High school: Chandler Park Academy
Major: social work
Future: graduate student, Michigan State University Master of Social Work program
Keshara Mumford remembers what it was like to search for purpose in life. The Detroit native enrolled at Saginaw Valley State University initially as a criminal justice major, but spent much of her first year unsure of the decision — and her future.
But a group of mentors on campus provided a guiding beacon, leading her to realize both a calling as a social worker and a desire to provide guidance to others searching for the right path.
“No other school will have your back like SVSU,” said Mumford, whose volunteerism and charitable nature been recognized on campus and abroad.
“They prepared me socially and academically for life ahead. There were people who saw something in me, and they put me in a position to succeed.”
That success will be recognized when Mumford earns her bachelor’s degree in social work from SVSU in May 2016. And it will continue as she pursues a master’s degree in social work from Michigan State University beginning that same month.
Eventually, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in educational leadership and eventually teach social work as a university professor.
While Mumford’s journey of success began with some uncertainties, the momentum gained since then led one of her mentors to consider her “one of the most outstanding social work majors SVSU” has graduated in years.
“She is the epitome of a service leader,” said Roberto Garcia, SVSU school improvement and transition specialist. “She has excelled in her opportunities, both on and off campus. Her volunteer work hours are above and beyond what a normal social work student would do.”
Garcia became acquainted with Mumford through his role in helping charter school graduates in their collegiate endeavors. Mumford arrived at the institution in 2011 from Chandler Park Academy, an SVSU-authorized charter school in Harper Woods near Detroit.
“She struggled a lot her first year,” Garcia remembered of Mumford’s initial uncertainty at SVSU. “Through hard work and perseverance, she has become exceptional at what she does.”
The seeds of Mumford’s niche in social work were planted in an SVSU social work class. The coursework resonated with her, and with some guidance from mentors such as Garcia, Mumford realized she wanted to explore the subject further — and beyond the classroom.
Mumford participated in a 2012 SVSU-sponsored trip that sent volunteers to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There, she and her peers painted a youth center and renovated the home of a wheelchair-bound World War II veteran.
“To see a grown man cry and thank us for our services, I thought, ‘Wow, I want more of that,’” she said. “To express that much gratitude was amazing.”
Later, Mumford became involved in the United Way of Saginaw County’s Healthy Kids Healthy Futures Partnership AmeriCorps program. There, she worked to support and improve the lives of Saginaw youth.
“It gives me a sense of belonging and being connected to the community,” Mumford said.
The opportunity teamed her with the Boy Scouts of America’s Water and Woods Field Service Council, where she completed 900 hours of service as an outreach facilitator. Her efforts included teaching boys and girls about life skills, health and nutrition, substance abuse prevention and more.
She became involved in their lives outside of the council too, attending some of the students’ sporting events.
“After the first time I did that, one of the older boys came up to me and said, ‘I really appreciated that because no one ever came and cheered for me,’” Mumford recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is why I’m doing this.’”
She also was an intern for the State of Michigan 10th Circuit Court Family Division office in Saginaw Township, where she worked to improve the lives of teenagers in trouble because of offenses such as retail fraud and truancy. Mumford said she is proud of the number of youths who have responded to the time and attention she gave them.
“If you keep working, keep reaching out to someone, you will crack the code,” she said. “You have to build a rapport and show them that you care. It can be a challenge but also very rewarding when you reach that person.”
She likens the connection she has made with those youths to the connection her mentors made with her.
“The opportunities and the education I’ve had at SVSU helped show me how to connect to the community,” she said. “I want to show others how to connect to their communities, too.”
From: Manila, Philippines
High school: Port Huron Northern
Future: graduate student, Central Michigan University College of Medicine
The funeral invitation came from a stranger.
Emmanuel Avelino, a Saginaw Valley State University student whose aspirations to pursue a career in medicine led him to volunteer at local hospitals, became acquainted with the stranger’s brother as he battled melanoma at MidMichigan Health Hospital in Midland. The prognosis wasn’t good; chemotherapy provided the 30-something with hope for a while, but when tests showed the skin cancer spreading into the skeletal and nervous systems, it was only a matter of time.
Still, Avelino showed up regularly to provide comfort — and occasionally goods — during the patient’s months-long struggle for life. And shortly after it ended during a hot, sticky stretch of summer in July 2015, Avelino found out the bad news via an invitation to a funeral.
