Applications open for City of Midland's Citizens Academy

What do the current City of Midland mayor, countless Midland residents, and one seeing-eye canine all have in common? They’re all graduates of the Citizens Academy.

Early next year, the city of Midland will bring back its Citizens Academy after taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens Academy is a free class open to anyone 18 years or older with an interest in their local government and how it works.

Katie Guyer, communications coordinator for the City of Midland, says participants’ ages and backgrounds of those in the academy, “run the gamut."

Class photo from Midland Citizens Academy."[They're] people who are just really interested in their city, want to learn about its departments and a chance to see what happens behind the scenes,” she says. “We get some people who have lived here their entire lives and want to know more about the city they live in.” Guyer also says it’s a great class to take if a person is new to the Midland area or a retiree.

Participants will hear many local professional speakers and tour city departments and facilities, including the water treatment plant and the Midland County Jail.

“The City of Midland has a high quality of life with many public services," says Guyer. "People who are new to the area always say how impressed they are with the amount of services that are offered here compared with surrounding areas and how low the millage rates are in comparison. It’s a cool opportunity to know how each department is run. It’s about being engaged with their community."

Mayor Maureen Donker enrolled in the academy in 2007 to better understand the community before running for office. She was a graduate of the inaugural class that year.

Citizens Academy sessions have included a coffee and question session with Midland's City Council.“It was a wonderful experience for me,” she says. “Not only did I learn about what the city does, but also what it doesn’t do — that the schools and the city government are separate from one another, but that we all try to work together to make the city of Midland the best we can."

Going through the academy solidified her plans to run for a political position and helped her understand the many roles of city council members and the staff. “It confirmed to me what a great place Midland was to live in, and how proud I am to live here. And that I wanted to help make it even better.”

Donker, who has been mayor for 12 years, attends the first class of the academy every year. She says it’s fascinating to meet the many different types of people who attend. “It is such a fun experience. Learning about Midland’s history is just fascinating.”

Brandon Lewis enrolled in the academy in 2018 because he wanted to learn more about the city’s intricacies. Lewis, who works as a realtor, says taking the class helped him better understand his community so he can tell his clients more about the city, school system, police department and planning commission.

Citizens Academy participants tour City facilities and operations.“One of my favorite field trips was to the water treatment plant. Learning how things work and how much pride the city takes in making sure we have clean water was astounding," says Lewis. "We were able to speak with the city manager, mayor and city council members in a private setting and ask all of the questions we wanted. It was a very open forum and I learned a lot.”

All agree the academy is fun and brings together a wide variety of people (and one canine) who are interested in learning more about their community. The canine belonged to a participant of the program who was a student with sight impairments. Both the student and dog graduated in 2019.

Interested in applying?

The 2022 Citizens Academy will run every Wednesday night from 6:30-8:30 p.m. for 10 weeks, beginning Jan. 12 through March 16. Optional tours are offered after most class sessions, which may add additional time to the session.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2022 Academy through Dec. 10. You can find an application on the City’s website. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance by Dec. 23.

Due to space limitations, Citizens Academy classes are limited in size. Preference is given to those living within Midland's city limits. Citizens who applied in previous years but were not selected are encouraged to apply again. You must be at least 18 years of age. Over the 15 years the program has run, 337 students have graduated.

Read more articles by Erika M. Hirschman.

A veteran freelance writer and former reporter with The Midland Daily News, Erika has covered a wide array of topics in and around Midland and Saginaw counties. She’s an award winning reporter, and holds a journalism degree from the University of Detroit-Mercy/Marygrove College. When Erika is not writing, she enjoys dancing in her kitchen with her two dogs and family. She loves to read, cook, travel and go to concerts. She’s lived in Saginaw County for 26 years.