High school: Onaway High School
Major: mechanical engineering
Future: Nexteer, Systems Integration Engineer
Less than a year after a roadway crash claimed his left leg — and nearly his life — Alex Fullerton was where he belonged: back at full speed behind the wheel of an Indy-style car he helped build. His perseverance comes naturally.
Fullerton passed a finish line of sorts in May 2017 when he graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. The feat was one of several accomplishments the Onaway native earned since the lure of a collegiate race car program convinced him to enroll at the university in fall 2012.
The road that led to that point, though, started about one year earlier when his grandfather enticed Fullerton to help with a full-frame restoration of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle.
“It was in a jillion pieces in my parents’ garage,” he said. “We were basically patching rust. I just really enjoyed hanging out with my grandpa all summer.”
The experience provided Fullerton with a taste of life as an engineer. Fast forward about one year: Fullerton, attending an orientation session at SVSU, where he initially signed up as an exercise science major, watched a presentation by the adviser for the university’s Indy-style competitive race team. Brooks Byam, professor of mechanical engineering, was detailing the successful history of SVSU’s Cardinal Formula Racing program.
“My hand shot up,” Fullerton said. “I asked, ‘What class do I have to take to be on the race team?’ He said, ‘In order to work on this race car, you want to be an engineer.’”
Byam gave Fullerton a tour of the Carmona Family Performance Racing Lab where SVSU students had built some of the world’s fastest Indy-style vehicles to appear in collegiate competitions.
“I was hooked,” Fullerton said. “The rest is history.”
He spent his freshman year largely learning the ropes from the team’s more experienced student engineers. His sophomore season, Fullerton helped lead the members of the team focused on the vehicle’s suspension system.
In June 2014 — about one month after the team finished first in the acceleration category for having the fastest college race car in the annual Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series competition in Brooklyn, Michigan — Fullerton was driving his motorcycle on a ramp merging Interstate 75 with U.S. 10 when he hit a pothole. The impact sent him sideways, crashing into double-bottom tractor trailer.
Byam, who described Fullerton as a “tough-minded” student, visited him in a trauma center following the crash.
“His whole family was there, looking distraught,” Byam recalled. “He was bright and smiling, and joking around. Nothing surprises me anymore with that kid. He loves to be challenged.”
The crash nearly severed Fullerton’s leg below his knee. After doctors attempted to save the appendage, he was presented with an option: Endure months and months of surgical procedures that may allow him to keep his leg, or amputate.
“It was a no-brainer decision for me,” he said. “I told them to amputate.”
But Fullerton made a request to his doctors: that he could drive again. And, after receiving his first prosthetic leg in November 2015, Fullerton was back in SVSU’s hallways and working with the Cardinal Formula Racing team. He helped test-drive the car less than six months later.
“It felt great,” he said of the experience.
Being a member of that year’s team also was especially fulfilling. The group’s car placed 26th among the 110 institutions competing. The finish was tops among the institutions without a graduate program in engineering. Fullerton and others involved with the team say the vehicle likely would have performed even better if not for the 10-cent oil line that broke during the competition.
“That was probably the best car that’s ever come out of SVSU,” Fullerton said. “It was elegant and designed very well.”
He remained on the Formula Racing team throughout his SVSU tenure, including this year, when he served largely as a mentor.
He accepted a full-time job as a systems integration engineer at Nexteer Automotive, starting in June 2017, although Fullerton has worked at the automotive manufacturer for months through a co-op program set up by SVSU’s Career Services.
His dream job involves working for a competitive racing team in NASCAR or another league.
“Racing is where I want to be,” he said.
Fullerton said he is thankful for the opportunities SVSU presented him, even as he struggled to overcome the physical challenges he faced outside of the classroom and body shop.
“Maybe I got lucky to fall into this,” he said. “I did something right.”
High school: Bay City Western High School
Major: political science
Future: law student, Michigan State University College of Law
In her circle of friends, Madison Laskowski admits she is the one most likely to trip over her own two feet, but she has proven she knows how to put her best foot forward when it comes to making legal arguments.
“I’m definitely the goofball of the group,” the Auburn native said, “but I’m ambitious.”
