It’s mid-afternoon in early December and the Baltimore airport is abuzz with travelers as a chorus of conversations, gate announcements, and clicking suitcase wheels fill the air.
Aura sits attentively and takes it all in. Part golden retriever, part lab, she is here on assignment to carry out the same vital mission she’s been asked to carry out every day for the last two years:
A specially-trained hearing dog, Aura acts as the ears for SVSU alumna Gretchen Evans, an Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. While serving a tour in Kabul, Evans’ unit took fire and a mortar explosion just 10 yards away left her deaf and suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Just like that, a decorated 27-year military career came to an end and Evans was left trying to adjust to a silent civilian life.
That adjustment has come in the form of helping other veterans like herself. On this day, Evans is travelling to New York to speak on behalf of America’s VetDogs. The non-profit organization, which provides wounded veterans with service dogs, teamed Aura with Evans in January 2015. Now Evans sits on its board and travels the country with Aura, championing their cause and fulfilling a passion to help America’s wounded warriors.
It’s a passion that, in many ways, began at SVSU.
Of all the reasons to choose a university, it was a t-shirt that sold Evans on SVSU.
Her husband, Robert Evans, became chief chaplain of the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw and when they moved to the area she began looking for a place to continue her education. As a wounded veteran, the military would pay 100 percent of her tuition and she considered a number of area institutions. When she came to campus for a tour, the Admissions representative promptly gave both her and her husband some Cardinal swag. It was a personal touch that made Gretchen Evans feel at home. A life of military service provides many rewards, but one thing it does not offer is geographical stability. So when she ultimately decided to enroll at SVSU, it was the eighth university she’d attended.
“I could have gone anywhere I wanted to,” she said, “but when they gave my husband a shirt, too, I just felt like this was the place for me. That simple act of caring and kindness sealed the deal.”
Soon Evans connected with Career Services Director Mike Major — who recently formed the Cardinal Military Association for Veterans — as well as now-retired Dean of Students Merry Jo Brandimore. Together, they discussed navigating university life as a veteran, and Evans expressed interest in helping provide more and better services to fellow military-affiliated students. When Brandimore received approval from the Veterans Administration to employ two veteran work studies in her office, Evans got one of the jobs.
The work by Evans and Brandimore laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Military Student Affairs Office, founded in part by Denise Berry, who stepped down as director in 2016. SVSU was recognized by Military Times as part of its Best for Vets: Colleges 2017 Rankings. SVSU was ranked No. 34 among 130 four-year institutions across the country.
“Individuals who have spent time in military service have different issues in transitioning to college life compared to other students,” Brandimore said.
“I hope that the Office of Military Student Affairs is the one place our military students can go where someone understands the perspective of a student who has come from a military framework. Gretchen understands that and she always gave her all for these students because she felt every one of them was deserving of our best.”
Evans helped military students navigate everything from financial aid to classroom life, and in doing so, discovered a passion for serving her country in a new way: by helping its veterans.
“Working with military students was part of my healing process, too,” Evans said. “My whole adult life, I was in the military and I didn’t know anything else. It was healing for me to be able to give back and navigate a new life that I had been dealt.”
Evans was dealt another curveball when her husband was offered a job transfer as she was preparing to finish her degree. Determined to graduate, she stayed in Saginaw while her husband relocated. When their house sold, Evans moved on campus so she could finish her bachelor’s degree in sociology. At 54 years of age, she was the newest University Village resident. Evans graduated in May 2013.
“I can’t even articulate what it meant to graduate from SVSU,” Evans said. “I really felt like it was meant to be. My experience at SVSU was so phenomenal as both an adult student and also a wounded warrior. After 35 years and 40 countries, I finally had that diploma.”
And it almost never came to be.
Evans’ military career began, in some ways, because of college. In 1978, she enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and later at Austin College in Austin. She was paying for school all by herself and so she decided to enlist in the military. Her plan was to serve four years and leave with the G.I. Bill to pay for school. Instead, she fell in love with being in the Army and made a 28-year career of it.
“Every time I stood before my fellow soldiers I felt humbled and honored to be among them,” Evans said. “They inspired me to be the best leader, soldier and person I could be.”
