October 29, 2015

Showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show Leads to Riot 1979

A collage of fingerprints, I survived the SVSC riot Tshirt, newspaper article.It has almost become tradition for theatres to run the 1975 movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show around Halloween. With the holiday two days away, the following is an excerpt of a story from the Spring 2010 Reflections magazine, titled "Snowballed at SVSU, 12-04-79." 

Freshman Liz Virgin had seen the flyers. Papers were all over campus about the film to be shown that night, offering a dose of escape with crimson floating lips and the words:

“A different set of jaws”–The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

By 10:15 that night, more than 250 people had flocked to the cafeteria to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film was a low-budget cult classic based on an often-run musical, and, over the years, audiences had spawned a series of rituals. When a wedding scene came, for example, viewers were expected to toss rice; when a man at a dinner mentioned giving a toast, viewers lobbed burnt bread.

That night, a fraternity made a fundraiser of it and sold both rice and toast to the masses.

Billy Dexter, a freshman, had joined his friends for the movie. The lights dimmed and the movie began, but things didn’t play out how he’d thought they would.

What played was pandemonium. Rice that was supposed to be pulled from its bags instead shot across the room as plastic-wrapped missiles. And people lacked the patience to await an onscreen toast before casting what they had on their classmates. Soon many items were fired through the air: food, drinks, salt shakers, pepper containers and, according to reports, even chairs.

Organizers repeatedly stopped the film, asking viewers to please calm down. But students’ mischief couldn’t be caged, and ultimately the affair lasted just 22 minutes.

All involved were asked to return to their rooms.

By the time Campus Safety showed up, the floor was coated with debris. Seats and tables had been toppled. A Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother named Steve Umphrey had assisted in planning the event and was consequently cleaning it up.

The students had gone outside, many of them gathering in the clearing between the dorms.

That’s where the real trouble would soon begin.

The Real Trouble Begins

Sometime after midnight, a telephone rang in the darkened home of a county sheriff. The man would awaken and be told of the reports. Some 150 Iranian students had “taken over” part of Saginaw Valley’s campus, the caller said, and they had “destroyed a building.”

In the snow-covered clearing flanked by brown-brick dormitories, about 75 students were running around, squirting water guns at each other, throwing snowballs.

Officers tried to reason with them. After much coaxing, the students complied; within an hour, all had retreated to their dorms. Officers, satisfied that order had been restored, left the courtyard to find warmth. And within two minutes of the solace, a dorm door reopened. A young man shot outside and began to yell. Suddenly, other doors popped open, and students rushed out and joined in.

Soon the snowball fight began anew.

Mike DuCharme, a sophomore, was in his room working on a paper. Looking out the window, he noticed in the distance a quickly moving line of blue lights. Wondering if there had been an accident at the airport, he kept his eyes on them. Then he realized they were coming closer.

Police Lose Control

He went downstairs and reached a window in time to see one of the patrol cars skidding on icy pavement. The cruiser slammed into a lamppost, knocking it to the ground.

Out in the courtyard, more police officers had arrived in riot helmets, carrying nightsticks. Some students ran away from the cops; others just hurled snowballs at them.

From somewhere in the melee, Billy Dexter and three roommates made it back to their suite. Still giddy from the experience, one pulled open the window and jeered at the cops on the ground below. Instantly, five officers looked up and raced for the stairs.

Students Jailed

Later that night when Billy called his mother, she thought his story was a practical joke. Billy had grown up in inner city Detroit and kept his record clean before coming to Saginaw Valley, a school in the middle of cornfields — and now he was calling her from jail?

But inside two locked cells at the Saginaw County jail were the 53 people arrested — 44 males and nine females — one non-student, two commuters and 50 dorm residents. (And rumor had it that the young women shared their seven hours in the cell with an accused murderer.)

Apparently, many made the best of it. While in jail, students started singing; and they sang so loudly that the jail staff threatened to hose them down.

Steve Zott, star quarterback on the football team, used his call to phone “Muddy” Waters. The football coach and athletic director had recently returned from a game in South Carolina. With the leftover money on hand from the trip, he ventured down to the jail himself.

