Caleb Stade (center) helps Belleville High School student Derrick Loutharp enter code into a mock system meant to demonstrate car programming during Free College Day on April 7. (Photo by Kelly Gampel)


Derrick Loutharp doesn’t turn down many opportunities to learn.

That’s why the Belleville High School senior and his mother, Annette, were among the nearly 600 local residents that signed up to spend Saturday, April 7, on the Washtenaw Community Campus for the bi-annual Free College Day event.

Loutharp reads, writes and speaks Mandarin fluently — he was placed into a full-immersion program after showing aptitude as a 4-year-old — and was one of 100 teenagers across America selected to participate in the Disney Dreamers Academy, a four-day program at Walt Disney World Resort intended to inspire students to “answer the call of their dreams with relentless pursuit.”

A strong interest in computer programming led Loutharp to register for a series of classes new to Free College Day this spring that focused on the booming field of cybersecurity.

WCC’s Advanced Transportation Center, in collaboration with the college’s Computer Information Systems department and the Walsh College IT and Cybersecurity department, led sessions on cybersecurity technology and trends, including how they relate to the transportation and manufacturing industries.

“I like to learn new things,” Loutharp said. “So, to have a hands-on experience with automotive cybersecurity was really cool.”

Residents were invited to campus to attend a total of 36 different classes led by WCC faculty, WCC staff and representatives from community partner organizations.

Classes ranged in subject matter from academic (An Overview of Psychological Disorders) to DIY (General Maintenance of Your Home Comfort Systems); from science-based (Skeletons in the Closet: Structure and Function of Human Bones) to beyond the scope of scientific understanding (Ghosts and Demons: True Tales of the Paranormal); and from self-improvement (Resume Workshop: Write Your Way Into the Job) to improv (Improvisational Theater Workshop).

Loud belly laughs could be heard in the hallways outside of the “Improv Yourself” class, led by WCC Performing Arts instructor Tracy Jaffee. She put the class through various impromptu exercises and traditional acting games.

On the third floor of the Crane Liberal Arts & Science Building, WCC Writing Center Director Tom Zimmerman led an “Identity and Writing Workshop” in which he asked attendees to start a piece of writing with “I am …” The first person to stand and share his emotional work drew loud applause — and a few tears — from his fellow students.

WCC opens its doors to the community twice each year. The next Free College Day, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 30, will be part of the annual fall campus-wide celebration that also includes Cars & Bikes on Campus, Party in the Park, program open houses, campus tours and more.