Throughout her time in the military, Evans earned every rank from private E1 to E9, the highest rank for an enlisted member. Her last duty assignment was in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she served as the Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
On Feb. 27, 2006, her unit began taking mortar fire at the forward operating base. She was standing out, yelling for everyone to get into the bunkers when the mortar that took her hearing hit to her right and blew her off her feet.
“I looked down to see if I had arms and legs,” she said. “I had an incredible headache and I couldn’t hear, but I didn’t realize I was permanently deaf until the doctors told me. You don’t realize how devastating it is to be able to hear your whole life and then suddenly not be able to anymore.”
She returned stateside, finished her rehabilitation and retired from the Army. An avid runner, Evans was jogging one day when a bicyclist ran into her trying to pass. He yelled to her that he was passing, but she couldn’t hear him coming up. Concerned for her safety, her doctors determined getting a safety dog would be in her best interest.
That’s when she met Aura.
Aura helps Evans by responding to sounds, alerting her with a poke in the leg if she hears anything from a ringing phone to a knock on the door. Aura can also tell the difference between noises like an oven timer or fire alarm so Evans knows if there’s an emergency. Aura even alerts her to potential dangers while driving and will turn her head quickly if she hears a car horn.
Evans said Aura also helps by alerting others she is deaf. Since Evans has what is known as an invisible injury, people she meets for the first time don’t realize she can’t hear them. She has grown adept at reading lips; but, if she can’t see the person who is talking, she doesn’t realize they are speaking to her. Having Aura by her side helps people recognize something is different. Aura also serves as a conversation starter, as people will focus more on Aura than Evans’ injury.
“She keeps me safe and serves as an ambassador to the world for me,” Evans said. “She’s my family.”
The TODAY Show featured Evans and Aura recently during a segment as part of their Puppies with a Purpose series that focuses on its partnership with America’s VetDogs. The segment highlights several veterans who, like Evans, have benefited from the companionship and assistance of a service dog.
“I knew my country was going to take care of me,” Evans said. “And Aura has given back so much of what was
It was just after midnight on a warm fall Saturday morning. The light rainfall had suddenly switched to a downpour during the 100-mile Hallucination trail race on Sept. 9, 2016. As the morning hours ticked on, the dusty dirt paths transformed to deep pockets of mashed mud. Visibility was becoming a problem for runners on that dark and challenging trail race in Pinckney, Michigan.
The soaking wet conditions took a toll on the 203 race entrants. Of them, 132 runners would eventually quit before finishing in the 30-hour time limit. Yet one runner, Brian Thomas, made a promise to himself that no foul weather would dampen his determination to finish this race. For him, this race was more significant than any other in his lifetime.
Brian had five 100-mile race entries under his belt. He discovered over a decade earlier that distance running helped him cope with stress, like when he and his college sweetheart-turned-wife, Holli Wallace, dealt with tuition debt while completing graduate and law school, respectively.
The couple grew together, from their 20s to their 30s, seeking out careers that fit their passions. He became a faculty member with SVSU’s sociology department as well as acting director of strategic partnerships and Study Abroad. She worked as an attorney helping underprivileged groups. They started a family with two sons, Elliott and Oliver.
Then tragedy struck the family Oct. 16, 2013, when Holli unexpectedly died. She was 37.
Three years later, the difficult conditions of this 100-mile race were no match to the despair Brian endured following his wife’s death. Still, both challenges collided along this dark trail. After all, it was his grief that propelled him forward into the night — and toward the hope that his example might help others dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Oct. 16, 2013, started out a regular day for Brian Thomas and his family. After finishing teaching his statistics course at SVSU, he hurried to pick up his son, Elliott, to take the then-7-year-old boy to karate lessons.
“I remember wondering if Holli would have Elliott in his karate uniform,” Brian said. “The last couple of months had been a little different in our hurried lives of young professionals. Holli had left her 9-to-5 job as an attorney to focus her energy on politics, pro-bono legal work for the community, and, of course, our boys.”
When Brian arrived home, Elliott called up from the basement. He couldn’t wake up his mother.
“I quickly went over to her, remember shaking her right knee to wake her and knowing that something was seriously wrong,” Brian said. “I realized she wasn’t breathing.”
He called 911 and began CPR. The paramedics arrived quickly and could not resuscitate Holli. Later, doctors discovered she died from mitral valve prolapse, an undiagnosed heart condition.