“To this day, it really tears me up to think how I didn’t think I really knew this person — but, really, I did,” Avelino said. “I attended the funeral, and the magnitude of how much his family knew about me was shocking.”
The experience was one of many that reinforced Avelino’s passion for medicine and belief in the human relationships forged between doctors and patients. It’s a passion that will follow the biochemistry major to the Central Michigan University College of Medicine, which he will attend after he graduates from SVSU in May 2016.
“I want to help the sick and broken in this world, and help them overcome suffering,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s something that would fulfill my happiness.”
That determination to help people persevere stems, in part, from his own story of perseverance.
Avelino says he was raised “very poor” in the southeastern Asian nation of the Philippines until age 5, when his mother immigrated to Flint for a job in health care. As his mother advanced her career as an anesthetist — and subsequently lifted her family into middle class social status — Avelino and his two younger brothers moved with her to communities such as Brown City, Port Huron and Imlay City, where Avelino spent most of his life.
“I’ve had a taste of different lifestyles, from living urban to rural, from poor to what I am now,” he said. “That’s really helped me better understand people.”
With his single-parent mother working, Avelino often looked after his siblings, cooking and caring for them. When his mother returned from her job at various medical facilities, Avelino would quiz her on her day — a conversation that often involved stories of her interactions with patients and doctors.
That combination of caring for his siblings and talking shop with his mother provided some of the seeds for Avelino’s pursuit of a health care career. That pursuit brought him to SVSU, where he credits faculty and advisers for exposing him to environments that reinforced his love for medicine.
“There are so many people here who helped make me into a better person overall, whether it was through being more knowledgeable in the sciences or through personal development,” he said. “It is truly a privilege to have learned the art and science of medicine from SVSU. I deeply thank SVSU for giving me that opportunity.”
One of those strong environments was the SVSU chapter of Phi Delta Epsilon, an international medical fraternity. Avelino joined early in his undergraduate life and was part of a core group of students that raised more than $26,000 over the last three years to benefit The Children’s Miracle Network at Hurley Children’s Hospital.
The fundraising coincided with Phi Delta Epsilon members volunteering to spend time with children benefiting from The Children’s Miracle Network. In November 2015, that meant meeting Rowan Neumann, a 5-year-old fighting childhood leukemia. Avelino and the fraternity set up a tour of a Saginaw fire hall and a ride in a fire truck; both were wishes fulfilled for Rowan.
Spending time with the boy, Avelino was reminded of the sense of human connection and ultimate responsibility that accompanies aiding an ailing person — whether it be a child suffering from leukemia or a man facing death.
“As I venture through the realm of medicine, I hope to never divorce the idea of the human condition from the scientific aspect of disease,” Avelino said.
“I will always be there for patients until the end. I want to change people’s lives and enrich the communities of Michigan for the better.”
High school: Bullock Creek
Major: computer science
Future: graduate student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Master of Computer Science program
Dustyn Tubbs is ready for the next upgrade.
The Midland native has spent much of his time at Saginaw Valley State University equipping himself with a level of knowledge and a breadth of research experience that undergraduate students eyeing a career in computer technology typically do not possess. Now Tubbs does, and his work has earned him entry into one of the nation’s top graduate schools for computer science.
“I’m very fortunate,” said Tubbs, set to begin in August 2016 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, recently ranked by U.S. News as one of the five best schools in the nation for graduate-level computer science programs.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
Not only is Tubbs enrolled. His résumé was so impressive that he earned a teaching assistantship that will pay his entire tuition at the institution, located between Chicago and St. Louis.
Tubbs said he might have missed the opportunity if he hadn’t attended SVSU, where he will receive his bachelor’s degree in computer science in May 2016.
“A lot of the successes had to do with having very good relationships with faculty members, who are there for you, for professional issues and personal issues,” he said.
“At SVSU, you are afforded opportunities to perform professional research, and that helped me a lot. To be able to say I had research experience as an undergraduate student makes me a unique applicant to a lot of institutions with graduate programs.”
One of those opportunities teamed him with Khandaker Rahman, SVSU assistant professor of computer science & information systems. Through a grant with the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, the pair researched facial recognition technology in smartphones.
