University presidents don’t often visit four communities in one week. They almost certainly don’t roll into town — quite literally — by bicycle.
But that’s exactly what M. Roy Wilson, MD, chair of the AAMC Board of Directors and president of Wayne State University, did during a five-day listening tour of his state this summer. Between July 23 and 27, Wilson and several colleagues — dubbed the Road Warriors — traveled to the far corners of Michigan to talk about the value of higher education and to listen to residents’ concerns about whether a college degree is worth the investment.
“People are looking for value,” Wilson told AAMCNews after the tour. “It’s not a complaint about high tuition as much as a struggle to figure out what’s best for their kids. They want them to go to college, but they also want them to come back and contribute to the community.”
This is the second year that Wilson, an ophthalmologist by training, has biked across his state. In 2017, he visited three communities over four days — about 400 miles of cycling. This year, he visited four communities — Marshall, Holland, Owosso, and Imlay City — and added about 115 miles to his trip. “These are small communities, so it was kind of a big thing,” Wilson noted. Advance planning by the Wayne State public relations team led to articles in several local newspapers ahead of the trip and meant that, “as we were cycling from town to town, people knew who we were. We had conversations along the way.”
“People are looking for value. It’s not a complaint about high tuition as much as a struggle to figure out what’s best for their kids.”
M. Roy Wilson, MD
Chair, AAMC Board of Directors
President, Wayne State University
In each city, Wilson also hosted a town hall meeting at a local brew pub, and he invited the entire community to come out for free pizza and beer — and good conversation.
“Michigan is such a diverse state, with large rural areas we don’t know very much about,” Wilson said. “You can delude yourself into thinking that everyone else thinks the way you do, but that’s not necessarily true.”
One common theme among residents was whether an investment in higher education would lead to better jobs than they might find in their home towns as electricians, plumbers, and construction workers. Wilson assured them that a degree could open doors they might not even know existed. And that resources to pay for college were available for interested, talented students.
Indeed, two years after taking the helm at Wayne State, Wilson launched the Wayne Med-Direct program, which guarantees 10 talented high school students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds admission to both Wayne State University and Wayne State University School of Medicine each year.
For many residents of these rural communities, Wayne State — located in Detroit — seemed far away: 100 miles, 200 miles. And yet, Wilson and his Road Warriors traversed the distance by bicycle. “Part of what we wanted to do was show people that we’re not that far away,” Wilson added. “We’re just a bicycle ride away.”