UM-Dearborn students utilize $100,000 grant from Ford Motor Company Fund to develop innovative virtual environment to address social needs

June 1, 2009

Screenshot of UM-Dearborn's Campus of Hope in Second Life

DEARBORN / June 1, 2009---Virtual environments have become valuable tools for e-learning and distance collaboration.  Now, a group of engineering students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn are using technology in a different way: as a means to address social needs and urge social change.   

This innovative project, called the "Campus of Hope," is made possible by a $100,000 Ford College Community Challenge grant from Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services.  Through this initiative, UM-Dearborn students purchase virtual land in the online 3D world of Second Life, and morph themselves into digital avatars to promote awareness about the challenges of Michigan’s food banks.

The Campus of Hope project is one of just five projects that received funding in 2008 from the national Ford College Community Challenge, a new initiative that invited colleges from across the country to design student-led projects that would offer community-based organizations innovation solutions for tackling critical needs.  Winning "Challenge" entries had to embody the theme of "Building Sustainable Communities."    

"At Ford, we understand that to contribute to a more sustainable world, we must play an active role in helping institutions and communities address a wide range of vital issues from education to hunger to mobility," said Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services.  "Through this Community Challenge initiative, Ford is the rewarding innovation and initiative of college students who want to improve the sustainability of the places they work and live." 

In the online world of Second Life, Campus of Hope is mirrored after the real UM-Dearborn community, complete with familiar campus buildings and a replica of Ford’s world headquarters – except this one houses interactive food-bank themed games scripted by the students.  For example, visitors to Campus of Hope can drive a Gleaners’ Food Bank truck as they race to pick up food donations before a timer runs out.      

The goal of the Campus of Hope project is to use Second Life's technology to conceptualize challenges facing Michigan’s food banks and to develop solutions than can later be implemented in the real world through partnerships with the Food Bank Council of Michigan and other local agencies.  Through 2013, UM-Dearborn students will continue to expand and strengthen the Campus of Hope community, operating it as a real and virtual network where food banks can collaborate, exchange best practices and access tools and resources.     

“The University of Michigan-Dearborn is committed to supporting the residents of southeastern Michigan,” said Bruce Maxim, associate professor of computer and information science.  “Campus of Hope gives us a way to use technology to solve real problems for real-world communities, while providing valuable skills and public service opportunities to students.”   

The Campus of Hope project will be showcased at an upcoming UM-Dearborn conference that explores using virtual worlds to improve the real world.  The conference will be hosted simultaneously in Second Life and on the UM-Dearborn campus on June 3.  Those interested in attending can find more information about the conference at   


Watch a video about the Campus of Hope!

Access to the Campus of Hope in Second Life is currently restricted to the University of Michigan community and interested persons from the surrounding community.  To request access, send an e-mail containing your Second Life avatar’s first and last name to Prof. Bruce Maxim at, or while inside Second Life, send an instant message to “BruceRobert Mizin.”



CONTACT: Jennifer Thelen
PHONE: 313-593-5644
The Office of University Relations
Room 1040, Administration Building
University of Michigan-Dearborn