Building in Detroit.

Pushing Back on Poverty

U-M partners with donors, Detroit to address systemic poverty across the United States

Poverty continues to be one of today’s most pressing societal problems. Through its Poverty Solutions Initiative, U-M is leveraging its resources to inform, test, and seek out solutions in communities across the United States.

Poverty Solutions coalesces the university’s intellectual assets, partnering with community groups and policymakers to test the most promising solutions for systemic poverty. Already, the initiative is spearheading efforts by scholars from U-M’s schools of business, law, information, public health, social work, public policy, medicine; colleges of urban planning, engineering, literature, science and the arts; and the Institute for Social Research.

Panoramic view of Detroit city skyline taken at daylight from Windsor, Ontario during the summer
At roughly 35 percent, Detroit’s poverty rate is nearly three times higher than the national average. In its Partnership on Economic Mobility, U-M is working alongside the city to address systemic issues and establish long-term, evidence-based solutions for Detroiters.

A new professorship at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy—established by a $2.5 million gift from Harold (BSChem ’66) and Carol Kohn—will help drive the of future poverty research at U-M. The professorship is named in honor of Harold’s grandparents, who perished in Poland in 1943 during the Holocaust. Today, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professorship in Social Policy and Social Justice supports new applied research addressing structural injustices that can contribute to poverty.

The Kohns were inspired by the greater mission of Poverty Solutions. “In my line of work, a solution brings different chemicals together, thereby allowing their transformation,” Harold said. “That is what Poverty Solutions does, too: combining intellect, research, and compassion to bring about change.”

The Kohn Professorship draws on the advanced social justice framework already in place at the Ford School, accelerating U-M research and forging pragmatic new solutions that serve communities plagued by injustice. “This gift recognizes that the work we do makes an impact, and it will allow us to leverage our research further to boost economic opportunity, expand educational attainment, and improve health for struggling Americans,” Director of Poverty Solutions H. Luke Shaefer said.

That’s not all that U-M donors contributed. At U-M’s School of Social Work, Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri (PhD ’62) spent her career tracking solutions to poverty. As a leading expert in the fields of child and family welfare policy, and in juvenile and criminal justice systems, her work took her to communities around the globe. During the campaign, Professor Sarri opened new opportunities for aspiring graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at U-M. She established the Sarri Family Fellowship for Research on Educational Attainment of Children in Low Income Families.

Professor Sarri’s support has already helped fund numerous projects, including exploration of mathematics education disparities and their correlation to postsecondary majors and eventually pay scale. Other projects have explored the relationship between first-generation students and the challenges of recognizing and understanding success. With new projects being funded each year, the Sarri Family Fellowship continues to propel critical research across the field of educational equality.

While the Victors for Michigan campaign has come to a close, Poverty Solutions’ important work is just getting underway. “We’re proud of the accomplishments made thus far,” Shaefer said, “but the work must continue to drive change not just in our community, but across the nation so that fewer people are living in poverty.”

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Interested in learning more about Poverty Solutions? Visit poverty.umich.edu.

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