“What really impressed me about Dustyn — and was a deciding factor in offering him the chance at research with me — was not how he was right, but how willing he was to be wrong,” Rahman said. “However rare that was for him, he always saw it as a chance to learn. I believe it was both his capacity as a student and as a curious budding scholar of computer science that helped him achieve unimaginable successes.”
The two also collaborated on research exploring movement-based authentication for smartphones. In other words, the work examined how smartphone users could unlock the device by waving it around in a certain pattern.
The work led Tubbs to present the research in August 2014 at the USENIX Security Symposium in San Diego, where international researchers, practitioners and professionals gather to discuss the latest advances in computer system security.
Tubbs also presented his studies on smartphone facial recognition technology in November 2015 at the International Conference on Multimedia Communications Services and Security. The destination that time: Kraków, Poland.
“I was one of two undergraduates at that conference, and I was able to give a presentation,” he said. “That’s not something a lot of undergrads get to do. So that was pretty swell.”
Opportunities such as these helped Tubbs secure a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates grant in summer 2015 to study computer science — specifically, artificial neural networks — at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“It was mind-blowing,” he said of the experience. “I consider it a defining moment in terms of how I want to move forward. It was very motivating.”
The motivation, of course, led him to apply at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to continue his studies. He hopes to study the sort of machine learning and data science that is humanizing the world’s computer networks and upgrading the human experience.
“I don’t think our time should be spent doing very basic things when computers are able to do them for us,” Tubbs said.
“How many farmers have an oxen that plows fields today? They all have tractors now. Artificial intelligence is one of those tools that can help us make better use of our time. I would be happy to write a program that would allow an artist or a scholar to follow their dreams.”
In the meantime, Tubbs is grateful SVSU helped him follow his dreams.
From: Shanghai, China
Major: computer information systems
Future: job searching
Chi Weng is more than adapting to the idea of wearing a red ceremonial robe during the May 2016 Saginaw Valley State University commencement ceremony.
The Shanghai native will be recognized at the event for earning a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, but it won’t be her first go-around at SVSU’s traditional commemoration. She also was honored during the May 2013 commencement for receiving a bachelor’s in graphic design.
Back then, SVSU baccalaureate recipients wore black robes. Now students wear red robes.
“I think I like the red better,” she confessed.
The change represents a subtle shift in the world Weng is accustomed to, but it’s emblematic of a larger theme of adaptation that she experienced when enrolling at SVSU in 2008.
Weng knew little English before arriving on campus eight years ago. The language and cultural barriers made adjusting to her new surroundings difficult at first. Add to that the adjustment of leaving the most populous city in the most populous nation in the world — China — for a campus located in the much-quieter setting of the Great Lakes Bay Region.
She spent many of her first months at SVSU in her on-campus apartment as she learned from the university’s English language courses. Ironically, it was in her bedroom where she became acquainted with reruns of the hit ’90s American comedy series, Friends, which sped up her understanding of English and helped her make friends with classmates.
“I was very shy at first and I didn’t really talk to anyone,” she said. “Over time, as I learned how to communicate, I started to feel more comfortable and confident. I made many friends.”
At first, those friends were fellow Chinese international students, whom the vehicle-less Weng often carpooled with when exploring Michigan. Eventually, as her language barriers crumbled, she began befriending American classmates, too. She even bought her first car.
“You start to feel more confident and more part of the American culture,” Weng said of being an international student.
Those confidence-building and communication skills led her to seek a leadership role and in 2014, her peers elected her to serve as a representative in SVSU’s student government, the Student Association.
Weng witnessed a significant increase in the international student population during her stay at SVSU: from 400 students from abroad in 2008 to more than 700 international students this year.
“With so many, we are much more a part of the campus now,” she said. “There is so much more to learn from each other when there are more people coming here from around the world.”
While Weng said she will miss the campus, she is ready for the next chapter of her adaptation: finding a full-time job in the U.S. She plans to apply for positions that will utilize her unique blend of training in both graphic design and computer information systems.
“A lot of people know one or the other, but not both,” she said. “Now I know both.”
But first comes graduation day — this time with red robes. Another element that will be different during her second commencement ceremony: Her parents, unable to attend in 2013, plan to fly from China to see their daughter graduate.
“I’ll be happy to see them in the audience,” Weng said. “They’re coming a long way.”
As Weng admitted, she’s come a long way, too.
