While most college students typically finish their education before diving into the profession their degree will support, circumstance and opportunity combined to thrust Rachel Gregus into the challenge of performing both feats at the same time.
The Saginaw Valley State University student is about one year shy of earning a bachelor's degree in health science. She's also more than one year into serving as co-founder and manager of a home health care agency employing 15 people and serving 60 others in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
“It's definitely a lot of work,” she said of her work both academically and with her company, Safe Hands Warm Hearts Inc. “It's something that started out as a little idea and unfolded into something big.”
And, judging by the size of the clientele already established, it's something that Gregus has managed to steer with early success. The road preceding this stretch of success, though, had a few more twists and turns.
A 2007 Swan Valley High School graduate, Gregus said she struggled to find her calling early on in college. She dabbled in academic majors ranging from psychology to forensic science.
“I kind of threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘What am I doing,’” she said. “I was so restless. I have to have some kind of direction.”
A nursing assistant at HealthSource of Saginaw from 2010 to 2013, Gregus eventually decided to expand on her health care interests by pursuing SVSU's health science degree. Her focus was strengthened further when a close friend with engineering degrees focused in health care approached her about developing an agency that would tend to those in need of home health care.
“He asked what I knew about it, and I decided to entertain myself with some of the questions he was asking,” Gregus said of the company's owner, Udit Parikh.
What started as curious detective work online quickly transformed into the development of a functioning business.
“Before I knew it, I was creating policies and procedures,” she said.
By September 2013, Safe Hands Warm Hearts Inc. was in business.
More than a year later, the agency services about 60 people - largely an elderly population in Saginaw, Bay and Midland counties. The company also provides care for residents of Wescourt Independent Senior Living apartments in Saginaw. Gregus said the company is currently expanding coverage into Lansing.
“Once we do that, we would like to serve surrounding states, and possibly franchise,” Gregus said.
Along with her work life, Gregus has plans beyond the foreseeable future for her academic life. She eventually wants to pursue a master's degree in health care-related studies - possibly international health care or health care ethics.
“Balancing being a young manager and a student at the same time is tough,” she said. “There's a reason why people do this after they graduate, but I love what I do. It's been very rewarding.”
The final bell rings, marking the end of another school day, but instead of emptying, Bay City Western Middle School's Room 229 begins to fill with students. Before long, teacher Allison VanDriessche's sees a criss-crossing blur of activity, energy and enthusiasm.
It's a typical scene in her new after-school science program, where 30 students performing the day's biology-based experiments become, themselves, a living demonstration of causality.
The cause: VanDriessche and her forward-thinking curriculum, inspired in part by her participation in the Dow Corning Foundation/Saginaw Valley State University STEM Community Partnership.
The planned effect: Generating student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM - that endures throughout their academic lives and perhaps beyond that. The hope is that the Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU partnership will inspire students such as those in VanDriessche's program to eventually pursue a profession in Michigan's many STEM-based industries.
It's still early in the initiative, VanDriessche admits, but the results appear promising so far.
“They're having a positive experience,” she said of her students.
In the after-school program's first weeks, VanDriessche's experiments involve students creating a system of symbiosis between plants, worms and fish. In one corner of the room is an aquarium of goldfish. In another corner is a container of soil housing worms. When the students are finished building the networked infrastructure, the worms and fish will produce food for the plants, and vice versa.
The project fits the young aspirations of students such as Katelyn Skelley.
“I love science and math,” she says. “I want to do aquaponics because I like fish.”
Skelley prefers the hands-on work of VanDriessche's after-school program rather than the textbook-and-test approach of some of her previous science classes.
Jason Perry, another sixth grader participating in the class, shares that sentiment.
“I love working with plants and animals,” said Perry, a self-professed prospective veterinarian. “I'm learning a lot here.”
So is VanDriessche. The teacher says the Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership continues to be a boon to her own development as an educator.
Over the summer, she began working with Amanda Ross, SVSU lecturer of biology, as part of the STEM collaboration. Since then, the two brainstorm ideas for assignments aimed at stimulating interest in science from the middle school crowd.
VanDriessche isn't alone in the effort. In all, 13 teachers from K-12 school districts across the region are paired with SVSU as part of the partnership, funded by a $254,000 Dow Corning Foundation grant.
