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July 20, 2016

SVSU receives grants in support of new cross country fitness trail

Saginaw Valley State University has received multiple grants and donations to support the construction of the SVSU Cross Country Fitness Trail, which will serve SVSU students and runners throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.

The trail will feature an NCAA sanctioned 5-kilometer grass course with interval loops for 6-kilometer, 8-kilometer and 10-kilometer runs that will be constructed on the north side of SVSU's campus. Its proximity to the existing asphalt trail that circles campus will make the SVSU Cross Country Fitness Trail one of the most spectator-friendly courses in the Midwest.

“The trail will be a great addition and will allow us to host meets on campus, which will be terrific for our runners and those who support them,” said Rod Cowan, SVSU head track & field and cross country coach. “We train hard, often early in the morning, and now we will have a top-notch course for our student-athletes, too.  It’s just a great asset for our program. I would like to thank everybody who has contributed to making this concept a reality.”
SVSU has received more than 40 grants, gifts and pledges to support the project, including:
•    $25,000 from the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy via funds provided by the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network
•    $15,000 from the Kantzler Foundation
•    $12,500 from the Russell H. & Maxine E. Smith Charitable Foundation
•    $5,000 from the Bay Area Runners Club
•    $5,000 from Catholic Federal Credit Union
•    $5,000 from the Midland Area Community Foundation
•    $5,000 from Raymond Bartels, an SVSU alumnus (1991, M.B.A.)
•    $5,000 from Ken Roznowski, an SVSU alumnus (1990, B.B.A.)

SVSU estimates the trail will benefit more the 30,000 people per year including SVSU students, faculty and staff, as well as residents of Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region. Preliminary construction is underway and the project is scheduled to be completed by spring 2017. It is expected to cost around $100,000.

In addition to serving SVSU’s men’s and women’s cross country teams, the trail is expected to serve as a regional location for many area competitions, as several high schools have contacted SVSU to express interest in such a trail. SVSU intends for its new trail to provide a safe cross country fitness trail for all students to train and compete.

In addition to the benefits for cross country runners, the trail also will serve as a community resource to provide access for recreation in natural areas of the SVSU campus, something that appealed to the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network.

“WIN is thrilled to make this investment at SVSU,” said Michael Kelly, director of The Conservation Fund, which administers the Saginaw Bay WIN program. “We, SVSU and the land conservancy are longtime partners in our shared efforts to build a more sustainable region. This new multi-use trail will provide yet another unique amenity that balances our incredible environmental assets with opportunities for public access and athletics.”

Zachary Branigan, executive director of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, agreed.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to help bring this multi-purpose trail to the community,” he said. “The planned trail opens access to hundreds of acres of high-quality natural area. From the trail, we expect birders, hikers, naturalists, and visitors of all types to gain new appreciation for a truly unique natural setting at the heart of our region.”

One example of a natural area on the SVSU campus is the wetlands preserve. You can learn more about it here:

July 18, 2016

SVSU named 2016 ‘Great College to Work For’

Saginaw Valley State University has been recognized as among the nation’s best college workplaces, according to a new survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities.

“We receive this honor with great enthusiasm, because it speaks to our commitment to support students and one another” said Donald Bachand, SVSU president. “Our faculty and staff work incredibly hard; they are determined to challenge students but also are so willing to share their time and resources to help students succeed.”

SVSU is one of only 93 institutions to achieve the “Great College to Work For” recognition. The results, released today in The Chronicle’s ninth annual report on The Academic Workplace, are based on a survey of 281 colleges and universities that applied for the program. This is the first time SVSU has participated in the survey.

SVSU was honored in the medium university category, which includes schools with 3,000 to 10,000 students.    

SVSU joins the University of Michigan as the state’s only institutions to earn the distinction.

“Today’s announcement is recent, but this has been a great place to work throughout my 30-plus years as a professor, a dean, a provost, and now as a president,” Bachand said. “I am extremely proud of my colleagues at every level of this university. They respect one another and they take their jobs seriously.”

