Engagement Series

The Poverty Solutions Engagement Series tackles poverty-related topics by bringing faculty, students, and communities together to explore ideas, strategies, and potential solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Past Events

Work|Force: Solving for Jobs, Mobility, & Poverty in an Era of Rapid Change, March 26, 2019

Rates of upward economic mobility have fallen since the mid-20th century. More and more children are growing up to earn less than their parents, and the lack of opportunity is exacerbated by rising inequality, increased wage disparities, and limitations within our education system. This event explored the future of work and the workforce. It examined the issue from multiple viewpoints, including the private sector and public sector, and encouraged participants to explore what the future looks like and how we can promote equity and economic mobility as the nature of work changes.

View the full event program.



Broderick Johnson, senior of counsel at Covington and Burling LLP, former Obama administration cabinet secretary, and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, interviews Julie Gehrki, vice president of philanthropy at Walmart, and Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart US, about the company’s workforce development programs, challenges, and opportunities.


Shamar Herron, deputy director of Michigan Works! Southeast, leads a discussion with providers and participants on the front lines of workforce development about what works and what doesn’t. Panelists included Jonathan Gonzalez, Arielle Johnson, Coy Mosley, and Beulah Walker.


Jeff Donofrio, executive director of Workforce Development for the City of Detroit, leads a discussion about current workforce development strategies and future directions of work and Michigan’s workforce. Panelists included Jim Jacobs, president emeritus of Macomb Community College; Jeannine LaPrad, senior fellow at Corporation for a Skilled Workforce; and Sharon Miller, a certified change management profession and Michigan talent architect at Consumers Energy HR/Learning and Development.

The Road Out of Poverty: A Transportation and Economic Mobility Symposium, March 15, 2018

The relationship between transportation and economic mobility seems obvious: if people can’t get where they need to go – whether it’s school, work, healthcare, or an office for social services – they’ll be worse off. Indeed, evidence corroborates this claim, suggesting a strong link between economic mobility and transportation. Investments in housing do not affect employment unless coupled with access to transportation, as demonstrated by the evaluation of the Moving to Opportunity Program. In a study by the Rudin Center for Transportation, researchers found areas with the least access to public transportation also had the lowest incomes and highest rates of unemployment.

This symposium drew from Poverty Solutions’ interdisciplinary approach to solving deeply entrenched social problems. We included voices tackling rural, suburban, and urban challenges as well as the local, state, and federal levels of government. 

Anthony Foxx, 17th United States Department of Transportation Secretary, 2013-2017


  • License to Drive–How Legal Structures Impact Mobility
  • Getting to Work and School–Barriers to Meeting Basic Mobility Needs
  • The Future of Transportation–Engineering Systems to Enhance Equity
  • Transportation Security–Measurement Tools to Understand Needs
  • Accessibility Across County Lines–Regional Approaches to Transportation Barriers

Breakout Session on Getting to Work and School: Barriers to Meeting Basic Mobility Needs, with Professor Joe Grengs, Teresa Gillotti, Kristin Blagg, and Ryan Buck. Moderated by Joshua Rivera.

Our breakout sessions featured a multidisciplinary set of scholars and practitioners tackling rural, suburban, and urban challenges, as well as the local, state, and federal government approaches. Learn more about each panel discussion in this briefing (PDF)

See the Full Agenda.


  • Panelist Professor Tierra Bills from Michigan Engineering examines how transportation could help alleviate poverty in Benton Harbor. Read the story and watch the video below.

Poverty Simulation, October 6, 2017

Poverty Solutions partnered with U-M Dearborn’s Office of Metropolitan Impact and Office of Student Success to host a poverty simulation open to all students. Developed by the Missouri Community Action Network, the poverty simulation is a robust pedagogical tool meant to give students an idea of the challenges families in poverty face daily. It is designed to give participants specific realistic barriers associated with poverty including: feeding your family, paying your bills, finding employment, and navigating many more challenges. The goal is to have students reflect and learn ways to take action, promote justice, and be an ally to those living in a real state of poverty.

The event had 80 students participate from across the schools and colleges, including LSA, the Ford School of Public Policy, the School for Environment and Sustainability, and more.The volunteers filling the roles of social service organizations came from community organizations such as the Community Action Network of Washtenaw County, The Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Food Gatherers and the Ypsilanti Health Center. Read the FAQ.

Students and faculty participate in a simulation to experience poverty and its effects following the lecture “Place, Poverty, and Opportunity in America,” presented by Professor Scott Allard.

Making Housing More Affordable, April 7, 2017

The first Poverty Solutions Engagement Series session, Making Housing More Affordable, took place on April 7, 2017, at the U-M School of Social Work. It featured keynote speaker, Arthur Jemison, the director of housing and revitalization for the City of Detroit and interactive breakout sessions led by faculty and community experts discussing a variety of approaches to providing more affordable housing.

The event included breakout sessions (PDF) where attendees tackled issues related to affordable housing, including, homelessness in Washtenaw County, property tax exemption, and supportive services for low-income housing.


Keynote Address