That ambition drove her to complete her bachelor’s degree in political science at Saginaw Valley State University in May 2017 – in just three years. That ambition helped her excel in a crowd of some of the nation’s most talented prospective lawyers. That ambition gained her a full scholarship to the Michigan State University College of Law, where she will begin her studies in the fall, on her way to becoming an attorney.
Laskowski's entered college with a passion for the law, and the support, encouragement and competitive opportunities she received at SVSU have her well prepared for a successful legal career, said Julie Keil, assistant professor of political science and mentor to Laskowski.
“Madison is a focused, determined young woman who has a clear idea of what she wants to do with her life,” Keil said.
Laskowski’s circle of friends partly consists of her teammates on SVSU’s undergraduate moot court program, which competes against other institutions in mock courtroom proceedings that draw from constitutional law and Supreme Court cases. Students act as attorneys in teams of two, making arguments to a panel of judges.
SVSU's program – in six short years – has risen to a top 20 national ranking; more than 350 colleges and universities compete in the American Moot Court Association. Keil is the founding adviser of SVSU's team and continues to serve in that capacity.
In November 2016, Laskowski and her teammate — fellow political science major Connor Hughes from Howell — won a regional moot court competition in Chicago.
The Windy City victory marked the first time an SVSU moot court tandem won an American Moot Court Association regional tournament. They outperformed accomplished programs from institutions such as the University of Chicago, California State University-Long Beach, the College of Wooster, George Washington University, the University of Texas-Dallas, and Loyola University Chicago.
“It was an amazing moment,” Laskowski said of the point where she learned her team won after one of the five judges broke a split decision. “Things just really clicked and fell into place for us in Chicago.”
The victory sent her team to the American Moot Court Association’s national competition in Florida in January 2017.
Keil voiced high praise for Laskowski’s SVSU moot court career.
“She has been the backbone of the program and one of our most successful students,” Keil said.
The national tournament performance in Florida capped Laskowski’s 2-year run on the moot court team and launched her toward the next chapter — law school — of a career her family long predicted she would pursue.
“My mom always told me I liked arguing,” Laskowski said. “Sometimes it was over my curfew, or what to pack for lunch. I was a spitfire, and so I figured I could eventually turn that into arguing for the law.”
During her sophomore year at SVSU, she met Keil. Laskowski said her development as a prospective lawyer was a work in progress, but thanks to Keil and the team’s support system, she improved quickly.
“I had horrible public speaking abilities that first year,” Laskowski said. “It was hard to fully grasp the Constitutional problems we faced, and to be able to articulate that in front of a panel of judges without fumbling over myself.”
The experience, though, allowed her to better understand her shortcomings and improve upon them by the time she returned to the team for her last year.
“My second year, I felt like I knew what to do,” she said. “The work ethic was there, the forensics skills were there and things just fell into place.”
Laskowski served as student president of the moot court program during the year when four SVSU teams — eight dedicated students in total, including Laskowski — qualified for the 2017 nationals. Only two colleges or universities — out of more than 350 nationally — qualified more students to attend the contest. In all, 80 teams with 160 students competed; Laskowski's team placed No. 49 overall.
“Traveling to the national like that, with some of your best friends, is one of the best experiences I’ve had at SVSU,” she said.
High school: Almont High School
Future: Indiana University Bloomington, Ph.D. program in mathematics
Alec Ward has a gift for solving math problems, and he wants to share that talent with others.
“No question, he has been one of our best students ever,” said Amy Hlavacek, associate professor of mathematics. “He’s already great at teaching others math.”
And so it only makes sense to Hlavacek that her pupil from Almont would pursue a career empowering others to become strong math students.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in May 2017, Ward served as a math tutor in SVSU’s Center for Academic Achievement, working with students in a subject area that can cause anxiety and frustration for some.
Hlavacek quickly noticed Ward's aptitude when he would point out errors in math problems.
Ward discovered his mathematical ambitions during his senior year at Almont High School, where his analytical abilities blossomed in a calculus class.
“It was definitely the subject I found easiest,” he said.
With plans to become an actuary, Ward enrolled at SVSU, but by his junior year, he realized he wanted to seek a career as a professor of mathematics. His tutoring work with students in the Center for Academic Achievement showed him students found him approachable, and he found himself inspired him to pursue an academic career.