SVSU was honored in three categories: compensation and benefits; facilities, workspace and security; and teaching environment.

The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators, and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution received recognition was the employee feedback.

“Nine years in, The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For program is well known as a mark of a college or university that puts thought and effort into serving the needs of its faculty and staff,” said Liz McMillen, editor of The Chronicle. “The colleges and universities that make the list are highly rated by their employees for creating great working environments, an important achievement that helps them recruit top academic and administrative talent.”

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide.

“It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner, ModernThink LLC. “And those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

Great Colleges to Work For is one of the largest and most respected workplace-recognition programs in the country. For more information and to view all the results of the survey, visit The Chronicle’s Web site at

About Saginaw Valley State University:  Saginaw Valley State University is a comprehensive university with more than 90 programs of study for its nearly 10,000 students. Located on a suburban campus in Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region, SVSU is committed to quality teaching in the classroom, field-based learning outside, NCAA Division II athletics and a broad range of academic and extracurricular opportunities for students to excel.

In 2015, SVSU received the Community Engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a distinction achieved by only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities. By their senior year, 84 percent of students have engaged with community employers and agencies in internships, field placements or some other component of their academic preparation. National research has shown that students who are engaged in the community and on campus are more likely to be successful academically, and to have the critical thinking, problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, and adaptability desired by employers.

About The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle of Higher Education is the top professional source for news, jobs, and information for college and university administrators and faculty. The Chronicle provides institutions with multiple paths to effectively communicate and engage with the largest audience and most influential decision makers in higher education in print and online. Visit to learn more.

About ModernThink LLC: As a research and consulting leader in workplace issues, ModernThink has supported a wide variety of “Best Place to Work” initiatives. Through these programs, the firm has gained substantial survey and industry expertise, including specific insight into higher education. ModernThink knows what it takes to build a great place to work and shares that know-how with its clients. The ModernThink team of organizational development experts is dedicated to helping colleges follow through and capitalize on feedback from employees and benchmark data from peers to drive meaningful change at their institutions. Learn more at

July 11, 2016

Art scholar studies archives at SVSU’s Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Nick Hartigan is an art scholar buried in paperwork, and he loves it.

Hartigan, the first recipient of Saginaw Valley State University’s Fredericks-Follett-Roethke Graduate Fellowship in the Arts & Humanities, is spending much of July researching a pair of artists with works featured on SVSU’s campus.

His studies involve access to thousands of documents housed in the SVSU-based sculpture museum dedicated to one of those artists, the late Marshall M. Fredericks.

“The kind of comprehensiveness I’m finding in these archives is wonderful to me, as a researcher,” Hartigan says. “There’s a total scope available here that is rare to find in most museums.”

Hartigan is a fifth-year doctoral student at the University of Michigan, specializing in the study of 20th-century sculpture – particularly the period from 1965 to 1995. He is living on SVSU’s campus until the end of July, when he plans to return to Washington D.C. There, he recently finished participating in a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and plans to finish his dissertation in the nation’s capital.

The events that led him to SVSU’s campus began more than a year ago when Marilyn Wheaton, director of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, sought individuals interested in pursuing scholarly work on Fredericks, whose monumental sculptures appear in sites across the world.

Members of the History of Art program at the University of Michigan’s Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies recommended Hartigan for the research. When Wheaton approached SVSU leaders about funding his visit, the seed was planted for what now is the Fredericks-Follett-Roethke Graduate Fellowship in the Arts & Humanities. The fellowship supports a new graduate student’s visit each year to SVSU’s campus, where that individual will study Fredericks, the late Saginaw-born poet Theodore Roethke or popular British author Ken Follett. SVSU also houses archived collections from Roethke and Follett.

“Hopefully this will add to SVSU’s excellent reputation for serious scholarly work,” Wheaton says of the fellowship.