“I've learned a lot at Saginaw Valley,” VanDriessche said. “It's been interesting to implement what I've learned in the class.”
Her students appear to feel the same way. About an hour after they began handling plants, monitoring goldfish, examining soil and seeds, and building the physical infrastructure that will bring all those elements together, the day's program is finished.
After her sixth graders leave Room 229 to meet their waiting parents and bus rides home, the room is much more quiet and their projects much further along than when the day began.
“That,” VanDriessche said, “is organized chaos right there.”
And, so far, it's working.
Saginaw Valley State University's Flute Choir will perform in concert Thursday, Nov. 6 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. Flute Choir members are: Emily Bass, Jessica Chrysler, Breanna Hillard, Jane Girdham, Jane Jaksa, Courtney McGee, Kaitlyn Richard, Bethany Weller and Nola Welter.
The concert will feature selections by French composers Gabriel Fauré, J.B de Boismortier and Eric Satie as well as Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz and Austrian composer Franz Schubert.
For more information, contact Townes Osborn Miller at email@example.com or the SVSU Department of Music at 989-964-4159.
Saginaw Valley State University jazz artist-in-residence Jeff Hall will lead a concert ensemble with five guest musicians as they perform the music of jazz legend Freddie Hubbard Saturday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Rhea Miller Recital Hall. Admission is $12 for the general public, and $5 for students and senior citizens.
The late Hubbard is regarded as one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time. He gained fame by playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the 1960s, which followed a tour of Europe with Quincy Jones in 1960-1961. Hubbard also toured with Herbie Hancock's acoustic V.S.O.P. Quintet in 1977.
By the early 1970s, Hubbard’s distinctive music made him a pacesetter in jazz. The albums "Red Clay” and “Straight Life” are considered to be among his finest recorded work.
A Saginaw native, Hall worked as an adjunct instructor at SVSU from 1974-2005 when he accepted the artist-in-residence appointment. After attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, Hall returned to Michigan and has toured with bands such as Great Lakes Express and Method, while playing alongside noted jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Joe Henderson and the J.C. Heard Orchestra.
For the concert, Hall will be joined by five guest musicians. They are:
• Chris Bickley, a saxophonist and flutist who lives in Traverse City and is the leader of the Bay Area Big Band. He is the founder of the Bay Area Music Foundation, which offers music scholarships, educational programs and musical instruments for gifted and underprivileged students. He has worked with renowned artists such as Kenny Rogers, Mel Torme and Gladys Knight.
• Jack Dryden, a bassist who has played with the Detroit Symphony, the Boston Pops and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. He has recorded with Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops and Anita Baker. He is an active clinician and educator at Berklee, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, Western Michigan University, and the Interlochen School for the Performing Arts.
• Paul Finkbeiner, a trumpeter and flugelhornist who has performed in jazz groups all over the world, including the Orange County Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the symphonic hall of the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid, Spain. He has appeared on several albums with artists such as Jan Krist and Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings.
• Arlene McDaniel, a pianist who has performed at Lansing's Old Town Jazz Fest and the Michigan Jazz Festival in Livonia. She is on the faculty at Michigan State University’s Community Music School and Hillsdale College.
• Peter Simonson, a drummer who has performed with headliners such as Mark Murphy and Deborah Brown. In 2003, he received a Special Achievement Award from the Central Iowa Community Jazz Center.
For more information, call the SVSU Department of Music at 989-964-4159, or the SVSU box office at (989) 964-4261.
The internationally acclaimed Duo Diorama will perform in concert Saturday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Saginaw Valley State University's Rhea Miller Recital Hall as part of SVSU’s Rhea Miller Concert Series. The duo includes Chinese violinist MingHuan Xu and Canadian pianist Winston Choi.
Comprised of two renowned soloists who can effectively blend their distinctive personalities together, the duo maintains an active performing and touring schedule. They have performed extensively throughout Asia, North America, South America and Europe.
Recent performances at the Colours of Music Festival in Canada and the Mammoth Lakes Musical Festival in California were met with critical and audience acclaim. Xu and Choi are also the inaugural recipients of the Banff Centre's Rolston Fellowship in Music.
Duo Diorama performs well-known standard works, as well as approachable, captivating avant garde music.