Hlavacek, for one, is excited by the prospect of one day calling Ward a peer.
“He’s very quiet, patient and nonjudgmental,” she said. “He will sit with a student for as long as it takes. He very clearly explains things. His whole personality is suited for academia.”
In March, Ward had the opportunity to explain an academic paper at the Annual Meeting of Michigan Section of Mathematical Association of America at Ferris State University. The event largely featured professors. His paper was titled, "How a parabola can be a Source of Difference Equations."
“It was a good experience,” Ward said. “I had never talked in front of that many professional mathematicians before.”
Ward will meet more professional mathematicians soon. After considering several graduate schools, he will begin classes in a Ph.D. program for mathematics at Indiana University Bloomington in August.
With his next destination in sight, Ward said he remains appreciative of his relationships at SVSU, where faculty and staff provided him an opportunity to flourish.
“It was a very positive atmosphere,” he said. “I had a positive experience with every professor.”
Now Ward hopes to replicate that experience for others.
“He’s just operating on such a higher level,” Hlavacek said.
From: Galesburg, MI
High school: Galesburg-Augusta High School
Future: Registered nurse at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo
Inspired by a love of math and science, Saginaw Valley State University new alumna Heather Harvey decided on a nursing career when she was in high school.
"Nursing always seemed like the right fit," she said. "For me, the end goal would probably be a pediatric nurse because I've always loved kids. My mom runs a daycare out of her house so I grew up with kids. I was always just surrounded by them."
A native of Galesburg, Harvey plans to stay in Michigan; she accepted a job as a registered nurse at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. She graduated from SVSU in May 2017.
After visiting a local college fair during her senior year of high school, Harvey encountered SVSU for the first time.
"I hadn't heard of SVSU before that night," Harvey said. "When my dad saw the table for SVSU and they told me I qualified for the President's Scholarship, I knew it was something I was going to have to look into."
Attracted initially by SVSU's excellent nursing program and scholarship opportunities, Harvey quickly found that SVSU felt like home and decided it was the place to bring her energy and optimism.
"It was the middle of winter when I first visited the campus, but it was great," she said. "I was lucky to receive that scholarship and lucky to be a direct admit into the nursing program."
Applications for the nursing program are typically submitted after a student has fulfilled their academic prerequisites. Harvey was one of a limited number of high school seniors admitted to the program prior to beginning classes at SVSU.
"After that, I was guaranteed a spot in the nursing program," she explained.
Through her clinical experiences, Harvey explored a nursing path she never anticipated.
"We have an internship and leadership semester where you get to work one-on-one with a nurse," she said.
"I was in the OB unit, which is labor and delivery. I never thought I would go into that department, but I really enjoyed it. In your last leadership semester, the goal is that by the end you are able to take your nurse's full patient load by yourself."
Harvey worked 12-hour night shifts on the weekends at MidMichigan Medical Center in Alma; she racked up more than 170 hours to fulfill her leadership requirements.
Harvey excelled academically, but she also found other avenues to express her enthusiasm. She served as a student representative for Peer Health Education, where she served on the wellness committee, encouraging fellow students to pursue healthy lifestyles. She was also actively involved in Forever Red, SVSU's student advancement organization, and served as the vice president of Enhance – one of the three pillars that make up Forever Red's mission.
"Forever Red really helped me develop into the person I am while developing my leadership skills along the way," she said.
The organization proved the perfect fit for Harvey to fully unleash her talents and influence change in meaningful and lasting ways. She co-founded an initiative called "I Heart SV Week," which started in 2016 as a weeklong event dedicated to the importance of giving back to SVSU and educating students.
"It's about student scholarships and Red Pride," Harvey explained. "Forever Red has decided to keep it going and I'm excited to see where they take it."
Bryan Crainer, SVSU's associate dean of student life and leadership programs, advises Forever Red and worked closely with Harvey during her time in the program.
"In the last couple of years, I have been witness to tremendous growth in Heather's leadership abilities," Crainer said. "Whether it came in the form of serving on the board of directors for Forever Red, chairing committees, planning and facilitation on large-scale, campus-wide programs, or leading a team of her peers in her role as intramural sports coordinator, she leads with purpose and passion."