Along with research, Hartigan’s visit will involve leading two presentations, free and open to the public.

While much of his research centers on Fredericks, Hartigan’s first talk will address another internationally-renowned artist with SVSU ties: the late land-art sculptor Nancy Holt, whose “Annual Ring” sculpture is located on the campus.

Hartigan’s presentation on Holt is scheduled Tuesday, July 12, at 6 p.m. at the Theodore Roethke Home Museum, 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw.

Hartigan says “Annual Ring” represents an anomaly of sorts for art of its kind. The site-specific sculpture is designed so that sunlight shining down on four circle-shaped openings in its dome-shaped cage casts an aligned sphere of sunlight on the ground every summer solstice at noon.

The U.S. General Services Administration commissioned Holt to create the sculpture specifically for its original location on the roof of the Federal Building in downtown Saginaw. Most artists or art owners often resisted the idea of moving site-specific sculptures elsewhere, Hartigan says. When the Federal Building was demolished in 1999, though, Holt supported “Annual Ring’s” relocation to SVSU.

“A lot of people thought, ‘You can’t just put a site-specific sculpture at a new site; it will become a different sculpture,’” Hartigan says. “What she did with this softened a lot of hard-liners.”

Hartigan’s second presentation will center on Fredericks. That talk is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 19 in SVSU’s Arbury Fine Arts Center, classroom A-107, adjacent to the sculpture museum.

Since Hartigan arrived at SVSU in late June, he has dug deep into the thousands of documents from Fredericks that are housed in the museum. The Fredericks Archives at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum were established in 2005 following receipt of the sculptor's business and personal records, and span the 70 years of Fredericks' career from 1928 to 1998, when he died.

Materials include personal, foreign ministry, and general correspondence as well as special letters and cards received by Fredericks; photographs relating to Frederick's teaching career, projects, civic activities, and personal life; project files, media articles, journals, clippings and books about Fredericks and his work.

The museum, of course, also features Fredericks’ sculptures and the plaster originals for many of his most recognizable sculptures, including “The Spirit Of Detroit.”

“For someone interested in the creative process of someone like Marshall Fredericks, it’s great to be able to see his ideas, from their creation to the actual finished product,” Hartigan says.

It’s not often that a museum features such a comprehensive collection of a sculptor’s work as is available at SVSU, he added.

“It’s rare to see plasters, and if a museum does have them, they aren’t on view like they are here.”

Hartigan is placing special emphasis on researching Fredericks’ “Christ On The Cross,” which depicts a crucified Jesus Christ. The 28-foot-tall, 7-ton bronze sculpture is located at a Catholic shrine in Indian River, Michigan, about 30 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge. A plaster of the sculpture looms over the interior of SVSU’s museum.

“This is an enormous piece,” Hartigan says. “Aside from the sheer technical expertise involved in creating something that size, there were huge logistical challenges. He had to cast it in Norway and have it transported here. It was a very complicated process.”

Hartigan says he plans to submit a paper about his research of Fredericks to scholarly publications while also including his findings in his dissertation on public sculptures.

“There’s a lot of work ahead,” he says. “It’s been exciting.”

July 7, 2016

SVSU hires longtime higher education leader for top student affairs position

Saginaw Valley State University has hired an advocate for students - with over 23 years of higher education leadership experience - to serve as its new associate provost for student affairs.

Sidney R. Childs will begin his work at SVSU in July after serving since 1993 at Bowling Green State University.

Since 2014, Childs has worked as both interim vice president and assistant vice president for student affairs at the Ohio campus, located south of Toledo.

During that time, Childs led programs to enhance student retention and persistence to graduation, and also to strengthen community partnerships. Furthermore, he has provided direction for underrepresented student populations, offering guidance on campus issues relating to diversity, inclusion, multicultural affairs, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

“Throughout my professional career, I have been intentional about cultivating a campus and community environment where students feel welcomed and strive to create a more just and equitable world, one in which all of our students see themselves as valuable individuals and feel confident and competent in their own identities,” Childs said.