By then, eight students had parents come to bail them out. The bond for the other 45 — a $1,025 price tag — would be covered by the university.

By 7:45 Wednesday morning, the last students were being transported in vans back to campus.

In its next issue, The Valley Vanguard published an editorial interpreting what factors had contributed to the events that night: overloaded dorms, pent-up frustrations, looming exams and cafeteria food. The movie, according to the piece, provided a fun outlet for students’ energy.  When it prematurely ended, they sought an alternative.

Later, T-shirts sprang up around campus that read, “I SURVIVED THE SVSC RIOT” — thanks to the pluck of a budding entrepreneur. Billy remembers the way people treated the 53 jailed survivors: “We were pretty popular around campus after that,” he says now, laughing.

Radio Reports Inaccurate

Inquiries later resulted in the radio transmissions from that night being made public. At 11:43, an officer called in to Central Dispatch: “Situation we have is about 150 ‘disorderlies.’ They literally destroyed one building, and we’re waiting for help before we take any other of them.”

Word was passed along. Central told Saginaw Police, “They totally destroyed one building.” Eight cars were sent, including a vehicle with lieutenant and a sergeant. At 11:51, Central told its Bay County counterpart “they totally demolished one building.”

Media agencies would descend on the campus. The Saginaw News called the incident SVSC’s “own horror show,” adding that “officers swept onto the campus amid rumors of Iranian involvement and calls picturing a building under siege.”

Subsequent hearings would find reason to suspend two students from the dorms and one from the college. Many others would receive letters of apology from the school’s administration.

SVSU’s crisis that night would compel the Board of Control at its May 7, 1982, meeting to pen a resolution that allowed the college to deputize the officers in its public safety department.

October 28, 2015

19th century Midwest African-Americans remembered in SVSU lecture

Photo of Jennifer StinsonThe Saginaw Valley State University history department will host the 13th annual Hoffmann/Willertz Lecture Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall. Jennifer Stinson, SVSU associate professor of history, will present “Laboring in Bondage in a Free Land: Remembering the 19th-Century Midwest’s Enslaved and Indentured African-Americans.”

Stinson will present an excerpt from her book manuscript on African-Americans and those whose lives bridged African, Indian and Euro-American identities in the rural Midwest. Her presentation will examine antebellum lead diggings, farms, and forts of Wisconsin and Illinois.

There, amid mixture and contestation between Indian, French, British and U.S. American peoples, Stinson will address the following questions: What was it like to live in bondage in ostensibly free states and territories? What purposes did unfree labor serve, and what meanings did masters and mistresses assign to it? What forms did unfree people's resistance take? And how has unfree labor and resistance been remembered and forgotten in our region?

Stinson has presented at several national conventions, including those hosted by the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians. She also has spoken at international events such as the International Inclusive Museum, Slaving Zones, and Many Faces of Slavery conferences. She co-led a seminar on race and the U.S. constitution at the SRH Hochschule/University in Heidelberg, Germany.

Stinson completed a bachelor's degree at Oberlin College and a Ph.D. at Indiana University. Her talk is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus lecture series; all lectures in the series are open to the public and free of charge. For more information on the series, visit svsu.edu/fallfocus.

October 27, 2015

SVSU Announces 2015 Homecoming Court

Photo of SVSU students Charnae Keith, left, and Brandon Jones immediately following their coronation as 2015 Homecoming king and queen. (Photo courtesy Mike Randolph, SVSU)Saginaw Valley State University students elected Brandon Jones, a business management major from Saginaw; and Charnae Keith, a social work major from Redford Township, as the university’s 2015 Homecoming king and queen. They were crowned Saturday, Oct. 17, during halftime of SVSU’s home football game against Lake Erie College.

Students initially elected Jones and Keith to the 10-student Homecoming Court earlier in the month. Then Jones and Keith, who are friends, campaigned for the Homecoming king and queen titles as a tandem.

“We were pushing each other,” Keith said. “So, when they called his name, I was scared that they weren’t going to call my name. That was another fear – we wanted to win together because we did the race together.”

Keith said she felt relieved after hearing her name announced. She and Jones represented SVSU’s Office of Multicultural Services.