Harvey was recently given the opportunity to speak at an appreciation luncheon for SVSU donors hosted by the SVSU Foundation.
"As the chairperson for 'I Heart SV Week,' Heather was able to express her strong feelings about giving to SVSU from a student's perspective," Crainer said. "That message was powerful and motivating."
Alongside her active involvement within student organizations, Harvey also held two jobs at SVSU: working as a mentor in the nursing simulation lab, and as the intramural coordinator for Campus Recreation. She also taught a fitness class at the Ryder Center called Body Sculpt.
Harvey engaged in additional volunteer service, as well, participating in Alternative Breaks, a student-run organization that sends its members to different locations across the U.S. to participate in a range of service projects over regular school break periods.
"We went to Savannah, Tennessee for the trip, which was really fun," she said. "We were there to help with abused and abandoned animals to aid in rehabilitating them. I'm happy I had the opportunity to be a part of it."
After four full years of inspiring others and finding her inspiration, Harvey is eager to embrace her career aspirations and continue to care for others.
"I'm excited to see where I go from here," she said.
From: Saudi Arabia
Major: electrical engineering
Future: college professor or researcher
Driven to solve complex problems, Sarah Albanawi knows her choices defy some preconceptions.
The May 2017 graduate of Saginaw Valley State University began her push against convention the day she decided to move across the planet to pursue a bachelor’s degree. And the native of Saudi Arabia continued to defy convention when she decided to pursue that degree in electrical engineering, a choice of study rarely pursued by women.
“It was difficult and challenging for me,” Albanawi said of her choices.
As it turned out, Albanawi was more than ready to face “difficult and challenging” exams — and pass them all with flying colors.
“Challenging topics of science interest me and is great motivation for me,” she said.
Albanawi also is motivated to empower others who share her experience.
“One of my ultimate goals is to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in STEM education and work environments,” she said.
Determined to overcome the challenges before her, Albanawi passed many tests – academic and otherwise – to complete her degree.
The first test came in the form of a language barrier. Albanawi began studying the English language in sixth grade, and her teenage habits weren’t all that different from her American counterparts: She was a fan of the music, movies and books that were popular stateside. So, when it was time to move to the United States in the winter of 2013, her handle on the language allowed her to move relatively quickly through SVSU’s English as a Second Language program compared to many of her international student peers.
Albanawi’s early interest in American pop culture also buffered the culture shock that can accompany some international students’ move to a new nation. In fact, initial homesickness inspired her to listen to more Arabic music than American music for the first time in years.
Family also helped the transition to attending school in America. She first learned about SVSU from cousins who attended the university. Their familiarity with the institution and their presence in the hallways during her early years at SVSU helped her adapt to the surroundings.
Her decision to pursue a degree in electrical engineering was inspired by her proficiency in the sciences while she was a student in Saudi Arabia. Her earliest academic interests involved communication- and journalism-related pursuits, but after she scored well in tests related to engineering, educators encouraged her to pursue studies in those fields.
After exploring the electrical engineering program at SVSU, she was sold.
“There is always something interesting to learn every day, which served as a great motivation for me to know more and learn more, and also to find a topic of interest that I will be focusing on in my graduate study later,” she said.
“Analysis, critical thinking and problem solving is what engineering all about, and what challenged me the most — and motivates me — in the field. We have to solve real-world problems and be accustomed and prepared to many failed attempts before finally coming up with a great solution.”
One of Albanawi’s mentors at SVSU was Rajani Muraleedharan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty adviser to SVSU's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
“Sarah is a talented young engineer, and a leader-in-the-making who will empower women and minorities in engineering globally,” Muraleedharan said.
During Albanawi’s first few electrical engineering classes, she was the lone female student.
“That made it awkward for a little bit of time, but at some point, I convinced myself that I was capable of doing engineering,” she said. “That pushed me to work harder.”
She credited some of her success over the years to the help of faculty such as Muraleedharan and Altaf Rahman, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“My professors have supported me in so many ways,” Albanawi said.
