The 2017 Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant in Muskegon will feature a heavy dose of “Red Pride” this week, as five of the 34 contestants hail from Saginaw Valley State University.
SVSU students Jaeleen Davis of Bay City and Alana Rae Wilson of Monroe, and recent SVSU alumni Ashli Maser of Au Gres; Mallory Rivard of Bay City; and Kara Terry of Davison will all compete for the crown. Each of them brings passion for their platform – a cause they support – and their university.
Maser’s platform is “S.T.E.M. from Your Roots.” Inspired in part by her own biochemistry studies, she promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning among K-12 students, including visits to classrooms.
“My focus is figuring out how to engage middle school students in STEM through hands-on curriculum,” she said. “What brought me to SVSU was its good science program. 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 earned second runner-up status in 2016; she and Davis now have advanced to the final weekend for three consecutive years; and Rivard for four years. Wilson competed in Miss Michigan’s final weekend in 2015. Miss Saginaw County was Terry’s first pageant win.
Wilson said her fellow SVSU-affiliated contestants consider each other friends.
“Knowing I get to spend a whole week with some of my best friends and get to do what I love at the same time is so exciting for me,” Wilson said. “I am very blessed with all the people I have met and become close with over the years I have been competing.”
Davis has shown a remarkable competitive spirit to remain a contestant. Last July, she suffered a 30-foot fall that fractured several bones and required months of recovery. Her resilience is well established in pageant circles. As a child, Davis was diagnosed with alopecia universalis, a condition that caused her to lose her hair. She has since adopted Wigs 4 Kids as her platform.
“I realized, a hairpiece can fix a child who is aching to feel normal again,” Davis said. “I felt normal — I am normal — because of a hairpiece.”
If Wilson wins this week’s competition, she would be crowned Miss Michigan 30 years after her mother earned the same title. Her mother, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, also advanced and won the Miss America crown that same year.
“That would be very cool, to say the least,” Wilson said about the prospect of winning on the anniversary year of her mother’s victory.
“I am here competing for myself — because this is my dream as well — but how exciting would it be to not only become the first mother-daughter Miss Michigan, but then the first mother-daughter Miss America.”
The 2017 Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant contest kicks off with preliminary competition Thursday and Friday, June 15-16. The new Miss Michigan will be crowned during competition that begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 17.
The Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant is affiliated with the Miss America Organization, one of the world’s largest providers of scholarships for women. The winner earns a $12,000 scholarship and clinches a spot in the Miss America competition in September. Four runners-up earn $5,000, $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 scholarships, respectively.
To qualify for the Miss Michigan competition, contestants must capture one of 34 pageants in the state. Davis earned Miss Heartland; Maser won Miss Spirit of the State; Rivard earned Miss SouthCentral; Terry won Miss Saginaw County; and Wilson earned Miss Bay County.
Davis, a criminal justice and communication major, plans to graduate from SVSU in December 2017.
Maser graduated in May 2016, earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. She plans to attend Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Illinois in the fall.
Rivard graduated from SVSU in May 2017, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and early childhood education. She has been hired full-time as a teacher by Bay City Public Schools.
Terry graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training. She plans to attend graduate school at Auburn University in the fall, studying human nutritional sciences.
Wilson, a business management major, expects to graduate in December 2018.
Saginaw Valley State University has received grant funding to establish the Bay Area Community Writing Center, which will open in September at the Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library in Bay City.
SVSU received $16,500 from the Community Initiative Fund and the Youth Advisory Endowment Fund at the Bay Area Community Foundation. The funds will cover two years of support for student tutors from SVSU’s Writing Center; they will offer workshops as well as individual tutoring sessions for members of the Bay County community.
“We are delighted to partner with SVSU and the Wirt Library to provide this service to community residents,” said Eileen Curtis, president and CEO of the Bay Area Community Foundation. “The skills the writing tutors will share with individuals to help them become more effective writers will be of great benefit to our community.”