Brian and his boys were lost in the weeks following her death. During that period, he often thought to himself, “Others have been through this — so shouldn’t we make it through OK?”
He hoped at first, with a little patience and perseverance, the ache of losing his wife of 11 years would get easier. The words of others, support from friends, and sympathy cards filled him with hope he would be OK with “moving on” or “letting go” and would eventually find “acceptance” of living without her.
What he discovered was that grief wasn’t a race to finish, and he would need a different sort of stamina to endure
Brian was at the 84-mile mark, with only 16 more miles to go. The course included six 16.6-mile loops. There was an inevitability to the sixth and final circuit. Yet the closer he came to the finish line, the farther away it seemed.
As the sun began to set once again and runners neared the end of the race, the darkness took over for a second time during this 30-hour challenge. The physical toll of the effort began to weigh on Brian mentally. Trees along the side of the pathway seemed like lurking bears, waiting to pounce in the darkness. The trail beneath his feet appeared to wind and move like a threatening snake. He felt a little unsure, but he knew there was nothing to fear. He would finish this. He had to finish this.
Thoughts of seeing Oliver and Elliot at the finish line — thoughts of Holli — helped him move forward.
About a year and a half after Holli died, the challenges of loss and grief remained with the family of three. At the request of eldest son Elliott, Brian sought out a support group. He found the recently formed Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region. While the Midland-based institution specialized in helping children deal with loss, the therapy extended to Brian, too.
Together, they faithfully attended meetings, even to this day. They healed together as they grieved through expression, using art, dance, theatre, storytelling and writing to share their feelings.
The experience helped Brian discover how to cope and move forward — doing what needs to be done in everyday life while still honoring the legacy of Holli.
“That’s the challenge that I woke up to the day after Holli died,” Brian said. “Memories are sometimes a double-edge sword for me. Part of me wants nothing more than to freeze everything in place and linger in the past. It took me several months to take her clothes from our closet. I wish Elliott and Oliver could forever wear the pants she sewed for them.”
Oliver was reaching a toddler’s developmental milestones that would require Brian to help him wean from his pacifier … learn to use the bathroom … transitioning from a crib to a “big-boy bed” and, eventually, start school. Both children needed Brian to remain strong and lead the family through everything to come.
“It can be dangerous lingering too much in the past as the world moves forward,” he said. “Holli is so much a part of who I am in my heart and soul. I think about her every day to draw my strength. At the same time, I know that I have to keep moving forward without her by my side.”
Work provided one coping mechanism. Brian earned accolades over the years for his approach to teaching sociology as well as his efforts in assisting SVSU’s Study Abroad program. His accomplishments included founding the Green Cardinal Initiative, which featured SVSU students, faculty and staff promoting environmental friendliness. His exceptional work continued after Holli’s death. Later that same year, he was one of 11 recipients of the Ruby Award, given annually to the Great Lakes Bay Region’s most remarkable professionals under the age of 40.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Brian in retrospect realized his running strategies also helped him approach each new day after his wife’s death. He moved forward in small increments, with what he calls “The 10 Percent Rule.” In running, this applies to increasing week-by-week mileage in increments of 10 percent. It’s applied to prevent injuries that would result from over use of a muscle.
“Early on, I began envisioning being without her at small moments, like dinner in the evening or for the upcoming weekend, before trying to think about major events like holidays,” he said. “I practiced retelling the events of the day that she died in my mind, and then to people close to me so that I could move myself closer to a stage where I could talk openly about her to strangers.”
Having a good support system of friends and family to make decisions and carry the load is important, he realized. Life can offer heavy burdens.
“In truth, I have a very independent personality,” he said. “That’s a problem sometimes and I have had to learn to reach out for help. With the help of grandparents, friends, neighbors and teachers, the boys and I made our way.”
Brian made a point to never ignore his pain. He recognized it and tried to learn when to talk about it or ask for help.
“I look for pain that may be leading me to make bad decisions or unable to function well for extended periods,” he said. “I’d like to say that the distinction is easy to make, but it isn’t. Through trial and sometimes error, I like to think that I am better at it than when I started this journey.”
