Dearborn Wolverines welcome President Ono

December 12, 2022

U-M President Santa J. Ono made his first visit to UM-Dearborn to meet with faculty, staff, students and leadership on Friday. During a town hall, he shared a few plans that will take place within the next year and UM-Dearborn’s role.

Photo of U-M President Santa J. Ono with UM-Dearborn students
U-M President Santa J. Ono, far right, takes a selfie with UM-Dearborn community members on Dec. 9. Photo by Rudra Mehta

A large crowd of Dearborn Wolverines shouted, “U M Dearborn!” It echoed across the building. And, after a pause, the amped-up spectators said it again.

This wasn’t a sporting event — it was a town hall during the first campus visit with new U-M President Santa J. Ono. 

“I like to have fun. You have a lot of spirit here at UM-Dearborn,” he said. “This is a magnificent place, a very important part of the University of Michigan, and I want to thank you for welcoming me here.”

President Santa Ono leads a UM-Dearborn chant

Throughout the event, Ono lived up to his reputation as an accessible, personable leader. He even took a few selfies with students and encouraged people to continue reaching out to him on Instagram and Twitter. 

He dropped his handles, @umichprezono on Instagram and @santajono on Twitter, in hopes people will connect with him. 

Amidst all the fun, Ono addressed university business too — he wanted the audience to know a few plans that will take place within the next year and UM-Dearborn’s role. Then, he answered a few questions from the campus community.

Here are a few highlights.

A U-M strategic planning process will begin in 2023.
Ono, who took his presidential leadership role on Oct. 14, said he’s sifted through the suggestions and comments faculty, staff and constituents shared with him. Something that stood out: It has been nearly eight years since the U-M campuses had a comprehensive strategic plan. And people want one.

To start the process, virtual town hall meetings will take place in 2023 to hear from each campus community about their dreams and hopes for the campus and for U-M as a whole. And by December 2023, Ono plans to roll out a strategic plan that the three campuses create together.

“Each campus has a unique ethos and identity that I respect. The visioning process is not meant to homogenize those different cultures and ethos, which I think are one of the great assets of the University of Michigan system. The visioning process is to gather that information, to understand the unique strengths of each of the campuses, to support that distinctiveness.”

He also said U-M is gearing up for their next capital campaign and he wants to integrate needs of the three campuses— identified through the strategic planning process — into the fundraising efforts.

Aware that UM-Dearborn recently created a strategic plan, Ono said it gives the Dearborn campus a head start. But, like any strategic plan, it can grow and change.

“It’s forward looking and things are changing at a rapid pace. We’ve just recovered from a pandemic. So I’m sure you, like (people at) any other institution, are thinking, ‘what will the future look like? We need your ideas — no matter how mature they might be — to feed into the university vision,” he said. “Even though you have this head start, it is always healthy (to go through this process) because strategic plans are living documents.”

He said more information about U-M strategic planning efforts will be shared in early 2023.

He looks forward to seeing interdisciplinary/intercampus research projects.
Ono gave a shout out to UM-Dearborn researchers and Chancellor Domenico Grasso — he said research at UM-Dearborn has grown exponentially since 2018.

“It’s exciting to me that research has grown 100 percent since the chancellor arrived at this institution. Let’s hear it for the chancellor and for you for accomplishing that,” he said. 

Collaborative research is a priority of Ono’s. He talked about a recent initiative that he launched called Amplify Research and Scholarship, which will support collaborative scholarship and research on the three U-M campuses.

“It’s something I committed to at the very beginning. There is great research happening on all three campuses. There will likely be investments to really catalyze, enhance and support interdisciplinary research between faculty members on all three campuses.”

Needed research and education goes beyond science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, Ono said. Responding to a question about bridging the divisiveness in the world, he said promoting and supporting liberals arts research and education is essential too. “Academic institutions are central not only to the education of the mind, but also to the heart. You can be a brilliant person in any field and use that knowledge for bad ends, self-serving ends,” he said. “Having this education of the heart, having this historical perspective and appreciation of the importance of the arts, broadly defined, is what keeps us going, right? That’s what brings joy and raison d'etre to our lives.”

The University of Michigan Innovation Center is on his radar.
Ono was asked to give an update on the University of Michigan Innovation Center at Detroit (or UMIC at Detroit for short, and previously known as the Detroit Innovation Center) — a research and education center planned to be built between the city’s downtown and Midtown. It was first announced in December 2021. But due to transitions at the university, little movement had been made on making it a reality.

Ono said he’s “taking this off of ice” and the UMIC at Detroit will move forward.

UM-Ann Arbor graduate and donor Stephen Ross pledged $100 million, and the State of Michigan will contribute another $100 million if construction begins by December 2023. He said U-M also needs to fundraise an additional $50 to $100 million for the project.

“We think it will cost $300 million to do it right, to build a state-of-the-art building, to support faculty and students, to launch graduate programs and also stackable degrees and certificates that will be a part of unscaling and rescaling so that individuals who have been unemployed can be rescaled and reenter the workforce.” The center also will have an incubator space so that companies will be attracted to Detroit and to Michigan.

He said after the construction plans begin to move, he wants to solidify the work done at the location. “We’ll have about two years after everything is signed to think intensively about what will be happening in the building. We anticipate there will be at least five masters programs that can emanate from the Detroit Innovation Center.”

Ono said he’s aware that UM-Dearborn has a strong connection with the Detroit community — and he’ll ensure that the new location will be collaborative, not competitive.

“I am very sensitive to any situation where the offerings from the Detroit Innovation Center might interfere or complete with your offerings here. So, as we stand up this neo-innovation center, I will be in constant conversations with your chancellor and the chancellor will be in constant contact with me to make sure that we are very thoughtful and mindful so everyone will benefit from what happens in that building.”

President Ono wants to hear from you.
Ono encouraged direct feedback. He said Twitter and Instagram are the best ways to reach him and he reads what he’s tagged in.

He asked student leaders of UM-Dearborn signature events, especially those that celebrate multiculturalism, to reach out. He also mentioned seeing UM-Dearborn’s Lacrosse team invite him to a game on Twitter — Ono said he’s determined to make it to a campus sporting event — and encouraged others to get his attention via social media too. 

“It really lifts my spirits and gets me to understand what is really happening on each of the campuses of the university,” Ono said. “Direct message me on Instagram or Twitter. Many of you have already done so. Please keep it coming. I want to be able to connect with each and every one of you in a very transparent and easy way. And I want to shine a light on all the wonderful things happening here at UM-Dearborn.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.