In a journey to help their son’s legacy achieve what he could not, the family of a late University of Michigan student will soon embark on a 300-mile bike ride across the state. They hope to to start a dialogue about college affordability and ensure that Michigan Engineering is top-of-mind for talented in-state high-school students.
Ian Clemens, of Livonia, Mich, knew he wanted to be a Wolverine since he was three years old. In 2012 he started his freshman year at U-M. Only weeks later, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He passed away shortly thereafter. His parents, Michelle and Al Clemens, immediately set up a scholarship in his name to support outstanding students from Wayne County, Michigan.
“Ian had said that he wanted to make a positive change in the world, and this is our way of fulfilling that for him,” Michelle Clemens said.
On May 22, she, her husband Al Clemens, and their daughter (Ian’s sister) Kaylee will mount up outside the Duderstadt Center on U-M’s North Campus and pedal north for five days. Their destination is the high-profile Mackinac Policy Conference, where 1,700 business, community and government leaders gather annually to chart the state’s economic future.
“We have always been ones to take on big challenges like this,” said Ian’s father Al Clemens. “Go big or go home.”
Joining the Clemens family will be Boyd Falconer, the College of Engineering’s advancement director for Southeastern Michigan, and an avid cyclist. He envisions this to be the first of many “Dude to Mack: Pedalers for Michigan” rides dedicated to the topic.
“U-M is a public university that was founded with Michiganders in mind—educating our state’s future leaders and creating economic opportunities,” Falconer said. “But because of increasing enrollment competition and tuition costs, more and more Michigan high-schoolers disregard U-M as an option.”
President Mark Schlissel raised the issue in his inaugural address, and he called for the university to encourage every talented high school senior in Michigan to apply to U-M.
To tackle this, the journey will take a multilayered approach. Donors can pledge to the scholarship fund in advance of the ride, with the money only changing hands if the riders finish. And each stage of the trek will end in a small to mid-size town where the riders can discuss the issue with local residents and students. Stops or events are planned in Fenton, Saginaw, Midland and Grayling. The riders hope the journey enhances their understanding of the issue.
“I’m wondering if Michigan high school students see U-M as their No. 1 target, or do they intentionally dismiss it for something they think of as safer? And if so why? Is it expense, fear of failure at an elite institution, or something else?” Falconer said. “For both the students’ career prospects, and from the state’s economic development standpoint, we should be doing all we can to keep our talent in Michigan—and at the state’s best best university.”
In future years, Falconer and the Clemens family envision the ride expanding to include more scholarship opportunities and events at the stops, including demonstrations of research projects and visits to high schools.
“My hope is that this event I hope that this ride will grow into an annual event and becomes a large source of fundraising for current and future scholarships,” Kaylee Clemens said.
Follow the journey at the Ian Clemens Memorial Scholarship website and with the hashtag #DudeToMac