An opening for the Bay Area Community Writing Center is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 19. It will join the Saginaw Community Writing Center, hosted at the Butman-Fish Library in Saginaw, which began in September 2015.
Helen Raica-Klotz, director of the Writing Center at SVSU, said the Saginaw Community Writing Center is the first of its kind in Michigan. The new center in Bay City will become the second.
“We are excited to bring the expertise of our SVSU student tutors to Bay County to help all the members of this community develop their writing, whether it be polishing a resume, crafting a scholarship application, or writing a short story,” she said.
“At our Saginaw location, over 250 community members have participated in our individual tutoring sessions and writing workshops.”
The Bay Area Community Writing Center will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month at the Wirt Public Library in downtown Bay City.
“We are pleased to be able to host the center and collaborate with SVSU with the support of the Bay Area Community Foundation,” said Trish Burns, director of the Bay County Library System.
“As libraries continue evolving to meet diverse community needs, centers like this will become more important. The tutoring and workshops that take place in the center are another tool for patrons to use to continue building a better life.”
For more information about the Bay Area Community Writing Center, contact the SVSU Writing Center at (989) 964-2829.
Saginaw Valley State University received national recognition recently for its efforts to provide gender-inclusive student housing options on campus.
The National Association of College and University Residence Halls announced SVSU earned the group’s Outstanding Advocacy Award for Gender Inclusive Housing during the organization’s annual conference hosted at Purdue University May 26-29.
SVSU student leaders sought more inclusive housing options and worked with SVSU officials to implement them in advance of the 2016-17 academic year. The new policy allows students of different genders to room together if they choose.
Historically, colleges and universities have designated housing assignments where male and female students are in separate rooms, but a growing number of schools have implemented gender-inclusive housing in recent years.
“A brother and sister might choose to room together, or a couple in a romantic relationship,” explained Michele Gunkelman, SVSU’s director of residential life.
Gunkelman, said she was honored that the university received a national honor for meeting student needs.
“This recognition of a student initiative and SVSU's response supports our core values to create a safe and respectful campus climate as well as our focus on inclusivity,” she said. “Gender-inclusive housing creates an inviting and supportive home for all students, including those whose sexual orientation or gender identity can make roommate choices a sensitive topic.”
SVSU introduced the gender-inclusive housing option for returning students during the past academic year, and SVSU staff and students found it served students well. For 2017-18, entering freshmen also can sign up for gender-inclusive rooms at SVSU.
Nine students and Gunkelman attended the national conference to receive SVSU’s award. Along with attending the conference’s ceremonies, the group participated in a philanthropy project, raising $150 to purchase non-perishable food items. In addition, they also donated nearly 12 lbs. of pop can tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit that provides support for child health care needs. The organization recycles the pop can tabs to pay for expenses.
Saginaw Valley State University hopes to send students back to their K-12 schools to serve as leaders and “chief science officers” when the new school year begins in the fall.
Modeled after a similar program that has proven successful in Arizona, middle and high school students are elected by their peers to be a “chief science officer” and then are empowered to influence a wide range of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities in their schools and communities. The goal is to have students take an active role in increasing student interest in the STEM fields and ultimately create a diverse pipeline of STEM leaders.
SVSU received a $40,000 grant from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation to run the community-minded pilot program at middle schools and high schools in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties for the 2017-18 school year.
“We are proud to collaborate with our longtime partner SVSU to bring the chief science officer program to the Great Lakes Bay Region,” said Rob Vallentine, president of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation.
“This program will empower students and educators to be local STEM leaders, who by sharing their knowledge in our community will create a multiplier effect of more young people getting excited about and prepared in STEM subjects, and hopefully interested in pursuing STEM careers.”
The funds will support up to two students and a teacher mentor from each participating school to attend a two-day summer institute that will bring middle school and high school students to SVSU August 22-23. Around 50 students are expected to participate for the upcoming year.
Money from the grant also is set aside to provide mini-grants of up to $250 to support the “chief science officers” who develop plans for STEM projects to serve their school or community. Adrianne Cole, STEM Program Manager at SVSU, will oversee the program in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Several local schools already have registered to participate:
• Bay City Public Schools (Handy and Western middle schools; Central and Western high schools)
• Bridgeport-Spaulding Community Schools (Atkins Middle School and Bridgeport High School)
• Bangor Township Schools (John Glenn High School)
• Carrollton Public Schools (middle school and high school)
• Freeland Community Schools (middle school and high school)
• Midland Public Schools (Jefferson and Northeast middle schools; H.H. Dow and Midland high schools)
• Swan Valley Schools (high school)
• Saginaw Township Community Schools (Heritage High School and White Pine Middle School)
• Valley Lutheran High School
Additional schools who are interested in joining the program should contact Cole at (989) 964-4058, or email@example.com.
The Chief Science Officer Initiative is supported by the U.S. Department of Technology; it was created and is overseen by Jeremy Babendure, Ph.D., executive director of the Arizona Technology Council Foundation. For more on the program, visit https://chiefscienceofficers.org/.
The Great Lakes Bay Region pilot program through SVSU is one of several being started across the country in connection with the National STEM Ecosystem Project.
Graduation is an exciting time, and exciting opportunities lie ahead for many of the 990 members of SVSU’s 2017 graduating class.
We Are New Cardinal Alumni — available online at www.svsu.edu/weare2017 — 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.
High school: Onaway High School
Major: mechanical engineering
Future: Nexteer, Systems Integration Engineer
Less than a year after a roadway crash claimed his left leg — and nearly his life — Alex Fullerton was where he belonged: back at full speed behind the wheel of an Indy-style car he helped build. His perseverance comes naturally.
Fullerton passed a finish line of sorts in May 2017 when he graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. The feat was one of several accomplishments the Onaway native earned since the lure of a collegiate race car program convinced him to enroll at the university in fall 2012.
The road that led to that point, though, started about one year earlier when his grandfather enticed Fullerton to help with a full-frame restoration of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle.
“It was in a jillion pieces in my parents’ garage,” he said. “We were basically patching rust. I just really enjoyed hanging out with my grandpa all summer.”
The experience provided Fullerton with a taste of life as an engineer. Fast forward about one year: Fullerton, attending an orientation session at SVSU, where he initially signed up as an exercise science major, watched a presentation by the adviser for the university’s Indy-style competitive race team. Brooks Byam, professor of mechanical engineering, was detailing the successful history of SVSU’s Cardinal Formula Racing program.
“My hand shot up,” Fullerton said. “I asked, ‘What class do I have to take to be on the race team?’ He said, ‘In order to work on this race car, you want to be an engineer.’”
Byam gave Fullerton a tour of the Carmona Family Performance Racing Lab where SVSU students had built some of the world’s fastest Indy-style vehicles to appear in collegiate competitions.
“I was hooked,” Fullerton said. “The rest is history.”
He spent his freshman year largely learning the ropes from the team’s more experienced student engineers. His sophomore season, Fullerton helped lead the members of the team focused on the vehicle’s suspension system.
In June 2014 — about one month after the team finished first in the acceleration category for having the fastest college race car in the annual Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Collegiate Design Series competition in Brooklyn, Michigan — Fullerton was driving his motorcycle on a ramp merging Interstate 75 with U.S. 10 when he hit a pothole. The impact sent him sideways, crashing into double-bottom tractor trailer.
Byam, who described Fullerton as a “tough-minded” student, visited him in a trauma center following the crash.
“His whole family was there, looking distraught,” Byam recalled. “He was bright and smiling, and joking around. Nothing surprises me anymore with that kid. He loves to be challenged.”
