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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Wayne State University Turns 150

March 2, 2018 

Like some fine wines, it seems that WSU only gets better with age.  Wayne State University (WSU) has been serving the Detroit community with distinction, commitment and dedication to its urban mission through education, research, and service. WSU will be celebrating its sesquicentennial this year on May 18th.

In 1868, Wayne State University was officially founded as the Detroit Medical College, now the School of Medicine. The Detroit Medical College was created in 1868 (founded by 5 Civil War physicians), out of which grew Wayne State University. The first academic term began on Nov. 3, 1868. In 1881, the Detroit Normal Training School was established, now the College of Education.

On April 22, 1956, the Michigan Legislature adopted Act 183 “to establish and regulate a state institution of higher learning to be known as Wayne State University.” This legislative act opened the doors for Wayne State to join Michigan’s other select public universities.

The official sesquicentennial celebration will run from January to November 2018. 

I take great pride as an alumnus of Wayne’s Master in Social Work Administration 1977-79 and ABD in Education Leadership. I also served as special assistant to both WSU Presidents, Drs. David Adamany and Irvin Reid. Both of these gentlemen were thoughtful leaders – committed to the university’s urban mission and dedicated to creating the opportunity for all. I learned a great deal from both Drs. Reid and Adamany and feel to be a better person and leader for having worked with them.

WSU President Roy M. Wilson

Today, Dr. M. Roy Wilson, who became the 12th president of Wayne State University on August 1, 2013, carries on the tradition of excellence at WSU. 

Warrior Pride

If WSU has not been created 150 years ago, there may well be a mad rush to do so today.  Detroit and WSU have witnessed some hard times in their centuries together. The environment around the WSU’s midtown campus was a bit rough when I attended in the mid-70s. Like much of Detroit today, it is experiencing a renaissance that gives metro Detroiters a great sense of pride and hope in its revitalization. WSU students, faculty, and staff have been a catalyst for the continued resurgence of this storied city. 

Throughout its 150 year history, students have been able to experience big city college life on a campus that is anything but ordinary. WSU’s diverse student body is a mirrored tapestry of what makes this nation great.

A visit to Detroit is not complete without a stroll through WSU’s campus with its historic monuments and statues. The campus is surrounded by nearby classic museums including the Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Michigan Science Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and the world-renowned Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). To be on or near campus is to understand why 27,000+ students from every state in the union and from 70 countries, choose to study in the heart of Detroit.

Faculty, Board, and Alumni 

Jack Lessenberry, head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State, who also writes opinions on these pages said, “I went to Michigan State as an undergraduate and to the University of Michigan as a graduate student, and later taught there. In many ways, Wayne State is a more important school than both those wonderful institutions.  It is fulfilling the mission of giving students who are the first in their families to go to college a chance to be upwardly mobile, to achieve the American dream.”   

“I’ve been teaching here for 25 years. One of the most wonderful things about my students is their amazing diversity, not only racially and ethnically, but in terms of life experience. I am 65, and still occasionally have students my age or older.   I had a brilliant woman who is a newspaper editor in Wyoming fly into Detroit four days a week this fall to complete her undergraduate degree, which she accomplished, earning all A’s. My alums have been White House interns and senior aides to government officials, editors and news anchors and everything else.  Wayne is fully independent and not part of Detroit’s political structure, but is fully invested in this city’s revival.”

Jack continued, “This if you care about what’s happening in this city, is the place to be.”

Paul Massaron, Owner, PEM Consulting and Governor Emeritus for Wayne State University has served two eight-year terms, serving with distinction under four WSU Presidents: Irvin Reid, Jay Noren, Allan Gilmore and now, current President, M. Roy Wilson. 

Massaron’s accomplishments are extensive including multiple renovations. Capital projects such as The Welcome Center, the Bookstore, student housing, Mazurek Center and Applebaum College were approved and finished during his tenure

Massaron brags about WSU, pointing out, “Wayne has been one of the three major forces driving economic development and growth in Midtown in Detroit. Wayne’s other two partners are the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System. Wayne has the largest single medical campus in the country.”

Massaron continues, “WSU has at least 250,000 alumni. Most of them came from Detroit or suburban Detroit and many are first-time college graduates in their families. Many are sons and daughters of workers in Detroit in auto and related industries. Many are also sons and daughters of the waves of immigrants to the Detroit area or migrants from the South. It remains the center of higher educational opportunity for students from Detroit, Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County.”

Dr. Carmen Mcintyre, a WSU Medical School grad (1986-1990) and now Associate Chair for Community Affairs, and Director of Community Psychiatry Fellowship for the WSU School of Medicine-Department of Psychiatry and behavioral Neurosciences has a family affair with WSU. Each of her first degree relatives (both parents, two brothers, and two sisters) are WSU alums.