A graduate of Saginaw High School, Jones said he was honored to be selected, but what really caught the public’s attention was his mother Tonya Jones’ reaction when she heard her son’s name announced as Homecoming king.

“My mom’s reaction was priceless,” Brandon Jones said. “The announcer didn’t even finish my name before she started screaming and shouting.”

Jones said he “never expected to win.”

“Each candidate was amazing and could have received the crowns and I would have been just as happy,” he said. “I am so grateful and so humbled.”

The two were joined on the Homecoming Court by:
•    Marianna Cuevas, a social work major from Tecumseh
•    Kevin Finley, an accounting major from Flint
•    Sam Hudson, an English major from Port Hope
•    Samantha Hull, a management major from Clinton Township
•    Riley Hupfer, a communication major from Freeland
•    Keshara Mumford, a social work major from Eastpointe
•    Kimberly Salwey, a marketing major from East Tawas
•    Grant Voisinet, a nursing major from Laingsburg

Jones is actively involved on campus, and currently serves as president of Valley Voices Gospel Choir; as a senior orientation leader, assisting new students acclimate to college; and as a member of the Organization of Black Unity. Jones also has been selected for SVSU’s Vitito Global Business Leadership Institute, an in-depth leadership development program for business students that includes an international travel experience; only 12 students per year are chosen for the program. He remains connected to his community, as well, serving as a mentor for students at Saginaw High School.

Keith also is active on campus. She is a founding member of Pretty Brown Girls, a registered student organization for female minority students; she also is a member of Valley Voices Gospel Choir and the Student Social Work Organization.  Keith also serves as a mentor to other SVSU students through the King-Chavez-Parks 4-S P.A.S.S. grant, a program designed to increase graduation rates through effective instruction, counseling strategies, tutoring, and mentoring programs.

October 27, 2015

Faculty Profile: Izabela Szymanska, assistant professor of management College of Business & Management

Born in 1980 in Poland, Izabela Szymanska witnessed the birth of the country’s Solidarity movement, and though young during its flourishing decade, was awestruck by its impact. She saw this movement transform her country’s peoples as it empowered them to take responsibility for their lives. Notable were economic changes, as citizens went from being government-supported to owning businesses.

Family business and entrepreneurship were fledgling opportunities that motivated a young Szymanska to dream that one day she would study business and entrepreneurship in the U.S. because, as she asks, “Who does it better?”  

So it is no wonder that the assistant professor of management chose a case study of family business and innovative changes for her recently-defended doctoral dissertation.

And it’s equally no wonder that Szymanska felt that when she arrived at SVSU in fall 2014, she had found a “perfect fit.” That’s because she is teaching entrepreneurship classes as well as working with the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute at SVSU, the Stevens Center for Family Business, and SVSU students.

She is quick to point out that SVSU’s focus on family business was not only very attractive to her, but that such a program affiliated with a university is not very common. That, she says, is great for both students and the region.

It is in the role of teacher that Szymanska makes her greatest impact. “I work with students on independent studies, take them to business events, and bring speakers into the classroom, all to enrich the student experience. “ 

And in the very brief time she has been at the university, she has led a student team to the University of Vermont’s Family Enterprise Case Competitions held each winter. She is already planning a return trip in 2015-16, noting the value of this competitive experiential learning for her academic college’s students.

Szymanska especially enjoys teaching Introduction to Entrepreneurship, a semester-long course where students create a comprehensive business plan. “Some love it and some learn that entrepreneurship is not for them. That’s not a bad thing; rather it’s invaluable for students to participate in that discovery process,” Szymanska said. 

And some students are excited about becoming an “intrapreneur,” an employee within a company charged with bringing new products or innovations to market. “This can be very appealing to students who don’t necessarily want to start a business, yet who want to bring that entrepreneurial energy to a company.”

Szymanska’s enthusiasm and efforts must be paying off, as an influx of student interest in entrepreneurship has led to adding another section of the course this academic year.

October 27, 2015

SVSU research making Midland healthier, students smarter

Leaders in Midland County have always been serious about improving health outcomes for county residents. In 2014, they enlisted a serious research partner to better understand where they stand and what it would take to be a healthier county. The SVSU team of five faculty and 15 students — all undergraduates — spent nearly a year gathering, analyzing and sharing data. Those who selected SVSU for the project were seriously impressed when the team submitted its final report.