Brian raised more than $7,700 in pledges for the Children’s Grief Center as part of his participation in the Hallucination race in September. Even though Holli was not there in body, he was determined to run with her in spirit. He wore her name on his chest — “RUN FOR HOLLI,” his shirt read — as a celebration of all that she represented.
“She was one of those people who seemed like she was everywhere at once,” Brian said.
“She could not be summed up in single words or even short phrases. She was, at best, a long list. She was a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, an attorney, an activist, a caretaker, a community volunteer, a political leader, an idealist, a seamstress, a cook, and a lifelong fan of The Bold and The Beautiful. The list goes on.”
That list is a legacy that remains strong for her family.
It was near the end of the Hallucination race when Brian first spotted the faint green glow near the finish line. As he approached, he recognized the source of the light as a sight he spent much of the last 100 miles thinking about: Elliott and Oliver, both wearing glow bracelets.
Brian’s sons shrieked in excitement when they recognized their dad. The boys ran toward him. A few steps from the end of the race, they embraced as a family — minus one.
In struggling with the loss of Holli these last few years, Brian realized there was no finish line for grief. There was no medal to collect and no accomplishment to celebrate. The road for that race remained unendingly ahead for him and his sons.
Still, they moved forward — stepping over the Hallucination’s finish line together — in this run for Holli; in this tribute to the life she left for them all.
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved a new graduate program, a master’s degree in computer science and information systems, during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, May 5.
In developing the program, SVSU faculty solicited feedback from auto companies such as Ford and Nexteer, as well a number of other firms from Auto-Owners Insurance to Yeo and Yeo. Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, also evaluated the proposal. All of the reviewers indicated a growing demand for informational technology professionals with advanced degrees and supported SVSU’s proposed program.
“We have done our homework and we anticipate strong interest in this program right away,” said Frank Hall, dean of SVSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. “Our computer science and information systems faculty have done an outstanding job designing a curriculum that is flexible enough to meet students’ interests while also emphasizing the technical needs expressed by employers.”
SVSU will begin enrolling students for the new master’s degree program immediately. The first courses will be offered this coming fall.
In other action ,the Board:
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU women's basketball team, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU women's tennis team, which finished with an overall record of 15-5, its best season in more than 15 years.
• Passed a resolution to thank Cody McKay, president, and elected representatives of the SVSU Student Association for their service during the 2016-17 academic year.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate Lauren Kreiss, president, and representatives of the Student Association elected to serve during the 2017-18 academic year.
• Passed a resolution to elect Board officers for 2017-18. Jenee Velasquez will continue to serve as chair; John Kunitzer will serve as vice chair. Dennis Durco will perform the duties of secretary, and Vicki Rupp will serve as treasurer.
• Passed a resolution to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees. More than 1,000 students will participate in Commencement exercises Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6.
• Passed a resolution to approve the appointment of Samuel Tilmon to the board of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.
• Passed a resolution codifying how contractual authority is delegated. The Board retains authority over all contracts in excess of $250,000.
• Passed a resolution to update the SVSU Purchasing Policy, which was last amended in 2004.
• Passed a resolution to establish the Board’s meeting schedule for the 2017-18 academic year.
The hard-working, motivated members of the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinal Formula Racing team are hoping for a top 10 finish this year at the at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) Collegiate Design Series on May 10-13 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Brooks Byam, SVSU professor of mechanical engineering and the team's faculty advisor since 1998, said he has high hopes for the group.
“I’m proud to say we have talented, motivated, and innovative students on this year's team,” he said.
This year's team members have devoted long hours to careful testing as they seek to combine performance and stability and meet a team goal of winning the acceleration event, and be the fastest car to drive a 75-meter straight track at the competition. SVSU twice has built the fastest race car in the world, winning the acceleration category in 2008 and 2014.
Alex Ginn, a mechanical engineering major from Trenton, is one of those Cardinal Formula Racing team members who has spent countless hours in the race shop preparing for competition.
“We are trying for another top 10 performance this year,” Ginn said.
The annual FSAE Collegiate Design Series competition features about 120 teams, from world-renowned colleges and universities with esteemed mechanical engineering programs. Teams from higher education institutions across the globe design and build Indy-style race cars to compete at the series, which features multiple competition categories such as endurance, acceleration, autocross, cost, presentation, and skid pad.
Each of the past two years, SVSU posted the top score among schools without a graduate program in engineering.