The crash nearly severed Fullerton’s leg below his knee. After doctors attempted to save the appendage, he was presented with an option: Endure months and months of surgical procedures that may allow him to keep his leg, or amputate.
“It was a no-brainer decision for me,” he said. “I told them to amputate.”
But Fullerton made a request to his doctors: that he could drive again. And, after receiving his first prosthetic leg in November 2015, Fullerton was back in SVSU’s hallways and working with the Cardinal Formula Racing team. He helped test-drive the car less than six months later.
“It felt great,” he said of the experience.
Being a member of that year’s team also was especially fulfilling. The group’s car placed 26th among the 110 institutions competing. The finish was tops among the institutions without a graduate program in engineering. Fullerton and others involved with the team say the vehicle likely would have performed even better if not for the 10-cent oil line that broke during the competition.
“That was probably the best car that’s ever come out of SVSU,” Fullerton said. “It was elegant and designed very well.”
He remained on the Formula Racing team throughout his SVSU tenure, including this year, when he served largely as a mentor.
He accepted a full-time job as a systems integration engineer at Nexteer Automotive, starting in June 2017, although Fullerton has worked at the automotive manufacturer for months through a co-op program set up by SVSU’s Career Services.
His dream job involves working for a competitive racing team in NASCAR or another league.
“Racing is where I want to be,” he said.
Fullerton said he is thankful for the opportunities SVSU presented him, even as he struggled to overcome the physical challenges he faced outside of the classroom and body shop.
“Maybe I got lucky to fall into this,” he said. “I did something right.”
High school: Almont High School
Future: Indiana University Bloomington, Ph.D. program in mathematics
Alec Ward has a gift for solving math problems, and he wants to share that talent with others.
“No question, he has been one of our best students ever,” said Amy Hlavacek, associate professor of mathematics. “He’s already great at teaching others math.”
And so it only makes sense to Hlavacek that her pupil from Almont would pursue a career empowering others to become strong math students.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in May 2017, Ward served as a math tutor in SVSU’s Center for Academic Achievement, working with students in a subject area that can cause anxiety and frustration for some.
Hlavacek quickly noticed Ward's aptitude when he would point out errors in math problems.
Ward discovered his mathematical ambitions during his senior year at Almont High School, where his analytical abilities blossomed in a calculus class.
“It was definitely the subject I found easiest,” he said.
With plans to become an actuary, Ward enrolled at SVSU, but by his junior year, he realized he wanted to seek a career as a professor of mathematics. His tutoring work with students in the Center for Academic Achievement showed him students found him approachable, and he found himself inspired him to pursue an academic career.
Hlavacek, for one, is excited by the prospect of one day calling Ward a peer.
“He’s very quiet, patient and nonjudgmental,” she said. “He will sit with a student for as long as it takes. He very clearly explains things. His whole personality is suited for academia.”
In March, Ward had the opportunity to explain an academic paper at the Annual Meeting of Michigan Section of Mathematical Association of America at Ferris State University. The event largely featured professors. His paper was titled, "How a parabola can be a Source of Difference Equations."
“It was a good experience,” Ward said. “I had never talked in front of that many professional mathematicians before.”
Ward will meet more professional mathematicians soon. After considering several graduate schools, he will begin classes in a Ph.D. program for mathematics at Indiana University Bloomington in August.
With his next destination in sight, Ward said he remains appreciative of his relationships at SVSU, where faculty and staff provided him an opportunity to flourish.
“It was a very positive atmosphere,” he said. “I had a positive experience with every professor.”
Now Ward hopes to replicate that experience for others.
“He’s just operating on such a higher level,” Hlavacek said.
High school: Bay City Western High School
Major: political science
Future: law student, Michigan State University College of Law
In her circle of friends, Madison Laskowski admits she is the one most likely to trip over her own two feet, but she has proven she knows how to put her best foot forward when it comes to making legal arguments.
“I’m definitely the goofball of the group,” the Auburn native said, “but I’m ambitious.”