She applied what they taught her in classroom and laboratories to a capstone project which is required for engineering students to graduate. For that project, Albanawi and some of her classmates designed and built a “smart kennel” made to release animals from their enclosures for bathroom breaks. The technology is triggered in part by systems that utilize sensor technology and Wi-Fi to wirelessly monitor the pet. The pet is rewarded for returning to the kennel when the technology releases a treat and plays a personalized message of encouragement along the lines of “Good boy.”
The project aims to reduce the number of pets turned away by owners due to the owner’s active lifestyle.
Muraleedharan was impressed with the work.
“Sarah's project outcome shows her passion and hard work in delivering a successful project, Muraleedharan said.
The next challenge facing Albanawi involves choosing a graduate school to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in an engineering-related program. Eventually, she hopes to work as a researcher in engineering or a college professor who challenges students the way SVSU challenged her.
“My long-term goals are achieving a successful professional career in STEM education, conducting research and development, as well as becoming an active member of the society of engineers to encourage development, innovation and research,” she said.
Albanawi said she will remember her time at SVSU fondly.
“I’ve made a lot of great memories here,” she said. “I’m grateful for this journey, and I know my hard work has paid off.”
From: St. John's
High school: St. John's High School
Major: health science
Future: graduate student, University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Master of Global Health Epidemiology program
In the wake of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, Jarrod Eaton felt the world shake beneath his feet. Literally and figuratively.
Literally, the Saginaw Valley State University student was on the ground in the Asian nation — helping those affected by an initial earthquake that registered a whopping 7.9 on the Richter scale — when an aftershock that registered 6.7 rattled his world.
Figuratively, those ongoing tremors and the resulting damage he witnessed inspired Eaton to solidify his commitment to develop as a servant leader and help people whose health is in peril, as he did for those in Nepal.
“We saw a lot of roads cut off from fallen buildings in these highly-populated cities, where people were in need and the likelihood of the spread of disease was increased because of their isolation,” said Eaton, the lone SVSU student who accompanied a team of faculty from the university in helping the Nepal aid efforts.
“People were really struggling to control the spread of diseases. That really sparked my interest in the study of the spreading of diseases.”
He coupled his ambition with passion that fueled a remarkable two-year finish to an already-notable SVSU undergraduate experience that included his election as president of the student government body, Student Association, in 2015.
Eaton earned his bachelor’s degree in health science in May 2017, and plans to carry that momentum with him this fall to the University of Michigan School of Public Health. There, he will pursue a master’s degree in global health epidemiology en route to a career studying the spread of diseases.
Eaton already has earned international praise for his work.
In March 2017, he presented research at the 2nd World Congress on Public Health and Nutrition in Rome, Italy. Eaton discussed his study on the contributing factors surrounding influenza vaccination rate disparities among college-aged populations. His project was titled, “Vaccination of Influenza on College Campuses: A study to identify the correlation of determinants on influenza vaccination rate disparities.”
James Collins, Ph.D., SVSU executive-in-residence for health sciences, served as the faculty mentor and adviser for Eaton’s study. Collins said it was unusual for an undergraduate to be invited to present at such an international conference.
“Jarrod had to compete with people in the public health field with professional and advanced degrees,” Collins said. “He wrote a fine summary of his proposed research.”
If it was unusual for an undergraduate to be invited once to present at an international conference, it was almost unimaginable for that same student to be invited to a second international conference to present on a completely different topic. Less than a month after the Rome trip, Eaton flew to London, England for the Student Global Leadership Conference.
Alongside?Rene Hernandez, SVSU assistant professor of health sciences and one of the faculty members who joined him in Nepal, they discussed their relief work from two years earlier. The elapsed time has not dulled the images Eaton witnessed in the reeling nation.
“One of the hardest scenes was at a tent village we visited near the end of our week there,” he said. “We came across this girl whose school, we learned, had collapsed. Her friends and teachers had passed away. That was daunting to me; that these people lost everything. A lot of that was hard to grasp until I came back home.”
Before Nepal, Eaton had never traveled outside of the United States. SVSU provided the support that empowered him to travel across the ocean three times in the span of two years. The experiences helped him better appreciate his close relationships with professors, and the many opportunities SVSU offered him.
“My advice to students would be this: Never think you aren’t good enough to apply yourself, or that you aren’t experienced enough to engage in all the opportunities at SVSU,” Eaton said, “because maybe you are more qualified than you think you are.”
