U-M launches new initiative to address one of humanity's most critical problems: poverty

October 5, 2016

The University of Michigan has launched a new initiative to address one of humanity's most critical and seemingly intractable problems: poverty.

Called Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, the initiative will explore and test models to ease the effects of poverty and broadly share that knowledge. The initiative will work with community groups and will support active-learning options for students.

"The initiative will be solution-oriented, building on work that focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of poverty," said H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work and public policy and director of Poverty Solutions. "That work is incredibly important and will continue. Our initiative will be deeply interdisciplinary and seek to take poverty research at U-M to the next level."

Shaefer, whose research has focused on rising levels of extreme poverty in the United States, is co-author of the book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

President Mark Schlissel announced the new initiative Wednesday at his Leadership Breakfast for faculty, staff and students. The unique approach involves multiple schools and colleges at U-M tackling poverty from all angles. U-M teaches more than 100 poverty-related courses through its schools and colleges, including architecture; business; dentistry; education; kinesiology; law; literature, science, and the arts; nursing; pharmacy; public health; public policy; information; and social work.

"Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan combines the principles that attracted our students, faculty and staff, and—me—to the University of Michigan," Schlissel said. "These are bedrock principles that we pursue with the full weight of our considerable intellectual power: that we serve the public, that no challenge is too big or too complex, that great universities tackle and aim to solve great problems."

The initiative efforts will be primarily in three areas: research, teaching and practice. The research will be interdisciplinary by design. The approach to research will center initially on boosting economic opportunity, expanding educational attainment and improving health.

Teaching will focus on classes in many disciplines to increase the number of students exposed to poverty issues and to prepare emerging scholars for successful careers in research, policy and practice that significantly contribute to poverty prevention and alleviation.

The third piece, practice, will be achieved by working with communities to apply what is learned. The Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning will help make connections between U-M researchers and community groups, Shaefer said.

The initiative will soon release a call for proposals from junior faculty at U-M to invest in their poverty-related research. And a separate call for proposals for research projects will be conducted through the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, a partnership among the U-M Schools​ of Public Health, Nursing, and Social Work, Detroit Health Department, Henry Ford Health System and nine community-based organizations.

"Engagement will be a guiding principle of what we do here," Shaefer said. "Our research will be connected to the real world. Whether we are in Washtenaw County, Detroit, Lansing, or Washington, we will bring our research to policymakers and communities."

Press release by Greta Guest, senior public relations representative, Michigan News. 

More information: