With exceptional discipline and inspired determination, Joey Southgate became an All-American athlete during a personal best-smashing, “storybook-ending” final run in May as a track athlete at Saginaw Valley State University.
By the end of this week, the Unionville native will begin applying that same discipline and determination toward his training as a nuclear engineer aboard a submarine with the U.S. Navy.
“It might be an unnerving feeling at first, being in a submarine like that,” Southgate said, “but this will be a really quality experience. I’m looking forward to it.”
The May 2017 SVSU graduate will depart Saturday, June 24, for Newport, Rhode Island. There, he will embark on a 12-week-long U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School — a “boot camp” of sorts — followed by two years of training in the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program. He plans to conclude his 5-year Navy commitment aboard a submarine, dedicating himself to managing and maintaining the nuclear reactor that keeps the vessel running and its men alive hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the seas.
Southgate has had his sights set on an engineering career for some time and said SVSU’s top-notch mechanical engineering program was a big factor in choosing his school.
“I’ve always liked the problem-solving aspect of engineering,” he said. “I enjoy math, and engineering has a lot to do with math.”
Once at SVSU, Southgate thrived in what he described as a “down-to-earth, personal, hands-on” experience that allowed him to work one-on-one with professors. One of his mentors was Brooks Byam, professor of mechanical engineering, who served as Southgate’s advisor during a senior capstone project that involved designing and building an indoor practice hitting platform for SVSU’s golf program.
“Joey has a good balance of technical and entrepreneurial skills that should serve him well in the military,” Byam said. “In the military, you also need good mental and physical toughness, and Joey showed that he has that as an athlete.”
He showcased that toughness in particular during his final competition as a Cardinal at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Bradenton, Florida in May.
“It was kind of a storybook ending to my career,” the three-year team captain said.
For weeks, Southgate’s earlier performances placed him on the bubble of those athletes hoping to qualify for the championships. He eventually slipped in as the 19th of 19 athletes invited to compete.
Competing in the 10,000-meter run, Southgate approached the contest with a level of determination and confidence he hadn’t experienced previously, he said.
His mastery of that particular race had become a theme of his senior season campaign. A year earlier, his personal best finishing time was 30 minutes, 40 seconds. By the time he entered May’s contest, his latest best was 30 minutes, 2 seconds — a 38-second difference considered sizable for that distance.
But, on the biggest stage of his athletic life, Southgate was ready to finish even faster.
“Distance running is a very heavily mental sport,” he said. “A lot of people probably don’t appreciate the mental preparation that goes into it. I was in a good spot mentally that day.”
The result was a national championship performance that shaved 18 seconds off that personal best and nearly one minute off his top performance a year earlier. He finished in 29 minutes, 44 seconds, placing sixth in the race.
The distinction earned him a spot on the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association First Team All-American lineup.
“I always wanted to be an All-American,” he said. “I thought, ‘That would be the pinnacle of my career,’ and it was.”
Southgate learned from a previous SVSU All-American, during his years as a student at Unionville-Sebewaing High School. There, he participated in competitive running sports under the mentorship of a member of SVSU’s Cardinal Athletic Hall of Fame, Ed LaBair, a seven-time All-American and member of two national championship indoor track and field teams while at SVSU in the early 1980s.
LaBair coached Southgate’s high school cross country team.
“He has been a big influence for me when it came to my running career,” Southgate said. “He has been a great leader and motivator for me.”
That motivation helped Southgate excel in the sport, receiving All-State honors during his sophomore and junior years. Off the course, Southgate’s tireless commitment to his studies helped him earn top grades until he graduated high school in 2012. That continued in college: he graduated SVSU with honors (cum laude) and qualified for the Deans’ List five teams.
Now Southgate is determined to achieve excellence in his next challenge in life — this time, out at sea.
While he is the grandson and nephew of U.S. Navy veterans, he didn’t consider a life in the military until attending a career fair at SVSU in the winter semester of 2016, when a Navy recruiter connected Southgate’s interest in engineering to the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate initiative.