A Saginaw Valley State University alumnus and literary scholar will return to the institution this summer in part to study one of the later writings of 20th century poet and Saginaw native Theodore Roethke.
Brandon Rushton, 2012 SVSU graduate, recently was named the second recipient of the university’s Fredericks-Follett-Roethke Graduate Fellowship in the Arts & Humanities. The fellowship supports an individual’s visit each year to SVSU to study one of three collections housed on campus: Roethke, sculpture artist Marshall M. Fredericks, or British author Ken Follett.
Rushton will spend a month on campus beginning Monday, June 26, immersing himself in Roethke’s poetry and related material, with a particular focus on “North American Sequence,” a series of six poems published posthumously in the 1964 Roethke collection titled “The Far Field.”
“I’m hoping to discover the head space Roethke was in when he was writing ‘North American Sequence,’” Rushton said. “It was very different from the work he was doing up until that point in his life. I want to trace where that came from.”
Rushton, a Flint native who currently serves as a lecturer of English at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, said he first read Roethke in anthologies while studying at SVSU as a double major in creative writing and history.
Years later, Rushton gained a new appreciation for Roethke while reading his longform work in “North American Sequence,” which explores the author’s spirituality as he travels to locations spanning Michigan to the Pacific Northwest.
“I want to know why he turned to this long, expansive poem,” Rushton said. “It will be great to sift through the materials at SVSU in search of answers. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
He also hopes to chart Roethke’s influence on other poets. Rushton plans to create a database highlighting the 13 recipients of the Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize — offered once every three years since 1968 — and include analyses on how Roethke may have influenced each authors’ work.
Rushton also plans to use his studies as inspiration for a manuscript of his own poetry.
Roethke, among Saginaw's most famous native sons, is considered one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century. His nine books of poetry and other writings earned him every major award available to an American poet, including two National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2005, Roethke's widow, Beatrice Roethke Lushington, enhanced the existing Theodore Roethke Collection at SVSU through the donation of her personal collection of first editions of her husband's work and ten books of literary criticism about Roethke.
Other materials in the Roethke Collection include extensive files related to the Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. The Theodore Roethke Home Museum, located off-campus in Saginaw, serves as an additional resource and is maintained by the Friends of Theodore Roethke, an organization which donated numerous documents to the Roethke Collection at SVSU.
Rushton's project follows last year’s study of Fredericks’ sculptures by the first recipient of the Fredericks-Follett-Roethke Graduate Fellowship in the Arts & Humanities, Nick Hartigan, who at the time was a fifth-year University of Michigan doctoral student specializing in 20th-century sculptures
Saginaw Valley State University is seeing a growing demand for teachers, and will hold a job fair for positions in the education industry Tuesday, June 13 from noon to 2 p.m. in Curtiss Hall. The fair is open to the public.
SVSU’s Career Services office is organizing the fair, which will include more than 45 school districts, most of them local. School districts are looking for K-12 teachers, substitutes, principals, assistant principals and teachers for special needs students.
“With the retiring of teachers and fewer education students graduating, the demand for teachers is high,” said Bill Stec, SVSU assistant director of Career Services. “We have received over 850 postings for teaching positions over the past year through Career Services.”
The Education Employment Fair will offer opportunities for current education students, graduates, and current educators.
“This fair gives current students the chance to get beyond student teaching and build relationships,” Stec said.
Craig Douglas, dean of SVSU’s College of Education and a former K-12 superintendent, has received numerous phone calls from school officials seeking educators.
“The need for quality candidates is at an all-time high level,” he said. “When schools look at us, they know we provide our students with solid field-based experiences.”
“A large percentage of May graduates with whom I spoke either have job offers or have strong leads already. This is sooner than I recall, with a greater rate of success. Thus, this June job fair may be schools’ last, best chance to grab a hold of an SVSU candidate.”
Alberta Lee has an image in her mind. An early memory from childhood, circa 1970something.
She’s sitting with her siblings in the bleachers of a basketball game at Saginaw Valley College, her father working security nearby. Napoleon Lewis Sr. — “dad” to her — stands out in the crowd. But not because he’s an intimidating authority figure keeping order. On the contrary, those surrounding the Shreveport, Louisiana, native are drawn to him. He smiles, they smile; followed often by laughter, like they had known each other for years.