Dr. McIntyre emphasized that “part of what makes WSU unique, is that you have access to quality research, just like at UM, but also real-world experience, and the chance to make a difference in a big city as well as suburban and rural settings. I don’t know what another medical school gives you access to so many hospitals for training:  Detroit Medical Center’s and University Physician Group’s many hospitals and clinics in the city and suburbs. You get to see the “zebras” (rare conditions) and the “horses” – common things that cause pain and suffering every day to so many people.  The folks we treated were the wealthy coming for specialists, the indigent, and everyday folks.  We received a very broad and complete training experience that I can’t imagine I would have been afforded anywhere else.  We were able to make an impact in our community while receiving an outstanding education.”

Dr. McIntyre continues, “the same is true for the other training programs at WSU: engineering working with the automotive and other industries; social work in the vast array of provider and educational organizations; nursing; biomedical research, etc. Quality education with research and real-world applications in urban/suburban/rural settings while making positive impacts in our community— that is the unique WSU experience.”

After a nearly 20 year career in the marketing and automotive research industry in Detroit, Patricia Watkins (no relation) returned to grad school at WSU in the School of Information Sciences. Earning her MLIS degree in 2000, Watkins is now Associate Director of Library Research & Learning Services at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. She values the degree she earned at WSU saying: “at the dawn of the Internet age, the degree and education I received at WSU more than prepared me to take on the challenges in our 21st-century information industry.” 

Urban Mission – Global Impact

Michael Wright, VP for Marketing and Communications and Chief of Staff at Wayne State University proudly stated, “We will tell our story with pride and clarity — and facilitate the telling of our story by others — in ways that leave no doubt regarding our indelible, positive impact and vision for the next chapter of the university.”

Wayne State University is proud to tell its story of how it has served as a place of innovation, opportunity and support for students, faculty, alumni, community members and partners looking to turn ideas into reality and improve quality of life.

The colleges within WSU are extraordinary: Law, Medicine, Social Work, Engineering, Education, Nursing, Business, and the Liberal Arts are all world-class. 

First in their Class

The University has one the largest programs for graduate education in Michigan and ranks just behind Michigan State and the University of Michigan as a national research institution. A world-class urban research institution in the heart of “the D”.

From being the first to use a mechanical heart pump in open-heart surgery and developing the first FDA-approved drug to treat AIDS patients, to changing the face of automotive safety through seatbelts, windshield wipers, and crash test dummies, Warriors are dedicated to making a positive impact on the world around them.

Wayne State’s commitment to supporting and growing innovation and entrepreneurship efforts across campus continues to grow. Nationally recognized as an innovation and economic prosperity university by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Wayne State has a robust research enterprise and offers a wide array of entrepreneurship programs and resources for K-12, college and graduate students, faculty, community members, industry leaders, and CEOs seeking innovative resources.

WSU continues to tell its story about how the university partners with many businesses and organizations to generate ideas and impact communities. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a program of WSU’s Office of Economic Development, has hosted 67 Fellows since 2011. Fellows are talented mid-career leaders stimulating progress within Detroit’s civic, community and economic development landscape who engage in a rigorous two-year leadership development program while serving full time at organizations.

The university’s economic impact and presence, however, is not limited to Detroit. For instance, Wayne State is a partner, along with University of Michigan and Michigan State, in the University Research Corridor (URC), generating 94 percent of the research in Michigan and accounting for a $2.5 billion overall economic impact in Detroit. 

Since 2002, there have been 210 URC startups. Additionally, with nearly 75 percent of its 260,000 alumni living in Michigan, Wayne State’s Warriors contribute greatly to the state’s economic renewal.

You won’t hear about WSU in the same way as its two other partner schools – U of M and MSU – for its powerhouse football team. Yet, the impact WSU has made on the City of Detroit, the region’s major employers and the opportunities it has provided to children in its neighborhoods and from around the globe has been phenomenal.

May Wayne State University continue to serve its mission to create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities for another 150 years – WSU Pride!

To learn more about WSU visit:

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2001-5, Special Assistant to the President of Wayne State University and today is a business, health and educational consultant in the US and China. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


March 1, 2018 · Filed under Tom Watkins

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 roger m. // Mar 2, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Mr. Watkins is a champion for education in this state. This article is compelling and has much about WSU I never knew. Thank you for writing it and keeping attention on education

  • 2 Carol Zuniga // Mar 2, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Thanks Tom for the great tribute to WSU. My family was part of that upward mobility you discuss. My mother, an octogenarian now, was the first in her family to go on to higher education; after her BA, MA and PhD at Wayne, she stayed on as English Department faculty for 30+ years. Like so many metro Detroiters, we have allot for which to thank WSU.

  • 3 Leroy Stephens // Mar 3, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Wow! This is a well written article with a lot of information. Tom keep enlightening us about the many gems that make our city and state great.

  • 4 Paula D. Cunningham // Mar 4, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Thanks Tom. Our State is blessed with outstanding learning institutions. WSU is certainly one of them.bery insightful article.

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