“We are extremely pleased with the quality of the work performed by SVSU students and faculty,” Sharon Mortensen, president and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation, said after the report was made available in May 2015. The foundation joined with the Health and Human Services Council of Midland County and other agencies on the study.

“The faculty team met numerous times with our small planning group. They adapted their work to the needs of our community and provided a finished product that will greatly benefit Midland County.”

Based on a successful prior study by SVSU — and an exemplary record of community engagement — the Midland County consortium approached the university to lead the research.

“We were very satisfied with the work SVSU did on the Midland County needs assessment and the corresponding Midland County Dashboard,” Mortensen said. “The responsiveness of the staff and faculty to our community needs has been outstanding. When it was time to again conduct the health survey, we thought this provided another great opportunity to work with our local university.”

“I’m well ahead of my peers”

While Midland County leaders are pleased with the final product, SVSU faculty and students are thrilled with the learning experience.

Nathan Peters, 2015, B.S., worked extensively on the research. County-wide health surveys are typically conducted by phone, but SVSU was committed to going into the community. The exercise science major from Deckerville was among those on the front lines asking people to complete surveys.

“It’s amazing to shake the hands of the people you know will benefit from what you’re doing,” he said. “Once families responded, that would make me even more proud, because not only are we trying to help the adult population, it’s really all about the children, how they’re raised and continuing those positive health behaviors.”

Peters has begun his graduate program at the University of South Carolina. He received a research and teaching assistantship (full tuition, plus stipend) and plans to complete his Ph.D. in exercise science there. His involvement on this study and other research projects has prepared him well for the demands of graduate school.

“Every conference I attend to present research,” he said, “I get asked, ‘Are you doing this for your dissertation?’ SVSU and our kinesiology department have given me every possible tool to be successful. I am very confident that I’m going to be well ahead of my peers.”

More work, more reward

Playing a role in stories such as Peters’ is why Josh Ode, 2001, B.A., professor of kinesiology at the time of the study, returned to his alma mater.

In July, Ode accepted an appointment to oversee SVSU’s community engagement activities as associate vice president for academic affairs. He noted that the team on the Midland study was interdisciplinary, and in his estimation, a prime example of community-based research.

“We said, ‘We can do this another way,’ and that’s exactly what we did. We included multiple students in a service-learning project to get data that was requested, and we personalized it for Midland. We asked the kind of questions — above the traditional survey that’s done on a regular basis — they wanted to know.”

The research process also included meetings every two weeks where students reflected upon what they had learned.

“That’s really what service-learning is,” Ode said. “You take what you learn in the classroom; put it into practice, and then you go further. You have students talk and reflect about what works and what doesn’t, identify the challenges, and determine how to move forward.”

Putting the research to work

Many of the students have completed their SVSU degrees and have started careers or graduate school. Faculty will evaluate their research work for scholarly publications and move on to other projects, but they remain in the Great Lakes Bay Region community. That should assist with an important next step: using the research to improve the health of Midland County’s people.

Leslie Perry, 2007, M.A., already has submitted grant proposals based on the study’s findings. More Midland-area physicians are writing prescriptions requiring patients to exercise, and she sees a need for these patients to have a dedicated liaison to keep them informed, encouraged and held accountable.

The study identified significant health differences among population groups. For example, 49 percent of respondents with a high school diploma engaged in no physical activity regularly; the same was true for just 11.6 percent of respondents with a bachelor’s degree.

As engagement director for Greater Midland, a non-profit group that includes popular facilities such as the Midland Community Center and Tennis Center, Perry wants to see more people take advantage of community assets — many of which are free of charge — for health and wellness.

“We have enough programs and resources, but not enough people are using them,” she said.

Lasting benefits

More recommendations and action items will be developed, and eventually a new health study will be needed, but bonds forged between professors and students will continue for many years to come.

Peters praised SVSU’s exercise science faculty, especially Becca Schlaaf, B.S., 2008, assistant professor of kinesiology, for how he was mentored.