“We are the most successful fully undergraduate team in the history of the FSAE,” Ginn said.
In 2016, SVSU finished 30th overall, ahead of teams such as the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (No. 46), Northwestern (No. 53) and Georgia Tech (No. 54).
“Our students have put in the time. I am hopeful they and the race car will perform up to their capabilities,” said Byam, who in 2013 won the Carroll Smith Mentor’s Cup, given annually to one outstanding Society of Automotive Engineers faculty advisor.
Cardinal Formula Racing has placed in the top 20 four times overall: 6th place in 2002, 8th in 2005, 14th in 2008 and 18th in 2010.
Graduates of SVSU’s program are highly desired by automotive companies and other manufacturers, though some have chosen other paths.
Nevin Steinbrink started his own engineering firm in Old Town Saginaw. (http://www.svsu.edu/newsroom/news/2017/firstroboticscardinalformularacing/firstroboticscardinalformularacingprovidefoundationforbusinessstarted.html)
Midland native Allen Hart is an engineer for J.R. Motorsports on the NASCAR Xfinity Series; his team finished runner- up at the Dash 4 Cash event at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia last weekend.
For more information on SVSU’s Cardinal Formula Racing program, visit http://www.svsu.edu/cardinalformularacing/.
In Sarah Tennyson’s bedroom, the dozens of cards featuring inspirational quotes only seem to outnumber the smiley-faced stickers by a few.
“I like to stay positive and keep a positive outlook on life,” the 30-year-old said.
It's an optimism, she admitted, that at first might seem odd coming from someone once kept alive by a feeding tube; from someone who, long before and well after the feeding tube, has moved through the world largely via wheelchair.
In Sarah Tennyson's world, though, there's plenty to celebrate. And that celebration is sure to grow more jubilant later this week when the Saginaw Township native joins more than 1,000 of her Saginaw Valley State University student peers on stage during commencement ceremonies.
Tennyson, a communications major, will participate in the festivities Saturday at 11 a.m. in O'Neill Arena, when students from the colleges of Arts & Behavioral Sciences; Education; and Science, Engineering & Technology are honored. A 7:30 p.m. Friday ceremony will feature students in the colleges of Business & Management and Health & Human Services.
Tennyson has two classes still to complete, but will be participating in the May Commencement ceremony, which she finds fitting. She always imagined celebrating her accomplishment in the mellow comforts of springtime. It was a fantasy that pre-dated her brush with a disease that nearly prevented her from living to see such a day at all.
Tennyson was no stranger to overcoming obstacles when that dangerous medical condition upended her world during her late 20s. Her first medical obstacle arrived on the day of her birth. Born three months earlier than expected, Tennyson as a baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that impairs motor functions. As a result, she has spent her life in a wheelchair.
More medical hardships followed, but Tennyson continued to pursue college education, and she has made quite an impression on Dick Thompson, SVSU ombudsman, whose tenure at SVSU began in 1970. He called Tennyson “one of the most positive and caring students I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Thompson helped Tennyson navigate some of the logistical challenges that emerged when her medical condition threatened to derail her studies.
“I admire her for her courage and determination,” he said. “She is the best of the best.”
During her K-12 years, Tennyson attended a school for individuals with disabilities before eventually graduating from Community Baptist Christian High School in Saginaw. She still lives in the home where she was raised, and said her parents and older sister — along with a deep faith in her Christian beliefs — provided a support system that allowed her eventually to pursue a postsecondary education. She earned an associate’s degree from Delta College in 2009, and then enrolled at SVSU.
Tennyson’s tenure at the university, though, was derailed five years ago when she suffered what she initially believed was a “stomach bug.” The problem persisted for about a week by the time Tennyson was scheduled to participate in SVSU’s Sims Public Speaking Competition in November 2012.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not going to miss this speech competition,” she said, “but by the end of the day, I was in the ER, vomiting.”
The situation grew serious enough that medics — fearing for her life — removed her gall bladder and inserted a feeding tube into her body.
“They didn’t know what was going on at first,” she said.
Eventually, doctors diagnosed her with gastroparesis, which is a disorder that stops or slows the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine.