From: Au Gres
High school: Au Gres-Sims
Future: volunteerism, dental school
Ask Ashli Maser about her passions, and she will respond at first with a wide, white smile.
That smile is more than simply the Saginaw Valley State University graduating senior’s reaction to the question — it’s also the answer to it. Or at least one of the answers. After all, the Au Gres native has a number of interests that inspire her.
Among those interests are, quite literally, smiles. Ever since an orthodontist removed the braces she wore as a teenager, Maser’s career goal has been to work in a profession that deals with improving the human smile — and giving those humans more reason to smile.
“Getting braces in the eighth grade really set it off for me,” Maser said. “Dentistry and your smile affects so many things, including confidence. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to help other people in that way.”
Early on, she set her sights on becoming a dentist. Later, she thought orthodontistry might prove a better fit. Now she hopes to become an oral surgeon, a career with work ranging from scheduled wisdom tooth extraction to emergency oral reconstructive surgery following an accident.
Maser’s latest step toward her career goal is nearly complete, although she has plenty of studying and work left to do. Schooling for oral surgery, after all, is a 10-year commitment: six years of studying and four years in a residency.
Still, the biochemistry major has taken major steps toward achieving that goal. Recently, she scored high on her dental admission test — an achievement that will help her earn admission to dental school.
Another major milestone will arrive in May 2016 when she receives a bachelor’s degree from SVSU. Maser credits her university experiences with providing the essential tools, resources and experiences to help her become an oral surgeon. The institution also has provided inspiration and a platform.
For instance, Maser takes to heart SVSU’s role as both a community engaged institution as well as an advocate for promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies among K-12 students. At least on a weekly basis, Maser visits K-12 classrooms — as near as Bay County and as far north as Iosco County — promoting STEM.
“My focus is figuring out how to engage middle school students in STEM through hands-on curriculum,” she said.
That “hands-on” advocacy has included demonstrating engineering by building towers out of newsprint, to showcasing chemistry by blowing up pumpkins. Maser, a member of SVSU’s Honors Program, titled her Honors thesis “STEM Outreach in Rural Michigan Areas.”
“What brought me to SVSU was its good science program,” she said. “To give back by telling other students how much fun STEM can be has been very rewarding. It’s fun to spark their curiosity and hear what they have to say.”
Maser’s dedication to promoting higher education causes extends beyond STEM.
The first-generation college student, before her own graduation, established a scholarship supporting college-bound students from her alma mater, Au Gres-Sims High School. Maser funded the scholarship in part using tips she collected while working as a waitress between classes. My AM Dream Scholarships — the “AM” a play on words that represents both her initials and “America” — supported two students in 2014 and three students in 2015, she said.
“I’m a first-generation college student, still debt free,” she said. “If I can do that, anyone can.”
Maser also has worked with state legislators in an effort to beef up the number of guidance counselors in K-12 schools. In 2015, she spoke to members of the Michigan House of Representatives about the cause. Maser said more counselors are needed to guide youths toward successful lives after high school.
Maser’s community engagement is illuminated in part by her presence as a regional spokesperson and local celebrity. This summer, Maser will compete for the crown of Miss Michigan for the third consecutive year. She placed in the top 10 for the 34-person pageant in 2014 and 2015. She will compete this year by virtue of her role as Miss Bay County.
The winner of Miss Michigan will, in turn, compete for Miss America, a program that is one of the world’s largest providers of scholarships for women. Her chase for both crowns means Maser likely won’t attend school again until June 2017. Miss America pageant winners are not allowed to attend school while they hold the title so that they can pursue their platform interests.
Regardless of whether Maser receives either crown, she plans to spend the following year volunteering for the passion that’s captured her attention since her braces were removed. She expects to volunteer for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that helps provide safe oral surgery for children born with cleft palette.
“One thing my family has always encouraged is, whatever you are going to be in life, be a good one,” Maser said. “That’s what I’m trying to be."
Saginaw Valley State University and its sister institution, Ming Chuan University, are preparing to celebrate the first graduates of the schools’ innovative joint degree program.
Four students are completing master’s degrees in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language and will receive diplomas from both universities during Commencement exercises at SVSU Saturday, May 7. Chuan Lee, president of Ming Chuan, is leading a delegation of 15 faculty from the Taiwan-based school to attend the ceremony.