Maybe some of them are familiar with her father, his daughter wonders, but it’s just as likely they’re relative strangers. Lewis made friends with haste, after all ... and in abundance.
“He connected with people like that,” Lee, 56, says now. “People talked to him so easily, and he was full of advice that you could trust. He loved engaging with them.”
And they loved him back. Still do.
Twenty-one years after Lewis died at age 71 of bone cancer, SVSU reaffirmed its affection for one of its earliest and most beloved members by granting him emeritus status in October 2016.
It’s an honor bestowed upon 81 people in the school’s history. A portrait of Lewis now is on display alongside framed photos of the others in the university’s Emeriti Room. It’s a physical link to his legacy at the campus.
Spiritually, his children carry that torch.
Lee, a 1982 graduate and SVSU’s Alumni Relations coordinator from 1986-89, and three of her seven siblings are linked to the school — even without their father’s history there — as students and workers. Ava Lewis, 60, earned the first of four degrees in 1979 and has worked as a professor of nursing since 1994. David Lewis, 53, earned the first of three degrees in 1987 and serves as director of School and University Partnerships. Napoleon Lewis Jr., who attended classes briefly on campus, worked in the Graphics Center for 17 years before his death in 1994.
“Dad would be grinning from ear-to-ear that we’re working here,” Ava Lewis says of her and David. “He thought of Saginaw Valley as the end-all, be-all. He really was a champion of this place.”
Napoleon Lewis Sr., who served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II, arrived in Saginaw from Texas in the 1950s. He moved there to join the automotive industry workforce, and eventually opened a business — South End Barbershop — in 1962.
His children remember how Lewis’ affable nature attracted whole neighborhoods to the shop. Customers considered him family. The depth of his hospitality seemed unending. There were occasions he loaned his vehicle to fellow Southern natives who needed to return to their hometowns for funerals.
“You can talk to people to this day about him, and a smile will come to their face,” David Lewis says. “Dad had that embracing style, and the greatest compliment is when someone would compare us to him. We’re working with the social capital that our father began.”
Napoleon Lewis extended that capital to SVSU beginning in 1971. His duties involved patrolling the campus hallways, dormitories and athletics events, sometimes with his children in tow. Few people during those early years on campus failed to recognize him. Many were charmed by him. Some became lifelong friends.
Soon after Lewis was hired, former head coach Muddy Waters brought Lewis aboard as the football team’s first equipment manager. Lewis formed bonds with members of the men’s basketball team, too. Not long before Lewis died in 1995, one of those basketball players from the 1970s learned of his friend’s illness and returned to Michigan from Europe to visit.
“A lot of those players embraced him as a father,” David Lewis says. “He was that close to them.”
When Napoleon Lewis’ biological children began attending classes at SVSU and moving into its dorms, he often stopped by their rooms during evening shifts to visit with them. And with others.
“There were times when I was talking to him when my roommates would get into the conversation and start talking to him like he was their dad,” Lee says.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wait, do you mind if I have a moment with my dad?’ We all enjoyed it when he came around.”
Lewis stepped down from his duties at SVSU in 1986, but returned on a part-time basis in 1991, largely working from a parking booth at the entrance of a now-defunct lot on campus. Even with a more limited exposure to the campus population, Lewis managed to charm a new generation of SVSU people during those final years.
“It was an awesome feeling to see everyone react that way toward him because we, as his children, felt that way about him all the time,” Ava Lewis says. “He touched so many lives here.”
His five living children and wife, 90-year-old Nelia, attended the October Board of Control meeting where the family’s former patriarch received emeritus status. Afterward, they posed for a photograph together, holding the piece of paper that formally established the onetime security guard’s status among SVSU’s most revered figures.
The significance of that paper wasn’t lost to members of the family who saw firsthand how their father once inspired so many smiles on campus.
“Now he’ll be here forever,” Ava Lewis says. “He belongs here.”
When dogs undergo surgery, veterinarians often must suture a nasal oxygen catheter to the animal, making for an uncomfortable recovery. Four Saginaw Valley State University electrical engineering students are working to ensure that is no longer necessary for a Saginaw County pet emergency hospital.
