Providing Experiential Learning Opportunities in Southeast Michigan Since 2001
The University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-Dearborn) is a regional university within the University of Michigan system, and is located in Dearborn, part of metropolitan Detroit. In 1959, when Ford Motor Company donated 210 acres of the Henry Ford Estate to the University of Michigan for a regional campus, one-third of the campus was designated as a Natural and Historic Area. The area adjoins Henry Ford's estate, Fair Lane, as well as an extensive acreage of natural habitats.
Starting in the early 1970s, Dr. Orin Gelderloos and a cadre of students began providing guided environmental study programs for the region's school children and families, a unique commitment by a Michigan university to conduct free environmental outreach to the surrounding community. Full-time staff was appointed in 1979 to coordinate programs and supervise the Environmental Study Area. Over the next two decades, interest in opportunities for school children to explore the natural world with "hands-on" discovery programs increased, and the complexity of the operation grew.
The Environmental Interpretive Center (EIC) at UM-Dearborn fulfills the University's goal of educating the communities of southeast Michigan on environmental issues, particularly those related to urban areas. Although the concept and vision of the EIC was present from the 1960s, it was not until the mid-1990s that the Legislature of the State of Michigan committed 75% of the funds for the construction of the EIC. An agreement to construct the EIC and set aside 300+ acres as an Environmental Study Area was agreed to by UM-Dearborn and the County of Wayne on January 27, 1998. The EIC officially opened its doors on May 25, 2001. The Center has had three Directors in its history, Dr. Orin Gelderloos (2001-2009), Dr. David Susko (2009-2020), and Dr. Claudia Walters (2020-present). Since its inception, the EIC has provided environmental interpretation and education to over 230,000 school children and community visitors.