Prior to his work in Bowling Green's student affairs office, Childs led the university's TRIO programs, which offered educational outreach and academic enrichment programs for first generation and underserved students.

His new role at SVSU also will involve nurturing an inclusive and empowering campus environment.  Deborah Huntley, SVSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Childs will provide an engaging leader and supportive voice for students there.

“Dr. Sidney Childs brings a wealth of experience to SVSU,” Huntley said. “His work as interim vice president for student affairs at Bowling Green, leadership in TRIO and innovation in student programming has helped countless students meet their potential as engaged citizens. He has shown an ability to work across units within the university to foster student development in and out of the classroom. We are very excited to have Sidney join SVSU.”

Childs earned a Doctor of Education degree in leadership studies in 2013, a Master of Public Administration degree in organizational development in 1993, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in business law in 1990, all at Bowling Green.

He will replace Merry Jo Brandimore, who plans to retire in August after 33 years at SVSU.

June 16, 2016

SVSU to offer new degree: Master of Arts - Public Administration

Saginaw Valley State University has approved a new graduate degree program and will enroll students for the Master of Arts - Public Administration program, beginning with the upcoming fall semester.  

The program is geared toward students who have completed bachelor’s degrees and are interested in careers or seeking advancement in the non-profit, governmental, public administration, or criminal justice fields.

“The program is intended to assist students seeking careers in the public administration sector or who striving for promotional opportunities,” said Joseph Jaksa, associate professor of criminal justice and program coordinator.

Within the program, SVSU offers a specialization in university and college student affairs administration for those seeking careers in higher education.

“Our Student Affairs track is unique to SVSU,” Jaksa said, “providing specific classes for individuals interested in administrative positions at colleges or universities.”

The course curriculum offers a combination of online and face-to-face learning opportunities. Classes are taught in online, hybrid (online and in-person), and traditional face-to-face formats. This educational structure provides students with a level of scheduling flexibility while providing a meaningful learning experience.

“Our class formats and courses provide a challenging curriculum in a friendly, learning environment,” adds Jaksa. “The program features highly-qualified instructors, including experienced full-time faculty members, as well as current and former university administrators. This blend of academic and practical experience gives our students the best of both worlds.”

The new program is replacing a Master of Arts in Administrative Sciences program that SVSU has previously offered.

For more information on the new Master of Arts - Public Administration Program (MPA), visit, or contact the SVSU Graduate Admissions office at (989) 964-6096.      

June 14, 2016

SVSU Board approves tuition increase of 4.19 percent; Buildings named for Brandimore, Hamilton

The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved a tuition increase of 4.19 percent as part of the 2016-17 general fund operating budget adopted during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, June 13.

A Michigan undergraduate student taking 30 credits will pay $9,345 for the upcoming academic year. SVSU students were charged $8,969 during the 2015-16 academic year.

“We continue to do all that we can to maintain our commitment to affordability for our students and their families,” said President Donald Bachand, president. “While our tuition remains the lowest among Michigan’s public universities, the quality of teaching and learning at SVSU has never been higher. We provide an exceptional educational value for our students.”

SVSU is increasing its budget allocation for scholarships and financial aid by 6.6 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Board also granted emeritus status to three individuals who have announced their plans to retire from SVSU: Merry Jo Brandimore, Gene Hamilton, and Gladys Zubulake; Brandimore and Hamilton also will have buildings named in their honor, following Board action.

Brandimore was named Dean of Students Emerita in recognition of her 33 years of service to SVSU, most recently in the role of dean of students since 2008. She arrived in 1983 as director of Housing and Residential Life and has dedicated her entire SVSU career to student affairs. Brandimore’s passion and enthusiasm for “Red Pride” has received respect and praise from generations of students and colleagues.

In recognition of Bradimore’s contributions to SVSU, the Board approved re-naming the residence hall Living Center North as M.J. Brandimore House.

