Detroit Connections: In the Classroom has a way of really sticking with Stamps students. Taught by Melanie Manos, the course charges Stamps students with the responsibility of leading weekly art and design projects with fourth grade students at Bennett Elementary School in Detroit. Critical thinking, creative problem solving, and the empowered act of making are pillars of the curriculum — for the fourth graders and the Stamps students alike.
In 2015, Cole Stabnick (BA ’18) was a new transfer student to Stamps. He’d always enjoyed working with kids — he’d taught Spanish in local elementary schools through U-M’s A2LP program — and when it came time to register for art and design classes, he knew Detroit Connections would be a good fit.
“I loved the Detroit Connections class with Melanie,” Stabnick said. “Learning how to prepare for a project, troubleshoot it, and figure out how to think on your feet in real time — it was awesome. And the students were great. It never felt like work to me — it’s just fun.”
Stabnick enjoyed his time at Bennett so much that he sought to extend the experience into his junior and senior year. Working with Melanie Manos to secure permission from Bennett Elementary administration, he coordinated a group of students from across the University of Michigan — with a core group including Thomas Buck (AB in Economics ‘18), Libby Barnes (BA in Psychology), and Rachel Schwandt (BA in International Studies & Spanish ‘18) — to continue art and design projects with the fourth graders throughout the academic year.
“We call our little group U-M Detroit Collaboration,” said Stabnick. “We work with one class each year, coming in at the end of the day most Fridays to give the teachers a little break and the students something fun to look forward to.”
Working from a place of individual volunteerism — the U-M Detroit Collaboration group is not an official student organization — Stabnick reports that the group plans projects in advance, works out ways to keep costs low, splits the bill four ways, and carpools to Bennett. “It’s really just a way for us to get outside of our hectic schedules each week and give back,” he says.
“Cole is a great example of a student embracing the principles of engaged work through his continual, independent involvement with the Bennett School community,” said Stamps instructor Melanie Manos. “Engagement is about developing and sustaining relationships with communities, and finding ways to do so despite a lack of infrastructure. Bennett is a welcoming, vibrant environment with dedicated faculty and as of 2017 an art budget of zero. It is my hope that other students will join Cole’s spirit of committed community involvement — it truly is a way toward greater diversity and bridge-building.”
The major creative focus for Stabnick and the U-M Detroit Collaboration group is material exploration — and the creation of objects that students can proudly take home to show their parents. Recent projects have included tissue-paper mosaics, tie-dye, and super hero masks.
“The super hero masks project was a really fun one,” Stabnick said. “One of the students we worked with was really funny. He loves superheroes and throughout the fall, no matter what project we were working on, he’d find a way to make it into a super hero mask. So right before Halloween, we did a project in honor of him and we actually made masks with the entire class. It was really fun.”
Stabnick is currently preparing for graduation, exploring streetwear design through his BA Capstone coursework. While he sees a future for himself as the owner and creative lead of a fashion company, he sees engaged social practice as an inseparable component to his long-term business practices, in part due to his time at Bennett Elementary — but also as a result of his summer internship with Foot Locker. “We did food drives, boys and girls club activities, and I saw a real commitment to community involvement at Foot Locker,” Stabnick says. “That social engagement aspect will be an important goal for my company in the long run.”