Double major: biology, Spanish
Next up: Miami University, Ph.D. program in ecology, evolution and environmental biology
Career prospects: biology professor
Fun fact: Strasburg is the first member of her family to attend college.
Miranda Strasburg wasn’t like most children.
Instead of being repulsed — as plenty of kids are — by the slimy, slippery nature of amphibians, the Millington native wanted to bring home frogs and newts as pets.
“I was the one who would go out and catch them in the woods,” she said.
Today, Strasburg continues to distinguish herself from her peers thanks to her love of all things amphibious and alive.
After she graduates from Saginaw Valley State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology and Spanish, she will leap-frog the typical path of a student who graduates with a baccalaureate degree and then enters a master’s program. Instead, Strasburg in August will immediately jump to a doctoral program when she moves to Oxford, Ohio to attend Miami University’s Ph.D. program in ecology, evolution and environmental biology.
There, she will study amphibian conservation.
“The populations of amphibians — animals such as frogs and salamanders — are declining because they’re susceptible to pollutants and diseases,” the 2010 Mayville High School graduate said. “They are important to this world because they’re a keystone species. We need them to sustain other species.”
Eventually, Strasburg plans to teach in higher education while continuing research in the field of ecology.
One of her SVSU mentors, Art Martin, associate professor of biology, said Strasburg has the work ethic, intelligence and passion necessary to become a solid Ph.D. student as well as a college professor.
“She’s one of the most aggressive students I’ve ever had,” Martin said. “Once she figures out what she wants, she jumps in feet first in a way I’ve never seen another student jump in. She’s relentless, and it has led her to huge success.”
While Strasburg’s love of frogs began in childhood, several experiences at SVSU cemented her desire to seek a career centering on the animal.
After switching one of her majors from biology to criminal justice, it was a trip outside the state that inspired her to return to her biology studies.
Through the campus Alternative Breaks program, Strasburg was one of 12 students who traveled to South Padre Island, Texas to help rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles in March 2012.
“For a while, I didn’t think I could do biology, but after that trip, I thought, ‘OK, yes, I can,’” she said.
Her interest in research was inspired by another SVSU experience.
Martin last year convinced Strasburg to apply for a grant through SVSU’s Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute. Receiving the funding, Strasburg designed her own project, which analyzed the behavior of crayfish in different aquatic environments. In January, she presented her findings at the Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Strasburg is a self-described “ball of energy,” whose interest in biology led her to participate in SVSU programs such as the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute as well as the Dow Science and Sustainability Education Center. She also has kept busy at SVSU as a resident assistant, a Writing Center tutor, a member of both Alpha Mu Gamma and Sigma Delta Pi — both national collegiate foreign language honor societies — as well as a member of both the National Residence Hall Honorary and the Residence Hall Association.
“It has been life changing,” Strasburg said of her SVSU experience.
“I came here not knowing what I wanted to do, and SVSU has helped me discover my passion and find my path. I love everything about this place. I am truly going to miss it.”
Next up: accountant, The Rehmann Group
Fun fact: Skidmore has competed nationally in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments. AJGA’s alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia.
On Saginaw Valley State University’s golf team, Micah Skidmore’s precision and hard work paid off, earning the Saginaw native numerous accolades including First Team All-GLIAC honors in 2014.
In his SVSU studies, a different kind of precision and hard work helped Skidmore hit the college student equivalent of winning a tournament: A full-time job waiting for him after graduation.
Once Skidmore receives his bachelor’s degree in accounting in May, he will join the financial firm Rehmann as a full-time accountant in the tax division, known as Rehmann Robson. He was connected to his future employer during an SVSU Career Services jobs fair.
“I am excited to have a job that I can start my career with,” he said. “Rehmann is an amazing company, and I was so blessed to have received an offer from them.”
Those who worked with Skidmore academically weren’t surprised by the news.
“In my opinion, (Rehmann) got the better part of the deal,” said Anthony Bowrin, SVSU associate dean of the College of Business and Management. “They couldn’t pay him enough money.”
Skidmore already has experience working among professional accountants. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, he worked as an intern in the tax department of the Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle.
Bowrin, who has worked at SVSU for six years, counted Skidmore among his top students ever.
“From day one, he was excellent,” Bowrin recalled of the first of several classes he taught with Skidmore as a student. “He sat in the front row of a class in Science West, totally engaged, asking questions, breaking the ice and being very interactive with the class.”
When other students struggled in class, Bowrin sometimes turned to Skidmore to help them with tutoring.
