November 17, 2015

Award-winning playwright Donna Hoke places 'Safe' bet on SVSU theatre production

Award-winning playwright and journalist Donna Hoke is conquering the theatre world one step at a time, and the Buffalo-based talent has great expectations for her future.

Her present is at Saginaw Valley State University, where the theatre department will produce her latest play “Safe” with the collaboration of Road Less Traveled Productions, a Buffalo theatre company where Hoke works as part of an ensemble playwright group.

Showtimes for SVSU's production of “Safe” are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21. A matinee is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. All shows will be held in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $13 for the general public and $10 for senior citizens and students.

The play is part of a collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions, a professional theater company based in Buffalo, New York. In 2014, the company agreed to work with SVSU’s theatre department, which will put the play on stage for the first time. Road Less Traveled plans to follow with its own production of “Safe” in March.

Recently, Hoke shared her history with an SVSU audience when she participated in a question and answer forum on campus.

Since she was a child, Hoke loved writing, she explained. During her college years, she largely wrote fiction and poetry. When she graduated, at the age of 25, she gravitated towards journalism since, as an introvert, she felt vulnerable about sharing her feelings with those who read her work.

After a few years working at a magazine, Hoke decided to attend some of Buffalo's playwright workshops, until finally she started writing plays again for fun. She landed her first production in 2010.

“You just need to write and get your work out there,” she said. “That's it.”

Since pursuing that dream, Hoke has earned praise for her work. For three consecutive years, she was named Best Writer by Artvoice, a news magazine based in Buffalo. A number of her plays also have earned various awards.

“Safe” was largely influenced by a teen suicide believed by some to be encouraged by bullying in her school district. The play exhibits the pain and strength that reside in the hearts and minds of those who experience bullying.

While the SVSU production is the first time it will be put on stage, "Safe" already has won the 2014 Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, 2014 Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest. The play was a finalist for the T. Schreiber New Works Competition, and also a semi-finalist at both nuVoices at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and the 37th Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

As for the future, Hoke is considering Broadway. She hopes to have an agent in the next five years to help her spread her work throughout the country.

“I am happy with what I accomplished,” she said. “I would love to be at the point where I can get a number of productions every year, just to be out there.”

As a last piece of advice for future playwrights that struggle with feedbacks, she quoted Stephen Schwartz, an American musical theatre lyricist and composer: “There is always an answer that will satisfy both people and you just need to work to find it. You just need to go to the room with collaborative spirit, respect for the text and the director.”

For more information about her play, "Safe," visit www.svsu.edu/theatre.
For more information on Donna Hoke visit www.donnahoke.com.

November 17, 2015

SVSU theatre teams with Buffalo production company to present 'Safe'

Playwright Hoke and SVSU’s Rzeszutek for theatre production 'Safe'‌‌After a year of preparation, Saginaw Valley State University this month will bring the play “Safe” to audiences in a worldwide premiere.

The play is part of a collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions, a professional theater company based in Buffalo, New York. In 2014, the company agreed to work with SVSU’s theatre department, which will put the play on stage for the first time. Road Less Traveled plans to follow with its own production of “Safe” in March.

Throughout the process, SVSU theatre students have worked with the play's award-winning author, Donna Hoke. Her work has been commissioned, produced, and/or developed in 34 states and five continents. She makes her artistic home as an ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions, which has hosted productions that included Hollywood actors such as Alec Baldwin and James Rebhorn.

For writing “Safe,” Hoke won the 2014 Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, 2014 Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest.  The script also was a finalist for the T. Schreiber New Works Competition, and a semi-finalist at both nuVoices at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and the 37th Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us,” said Dave Rzeszutek, SVSU associate professor of theatre and director of the SVSU production. “We're working with a new script and having direct contact with the playwright.”

In fact, Hoke has already made changes to the script based on watching SVSU students rehearse the play.

In “Safe,” a young gay teen hangs himself in 2011 – but the events leading to the suicide began decades before, in 1986, when bullies tormented Nancy and her best friend. Twenty-five years later, the cycle continues when Nancy is confronted by another bully – her son. The show exhibits the pain and strength that reside in the hearts and minds of those who experience bullying.

“The play has themes of bullying, self-worth, guilt and suicide,” Rzeszutek said.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21. A matinee is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. All shows are hosted in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $13 for the general public and $10 for senior citizens and students.

The cast includes five SVSU students. Tristian Evanoff, a theatre major from Kalamazoo, plays the lead, Nancy.

Rounding out the rest of the cast are:
•    Cassandra Graham, a pre-social work major from Memphis, Michigan
•    Joseph Green, a theatre major from Shelby Township
•    Carl Mizell, a theatre major from Flint
•    Zach Wood, a theatre major from Flushing

For more information or to order tickets, contact the Box Office at (989) 964-4261 or visit http://www.svsu.edu/theatre/showschedule/.

Photo depicts playwright Hoke (left) and SVSU’s Rzeszutek (right).

November 12, 2015

SVSU honored for top health and wellness program

A Saginaw Valley State University program that boosts health and wellness for its faculty and staff has earned high praise.

During the organization’s annual conference, the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine awarded SVSU’s HealthyU program with the 2015 Active U Competition award. The honor is given to the top health and wellness program among higher education institutions in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Elizabeth Ballien, an SVSU student intern who helps organize HealthyU, was present during the awards ceremony Saturday, Nov. 7, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“When they announced, ‘SVSU.’ I was shocked and so proud,” she said.

HealthyU promotes health and wellness for employees through education, wellness and physical activity programs. Since its inception in 2006, nearly 50 percent of those eligible for the initiative's benefits have participated in it.

The program is administered through SVSU’s Human Resources office – where Ballien works as a student intern – but officials there were quick to praise the across-the-campus support for HealthyU.

“It takes a team effort to pull this off,” said Cynthia Bala, associate director of Human Resources.

“Without all the hard work of the student interns, numerous student volunteers and the collaboration with Cardinal Fitness and the Department of Kinesiology, there would be no wellness program. It’s great to work for an employer that values the health and well-being of their employees.”

The program also offers a learning experience for students. Ballien is the latest student intern to help oversee the HealthyU program.

“There’s a lot of organizing, time management, troubleshooting and problem solving that goes into it,” said Ballien, who has served as the program’s student intern since fall 2014.

The role helps her network both with SVSU employees as well as representatives from the community connected to HealthyU.

“It’s great to know people’s names and faces and to just have that kind of connection with the university,” said Ballien, who plans to apply for jobs similar to her role with HealthyU when she graduates in May 2016.

“HealthyU has really prepared me for what I want to do,” she said. “It’s been a great experience.”

At the same conference, SVSU student Melissa Jones, an exercise science major from Shelby Township in Macomb County, received the Outstanding Undergraduate Oral Presentation award. Her presentation was titled “Influence of Parental Characteristics on Time Spent Being Active with their Children.”

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.

November 12, 2015

SVSU student wins top research honor for presentation on Midland Health Study

Saginaw Valley State University student Melissa Jones received the Outstanding Undergraduate Oral Presentation award at the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine annual conference in Fort Wayne, Ind. November 6-7.
                   
An exercise science major from Shelby Township in Macomb County, Jones’ presentation was titled “Influence of Parental Characteristics on Time Spent Being Active with their Children.” She was part of an SVSU research team of 15 students and five faculty that spent nearly a year gathering, analyzing and sharing data as part of the Midland Health Study.

Jones presented on evidence from the study that suggests that the amount of physical activity children partake in may be influenced by their parents’ demographic characteristics and lifestyle.

“I learned a lot more about the research process and what goes into presenting it so other people can understand it,” she said. “I also learned a lot about how the community benefits from these types of research projects.”

‌SVSU conducted the study on behalf of the Midland Area Community Foundation, the Health and Human Services Council of Midland County and other agencies.

“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.

“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.”

Jones faced strong competition for her award, as the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine includes colleges and universities from six states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. In all, 16 SVSU students attended the conference and eight students presented.

For her portion of the research, Jones worked closely with Meghan Baruth, assistant professor of health sciences, and Rebecca Schlaff, assistant professor of kinesiology.

“They were so supportive of students throughout the process and very willing to teach along the way,” Jones said.

Jones plans to continue to conduct research in graduate school after completing her SVSU degree.

At the same conference, SVSU’s HealthyU program was named the winner of the 2015 Active U Competition award. The honor is given to the top health and wellness program among higher education institutions in the six-state region.

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.

November 12, 2015

Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication College of Arts & Behavioral Sciences

“There’s a saying that the top two fears are death and public speaking,” Amy Pierce said. “What would be worse is to die while delivering a speech.”

It’s a joke, but the associate professor of communication is aware of the trepidation students feel before enrolling in her public speaking course. Their initial apprehension is why it’s especially gratifying for Pierce to watch those same students persevere.

“It’s satisfying to see a student who can barely deliver their first presentation, and by the end of the semester, they’re confident and well organized,” she said.

Pierce has built a career on those success stories. Along with her classroom achievements, she founded a forensics competition program 15 years ago that since has traveled the nation to compete in tournaments as well as took on oversight of the annual Sims Public Speaking Competition, first offered in 1989. Success in both competitions demands strong public speaking skills, measured by clear articulation, critical thinking and confident argument.

She founded the forensics team in winter 2001. The program experienced success immediately when it earned second place at that year’s Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League’s Annual Novice Forensics Tournament.

The forensics team continues to experience success today. During the last academic year, the program saw more of its students qualify for a national tournament than ever in its history.

“Although winning is always exciting, I strongly believe that forensics is an academic activity that provides students with the confidence to succeed and the ability to develop a work ethic that demands excellence,” Pierce said.

The program also teaches students to cope with and appreciate diversity. Students develop personal character and values by leading and participating within the context of the team, social, academic and competitive environments, she said. 

“This is what I love most about directing and coaching the forensics team,” Pierce said. “I get the opportunity to see students applying the material they learn in the classroom in a real world setting.”

She also is proud of her students’ work with the Sims Public Speaking Competition.

“Students tell me again and again that the day of competition is one of the most exhausting, meaningful and fun of their college careers,” she said.

Her two main goals as an educator are to teach students how to become more competent and responsible communicators, as well as instill in students an appreciation for the importance of communication in their daily lives.

“I want students to be confident in their abilities when they leave my classroom and know they possess the tools necessary to succeed in their lives,” Pierce said.

November 11, 2015

SVSU students shine in Sims Public Speaking Competition

A photo of the winners and finalists is attached.  From left: SVSU students Natalie Currie, Melinda Dinninger, Megan Hillman, Austin Bauer, Jaeleen Davis, and Erik Breidinger.Six Saginaw Valley State University students took honors for their research and speaking skills during the 26th annual Sims Public Speaking Competition at SVSU Friday, Nov. 6.

Eric Breidinger, a communication major from Auburn, took home top honors for his speech, “Ground Water Chuck: The Cost of Beef Addiction.” He received a $400 prize.

Jaeleen Davis, a criminal justice major from Burt, finished in second place after her speech, “Wigs 4 Kids: Servicing Children with Hair Loss.” She received a $200 prize.

Third place went to Austin Bauer, a communication major from Linwood, for his speech titled, “The Harms of Pornography.” He won a $100 prize.

Three students took home finalist honors. Each received $50 prizes. They were:
•    Natalie Currie, a pre-occupational therapy major from Greenwood Township in St. Clair County, for her speech, “‘22 Until None.’ Suicide in the Military.”
•    Melinda Dinninger, a communication major from Saginaw, for her speech, “Essure.”
•    Megan Hillman, a social work major from Port Huron, for her speech, “Why We Need Life Skills Classes in High School.”

The Sims Public Speaking Competition began in 1981; it is co-sponsored by SVSU’s Department of Communication and is open to all SVSU students. The competition is endowed by Larry and Linda Sims, long-time donors to the university; Linda recently was appointed senior executive assistant to the president/executive director for communications and external affairs at SVSU. Contestants are required to write an original persuasive speech of 5 to 8 minutes in length.

A photo of the winners and finalists is attached.  From left: SVSU students Natalie Currie, Melinda Dinninger, Megan Hillman, Austin Bauer, Jaeleen Davis, and Erik Breidinger.

November 9, 2015

SVSU tops in Michigan for ‘Best for Vets’ recognition

Military Times recognized Saginaw Valley State University as the highest-ranking college or university in Michigan as part of its Best for Vets: Colleges 2016 rankings announced Monday, Nov. 9.

SVSU ranked No. 38 nationally among 125 institutions in the 4-year schools category by the independent media organization dedicated to news and information about the military. SVSU was ranked No. 1 in the state of Michigan. Last year, SVSU was ranked No. 60 nationally.

The Best for Vets: Colleges 2016 rankings evaluate many factors that make an organization a good fit for service members, military veterans and their families.