Xu was a winner of the Beijing Young Artists Competition and gave her New York debut at age 18 as a soloist with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra. The sought-after chamber musician has performed in recitals in China and North America. Xu is a member of the music faculty at Loyola University of Chicago.
Choi was Laureate of the 2003 Honens International Piano Competition in Canada and winner of France's Orleans International Piano Competition. He is a prolific recording artist and a regular recital performer with orchestras throughout North America and Europe. Choi is an associate professor and head of piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
This concert is part of SVSU's Rhea Miller Concert Series, made possible by a generous gift from Rhea E. Miller, a long-time friend of SVSU. Her gift, administered by the Miller Trust for Music Education, has provided the university with the opportunity to offer outstanding performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed musical artists at no cost to the audience since 1993.
For more information, call (989) 964-4159 or, from Midland, 695-5325, ext. 4159, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poetry lovers, arts aficionados and supporters of Saginaw will celebrate the community-wide Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival this November, sponsored in part by Saginaw Valley State University.
Friday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum, SVSU
Adults and students from middle school to college are invited to participate in the poetry slam. A panel of judges will select the winners. Preceding the slam at 6 p.m. is a presentation by STEPS Montessori.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 2:30 p.m.
Roethke home, 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw
Members of the River Junction Poets will read letters written from and about Roethke's home.
Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Creative 360, 1517 Bayliss in Midland
Mike Kolleth, vice president of Friends of Theodore Roethke, will present a history of the poet through the Roethke Museum's collection of books and manuscripts. The event will feature a wine tasting. Admission is $10 in advance or $16 at the door.
Sunday, Nov. 9, 3 p.m., and Monday, Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Rhea Miller Recital Hall, SVSU
Playwright, teacher and former Roethke student David Wagoner will present this one-man play that offers an insightful portrait of Roethke. Steve Erickson, SVSU professor of theatre, stars in the production.
Monday, Nov. 10, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
SVSU's Curtiss Hall, Curtiss 129
Attendees 50 and older - members and non-members of the OLLI program - are invited to attend three classes beginning Nov. 10 when Kolleth presents a history of Roethke. In the first class, Kolleth, book collector Jett Whitehead and Melvin J. Zahnow Library Interim Director Anita Dey will participate in a panel discussion about book collection. A Nov. 17 class will feature SVSU assistant professors of English Lynne Graft and Ruth Sawyers analyzing Roethke poetry. A Nov. 24 session will involve a tour of Roethke's home. The total fee for the package of sessions is $32.
Monday, Nov. 10, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Dow Gardens, 1809 Eastman in Midland
Seibles, a 2012 National Book Award finalist for "Fast Animal," will read select poetry.
Tuesday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
Rhea Miller Recital Hall, SVSU
Seibles will be honored as the 2014 winner of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize - awarded once every three years since 1968 - for his book of poetry, "Fast Animal." A book signing will follow the ceremony.
Wednesday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Bay City State Theater, 913 Washington Ave. in Bay City
This concert will feature a 19-piece orchestra and vocalists Molly McFadden and Ron Trombly performing jazz from the 1930s to '50s in tribute to jazz aficionado Roethke. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Nursing major Sarah Lewan has an impressive list of honors and activities related to her academic and student life at SVSU. The Royal Oak native is a recipient of a Presidential Scholarship and is a University Foundation Scholar. Lewan is also involved in His House Christian Fellowship, one of more than 130 registered student organizations on campus, and is a member of Living Center Community Council, a residential complex advisory group. All impressive, but what makes Lewan’s story really amazing is Project Sunset.
In fall 2011, Lewan received a letter from a non-profit agency asking for financial support to help buy mosquito nets for communities in Africa where malaria runs rampant. Most who die from malaria are kids; more than 500 million victims worldwide die from this disease each year. Lewan was moved, but calculated that the cost of each net was higher than it needed to be, simply because of organizational overhead. So, she decided to do it herself. Lewan enlisted the help of a graphic designer friend to design a t-shirt. Sales of t shirts would buy mosquito nets. The first 50 were sold even before they arrived; today, she is sending orders to people around the world.
Thus was born Project Sunset. And the “global headquarters?”—her dorm room in SVSU’s Living Center Southwest.