Skidmore’s generosity extends beyond the classroom. He is a regular volunteer at SVSU golf clinics, working with youths interested in the sport.
“This was a rewarding experience: helping younger kids that sincerely enjoyed and appreciated the experience,” he said.
Those youths learned from an exceptional golfer. Skidmore's accomplishments continued right up until days before his graduation.
In his final game as an SVSU golfer, Skidmore and his teammates in May played in the 2015 NCAA Division II Midwest/Central Super Regionals at the Cog Hill Dubsdread Course, a Chicago site where the PGA sometimes plays. Skidmore’s individual performance tied him for ninth place among the competition, his sixth top 10 performance of the season.
Skidmore said he values the lessons learned at SVSU — both on the golf course and in the classroom. He credits his SVSU experience in part for his success in finding full-time employment so quickly.
He said mentors such as Bowrin and Mark McCartney, professor of accounting, helped in preparing for a career.
“Having put in five full years to attain my professional accountancy degree, I am well prepared to handle the stress of the workplace while thriving under pressure,” Skidmore said. “I think my ability to handle stressful and busy times can be attributed to my time here at SVSU.”
He said his experience on the golf team strengthened his work ethic and also taught him to succeed under pressure.
“None of this could have been possible without SVSU,” Skidmore said of his career opportunities.
Next up: University of Michigan, Ph.D. program in chemical biology
Career prospects: research or higher education teaching
Fun fact: Lukowski is a jazz piano player.
April Lukowski is the epitome of the homegrown college student who found a calling and an exemplary education at Saginaw Valley State University, all while helping the community where she was raised.
Now that experience has opened new doors. Lukowski this fall will begin postgraduate studies at the University of Michigan, where she is enrolled in the Ph.D. program for chemical biology.
“It’s a very competitive program, and I was lucky to get into it,” said Lukowski, set to graduate from SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. “It was my top choice.”
Lukowski isn’t a stranger to challenges. Facing them at SVSU has included taking on some of the university’s top research opportunities, first with her Honors Program thesis and later via the campus-based Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute, where she studied bodies of water that have supported her community for generations.
But her first challenge at SVSU involved finding a niche academically. The 2011 Bay City Central High School graduate enrolled at the university, unsure at first which academic program best suited her.
Lukowski was a recipient of the Bay Area Community Foundation’s Bay Commitment Scholarship — an initiative supporting high-achieving, first-generation students in Bay County who attend SVSU or Delta College — and her interests largely centered on the arts.
“I was more into art and music and things like that,” she said, “but I also knew I always liked my science classes in high school.” Lukowski took both Advanced Placement biology and chemistry classes at Bay City Central, and performed well.
“I was being exposed to college-level science classes there, and I decided to explore those more (in college),” she said.
Lukowski initially declared her major as biology.
“Then I met Dr. Sivy,” Lukowski said, referring to Tami Sivy, the associate professor of chemistry who advised Lukowski to explore biochemistry.
“I liked it because it challenged me in ways I can handle,” she said. “There’s more math, and numbers make more sense to me.”
Sivy said the match made sense, and soon Lukowski found her footing academically.
“April has blossomed into a conscientious researcher and an excellent student,” Sivy said. “At first, she was unsure as to what she wanted to do, but she took advantage of every opportunity that was offered her, and became more confident in her abilities and increasingly more clear in her goals for her future. She is extremely well-prepared for her continuation to graduate school, not only because of her work in the classroom, but probably more so because of the variety of research projects with which she has been involved.”
Lukowski said she discovered a love for research as a sophomore when she studied isoprene enzymes and fir trees as part of her Honors Program thesis. That passion continued with her undergraduate research with the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute. There, she studied the Saginaw Bay watershed, testing bacteria content in the water.
She credits SVSU’s faculty in part for helping her discover her passion and take on academic challenges.
“The faculty here are really supportive, especially in the science departments,” Lukowski said. “It’s been a great experience here.”
Major: physical education
Next up: full-time teaching position, Swan Valley Middle School
Career prospects: middle school teacher, high school athletic director
Fun fact: Emily’s sister, Megan, also attends SVSU. She is a mechanical engineering major and is involved in many of the same campus organizations as her sister.
Star student. Prospective teacher. Active volunteer. Homecoming queen. Red Pride incarnate.
All of those titles could apply to Emily VanFleteren, one of Saginaw Valley State University’s more active students in recent years. In May, the Troy native will add the title “graduate” to that list. Those familiar with her expect VanFleteren will continue building a fine reputation — and stellar résumé — for herself once she begins her professional career as a teacher.
