.

What Is Wolverine Pathways?
Dr. Robert Jagers, a developmental psychologist at the U-M  School of Education, designed the Wolverine Pathways program, which launched in January 2016. A major goal of Pathways is to give young people early opportunities that will help them see possibilities and cultivate their fullest potential. It also gives the kids a sense of what it’s like to be a U-M student. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel has called the Wolverine Pathways program an “important step for the University of Michigan as we continue to look for ways to identify talented students and cultivate U-M applicants from all parts of our state.”
Wolverine Pathways was designed to provide young people with learning opportunities that embrace the best that liberal arts can give, according to Pathways program coordinator Dana Davidson. “Kids get a chance to connect with graduate students, undergrads, and faculty who can give them guidance about what the U-M experience is and how they can connect with the wider world.” And, she adds, “It will help young people see that college is a good choice for them, and that it’s possible, too.”Wolverine Pathways:
•  Is free and currently open to students who live within the Ypsilanti and Southfield public school districts.
•  Features hands-on and project-based learning activities that extend and integrate core English-language arts, math, and science content.
•  Offers a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to students who complete the program, apply to the University of Michigan, and are accepted.
For more information on how you can contribute to our Nature Education Initiative, contact Matthaei-Nichols Director of Development Gayle Steiner: 734.647.7847;
The first round of scholars arrived on Monday morning, July 18. Day one, 8th-grade youth from the Ypsilanti school district headed out to Fleming Creek, got their feet wet and their hands dirty, and determined creek health based on what species of macro-invertebrates they found. While groups conducted surveys in the creek, others were busy working on chemical tests looking for things like dissolved oxygen, nitrates, and phosphates. While the 8th graders were busy in the creek, the 11th graders worked with Matthaei-Nichols staff on service-learning projects of the terrestrial type. After a quick lunch and respite from the heat of the day the scholars were back at it. The 8th graders crunched numbers, analyzed data, and made determinations of creek health based on their morning findings. The 11th graders headed out to the display gardens, learning about interpretation techniques and how to convey information to the public. With day 1 complete, the scholars headed home and the staff frantically prepared for the next day.
During the second day of the program the scholars swapped roles. After another hot morning out collecting data and conducting field service work, the youth began work on their final projects. Using information they gathered on their visit to Matthaei the students developed stewardship-themed posters that they presented to their peers and to staff. The poster session was a huge success and the kids enjoyed an opportunity to share their innovative, creative, and entertaining projects. Days 3 and 4 of the program ran very much the same as the first, except with Southfield school district students and double the number of kids from days one and two!
Note from Ben: I want to thank everyone involved with this program. Our children’s education coordinator Liz Glynn was a guiding light, and my fellow intern Sam Pilon also helped put the program together. It was wonderful to see so many enthusiastic Matthaei-Nichols staff participating and giving their precious time and energy to make a lasting impact on youth. To everyone who helped plan, implement, and participate, thank you!
What We Learned
The four-day Wolverine Pathways program proved to be a learning experience for everyone. The student scholars explored a new area, learned about stewardship, and contemplated the importance of becoming environmental stewards in their own locale. For staff and interns, it was an opportunity to see a design in action, to work with new people, and to be a part of an initiative that has the potential to impact hundreds of youth from the local area.
What’s Next

Moving forward, we’d like to get student participants’ insights to help us better understand their experience of the program. It would be also be interesting to study the design process and to gain insights into the intended, taught, and learned curriculum. This will help us in the future with the design and implementation but perhaps most important, it will help us discover what the students actually learn, whether we intended those lessons or not.