The survey-based initiative is the most comprehensive school-by-school assessment of veteran and military student services and rates of academic achievement. It requires schools to document services, special rules, accommodations and financial incentives offered to military and veteran students. It also considers the institution's culture for veterans on campus.

“Over the past six years of our surveys, we've seen so many schools first begin to foster - through new policies, services and dedicated facilities - and then nurture these wonderful communities,” said Amanda Miller, editor of Best for Vets.

SVSU provides a Military Student Affairs office for students, located in Curtiss Hall. It offers services and support to SVSU’s 375 military-affiliated students.

“We work very hard to provide quality service and meet our students’ needs,” said Denise Berry, SVSU director of military student affairs. “I think our one-stop shop concept where our department handles most things for these students is a big plus.”

Military Times also factors in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database.

“We award the Best for Vets designation to the very best - the colleges that really are setting the example,” Miller said.

The rankings are published in full in the issues of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times on newsstands the week of Nov. 9; and online at MilitaryTimes.com, as well as ArmyTimes.com, NavyTimes.com, AirForceTimes.com and MarineCorpsTimes.com.
The rankings also are available at www.militarytimes.com/bestforvets-colleges2016.

News of SVSU's ranking arrives about one month after the university was recognized by being named to the Military Friendly® list of schools for the fifth consecutive year. Selected by Victory Media, the list honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America's military service members, veterans, spouses and dependents as students, and ensure their success on campus.

About SVSU: 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.

About Military Times:
The Military Times digital platforms and newsweeklies are the trusted source for independent news and information for service members and their families. The military community relies on Air Force Times, Army Times, Marine Corps Times, and Navy Times for reporting on everything important to their lives, including: pay, benefits, finance, education, health care, recreational resources, retirement, promotions, product reviews, and entertainment. Military Times is published by Sightline Media Group. To learn more, visit www.militarytimes.com‌.

November 9, 2015

SVSU Flute Choir in concert Thursday

Saginaw Valley State University's Flute Choir will perform in concert Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Founders Hall; it is free and open to the public.

Townes Osborn Miller, an adjunct instructor of music, will direct the choir, which includes SVSU students and faculty.

The concert will feature selections by 19th century French composers such as Charles François Gounod and Leo Delibes, as well as modern musicians including Diane Whitacre and James Christensen.

For more information, contact Townes Osborn Miller at tomiller@svsu.edu or the SVSU Department of Music at 989-964-4159.

November 9, 2015

Author Joni Tevis to speak at SVSU

‌Writer Joni Tevis will speak at Saginaw Valley State University as part of the school's “Voices in the Valley” reading series Monday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. in SVSU's Founders Hall. This event is free and open to the public.

Formerly a park ranger, factory worker and seller of cemetery plots, Tevis is the author of two books of essays. “The Wet Collection” is a collection of 40 lyric essays that interweave religion, memory, nature, women's history, wry humor, found objects, and art. Her most recent book is “The World is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse.”

Tevis’ non-fiction work has been published in Oxford American, the Bellingham Review, Shenandoah, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and Orion.
            
Tevis currently teaches creative writing and literature in Furman University; she also served as the Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2008. In addition, Tevis is an affiliate faculty member with the Shi Center for Sustainability.

An English and history major, Tevis completed a bachelor’s degree at Florida State University, and an M.F.A and Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Houston.

November 9, 2015

SVSU International Food Festival to feature cuisine from record number of students

The Saginaw Valley State University International Student Club is hosting its annual International Food Festival Tuesday, Nov. 10 in the Marketplace at Doan cafeteria on the campus of SVSU.

Twenty-five countries from five continents will vie for the title of world's best cuisine as students from those nations prepare dishes from their native cultures. Based on past attendance, some 2,000 diners are expected to attend. The cafeteria will be decorated with flags and banners from the different cultures represented.

Students, faculty, and staff from across the globe will partner with SVSU Dining Services to cook for the public. Among the nations represented will be China, India, Nepal, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan.

The number of international students attending SVSU is at an all-time high, with 919 attending this year, up from 630 last fall. In total, there are students from 42 nations attending SVSU this year.

The International Food Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The public is invited. The cost is $8.50 per person. For more information, contact Zach Myers, marketing manager for SVSU Dining Services, at (989) 964-2118 or e-mail zdmyers@svsu.edu.