“Faculty want students to be successful,” he said. They encourage students to get outside of the classroom and participate in these community-based research projects.

“You can’t get any closer with a faculty member than I have at SVSU. If I would have gone somewhere else, there is no way I could have had the experience I did. I would not be where I am today if I had gone anywhere besides SVSU, and I'm really confident in saying that.”

October 23, 2015

New thinking about mind and brain discussed in Edwards Lecture at SVSU

A leading scholar on ethics and the philosophy of science will present the annual Edward Lecture at Saginaw Valley State University. Peter Railton will present “Homo Prospectus: Toward a New Synthesis in Thinking About the Mind and Brain” Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7p.m. in SVSU’s Founders Hall.

 Converging lines of research in philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science suggest a new understanding of the architecture of the mind and brain. Perception, memory, cognition, and behavior have long presented puzzles that can be resolved. Railton concludes that understanding prospection can also help solve some puzzles about morality as well – as illustrated by some new results involving well-known moral dilemmas, including the infamous Trolley Problem.
Railton is the Gergory S. Karva Distinguished University Professor and John Stephenson Perrin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is the author of numerous articles and a book, “Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays Toward a Morality of Consequence,” published by Cambridge University Press in 2003.
A past president of the American Philosophical Association’s Central Division, Railton received the D'Arms Award for Distinguished Graduate Mentoring in the Humanities in 2009. He completed a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and a Ph.D. at Princeton University.
The William and Julia Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion was established through a gift from the couple in 1993.  It annually brings distinguished scholars to SVSU to discuss timely and relevant religious and philosophical topics. The lecture is open to the public.  Admission is free of charge.

October 23, 2015

Gembrowski family exemplifies generational commitment to SVSU

On a beautiful breezy June afternoon, the 10 members of the Gembrowski family gather for a photo at their Freeland home where they are hosting yet another graduation party. They laugh, joke and tease each other while the photographer sets up. Once he gives the signal, each brother and sister falls into place unrehearsed as if they’ve done this family photo thing a time or two.

In the center is the matriarch, Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A. She smiles proudly as the camera snaps off a few shots. To the untrained eye, this might look like any old picture. But if you know the story of the Gembrowski family, then you know there’s something else you can see in this photo:

A flock of Cardinals.

Sharon Gembrowski isn’t the only SVSU grad in the family. Seven of her eight children have either graduated from SVSU or are currently attending, turning most family functions into unofficial alumni outings.

“From a very early age we had high expectations for everyone,” she said. “We told them they need a degree, but they could choose the school and program they wanted.”

And all but one of those children picked SVSU. The result is what Jim Dwyer, executive director of alumni relations, believes is the largest collection of immediate family to attend SVSU. “I can think of a few families with three or four children, but seven? That’s pretty remarkable.”

The Gembrowskis are a model of the kind of generational commitment Dwyer and his Alumni Relations office hope to encourage with new outreach efforts.

“They truly are the poster children for what we are trying to accomplish long-term,” Dwyer said. “We want to cultivate a spirit of loyalty to the university, and the Gembrowskis are living our charge: ‘Red Pride … Pass It On.’”

Peter Gembrowski, one of the youngest of the Gembrowski children and a freshman at SVSU, was among the first recipients of the Alumni Legacy Endowed Scholarship. Alumni Relations created the scholarship this year to benefit children of alumni.

“This program tells our alumni, ‘You are family for life,’” Dwyer said.

For this particular family, the SVSU legacy began with Sharon Gembrowski. She enrolled in 1980 after high school, but eventually put her degree on hold when she and her husband, Marty, moved to Grand Rapids.

Though being a mom was a full-time job, she realized it would be wise to finish her degree. She returned to SVSU in fall 1991, just after their fourth child was born. 

Her education was a sacrifice for the entire family. Sharon’s mother watched the kids so she could go to class. She’d often do her grocery shopping in the middle of the night. It was common in the early 1990s to see her coming to campus to drop off a class assignment, five or six kids in tow.

“I remember late at night we would all get together to do our homework,” said oldest daughter, Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now a geriatric nurse practitioner in Grand Rapids. “She took us to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum so we could see where mom went to school. It was great.”