Just as Lewan had taken the time to analyze the cost difference between sales through a large non-profit and what she would be able to do on her own, she began to think about the purchase of the nets. She knew that weavers in Ghana create the same nets, and their livelihoods depend on those sales. A well-intentioned project on one hand could devastate a local economy on the other. And so Lewan decided to buy local.
“When I began fundraising for mosquito nets,” Lewan said, “I had no idea I’d be the person to hand-deliver them.” But she did. In June 2012, she spent 12 days in Gabon, giving out nets and sharing with the locals how the nets work to save lives. Leaving one village, she met a man who predicted, “You’ll be back.” Three weeks later, the man called her to say that his organization—E4 Projects—wanted to adopt her work. Soon after, E4Projects featured Project Sunset on its website (e4project.org/programs/project-sunset).
Since then, Lewan has attended, by invitation, the International Justice Conference. In March, she was part of a 12-person “medical impact” team that visited Gabon. Once again, Lewan’s Project Sunset was there to distribute nets. Lewan plans to graduate with her B.S.N. in December 2015.
Tami Sivy joined SVSU in 2008, as an assistant professor of chemistry. Originally from Allendale, Mich., she was pleased to return
to her home state after earning a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She and her family live on the Kawkawlin River,
which is especially meaningful to her since much of her research is centered on the river’s health.
Sivy concluded the interview with her thoughts about her talented chemistry department cohorts and the real value to our students
of SVSU being a “teaching” university. To hear her thoughts, visit http://www.svsu.edu/reflections/spring2013 for a brief video.
How did you come to pursue a career in biochemistry?
Ever since I was young, interested in science and knew I would end up studying it somehow. I liked chemistry and biology, so ultimately biochemistry made sense. I’m fascinated with how things work. Chemistry is so logical; you can figure things out with fundamental principles. Taking chemistry and applying it to a cell —it’s an amazing way to explain what happens in life.
As a biochemist, you look at the interactions of bio-molecules. Tell us non scientists why this is important?
(Laughs). It really is about cell survival. When the interactions within and between molecules are functioning correctly, the suggestion is that things are healthy. When the interactions go awry, there’s the possibility of disease. While this may appear to apply to questions only asked through a medical lens, biochemistry is used in many more applications, as seen in my own research.
What is your research focus?
We study a biochemical pathway in plants and bacteria from which is produced a volatile compound called “isoprene.” As a researcher, I am interested in understanding why it is being made in the cell. Through a medical lens, the ramifications are important because compounds synthesized from isoprene units can be important pharmaceuticals. Through an atmospheric chemistry lens, it’s important to understand how and why many plants and bacteria produce isoprene and what its impact is on climate change.
SVSU is primarily a teaching university. You’re a researcher, but can you comment on your role as a teacher?
While I enjoy research, teaching is definitely what I feel I was called to do. I teach primarily 400-level courses, so most of my students are in pre-health programs and in majors where they are going on to grad school. I hear from students that my courses were challenging but that ultimately, the students were well prepared. Other than my role as a mom, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing students make connections in biochemistry so that they can say they “get it.”
We understand that this work is part of the new Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute of SVSU. Can you tell us about the institute?
I am privileged to be a part of this institute that is really due to the efforts of Dave Karpovich, dean Deborah Huntley, the university’s administration and a host of regional and state organizations that have been committed for a long time to the Saginaw Bay area. The research in the Saginaw Bay watershed is really about the quality of water and quality of life in our own region. There has always been a fair amount of research going on here but there’s not been a clearinghouse or mechanism to gather data, discuss the work and disseminate the results. The institute will pull together various ‘players’ from the university and the region, including Delta College, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Spicer Group, Bay County Health Department, Kawkawlin River Property Owners Association and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network. SVSU’s footprint on this region’s environmental sciences will be more obvious and more prominent than before.
What will be your contribution?
My work, which started as a collaborative effort with the Bay County Health Department, will focus on rapid bacterial testing of water. The cutting edge instrumentation for the rapid testing—results in four hours instead of the standard 24 hours—is housed at the university, and our students are involved in the collection and testing of the samples.
Tell us about your recent Michigan [DEQ] grant?
David Karpovich (H. H. Dow Endowed Chair in Chemistry), Jacob Van Houten (Delta College) and I received a $35,365 grant to learn more about why the Kawkawlin River is so unhealthy, which is indicated by its low content of dissolved oxygen.