That ambition drove her to complete her bachelor’s degree in political science at Saginaw Valley State University in May 2017 – in just three years. That ambition helped her excel in a crowd of some of the nation’s most talented prospective lawyers. That ambition gained her a full scholarship to the Michigan State University College of Law, where she will begin her studies in the fall, on her way to becoming an attorney.
Laskowski's entered college with a passion for the law, and the support, encouragement and competitive opportunities she received at SVSU have her well prepared for a successful legal career, said Julie Keil, assistant professor of political science and mentor to Laskowski.
“Madison is a focused, determined young woman who has a clear idea of what she wants to do with her life,” Keil said.
Laskowski’s circle of friends partly consists of her teammates on SVSU’s undergraduate moot court program, which competes against other institutions in mock courtroom proceedings that draw from constitutional law and Supreme Court cases. Students act as attorneys in teams of two, making arguments to a panel of judges.
SVSU's program – in six short years – has risen to a top 20 national ranking; more than 350 colleges and universities compete in the American Moot Court Association. Keil is the founding adviser of SVSU's team and continues to serve in that capacity.
In November 2016, Laskowski and her teammate — fellow political science major Connor Hughes from Howell — won a regional moot court competition in Chicago.
The Windy City victory marked the first time an SVSU moot court tandem won an American Moot Court Association regional tournament. They outperformed accomplished programs from institutions such as the University of Chicago, California State University-Long Beach, the College of Wooster, George Washington University, the University of Texas-Dallas, and Loyola University Chicago.
“It was an amazing moment,” Laskowski said of the point where she learned her team won after one of the five judges broke a split decision. “Things just really clicked and fell into place for us in Chicago.”
The victory sent her team to the American Moot Court Association’s national competition in Florida in January 2017.
Keil voiced high praise for Laskowski’s SVSU moot court career.
“She has been the backbone of the program and one of our most successful students,” Keil said.
The national tournament performance in Florida capped Laskowski’s 2-year run on the moot court team and launched her toward the next chapter — law school — of a career her family long predicted she would pursue.
“My mom always told me I liked arguing,” Laskowski said. “Sometimes it was over my curfew, or what to pack for lunch. I was a spitfire, and so I figured I could eventually turn that into arguing for the law.”
During her sophomore year at SVSU, she met Keil. Laskowski said her development as a prospective lawyer was a work in progress, but thanks to Keil and the team’s support system, she improved quickly.
“I had horrible public speaking abilities that first year,” Laskowski said. “It was hard to fully grasp the Constitutional problems we faced, and to be able to articulate that in front of a panel of judges without fumbling over myself.”
The experience, though, allowed her to better understand her shortcomings and improve upon them by the time she returned to the team for her last year.
“My second year, I felt like I knew what to do,” she said. “The work ethic was there, the forensics skills were there and things just fell into place.”
Laskowski served as student president of the moot court program during the year when four SVSU teams — eight dedicated students in total, including Laskowski — qualified for the 2017 nationals. Only two colleges or universities — out of more than 350 nationally — qualified more students to attend the contest. In all, 80 teams with 160 students competed; Laskowski's team placed No. 49 overall.
“Traveling to the national like that, with some of your best friends, is one of the best experiences I’ve had at SVSU,” she said.
From: Galesburg, MI
High school: Galesburg-Augusta High School
Future: Registered nurse at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo
Inspired by a love of math and science, Saginaw Valley State University new alumna Heather Harvey decided on a nursing career when she was in high school.
"Nursing always seemed like the right fit," she said. "For me, the end goal would probably be a pediatric nurse because I've always loved kids. My mom runs a daycare out of her house so I grew up with kids. I was always just surrounded by them."
A native of Galesburg, Harvey plans to stay in Michigan; she accepted a job as a registered nurse at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. She graduated from SVSU in May 2017.