Marty Gembrowski boasts that his wife was “insanely disciplined,” keeping checklists and calendars to make sure everything was in order and taking a class or two at a time to get through it. She walked across the stage during commencement in May 1997. A couple weeks later, her twin boys, Peter and Matthew, were born.

And on this June day, it’s those twin boys’ high school graduation the family is celebrating. Matthew will be the first child to attend college elsewhere, while his twin brother readies for his first year at SVSU, studying mechanical engineering.

“Being part of a big SVSU family is cool,” Peter Gembrowski said. “I’ve always gone to campus to do things with my brothers and sisters. I’m right at home.”

Sharon Gembrowski said one of the things she appreciates most about SVSU is the university’s value. All of her children received some form of scholarship to attend and graduated with little to no debt.

“SVSU provided an opportunity for my kids to advance their lives,” she said. “I’m just so happy that so many decided to go there.”

The Gembrowski Cardinals

Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A., was far from the last member of her family to attend SVSU. Seven out of eight of her children have graduated from or are enrolled at SVSU.


Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now works as a nurse practitioner at Mercy Health Saint Mary's in Grand Rapids.

Claire Gembrowski, 2011, B.B.A., now works for the lean manufacturing/purchasing team in Ford Motor Company in Dearborn.

Mary Gembrowski, 2013, M.S.O.T., now works as an occupational therapist at Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw.

Luke Gembrowski, 2014, B.S.M.E., now works as a mechanical engineer for Nexteer Automotice in Buena Vista Township.

Enrolled at SVSU

Anne Gembrowski is a nursing major.

Adam Gembrowski is a computer science major.

Peter Gembrowski is a mechanical engineering major.

October 22, 2015

SVSU graduate overcomes medical struggles, moves on to medical school

Micah Whitehead's career goal is to work as a cardiothoracic surgeon, helping patients experiencing problems with their hearts and lungs.

It's a goal that felt far-fetched to the Saginaw native not so long ago, when he struggled with his own medical issues. But now – fueled by his own perseverance, the support of faculty and staff at Saginaw Valley State University, and a second chance offered by his current school – Whitehead is on his way to achieving that goal.‌

After graduating SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Whitehead has embarked on a 5-year path to a medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He started school at the East Lansing campus in July, enrolled in the school’s Advance Baccalaureate Learning Experience (ABLE) program, a year-long initiative offered by the College of Human Medicine for disadvantaged students.

“SVSU provided me with the best foundation possible so that I can succeed in this rigorous program,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the program. Those who graduate from ABLE earn admission to the College of Human Medicine's traditional courses.

“I don't think I would be in this position if I hadn't gone to SVSU,” he said. “I developed a strong support system there.”

Whitehead applied to the program because his college transcripts reflect medical struggles he experienced during his sophomore year at SVSU, when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. His medical struggles led him to withdraw from several courses that year.

Those struggles could have made applying for enrollment at medical schools - which accept students heavily based on high-achieving college transcript records - a futile effort. But Whitehead said his supporters and mentors at SVSU helped him regain his footing academically.

Among those supporters was Heidi Lang, SVSU's pre-health professions advisor. Lang serves as advisor to SVSU’s Health Professions Association, a group that prepares students for graduate and professional schools relating to health professions. Whitehead was a member of the group while he attended SVSU, serving as its president during his senior year. He credited Lang's guidance in part for his admission to medical school.

“There were times when I was freaking out about something at 9 at night, and I would text her about it,” Whitehead said. “Whatever it was, she would take care of it.”
Lang said Whitehead is an outstanding student because of his passion for learning as well as his leadership.

“I see him as having incredible potential,” Lang said. “He is somebody who has such a heart and passion for serving others. Micah has the sensitivity, intelligence and the fortitude to be an excellent physician. He possesses great empathy for others and provides a listening ear for many of his peers. They seek him out.”

Whitehead said he enjoys helping students in the early stages of developing an interest in the health professions.

“I found out through the Health Professions Association that most of the younger students are kind of lost,” Whitehead said. “I remember being in their shoes, so I like to give them the kind of advice that was given to me. I love being a mentor to others.”