Students Amen Al Abbas of Saudi Arabia; Jonathan Claus of Hawks, Michigan; Michael Papesh of Saginaw, Michigan; and Zwe Thiha of Myanmar are in the development phase of creating an automated intensive care unit for Great Lakes Pet Emergencies in Carrollton Township. The unit is a three-pet sealed cage with oxygen sensors and temperature and air filtering controls.
“There is an issue where if we program something wrong, we do something wrong, the pet’s health could possibly be at risk,” Claus said. “So there’s definitely a strain to ourselves of making sure that we do everything with the utmost care and reliability.”
The seniors are halfway through their capstone project. In the first semester, the students plan their project, conduct a feasibility student and, in some cases, begin programming. The students spend much of their second semester working on and testing their prototype.
Some projects are completely student-driven, while others feature student groups collaborating with an external client such as Great Lakes Pet Emergencies. The pet ICU is the latter; Ryan Dowling, the operations manager at the hospital, proposed the project.
“The best solution in the industry is the ICU cage,” Dowling said. “We needed some expertise on how to create an electronic control system, and the best way to do is to reach out to people in that field. We thought it’d be a good opportunity for students to get a hands-on project.”
Dowling, who meets with the students regularly, said his experience working with SVSU students on four separate projects has been “nothing short of fantastic.”
“Even if they come up with a challenge on how to fix something, they don’t hesitate to ask the right people and get the right answers,” Dowling said. “And they do it rather quickly. As an outside company, it’s been phenomenal. There is an incredibly bright group of students in the engineering department.”
Along the way in their first semester working on the project, the students determined they needed a new, more expensive oxygen sensor. Dowling agreed to make the purchase.
“Clients have to make a tradeoff where either the cost is important or the reliability is important,” said Rajani Muraleedharan, SVSU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and the faculty adviser for the ICU project. “So for their project, it is life. It is not human, but it’s still a pet. So they have to make sure they make the right call.”
The fact that pets will rely on the ICU for their recovery, as well as the real-world functionality of the project, was appealing to Claus.
“Everyone goes into senior design knowing that this is our last real chance for discovering what we don’t know and for getting that experience that’s really going to translate into our lives as engineers,” he said. “Whereas some projects might get built, they’re on display, they get shoved into a cabinet somewhere, they gather dust, we’re doing an actual job that someone would contract engineers to do. … This is going to be used, this is something that should last and that we are responsible for.”
Usability, then, will be a primary goal, as those working in the pet hospital do not share the same engineering background as the students.
“It has to be very easy to use,” Muraleedharan said. “They’re not going to know anything about programming. All they’re going to see is a good graphical interface, and that’s all they’re going to have to work with. So it has to be simple, it has to be very clear, and it has to do its job the right way.”
Testing also will prove key. Dowling will handle testing with live animals, but the students must ensure the network they build, with different professional programming languages, communicates correctly. Each partition of the cage will have its own unit.
“Getting all that to mesh is tricky,” Claus said. “This is something normally done by somebody with years of experience. This is something we have touched on in school, but never to this level.”
Thiha, who is from the Asian country of Myanmar, likens using programming to make technology function to “real world magic.”
“That’s how I see it, it’s like casting a spell,” he said. “It’s just working.”
Capstone projects are important opportunities for international students such as Thiha and Al Abbas, who is from Saudi Arabia, to learn real-world skills and complete a project that they can feature on a resume.
“They both get to work with American kids and get to know the work ethic,” Muraleedharan said. “Sometimes, international students don’t get to be an intern anywhere. So this is their best choice to make.”
Another aspect of the students’ work in their first semester was considering whether their methodology for the project should share any similarities to existing similar systems, which cost a minimum of about $9,000. Not factoring in the cost of the cage, Dowling has poured in more than $2,000 into the project, but this one is different than those on the market because it is tailor-made to what Great Lakes Pet Emergencies needs.
“I’d like to believe that when it’s done, it’ll be at least comparable to anyone on the market and as reliable,” Claus said.
“I think they will be successful,” Muraleedharan said. “But they will be facing a few road blocks getting there.”