“Emily is one of the most dynamic students I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Bryan Crainer, SVSU’s associate dean for Student Life and Leadership Programs.
“Her passion for SVSU cannot go unnoticed. It's all over her. It's what she talks about. It's how she lives her life. It's what she wears.”
And she wears it proudly.
“My big thing is Red Pride,” VanFleteren said of the moniker for SVSU’s school spirit. “I’ve had that instilled in me by my two biggest mentors, Bryan and Merry Jo Brandimore (associate provost for Student Affairs and dean of students), and I try to encourage that in newer students.”
VanFleteren’s love of SVSU began almost at first sight. While she was still a junior at Bishop Foley Catholic High School, she — along with her mother, aunt and sister — embarked on a 2-day, 7-college tour in search of the best fit for VanFleteren.
When she arrived at SVSU, she was greeted with an energy and campus community that seemed close-knit and comfortable.
“Afterward, it was the only school I could remember in detail, and the only school I was interested in,” she said.
VanFleteren returned for five more campus visits before attending her first class. She didn’t apply to another institution.
Her outstanding involvement at SVSU began right from the start and will continue after graduation. She was a member of the Foundation Scholars Program, which brings together exceptional incoming freshmen. And, today, she remains part of the Roberts Fellowship program, a student leadership development initiative that will send her to Asia in May.
She is an avid sports fan with the distinction of claiming victory in consecutive years on the SVSU football field, with neither honor requiring her to wear gear or a helmet.
In 2014, as the campaign’s coordinator, she accepted the Battle Of The Valleys trophy for spearheading a 1-week fundraiser that collected $32,294 in charity for the Cory Rivard Jr. Promise Foundation. Battle Of The Valleys is an annual fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University that concludes with the top campaign receiving a trophy during the rivals’ football game.
A year earlier, she was crowned SVSU Homecoming Queen during a football halftime ceremony.
“It was very rewarding as well as extremely humbling,” said VanFleteren, who also has been involved in campus organizations such as the National Residence Hall Honorary, the Residential Housing Association and Orientation Programs.
VanFleteren said other rewarding experiences include serving as a peer academic adviser to the student-athletes on SVSU’s football team — a role she hopes to continue as a graduate — and her work as president of Forever Red, a student-alumni networking organization that raises funds for student scholarships.
“Emily did just about everything a student could do at SVSU,” said Crainer, VanFleteren’s advisor for Forever Red.
“When talking about her SVSU legacy, there may not be anything more significant and long-lasting than her contributions to Forever Red. Emily served as president of the organization for its first four years, and took the group from an idea to an organization of prominence.”
So, what’s next? VanFleteren has been hired for a full-time teaching position at Swan Valley Middle School in rural Saginaw County.
Eventually, she hopes to also become a high school athletic director.
After graduation, VanFleteren doesn’t anticipate she will miss SVSU much, as she doesn’t exactly plan on leaving.
“I don’t expect to miss a football game this fall,” she said. “I hope to participate as an active alum and I’m really excited to come back and help Forever Red from the alumni side of everything. I have had an awesome experience as a student and I can't wait to stay involved.”
Major: political science
Next up: The University of Michigan Law School
Career prospects: attorney
Fun fact: At SVSU, Jackson has lived with roommates from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Tunisia.
Samantha R. Jackson arrived at Saginaw Valley State University unsure of her place or what to expect. She departs having earned admission and a scholarship to a leading law school.
“I came to SVSU undecided on what I wanted to do, but eventually my goals became clear,” said Jackson, a first-generation college student from the small town of Goodells, near Port Huron. “I’m going to law school the same way: with an open mind to see what path best fits me.”
Jackson’s list of SVSU accomplishments is lengthy, and it impressed admission officials at the University of Michigan Law School where she will attend in the fall.
That speaks volumes about Jackson’s academic ability and pedigree, said Julie Keil, SVSU assistant professor of political science, adviser to SVSU’s moot court program and a mentor to Jackson.“It’s one of the top 10 law schools in the country,” Keil said. “She was competing against students from U of M’s undergrad programs, students from Yale and Harvard, to get in there. That she was accepted is a good sign of her ability. She will excel there.”
Jackson, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in political science, didn’t begin her SVSU life knowing what subject she wanted to study. One of the experiences that inspired her to follow a path leading to law was her participation in SVSU’s moot court team, where students act as attorneys in teams of two and make arguments to a panel of judges by drawing from constitutional law and Supreme Court cases.