Less than one semester into his time as an Michigan State University medical student, Whitehead is excited about the opportunity ABLE provides.

“The ABLE program at MSU is absolutely miraculous,” he said. “We are in extremely tough courses right now, and the same attention I received at SVSU is being provided here. I look forward to waking up, and spending my days in the Gross Anatomy labs.”

He said SVSU faculty such as Gary Lange, professor of biology, and Tami Sivy, associate professor of chemistry, helped prepare him academically for his current studies.

“Dr. Lange, and especially Dr. Sivy, my biochemistry adviser and professor during my undergraduate degree, provided the extremely important foundational work that lets me learn the material at a much faster pace. It's like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant with how intense it is. Without SVSU, and the faculty who helped support me, I'm not sure I would be succeeding as I am right now.”

October 21, 2015

Chris Pryor: Having faith in community

Chris Pryor knows his decision to attend SVSU changed his life for the better.

Today he helps others see the possibilities of a better life through a college education, earned perhaps, right in their own backyard.

The pastor at Victorious Believers Ministries in Saginaw, Pryor preaches a simple equation: salvation + education = success.

It was a mantra his father, the late Bishop Marvin C. Pryor, said often. And so attending college after high school was never up for debate in his family.

Pryor’s experience at SVSU and the relationships he built while on campus helped him forge a bond with the university that still exists today.

He encourages young people in his ministry to attend SVSU, helps fund scholarships for students and is actively involved in a number of programs that bring young people from the Saginaw community to campus. Every other week, he also invites area college students to eat meals cooked by members of his ministry so they can get a taste of home cooking even when away from home.

To Pryor, the role of church and university are very similar.

“Both exist to educate and better people’s lives,” said Pryor, 1995, B.B.A.; 2000, M.Ed.. “I do so from a spiritual aspect and SVSU does so from the academic side.”

More than a decade ago, his connections at SVSU helped lead to a job at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, where he enjoyed a successful business career. When his father passed away in 2010, Pryor answered the call to serve and assumed his father’s role as the head of the church.

During that transition, Pryor sought the advice of former SVSU president Eric Gilbertson. The conversation they shared resonates with Pryor to this day.

“We were just sitting in his office reflecting on everything,” Pryor said, “And I remember him saying that leaders always take the time to step back and think. That’s always stayed with me.”

Today, the community leader boasts that he “truly bleeds SVSU red.” One of his main goals, he said, is to help youths and adults fulfill their destiny. Pryor has great expectations for the Great Lakes Bay Region and strongly believes the next generation of leaders is being built on the campus of SVSU as well as through his congregation of Victorious Believers Ministries.  

“My focus is to expand people’s mindsets,” Pryor said. “To show them what else is out there in their life.”

October 20, 2015

The power of music discussed in upcoming SVSU lecture

 A photo of Gupta is attached.Renowned musician Vijay (Robert) Gupta will deliver a lecture titled “Music and the Mind” at Saginaw Valley State University Monday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. His talk is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus Lecture Series.‌

A soloist and chamber musician, Gupta has performed internationally since the age of eight. Not long after joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he became a friend and violin instructor of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was the homeless and mentally ill musician who became the subject of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez's book “The Soloist.” The text was the basis of the 2009 movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

In his Fall Focus appearance, Gupta will discuss the ability of music to change an individual's brain, heal ailments and transform lives. He believes music should be a fundamental element in any educational curriculum, beyond an extracurricular hobby or even a medium to facilitate instruction in other fields, such as math or science. Erudite, eloquent, and passionate, Gupta shows audiences that music isn't just something to be enjoyed - it's something that can change lives.

Gupta received a master's degree in music from Yale University and made his solo debut at age 11 with the Israel Philharmonic. His interests extend beyond music. He studied pre-medicine as an undergraduate student and was part of several research projects in neurodegenerative biology.

All lectures in the Fall Focus series are open to the public; admission is free of charge. For more information on the series, visit svsu.edu/fallfocus.


Editor’s note: Early publicity materials indicated a different time for the lecture. The 4 p.m. time in the release is correct. A photo of Gupta is attached.