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Updated 9:00 AM September 14, 2009

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Spotlight: Finding big ways to help on a smaller level

Amy Karaban, the assistant director for student activities at UM-Dearborn helps inspire students on a local level, creating lasting change in communities in Michigan and across the country.

"Students come into my office and say 'Well, I can't solve world peace ...' and I just say, 'OK, but what can you do?' and together we work to help the community," Karaban says. "When you narrow the picture, you find big ways to help on a smaller level."
(Photo by Rachel Lindley, UM-Dearborn)

Karaban has worked at the university helping students help the community for five years now. After completing her master's degree at Eastern Michigan University, she interned at UM-Dearborn then interviewed for a job in the office where she now is employed.

"The best part of my job has nothing to do with salary or other perks, it's those good feelings you get from helping students," Karaban says.

She works with all 135 student programs on UM-Dearborn's campus, and takes pride in mentoring and guiding the students. There are groups involving politics, theatre and athletics to name a few, but it is through the leadership programs that Karaban — and her students — truly shine.

"I make a difference by encouraging the students to do so. I see them gain confidence, take pride in what they are doing and really inspire change," Karaban says.

She strives to tailor all the programs to complement the academic experience, and notes that, "from marketing to engineering, leadership skills are important no matter what field you're in." The indispensible leadership skills she teaches include delegation and fundraising.

With 75 percent of the university's alumni remaining in the tri-county area, Karaban sees it as a great responsibility to train the next generation of community leaders, such as future small business owners or school board members.

"The students are sponges who constantly want to do more, change more," she adds.

She recounts a student of hers who had traveled to Louisiana to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina for an alternative spring break. "Once he came home from that trip, he just kept saying how he wished there was an alternative spring break program to help Detroit and he just took that vision and ran with it," Karaban says.

The university partnered with the United Way and brought more than 50 students from around the country to complete service in Detroit. The program was so successful, it continues today through the university's Metropolitan Impact Program.

Karaban's impact doesn't end when the workday does; in her free time she is on the advisory board of Vista Maria, a nonprofit that works with abused women and children. "I like to contribute to the community where I work," she says.

She also is working on a doctorate in higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University. "It should, knock on wood, be done in 2013," says Karaban, who says her ambitions include to one day become a university president.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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