After visiting a local college fair during her senior year of high school, Harvey encountered SVSU for the first time.
"I hadn't heard of SVSU before that night," Harvey said. "When my dad saw the table for SVSU and they told me I qualified for the President's Scholarship, I knew it was something I was going to have to look into."
Attracted initially by SVSU's excellent nursing program and scholarship opportunities, Harvey quickly found that SVSU felt like home and decided it was the place to bring her energy and optimism.
"It was the middle of winter when I first visited the campus, but it was great," she said. "I was lucky to receive that scholarship and lucky to be a direct admit into the nursing program."
Applications for the nursing program are typically submitted after a student has fulfilled their academic prerequisites. Harvey was one of a limited number of high school seniors admitted to the program prior to beginning classes at SVSU.
"After that, I was guaranteed a spot in the nursing program," she explained.
Through her clinical experiences, Harvey explored a nursing path she never anticipated.
"We have an internship and leadership semester where you get to work one-on-one with a nurse," she said.
"I was in the OB unit, which is labor and delivery. I never thought I would go into that department, but I really enjoyed it. In your last leadership semester, the goal is that by the end you are able to take your nurse's full patient load by yourself."
Harvey worked 12-hour night shifts on the weekends at MidMichigan Medical Center in Alma; she racked up more than 170 hours to fulfill her leadership requirements.
Harvey excelled academically, but she also found other avenues to express her enthusiasm. She served as a student representative for Peer Health Education, where she served on the wellness committee, encouraging fellow students to pursue healthy lifestyles. She was also actively involved in Forever Red, SVSU's student advancement organization, and served as the vice president of Enhance – one of the three pillars that make up Forever Red's mission.
"Forever Red really helped me develop into the person I am while developing my leadership skills along the way," she said.
The organization proved the perfect fit for Harvey to fully unleash her talents and influence change in meaningful and lasting ways. She co-founded an initiative called "I Heart SV Week," which started in 2016 as a weeklong event dedicated to the importance of giving back to SVSU and educating students.
"It's about student scholarships and Red Pride," Harvey explained. "Forever Red has decided to keep it going and I'm excited to see where they take it."
Bryan Crainer, SVSU's associate dean of student life and leadership programs, advises Forever Red and worked closely with Harvey during her time in the program.
"In the last couple of years, I have been witness to tremendous growth in Heather's leadership abilities," Crainer said. "Whether it came in the form of serving on the board of directors for Forever Red, chairing committees, planning and facilitation on large-scale, campus-wide programs, or leading a team of her peers in her role as intramural sports coordinator, she leads with purpose and passion."
Harvey was recently given the opportunity to speak at an appreciation luncheon for SVSU donors hosted by the SVSU Foundation.
"As the chairperson for 'I Heart SV Week,' Heather was able to express her strong feelings about giving to SVSU from a student's perspective," Crainer said. "That message was powerful and motivating."
Alongside her active involvement within student organizations, Harvey also held two jobs at SVSU: working as a mentor in the nursing simulation lab, and as the intramural coordinator for Campus Recreation. She also taught a fitness class at the Ryder Center called Body Sculpt.
Harvey engaged in additional volunteer service, as well, participating in Alternative Breaks, a student-run organization that sends its members to different locations across the U.S. to participate in a range of service projects over regular school break periods.
"We went to Savannah, Tennessee for the trip, which was really fun," she said. "We were there to help with abused and abandoned animals to aid in rehabilitating them. I'm happy I had the opportunity to be a part of it."
After four full years of inspiring others and finding her inspiration, Harvey is eager to embrace her career aspirations and continue to care for others.
"I'm excited to see where I go from here," she said.
From: Saudi Arabia
Major: electrical engineering
Future: college professor or researcher
Driven to solve complex problems, Sarah Albanawi knows her choices defy some preconceptions.