For a time, her weight dropped from 100 lbs. to 75 lbs. Problems persisted until she switched to a new doctor, whose prescriptions helped her recover some of her physical strength in the ensuing years.
“I’m not where I want to be quite yet,” she said. “I’m getting there.”
The medical challenges slowed — but didn’t stop — the pursuit of her bachelor’s degree. She returned to SVSU in fall 2013 but dropped out before the end of the semester.
“Trying to get myself back to school was a roller coaster ride,” she said. “I would take two steps forward, then one step back. There were times when I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish.”
She returned to SVSU again in August 2016, when she signed up for a single kinesiology course.
“I was in physical therapy at the time and I wanted to know how my body worked,” she said.
Despite falling seriously ill again in November 2016, she has remained enrolled at the university, with expectations that she will earn her degree this year. Along with her family, friends, faith and her medical support team, Tennyson credited SVSU staff and faculty with aiding her in those academic pursuits.
“I’ve had a huge support system,” she said.
While she is quick to give others credit, Thompson said Tennyson’s sense of determination and persevering spirit were the most important factors in her accomplishments.
“Despite all her challenges, Sarah never gave up on her dreams,” he said.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to pursue a career helping others with disabilities and social challenges as they strive to reach their potential. That sort of ambition is familiar to Tennyson.
“Everyone has their difficulties,” she said. “Some are just more visible than others, like mine. I had a lot of support to get to where I am, and now I want to give back to others.”
The College of Business and Management at Saginaw Valley State University honored and inducted 14 students to Beta Gamma Sigma, the honor society serving business programs accredited by AACSB International.
Membership in Beta Gamma Sigma is the highest recognition a business student anywhere in the world can receive in a business program accredited by AACSB International. Less than 5 percent of the 13,000 collegiate business programs worldwide are so accredited.
The SVSU students inducted are:
• Alyssa Ableiding, an accounting major from Hillman;
• Shafayatul Alam, a management major from Bangladesh;
• Ray Altoft, an accounting major from Lake Odessa;
• Mikayla Ballor, a management major from Freeland;
• Jenna Brown, a management major from Saginaw;
• Sara Cramer, an accounting major from Munger;
• Ingrid Hannevig, an international business major from Norway;
• Spencer Leach, a finance major from Bay City;
• Megan McGarry, an accounting major from Eaton Rapids;
• Michael Miller, an accounting major from Dewitt;
• Yiliang Quian, a master of business administration student from China;
• Trevor Thomson, a finance major from Essexville;
• Gan Xie, a master of business administration student from China;
• Xuefei Xu, a master of business administration student from China.
The top 10 percent of junior and senior students as well as the top 20 percent of master's students are eligible for membership to the organization. Since 2003, 238 SVSU students and 23 SVSU faculty and staff have been inducted. This year’s ceremony was held Friday, April 7.
For a list of students inducted in 2016 and in previous years visit: http://www.svsu.edu/collegeofbusinessmanagement/studentopportunities/betagammasigma/.
The Saginaw Valley State University College of Education will recognize six individuals from the Michigan educational community for their outstanding and heroic contributions to positively impact the lives of students.
The winners – selected by SVSU students – were chosen from a field of 38 nominees. Judging criteria include how well the person has:
• advocated for students and community;
• demonstrated excellence, sincerity, and enthusiasm for teaching;
• shown innovation in a class or program;
• gone the extra mile;
• been a great role model.
“Our students take the selection process very seriously,” said Craig Douglas, dean of SVSU’s College of Education. “Many hours are spent making sure the awards go to what we call 'unsung heroes,' those educators who get up each day eager to make a difference in the lives of the youngsters they serve. I am thrilled with the work SVSU students have done to make a difference in their own ways through the second annual Heroes in Education event.”
This year's recipients are:
• Jerry Carmien, service worker for Kolb Elementary School in Bay City. A nominator wrote: “Mr. Carmien sees kids for who they really are and has no bias. He brings out the best in them all.”
• Kelly Frank, teacher at Tawas Middle School. A nominator wrote: “Mrs. Frank does everything she possibly can to make learning fun and exciting not only for her students, but also all of the students in the middle school.”
• Joseph Peet, teacher at Kingston Elementary School. A nominator wrote: “As a third grader in Mr. Peet's class, you can look forward to VIP Day, which is a day that celebrates the student.”