Jackson joined moot court during her sophomore year, winning a coveted Orator Award during her first regional competition. It was the first of many honors, which included twice qualifying for the American Collegiate Moot Court Association national championships in 2014 and 2015 in Phoenix and Miami, respectively. In January, she placed in the top 6 percent nationally with her moot court partner and fellow SVSU senior Rachel Stocki.
“One shining moment happened in a moot court regional (competition) during my junior year, when a judge told me I would be an excellent advocate,” said Jackson, a 2011 Memphis High School graduate.
“Hearing that from people in the field gave me the confidence that I could succeed in a difficult career.”
Jackson also was a member of SVSU’s forensics team, which tests students’ public speaking and debate abilities, as well as the university’s Model United Nations group.
Her campus involvement reached beyond competitive groups. She was the recipient of two Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute grants that supported research projects. One of those projects analyzed politics in religion, while the second project explored tutor training at SVSU’s Writing Center, which assists students in writing.
Jackson served as a tutor in the Writing Center. She also was a global resident assistant in SVSU’s Pine Grove apartments, where she was responsible for building community among 72 international and domestic students.
Jackson also was selected as one of 12 members of the Roberts Fellowship Program, a year-long student leadership development opportunity that includes a trip to Asia.
“It was life-changing,” she said of the program. “I thought it would train me to be a better leader and that I would have an awesome trip in Asia, but it was so much more personally challenging. They encouraged me to think independently and push myself farther than I was comfortable.”
Jackson said now she’s ready to transplant that leadership into law school studies.
“I’m excited for this,” she said.
Saginaw Valley State University alumnus Joshua Fleming will attend the University of Michigan's prestigious Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy this fall on a full scholarship.
“I've always been driven by public service,” said Fleming, who graduated from SVSU in May 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science and public administration. “Everything I've ever listed on a résumé is somewhat related to the idea of public service and giving back to the community.”
The Gerald R. Ford School, named after the former U.S. president who attended the University of Michigan, is a consensus top 10 public policy program.
“I'm looking forward to challenging myself intellectually,” Fleming said. “I will be going to class with some of the best students in the world, who already have a lot of real world experience. I'm looking forward to working with them.”
The Bay City native hopes to turn the experience into a career, shaping public policy related to health care. Fleming became interested in the subject during the national debate that preceded President Barack Obama signing into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - often called “Obamacare” - in 2010.
Fleming will pursue his graduate degree having earned the University of Michigan’s Rackham Fellowship, which provides for Fleming's full tuition, health insurance and a $38,000 living stipend. He credited his experience at SVSU in part for preparing him for success with the program.
“Attending SVSU allowed me to work intimately with members of the administration, faculty and my fellow students,” he said. “Not only did those working relationships create many opportunities for professional training and advancement, but the mentorships and friendships that culminated from those experiences constantly provided me advice and clarity when I applied to the Ford School and, I’m sure, will continue to do so during my graduate career and throughout the rest of my life.”
Fleming said he was accepted at several notable public policy schools but chose the University of Michigan based on a number of factors. Those include an alumni base with contacts in local and state government; a 10-week internship program that tasks students with seeking solutions to social issues for nonprofit organizations, municipalities and private practices; and an academic program that focuses on practical experience.
“They bring in policy experts to talk about different issues,” he said. “The fact that I'll be working with people in the field was a major draw.”
The 2009 John Glenn High School graduate has practical experience of his own when it comes to both public policy and service. Some of his initial experience happened at SVSU, where he served on the Student Association (SVSU's student government) during his entire 4-year undergraduate stay.
Upon graduating, Fleming served in the Peace Corps, which sent him to Swaziland, a nation near the horn of Africa that is comparable in size to Connecticut.
Beginning in June 2013, he lived there for 18 months in a 2-bedroom hut with no plumbing and, initially, no electricity. He was sent to teach residents about HIV and AIDS, but after realizing they already had access to helpful resources relating to such subjects, Fleming instead focused on helping citizens with financial planning.
"I worked with them to help them keep records,” he said. “Everything was on paper, and there was no office, so we met under a tree and I taught my lessons using a flipchart.”
Fleming said the experience allowed for plenty of time for introspection. It was in Swaziland where he decided to apply for public policy colleges upon his return home.
Since last February, Fleming has worked as an outreach and enrollment specialist at Saginaw's Health Delivery Inc., a nonprofit organization providing medical and dental care to underserved individuals across the Great Lakes Bay Region. He also has served as a field organizer with the Michigan Democratic Party and as an intern with the 2010 campaign that helped current Rep. Charles Brunner's election to office in the Michigan House of Representatives 96th District, which covers a large portion of Bay County.