Hamilton has served SVSU in a variety of roles during a Cardinal career that spans 47 years. He is perhaps best known for his work in government relations over the past two decades, advocating on SVSU’s behalf at the local, state and federal level. Prior to that, Hamilton served in SVSU offices for Admissions, Cooperative Education and Field Experiences, and Continuing Education and International Programs. He was named Ambassador Emeritus of Government and Community Relations.

Hamilton holds the distinction of serving as SVSU’s first varsity basketball coach, starting the men’s program in 1969. He and the late Bob Becker, SVSU’s long-time athletic director, are credited with choosing Cardinals as the mascot for SVSU athletic teams. The Board voted to change the name of Cardinal Gymasium – where Hamilton once coached – to Hamilton Gymnasium.

Zubulake has served SVSU as an award-winning educator for 25 years and was named Professor Emerita. She joined SVSU as director of the Bilingual/Bicultural Teacher Training Program in the College of Education, and joined the faculty in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages in 2001.

Zubulake has received three SVSU honors: the Franc A. Landee Teaching Excellence Award in 2006, the House Family Award for Teacher Impact in 2012, and the Ruben Daniels Community Service Award in 1999. She also was named Educator of the year by the Michigan Educational Opportunity Fund in 1998 and the Michigan Foreign Language Association in 2004.

The Board also approved the addition of four new academic programs. SVSU students will now have an opportunity to complete degrees in general studies, neuroscience, elementary teaching for international students, and middle/secondary teaching for international students. All four programs are effective starting with the upcoming fall semester.

In other action, the Board:
•    Approved amendments to the Student Association charter.
•    Approved revisions to the Code of Student Conduct for the 2016-17 academic year.
•    Approved the reappointment of nine individuals to the SVSU Board of Fellows, a community advisory board: Mary Lou Benecke, Thomas A. Braley, Vicente Castellanos, Gil Johnson, Kenneth W. Kousky, John W. Nagy, Ernest E. Paulick, Chris Pryor and Jerome L. Yantz.
•    Approved the confirmation of board members for previously authorized charter schools.
•    Approved the addition of grades 6-8 for Waterford Motessori Academy, a previously authorized charter school.
•    Approved faculty promotions. Three faculty were promoted to the rank of professor: Anthony Crachiola, mathematics; Dorothy Lee, nursing; Christopher Surfield, economics. Nineteen faculty were promoted to the rank of associate professor: Emily Beard-Bohn, English; James Bowers, criminal justice; Colleen D’Arcy, teacher education; Sherrin Frances, English; Andrea Frederick, nursing; Melissa Garmo, criminal justice; Christopher Giroux, English; Dennis Gray, biology; Ellen Herlache-Pretzer, occupational therapy; Jaime Huffman, nursing; Thomas Mahank, mechanical engineering; Andrew Miller, geography; Rajan Murgan, physics; Emmanuel Ncheuguim, mathematics; Jason Pagano, chemistry; Jean Prast, occupational therapy; Sheruni Ratnabalasuriar, criminal justice; Jennifer Stinson, history; Charles Weaver, health science.
•    Approved granting tenure to Kevin Simons, associate professor of music.
•    Approved a posthumous degree policy.
•    Approved, in principle, the university’s guiding principles for strategic planning.

June 9, 2016

Great things ahead for 2016 SVSU graduates

‌‌Graduation is an exciting time, and exciting opportunities lie ahead for many of the 990 members of SVSU’s 2016 graduating class.

We Are New Cardinal Alumni — available online at — is a series that takes a snapshot of that excitement through the eyes of several of our outstanding graduates.

The series reflects on our exceptional graduates’ experiences at SVSU. Their résumés include membership to engaging student organizations, participation in volunteer and service-learning opportunities, and recognition for outstanding research and academic achievement.

