June 11, 2024

Midtown to Motor City: Wayne State as driving force in the community, Hamtramck Historical Museum

College to Career

Welcome to Wayne State University, where academics and exploration meet cultural immersion and community involvement, the first part in a series of stories that explores the deep bonds between Wayne State and its home city — Detroit. 

Across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Public Library. Around the corner from the Detroit Historical Museum and the Michigan Science Center.  Midtown, home of Wayne State University, has been the constant center of Detroit’s cultural and historical scene since the university’s founding in 1868. 

A hub for community involvement and discovery — for students, educators and these local cultural institutions — this symbiotic relationship between Wayne State and some of the city’s most iconic institutions serves not only Detroit, but also Wayne State’s students. One such example of this mutual benefit in action is the relationship between the Hamtramck Historical Museum (HHM) and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).  

CLAS is led by Dean Stephanie Hartwell, Ph.D., who was drawn to Detroit for its historical institutions and a cultural depth unlike any other city. Shortly after her arrival, Hartwell made history by establishing the university’s first formal community partnership with the HHM.  

Wayne State University public event at Hamtramck Historical Musuem.
Launch event for Hamtrack Explorer, hosted by Wayne State University at the Hamtrack Historical Museum. 

 “This agreement not only serves our students, who gain experience in museum programming, research and exhibit preparation at this one-of-a-kind museum,” said Hartwell. “But our students and faculty are also able to give back to the city, enrich its history with their knowledge and expertise." 

Since the formalization of the relationship, six Wayne State students have secured internships at HHM, assisting with its exhibits and collections management over the past four years. 

This relationship also has led to history-making research. Three Wayne State students were hired to assist Krysta Ryzewski, chair for the Department of Anthropology, on a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant with collaborators at Michigan Tech, a project that involved the creation of the Hamtramck Explorerdeep map and digital atlas with the HHM. Formally called the Hamtramck Historic Spatial Archaeology Project, this technology is a living database for artifacts, historical maps, photos and records as well as report documents and a map that shows how Hamtramck has evolved over the past century and a half. 

“We created the prototype deep map and are now applying for funding to scale it up to include data for all the structures and residents in the city over the past 150 years,” said Ryzewski, who also serves on the museum's Education Committee. “This will function as a living piece of history in one of the city’s most enriching areas — made possible by Wayne State Warriors.” 

Public archaeology day hosted by Wayne State University as part of Dr. Ryzewski's Archaeological Field Methods class, which she teaches in collaboration with the HHM.

“Working on the Hamtramck Explorer was the buildup to what I had been doing throughout my education at WSU, a combination of all of my interests and experience,” said Julia DiLaura, Wayne State alumna (bachelor's, 2019; master’s, 2022; both in anthropology with a focus on archaeology) and one of the research assistants who worked with Ryzewski on the Hamtramck Explorer. “I found archaeology to be the most beneficial when collaborating with community members as well as being able to dig in the city, doing so brought a lot of opportunities to share our knowledge with the community.”  

By working with the HHM, DiLaura established and evolved her small-museum experience, which led her to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where she currently works on the new Jackson House at Greenfield Village

“Learning alongside Dr. Ryzewski was amazing. I really look up to the way she’s involved with community projects and local institutions like HHM. Completing digs and research with her was the best part of my time at WSU; I’m thankful she's able to provide those opportunities for her students,” said DiLaura. 

A fellow HHM research assistant, Brianna Leblanc (bachelor’s, 2023; master’s, 2024; both in anthropology) echoes DiLaura’s sentiment, “Working with Dr. Ryzewski has always come incredibly easy as both of our research goals focus on community engagement.” 

Unique opportunities for career preparedness and cultural emersion, plus hands-on experience with world-renowned faculty — guaranteed at Wayne State. 

Learn more about anthropology at Wayne State, as well as the Hamtramck Historical Musuem

By Katheryn Kutil

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