Ming Chuan opened its Michigan campus through leasing space from SVSU in 2014. It is believed to be the only such collaboration in Michigan where an Asian university has a physical campus in the state. Ming Chuan also was the first Asian university to be accredited in the United States, by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
“I have learned more than just the solid knowledge and skills of teaching Chinese as a second language,” said I-Hsuan Lai, who is completing the program. “I have gained the valuable experience of studying abroad. I am looking forward to using my degree in the next chapter of my life.”
Joining Lai in completing degrees are Yi-an Huang, Lifang Qiu and Jieying Shi.
A study by the Asia Society, a group that advocates for developing cultural and linguistic understanding between the people of the U.S. and China, found that if Chinese were to be taught in U.S. schools as commonly as French (about one million students), the U.S. would need 10,000 additional teachers. (http://asiasociety.org/files/chinese-teacherprep.pdf)
Beginning this fall, SVSU and Ming Chuan will add a joint master’s degree program in new media and communication administration. Students can register for both programs now to begin courses in August. A one-time scholarship of $500 is available to students upon successful completion of the first semester.
Ming Chuan University has more than 140,000 alumni worldwide, four campuses in Taiwan, and one in Michigan. For more information, visit mcumi.mcu.edu.tw.
High school: Saginaw High
Future: graduate student, SVSU master’s degree in administrative science
Brandon Jones describes himself as a man of purpose. He does his best to fulfill his genuine purpose every day at SVSU.
As Homecoming King, president of the Valley Voices Gospel Choir, member of Forever Red, student mentor and orientation leader, Jones has had a busy but fulfilling journey at SVSU.
“I don’t believe in labeling or being part of just one group. I have an open and loud personality, so getting involved on campus was natural for me,” he said.
Jones will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business management in May, but plans to stick around SVSU to pursue a master’s degree in administrative science.
The Saginaw native has a passion for students and eventually wants to pursue a career as the dean of students at a university. He loves meeting new generations of Cardinals and hopes to make an impact on students that will stay with them forever.
Nick Wagner, SVSU’s director of institutional research, said Jones provided support to a student success grant-funded initiative, the King-Chavez-Parks 4S program. Jones advised and empowered hundreds of students who enrolled at SVSU, many of whom attribute their academic success to Jones.
“I will always remember the impact he tried to impart, whether it was providing counsel to a student about their semester schedule or just providing some encouraging words so someone could matriculate and persist,” Wagner said. “He willed himself to have a positive influence on many and he has achieved that and so much more during his time here at SVSU.”
Among Jones’ long list of achievements at SVSU, being named Homecoming King in 2015 is one he will always remember. “Breathtaking” is the word he used to describe the experience.
Jones and his Homecoming partner Charnae Keith, who was named queen, devoted hours upon hours into their campaign. They went above and beyond to make sure people remembered them. They even performed their own choreographic rendition of the music video “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. Ultimately, Jones enjoyed the process and was grateful to be recognized for his hard work and sacrifices.
Out of all his experiences at SVSU, being part of the Valley Voices Gospel Choir has impacted him the most. He has thought of the choir members as his family away from home. As president, Jones was responsible for teaching the music, managing the choir and making sure everyone felt they were in a safe place to worship and share their stories. The members of the choir pushed him to grow in his faith and as a leader, and supported him throughout his journey.
As Jones looks back on his experiences at SVSU, he is most grateful for the people he’s met at SVSU. He refers to his support group as his “chocolate chips,” and he claims that they have made him the person he is today. He hopes he has been able to impact people the way he has been impacted.
“If I had an impact on at least one person at SVSU, my job was fulfilled,” he said.
High School: Freeland
Future: graduate student, SVSU, Master of Arts in Public Administration
Lending a helping hand to the community has been at the core of Riley Hupfer’s character throughout his time at SVSU.
Hupfer, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication in May, has a strong passion for helping those in need. He has demonstrated this through his contributions to several service projects including those for Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits.
“Very few individuals in our society today possess the kind of passion for serving others, and genuine interest in the 'common good' like Riley does,” said Bryan Crainer, SVSU associate dean of student life and leadership programs.
“Those of us that have been in Student Life throughout Riley's college career have been fortunate to watch him grow into a true student leader.”
Hupfer was involved with community service growing up but became intensively involved upon his arrival to SVSU.