And their stories stretch beyond SVSU, as this series also looks forward, toward our students’ plans after graduation. While some students are poised for postgraduate studies at prestigious universities across the U.S., others already have secured jobs in industries dedicated to strengthening the Great Lakes Bay Region, the state of Michigan and beyond. 

All of our graduates are ready to write the next chapter in their lives while adding to the outstanding lineup of Cardinal alumni.

June 6, 2016

SVSU neuroscience student honored for brain research

A Saginaw Valley State University student has earned two major accomplishments recently for his dedication in research relating to improving the lives of individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

While attending The Michigan Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference last month, Zackary Bowers, a psychology major from Freeland, received an Undergraduate Student Outstanding Poster Award from among 180 poster presentations.

The award recognized Bowers’ research in improving brain functionality for individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury. The research was performed in SVSU’s Brain Research Lab, where he has worked for about two years under the guidance of Charles Weaver, assistant professor of health sciences, and Jeffrey Smith, SVSU’s Malcolm & Lois Field Endowed Chair of Health Sciences.

“The mentorship has been great,” Bowers said. “And the faculty here provide so much room for you to grow, so long as you are willing to work hard. I didn’t think undergraduates were able to do this kind of research until I saw the kind of research they were doing at SVSU.”

Bowers began at SVSU as a business major but eventually connected with members of the Brain Research Lab. He grew up reading publications such as Popular Science, and discovering the university’s laboratory reignited his interest in science.

Smith said Bowers is deserving of the accolades.

“He’s a very bright, hard working student,” Smith said. “He puts a lot of effort into everything he does.”

Bowers, in turn, credited SVSU’s faculty and resources for providing an environment that leads to academic success, as well as the classmates who helped in his research efforts.

“It’s been a life-changing experience,” he said of the research.

Bowers’ next life-changing opportunity will include presenting at the National Neurotrauma Society’s conference. He received a travel award that will fund his attendance at the organization’s annual symposium June 26-29 in Lexington, Kentucky. He will be a rare undergraduate student presenting research at the conference, which primarily features Ph.D. researchers and graduate students discussing the latest findings in neurotrauma science.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” said Bowers, who was born in Caseville and graduated from Gladwin High School in 2010. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

Bowers expects to graduate in May 2017 and plans to pursue a Ph.D. that focuses on research of brain cell development. Eventually, he hopes to work as a university professor.

June 2, 2016

SVSU student accepted to challenging University of Wisconsin summer research program in chemistry

A Saginaw Valley State University student is spending her summer pursuing a passion for chemistry research through a highly competitive program at a university nationally renowned for its graduate programs in chemistry.
Emily Dzurka, a chemistry major from Bay City, is participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from May 31 to Aug. 5. She will perform research with faculty, staff and students in the university’s Department of Chemistry, which U.S. News & World Report in 2014 ranked No. 9 nationally among higher education chemistry departments.

“I was so ecstatic when I found out,” Dzurka said. “I would love to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school, so getting my feet wet like this is an amazing opportunity.”

Dzurka already has experience in chemistry research through opportunities at SVSU.

Through an SVSU partnership, she has worked as a co-op student at The Dow Chemical Company in Midland, where she managed analytical instrumentation and performed sample testing.

On campus, she teamed with advisor Stephanie Brouet, SVSU associate professor of chemistry, on undergraduate research projects involving molecule synthesis.

Brouet said about 700 people applied for 15 spots in UW-Madison’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

“So this is a very big opportunity,” Brouet said.

Having witnessed Dzurka’s determination to tackle complex research projects, Brouet is confident Dzurka is prepared for her latest challenge.

“She excels in lab work,” Brouet said. “She’s very self-motivated, very reliable and very professional in her approach. What’s most impressive is her dedication to organic chemistry. She’s very passionate about what she’s doing.”

A 2012 graduate of Bay City Western High School, Dzurka plans to earn a bachelor’s degree from SVSU in May 2017. She said laboratory work is one of her passions.