• Lawanda Purches-Waller, a parent liaison for Genesee STEM Academy in Flint. A nominator wrote: “Mrs. Purches-Waller has worked diligently to increase our Parent Ambassador program, which engages parents in our school improvement process.”
• Todd Switala, coach and volunteer for Sterling Elementary School in the Standish-Sterling school district. A nominator wrote, “As president of the Sterling Sportsman Association he coordinates many youth activities including an annual kids sucker fishing tournament, family and youth archery leagues and shoots, family-oriented squirrel and rabbit hunt (he requires each team to have one youth on their team), and he is a hunter safety instructor.”
• Everton Williams, director of operations for Pontiac Academy for Excellence. A nominator wrote, “Mr. Williams has literally 'gone the extra mile' by riding every single bus route routinely and making adjustments in order to accommodate the most students with safe, free and timely transportation as efficiently as possible.”
Each recipient will be formally recognized at a celebration event Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m.in the Ott Auditorium, located in Gilbertson Hall at SVSU. It is free and open to the public. Charles Schwedler, former superintendent for Bullock Creek Schools, will offer comments to highlight the evening.
Stressful exams. Fast-approaching term paper deadlines. Exhausting classroom debates.
Along with the anxieties of the world outside of campus, stress can lead some college students to see the glass as half-empty. Members of SVSU’s Optimistic Club, however, hope to fill those metaphorical glasses to the top.
"Too often we see people walking around, looking like they are having a bad day,” said Paige Teregan, a special education major from Lake Orion who leads the student organization. "Our main goal is to make them smile."
Established in 2012, the registered student organization promotes happiness and positivity through little acts of kindness.
One of the programs includes members’ sticky notes campaigns, when they place Post-its on walls and windows across campus. Each note features encouraging messages meant to inspire. "Confidence is the first step to success," one note read. Another: "Keep going. You're almost there."
As project manager of the club, Jacob Jacopec, a business major from Holly, said the group tries to cheer up their peers especially near finals week, when stress levels are highest for many students.
Each month, the club focuses their attention on a different program. There was the time members super-sized the Post-it note initiative by writing cheerful messages on large billboards while standing in high-traffic hallways.
“I'd take your place in The Hunger Games,” one sign read. “Act like a proton and think positive,” “Always look on the bright side," and “beYOUtiful” were some of the other messages.
“I’d say it's a job well done when people are frowning as they walk past but look up to see the boards and end up laughing or saying, ‘aww,’” Jacopec said.
One of Teregan’s favorite initiatives is the “free hugs” program, which involves members offering hugs to students willing to accept the offer.
“It may be a little strange to some people, but others absolutely love it,” Teregan said. “Our hugs will make their day, and receiving so many hugs in one day makes me feel better, too.”
Such good will works for students such as Emma Eldred, a nursing major from Lake Isabella and the SVSU Student Association’s philanthropy chair.
“Throughout my years at SVSU, I have seen how the smallest acts of kindness can make an impact,” Eldred said.
“From the sticky notes at finals that encourage you, to getting a hug from a stranger, Optimistic Club has taken steps to change this campus for the better. They’ve definitely changed my experience for the better, too.”
This story appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Reflections, SVSU's magazine, available to view online here: www.svsu.edu/reflections
Eric Garnder, professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University, has won his second Book Prize from the Research Society of American Periodicals. The prize awards the best scholarly book on American periodicals published in 2015 and 2016.
Gardner received the honor for his community-minded scholarly work “Black Print Unbound: The Christian Recorder, African American Literature, and Periodical Culture.”
“Black Print Unbound” chronicles the development of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, “The Christian Recorder,” during and just after the Civil War. The book was one of the first full-length studies of an early black newspaper.
As an exploration of a periodical created by African Americans for African Americans, Gardner’s book details the newspaper’s history, composition, publication, distribution, reception and place in American literary history. Gardner drafted the book with the support of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.
A panel of three scholars chosen by the Research Society judged the books eligible for the prize. The prize committee said “Black Print Unbound” offers “magisterial vision and imaginative force that will set new standards for periodical scholarship.”
Gardner received the same award in 2010 for “Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth Century African American Literature.” He will formally receive this year’s award at a ceremony at the American Literature Association’s annual conference in May in Boston.