“I’ve adopted a mindset that we’re all here together, so let’s work together. If you are privileged or able to give, you should,” he said.
Standing prominently among his list of accomplishments at SVSU is organizing the “Cardboard City” event. The purpose of this event was to raise awareness about homelessness. Students watched the documentary “Living on One Dollar,” and afterwards, slept outside in cardboard boxes. Hupfer facilitated the planning and execution of the event, spending countless hours collecting cardboard boxes and spreading the word.
“Sleeping outside was really uncomfortable,” he said. “Being in the shoes of someone who does it every day was a great experience. I’ll never really know what it’s like to be homeless, but it gave me a new perspective and a higher degree of understanding.”
When asked about the origin of his generous and caring spirit, the Freeland native shared that he was fortunate enough to develop a relationship with an autistic student from Freeland High School. This connection offered him a new perspective and helped him to recognize that people need others to lean on.
Through Alternative Breaks, a student organization that sends students to volunteer across the U.S. during winter and spring breaks, Hupfer has joined seven Habitat for Humanity efforts. He will participate in an eighth service project when he visits Alaska after graduation.
What's next for Hupfer? He is enrolled as a graduate student at SVSU, where he will study in the university's Master's of Arts in Public Administration program in the program's student affairs track. Eventually, Hupfer hopes to seek a job in a university office that works closely with students.
Hupfer is also part of an alternative rock band—called Last Night Saved My Life—with four of his friends from his hometown. They have been playing together since fall of 2010 and have dreams of making it big.
Aside from his band’s success, Hupfer is proud of all that he has accomplished at SVSU and is excited and prepared for what the future holds.
“I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it has led me to bettering myself.”
High school: Bishop Foley Catholic
Major: mechanical engineering
Future: product engineer, Elkringer North America
Heading into a profession that is over 75 percent dominated by males is just one more challenge for Megan VanFleteren to overcome.
The mechanical engineering major and Foundation Scholar from Troy has learned to adapt and persevere in the face of adversity, and does so with a positive attitude.
“Yes, it was intimidating at first. There were times I felt overwhelmed, but in engineering, if you’re not stressed, you’re not doing it right,” she said.
VanFleteren collaborated on her senior project with a team of mechanical engineering students. They worked with B&P Process Equipment in downtown Saginaw to help the company separate two types of movement in a commercial mixer. The group has been able to get hands-on experience sitting down with the client, finding out what their needs are and figuring out how to solve their problems.
“Megan has proven that she can effectively perform the necessary engineering duties, is very thorough with great attention to detail, and will follow up to ensure she is meeting all expectations,” said Brian Fitz, engineering supervisor at B&P Process Equipment.
“It has been a pleasure working with Megan and I would recommend her for anyone seeking a well-rounded engineer.”
VanFleteren recently accepted a position as a product engineer at Elkringer North America in Canton, Michigan. Her experiences at SVSU have shown her that she doesn’t want to sit behind a desk all day making models. She would prefer to meet face-to-face with customers to address their needs.
VanFleteren’s determination in the classroom is complimented by her enthusiasm and pride for SVSU.
“Megan is a good student and has always performed well in class. Her strong passion for SVSU sets her apart,” said Brooks Byam, professor of mechanical engineering.
As a freshman, Megan was inspired to get involved on campus by her sister Emily VanFleteren, who graduated last year and is a teacher at Swan Valley Middle School, near Saginaw. Emily was a familiar face on campus to most students, faculty, and staff, which helped open a lot of doors for her sister, but also cast a sizable shadow.
“While we are both very similar, our programs of study are very different,” Megan VanFleteren said. “We were involved in a lot of the same things, but I was able to develop my own leadership style and make my own path.”
Megan’s involvement with the student organization Forever Red has been the most rewarding experience for her at SVSU. She was able to grow professionally and polish her leadership skills as well as network with many influential community leaders. She loved being able to work with students who were likeminded in their quest to serve as a liaison between the student body, and SVSU faculty and alumni.
Forever Red led Megan to her first internship. At a networking event, she made a connection with a man who worked at Control Power Company. Luck would have it that his wife attended Bishop Foley High School, the same small Catholic school in Madison Heights where VanFleteren graduated in 2012. She was able to learn a lot during her internship and loved being thrown into an environment where she was able to observe the electrical power industry firsthand.