“I like to be in the lab, and enjoy running my own reactions to figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” Dzurka said. “They’re like puzzles that I like to figure out.”

Dzurka said she hopes one day to work full-time in research at Dow.

May 27, 2016

Bullock Creek teacher combines seat belt safety and STEM learning, thanks to SVSU & Dow Corning

Teacher Erin Martin decorates the walls of her Bullock Creek High School classroom with pop culture science flair.

Photos hang near the doorway, showing TV personalities such as Bill Nye The Science Guy, images from movies accompanied by science-themed quotes, and photos of her at a Star Trek convention, where she posed happily with actors from the popular TV and film franchise.

“I'm a Trekkie,” she admits proudly.

Even more than that, Martin is a self-professed pop culture science junkie. That characteristic helps inspire her love of learning real science, making it more accessible and fun. Making science more accessible and fun is a philosophy she tries to apply in her teaching approach.
Now, thanks to a community partnership aimed at improving K-12 education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Martin has more resources than ever in empowering that philosophy.

Martin is one of 16 area educators participating in The Dow Corning Foundation/ Saginaw Valley State University STEM Community Partnership. Funded by a $254,000 Dow Foundation Grant, the project connects teachers with SVSU faculty and Dow Corning officials as they work on ideas for stimulating student interest in STEM.

Martin and each teacher involved in the partnership plans to discuss how the program impacts their classroom during a symposium Tuesday, May 31, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in SVSU's Curtiss Hall banquet rooms. The event is free and open to the public.

Each teacher involved in the partnership develops lesson plans meant to engage students in STEM. Martin's project involves teaching students about the importance of seat belts on safety.

“I wanted to help my students learn but I also wanted to try to help people,” she said. “High school students do not wear their seat belts 100 percent of the time and the leading cause of death for teenagers 12- to 19-years-old is motor vehicle traffic accidents. I want to help save lives by increasing seat belt use.”

Martin isn't teaching that lesson simply by sharing math equations or using statistical analyses to illustrate seat belt safety. The lesson plan involves tasking students with assignments that involve real-life – albeit safe – simulations.

In Martin's classroom, not too far from those photos of celebrities, several boxes of Barbie Sisters Safari Cruiser toys are stacked against a wall. For the purposes of the classroom research, these miniature vehicles are used as stand-ins for the road-appropriate variety. Using sensory equipment purchased through The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership, her students are studying the physics of motor vehicle collisions.

The research is meant to give her students an idea of the devastating effects of crashes at higher speeds.

“The main question my project will answer,” she said, “is ‘Will measuring a small-scale crash and experiencing a life-sized simulated crash increase the seat belt use of physics students and increase their understanding of momentum?’”

The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership also connected Martin and her class with Dan Hinterman, an engineering and services manager at Dow Corning. Hinterman began visiting Martin's classes on a monthly basis in the fall, leading engineering-based activities while discussing the STEM industry with students.

One of Hinterman's first visits involved tasking students with designing miniature bridges using wooden construction sticks, rubber bands, masking tape and glue. The objective was to build a bridge spanning a 24-inch divide during an hour-long class. Students were grouped into several teams and competed against each other to see which bridge could carry the most weight.

Daniyelle Noel, a 16-year-old junior at the school, enjoyed the assignment.

“I really like that challenges like this force you to think outside the box, and I really enjoy the fun competitive way of presenting challenges,” she said.

Aaron Cummins, another 16-year-old junior, said hands-on activities such as those in Martin's physics class are more engaging for students than textbook-heavy assignments.

“I absolutely feel that these activities are inspiring to students,” Cummins said. “My classmates enjoy them also, and I think that many of them are surprised at how much fun engineering can be.”

Martin hopes both the lesson plans and networks made with the help of The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership will inspire her students to experience the same kind of “fun” in STEM that she experiences.

“I made a lot of connections through this program that will help me with this project and beyond,” Martin said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work on a project that I think will have a huge impact on my students’ learning and lives.”