How do our students benefit from this marriage of teaching and research?
As a smaller school, SVSU provides a special opportunity for students to be involved in research and to have access to professors who can help prepare them for whatever is next for that student. The students appreciate the relationships they have with their professors. These relationships are evident from things like letters of recommendation—our students know us and we know them, and that interaction is invaluable.
What do the Israeli Army, teaching occupational therapy and SVSU student mentoring have in common? Maybe the better question isn’t “what” they have in common, but “who.” The answer is Liat Gafni-Lachter, assistant professor of occupational therapy.
Prior to moving to the U.S. in 2008 and joining SVSU in 2011, Gafni-Lachter completed her compulsory service as a medic in the Israeli Army. After a short time, she began training medics (and then ultimately, trained the trainers), and discovered her love of teaching.
Something she learned as a 19-year-old working with all sorts of people—from combat soldiers to MD.s—was the value of a respectful, relationship-based approach to the job.
Upon completion of her military duty, Gafni-Lachter discovered something else: that she was passionate about her choice of occupational therapy as a career. “It is the perfect combination of all that interests me—scientific, medical, psychological, developmental, in-depth critical thinking and art helping a client find a path back to health.”
Gafni-Lachter said what she enjoys most about teaching at SVSU is how relationships with students are valued at an institutional level. “At a lot of larger universities, it’s hard to find professors who are available to talk to students, let alone relate to them. I find my students the most rewarding part of the job. I enjoy engaging them in meaningful conversations, asking them, ‘Who do you want to be? Do you want to make a difference?’”
Much of what Gafni-Lachter learned in the army has been translated into her teaching philosophy and learning expectations of herself as well as of her students. “I expect myself to be knowledgeable, and I expect the same of my students. I think my students would say I am tough in terms of my professional expectations. I want them to work hard, and in the end, have a sense of pride and a feeling that they have gained something from the class.”
The importance of great mentors is another take-away from her army experience that Gafni-Lachter has brought to the O.T. program. “In O.T., much of the learning is a reflective practice, and that comes from interacting with someone who is asking tough questions.” Seeing an opportunity in O.T. to enhance the classroom and fieldwork education, Gafni-Lachter revised the second-year leadership course she teaches and created a mentoring program. Early indications from second-year mentors and first-year mentees suggest success.
From the Israeli Army to University Center—it makes perfectly good sense to Liat Gafni-Lachter.
In her fourth year of teaching at SVSU, Julie Foss, assistant professor of modern foreign languages, is enthusiastic about sharing the French language with students on a daily basis. “I love the exchange of energy in the classroom. The most rewarding thing is to see students grow in the language and acquire a love for the culture.” As the only full-time MFL faculty member in French studies, Foss enjoys the challenges and rewards of shaping and working with the program.
“The nature of teaching a foreign language requires smaller class sizes,” Foss said, “and I love that because even though I teach students at varying levels of proficiency, I still get to know them on an individual level.” Not only does Foss thrive in the classroom teaching French and foreign language teaching methods, but she also looks forward to time she spends as the advisor of the SVSU French Club, La Société Française. “Exposure is everything; the more contact students have with the language, the more proficient they become,” Foss said. It’s for this reason that Foss encourages students to immerse themselves as much as they can, including conversation hours and attending events like the French film series presented throughout the academic year.
Although teaching wasn’t the career she originally anticipated after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in French and history, Foss knows now that the classroom is where she belongs. After briefly attending law school and working in the mortgage industry for 10 years, Foss wanted a change. It wasn’t until she was working as a hiring manager training new employees that she considered teaching as a possible career choice.
Because everything-French had remained a constant in her life—the literature, art, music, and movies—it was easy for her to recognize that the language was something she was passionate enough about that she could teach it and love doing so. Foss returned to school, earning her secondary teaching certification and master’s degree in French from Eastern Michigan University and a Ph.D. in French Language and Literature from Michigan State University.
Hoping to inspire her students in the same way she was inspired, Foss comments, “My high school French teacher was so passionate about the language, it was hard to resist. Once I started learning the language, I fell in love with it all—the language, the history, and the culture; I want to do the same for my students.”