Staying involved with SVSU after graduation is very important to her. She wants to create a bond with the students just as the alumni did with her. VanFleteren hopes to be successful enough in her field that she is asked to come back for the Dinner with 50 event that invites 50 alumni to have dinner with 50 students.
“Getting involved on campus has been my favorite part, has made me love SVSU as much as I do, and has made me the person I am today,” she said. “I hope that everyone who comes here has the same feelings about SVSU that I do.”
High school: Lapeer East High School
Major: Economics and Applied Mathematics
Future: University of Oregon, Ph.D. in Economics
Jenni Putz enjoys a challenge. Her research record is extraordinary for an undergraduate, and one of those research interests resulted from challenging herself to step outside of her comfort zone. Far outside.
Her first experience on a plane came in 2015 on a trip all the way to India, and the flight included hitting bad pockets of air turbulence.
“It was really interesting,” the Lapeer native said, a hint of sarcastic humor in her tone. “And when we got to India, it was quite the culture shock. Quite the culture shock.”
The Saginaw Valley State University student, though, traveled with a dozen classmates and three professors as part of a 10-day study abroad trip to explore how India’s businesses operated. With an academic spirit in mind and supportive, familiar faces by her side, Putz overcame those initial anxieties and enjoyed one of the defining experiences of her life.
“That was a great opportunity SVSU provided,” she said. “It seemed like SVSU went by so fast. Part of me wishes I could stay another year.”
Putz graduated in May 2017. A first-generation college student, she completed bachelor’s degrees in economics and applied mathematics in four years, capping off a list of accomplishments that included a research portfolio that rivals many doctoral students.
One of those projects involved her experience in India. Putz researched the benefits of short-term study abroad programs with Kaustav Misra, SVSU?associate professor of economics.
Misra said he enjoyed watching Putz develop as a researcher.
“She has excellent interpersonal skills, a hard-working attitude and strong work ethic, which will definitely help her in the long run,” Misra said. “She has transformed and developed professionally at SVSU. I think she took every single piece of advice she was given by her professors during her undergraduate work.”
Their research found students’ participation in a short-term study abroad program had a positive correlation with influencing their career aspirations and leadership skills. Putz presented her initial findings at the Academy of Economics and Finance Conference in Pensacola Beach, Florida in February 2016.
“There weren’t many undergraduate students at the conference, and they were all in one session, while I presented to a group of people who were all professors,” she said. “It was really scary at first, but it was a really interesting experience to present to people who have been doing this for years and whose job is to do research.”
In India, she observed various foreign and international businesses such as Amazon and pharmaceutical companies.
“I had the time of my life,” she said. “I thought it was a very valuable experience and I’d love to study abroad again. It had a huge impact on my life and I’m really glad my research is connected to that, which makes it mean that much more.”
Putz also presented her research at an undergraduate conference at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where her paper took third place among 16 competitors.
Not satisfied with a single research interest, Putz later began examining early college initiatives, where high school students can enroll in programs to earn college credit. She presented on that study in Washington, D.C. in November 2016.
During that same month, through her participation in SVSU’s honors program, Putz presented her honors thesis on a third research interest: income inequality. She previously presented those findings at an international conference in Portland, Maine, where she won an award for her work.
“I’m still very much into income inequality research right now,” she said. “I’m planning on studying public economics: How the government allocates resources such as health insurance. It’s an important field nowadays.”
Putz plans to continue that research in August when she will enroll at the University Oregon on her way to a Ph.D. in economics.
“Hopefully that (income inequality research) can turn into something I can write my dissertation on or work with faculty on something else pertaining to income inequality,” she said. “I feel like the things I’m doing my research on are valuable to a larger pool of knowledge.”
Eventually, she hopes to teach economics at the college level. Misra said Putz has the necessary skills to excel in the profession.
“Jenni’s interest in economics, passion for research and ultra-levels of patience for her students will definitely make her a great professor of economics,” Misra said. “Students like Jenni are putting SVSU on the map.”
Maps are something Putz has become more familiar with. Thanks in part to her flight to India, Putz said she’s ready for her next plane ride to Oregon. Living so far from home, though, will offer another new adventure.
“I’ve never lived anywhere other than Lapeer and Saginaw, so I’m definitely a little anxious about that,” she said, “but it should be another exciting learning experience.”