With his mid-August Ann Arbor move-in date approaching, Fleming said he is anxious to begin the next chapter in his life.
“I have a countdown calendar on my laptop, for the days left until classes start,” he said. “I'm very much excited.”
Students, faculty and staff at Saginaw Valley State University reported high levels of general satisfaction with SVSU’s campus climate during a survey conducted last November and December.
Campus climate is defined as “the current attitudes, behaviors, and standards of faculty, staff, administrators, and students concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities, and potential.”
The level of comfort experienced by faculty, staff, and students is one indicator of campus climate, and 82 percent of survey respondents reported they were “comfortable” or “very comfortable” at SVSU.
The survey also explored attitudes and experiences related to a number of issues, including academic success, diversity, work-life balance, and pathways to promotion. Members of historically under-represented groups (women, ethnic minorities, LBGQ individuals) expressed lower levels of satisfaction in certain areas. Consistent with national data, 24 percent of SVSU respondents said they personally had experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive or hostile conduct.
Based on the findings, SVSU’s campus climate team will develop recommendations and action items to make SVSU more welcoming for all members of the campus community.
Participation in the survey was high among all three employee groups, administrative/professional staff (55 percent), faculty (51 percent), and support staff (93 percent). SVSU also saw 17 percent of undergraduate students participate. In all, 2,358 members of the campus community completed the survey.
Rankin and Associates, a firm that specializes in assisting campuses and organizations in assessing their environments for learning and working, worked with SVSU on administering the survey and analyzing the data. Sue Rankin led three presentations on the findings: Thursday, April 23 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Curtiss Hall seminar rooms, and Friday, April 24 at 9 a.m. in the Ott Auditorium in Gilbertson Hall.
Copies of the executive summary and the full report are posted svsu.edu/climatesurvey.
A new dual enrollment program between Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College will allow nursing students chasing both a bachelor’s degree and a career in healthcare to achieve those goals more quickly.
Andrea Frederick, SVSU coordinator of the initiative that kicked off in fall 2014, said the program is “a wonderful opportunity” both for prospective nurses and the community’s healthcare partners.
“Recently, there has been increased pressure to have more BSNs (nurses with bachelor’s degrees) providing patient care,” said Frederick, an SVSU assistant professor of nursing. “This is one intervention that will help our area to achieve that goal.”
The new program fast-tracks the process by offering classes for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees concurrently. In some cases, SVSU classes are offered on Delta’s campus in an effort to centralize attendance.
Students who enrolled in the program during its inaugural semester are expected to receive an associate’s degree from Delta College in spring 2016 and a bachelor’s degree from SVSU that same December.
Jarrod Givens, a student in the joint program, already sees the advantages of the initiative.
“Most people who go the regular route would work as an RN (registered nurse) and go to school at the same time,” said the Linwood native who hopes to become a traveling nurse one day. “Right now, we’re not working, so it’s easier and it gives us more time to study.”
One of his classmates, Katheryn Howden, said the initiative creates a more efficient learning process. The collaboration synchronizes the academic requirements of the SVSU and Delta College nursing programs while also eliminating the challenges experienced when students attempt to juggle a nursing position with baccalaureate schoolwork.
“Because we are going year-round, we won’t lose our skills,” Howden said. “It’s nice to be able to keep your skills and refresh them. It’s a great program.”
Howden, who is pursuing a career as a neonatal intensive care nurse, said the program offers relevant coursework, coordinated instruction and supportive faculty.
“It’s been great,” the Ypsilanti native said. “They really want you to succeed, and everyone has been so helpful.”
SVSU and Delta recruit students for the concurrent program from the Delta Nurse Scholar Program, which typically selects 30 Delta students per semester, based on academic criteria and other factors, including work experience related to nursing.
Thursday, April 23, 2:45 to 5:30 p.m.
Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts, SVSU
Saginaw Valley State University students will share what they have learned in examining alternatives to the traditional handshake in an academic exercise across the colleges of Arts & Behavioral Sciences and Business & Management. They will present their ideas Thursday, April 23.
Students in the Vitito Global Leadership Institute, a program for business students, were required as a leadership exercise to devise and implement a social initiative. The project, “Ban the Hand” aims to reduce the number of germs exchanged during a handshake, by instead using a “fist bump.”
Meanwhile, sociology students developed posters that highlight the results of a social experiment associated with their implementation of different alternatives to shaking hands.
The sociology students will present from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m.; the Vitito Fellows will present form 4 to 5:30 p.m. Both sessions will be held in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts on the SVSU campus.