The May 2017 graduate of Saginaw Valley State University began her push against convention the day she decided to move across the planet to pursue a bachelor’s degree. And the native of Saudi Arabia continued to defy convention when she decided to pursue that degree in electrical engineering, a choice of study rarely pursued by women.
“It was difficult and challenging for me,” Albanawi said of her choices.
As it turned out, Albanawi was more than ready to face “difficult and challenging” exams — and pass them all with flying colors.
“Challenging topics of science interest me and is great motivation for me,” she said.
Albanawi also is motivated to empower others who share her experience.
“One of my ultimate goals is to raise awareness of the importance of diversity in STEM education and work environments,” she said.
Determined to overcome the challenges before her, Albanawi passed many tests – academic and otherwise – to complete her degree.
The first test came in the form of a language barrier. Albanawi began studying the English language in sixth grade, and her teenage habits weren’t all that different from her American counterparts: She was a fan of the music, movies and books that were popular stateside. So, when it was time to move to the United States in the winter of 2013, her handle on the language allowed her to move relatively quickly through SVSU’s English as a Second Language program compared to many of her international student peers.
Albanawi’s early interest in American pop culture also buffered the culture shock that can accompany some international students’ move to a new nation. In fact, initial homesickness inspired her to listen to more Arabic music than American music for the first time in years.
Family also helped the transition to attending school in America. She first learned about SVSU from cousins who attended the university. Their familiarity with the institution and their presence in the hallways during her early years at SVSU helped her adapt to the surroundings.
Her decision to pursue a degree in electrical engineering was inspired by her proficiency in the sciences while she was a student in Saudi Arabia. Her earliest academic interests involved communication- and journalism-related pursuits, but after she scored well in tests related to engineering, educators encouraged her to pursue studies in those fields.
After exploring the electrical engineering program at SVSU, she was sold.
“There is always something interesting to learn every day, which served as a great motivation for me to know more and learn more, and also to find a topic of interest that I will be focusing on in my graduate study later,” she said.
“Analysis, critical thinking and problem solving is what engineering all about, and what challenged me the most — and motivates me — in the field. We have to solve real-world problems and be accustomed and prepared to many failed attempts before finally coming up with a great solution.”
One of Albanawi’s mentors at SVSU was Rajani Muraleedharan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty adviser to SVSU's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
“Sarah is a talented young engineer, and a leader-in-the-making who will empower women and minorities in engineering globally,” Muraleedharan said.
During Albanawi’s first few electrical engineering classes, she was the lone female student.
“That made it awkward for a little bit of time, but at some point, I convinced myself that I was capable of doing engineering,” she said. “That pushed me to work harder.”
She credited some of her success over the years to the help of faculty such as Muraleedharan and Altaf Rahman, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“My professors have supported me in so many ways,” Albanawi said.
She applied what they taught her in classroom and laboratories to a capstone project which is required for engineering students to graduate. For that project, Albanawi and some of her classmates designed and built a “smart kennel” made to release animals from their enclosures for bathroom breaks. The technology is triggered in part by systems that utilize sensor technology and Wi-Fi to wirelessly monitor the pet. The pet is rewarded for returning to the kennel when the technology releases a treat and plays a personalized message of encouragement along the lines of “Good boy.”
The project aims to reduce the number of pets turned away by owners due to the owner’s active lifestyle.
Muraleedharan was impressed with the work.
“Sarah's project outcome shows her passion and hard work in delivering a successful project, Muraleedharan said.
The next challenge facing Albanawi involves choosing a graduate school to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in an engineering-related program. Eventually, she hopes to work as a researcher in engineering or a college professor who challenges students the way SVSU challenged her.
“My long-term goals are achieving a successful professional career in STEM education, conducting research and development, as well as becoming an active member of the society of engineers to encourage development, innovation and research,” she said.
Albanawi said she will remember her time at SVSU fondly.
“I’ve made a lot of great memories here,” she said. “I’m grateful for this journey, and I know my hard work has paid off.”