“I kind of walked into this program by accident,” Southgate said.
His enrollment wasn’t as simple as “walking in,” however. Southgate engaged in a months-long application process that included meeting with Navy officials in Washington D.C. and visiting Naval Base San Diego. He was officially accepted into the nuclear propulsion program in July 2016.
During his trip to San Diego, he toured a submarine docked at the naval base. While the vehicle never submerged, “you could get a sense of how small and cramped it was inside,” he said.
“But it didn’t lose its appeal for me.”
Southgate said that appeal includes maintaining the discipline necessary to manage a nuclear reactor responsible for keeping dozens of men alive below water and a nation protected on the surface.
“I’m prepared to work hard and do the best I can,” he said. “That’s what I always do.”
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of control approved a tuition increase of $474 for in-state students as part of the 2017-18 general fund operating budget adopted during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, June 19.
A Michigan undergraduate student taking 30 credits will pay $9,819 for the upcoming academic year. SVSU students were charged $9,345 during the 2016-17 academic year.
“I was a first-generation college student who worked full-time while going to school, so I understand that any tuition increase can be challenging for students and their families,” said SVSU President Donald Bachand. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure that students receive a high-quality education at the best possible value, and that we continue to invest in their future.
“Our students continue to demonstrate that they can compete with the top students anywhere, as shown through their strong performance in all manner of academic competitions in recent years.”
SVSU will continue to have the lowest tuition among the 15 Michigan public universities for 2017-18, even after the increase of 5.07 percent takes effect.
In other action, the Board:
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU outdoor track and field team, which had both men’s and women’s student-athletes earn All-American honors at the recent NCAA Division II national championships.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU men’s golf team, which qualified for the NCAA Division II Midwest/Central Super Regional tournament.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU women’s softball team, which qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament and advanced to the finals of the Midwest Regional No. 2 tournament.
• Passed a resolution to approve Board of Fellows emeritus status for the late Vicente Castellanos.
• Passed a resolution to approve the reappointments of David Dunn, Peter Ewend, Mark Gettel, Tom McIntyre, Michael Rowley and Kenneth Roznowski to the SVSU Board of Fellows, a community advisory board.
• Passed a resolution to approve the reauthorization of public school academies. SVSU renewed its contract with Charlevoix Montessori Academy for the Arts for three years; Flat River Academy in Greenville and White Pine Academy in Leslie each received two-year renewals.
• Passed a resolution to approve the confirmation of board members for previously authorized public school academies.
• Approved revisions to SVSU’s Code of Student Conduct for the 2017-18 academic year.
• Approved faculty promotions for 30 individuals, effective July 1. Promoted to the rank of professor were: Marty Arford, geography; Lacreta Clark, educational leadership and services; David Cline, teacher education; Adam Coughlin, kinesiology; Mark Giesler, social work; Joe Jaksa, criminal justice; J. Blake Johnson, art; Sara Beth Keough, geography; Art Martin, biology; Tami Sivy, chemistry; Brian Thomas, sociology. Promoted to the rank of professor were: Arundhati Bagchi Misra, mathematical sciences; Jennifer Chaytor, chemistry; Kyle Cissell, chemistry; Denise Dedman, social work; Warren Fincher, sociology; Stacie Krupp, accounting; Kimberly Lacey, English; John Lowry, kinesiology; James McEvoy, biology; Rhett Mohler, geography; Rajani Muraleedharan, electrical and computer engineering; Shiva Nadavulakere, management; Christopher Nakamura, physics; Annamalai Pandian, mechanical engineering; Timothy Rowlands, criminal justice; Rebecca Schlaff, kinesiology; Jason Scott, biology; Kevin Simons, music; Yu Zou, electrical and computer engineering.
• Passed a resolution to Grant emerita status to Mary Harmon, who retired from SVSU after 25 years on the English faculty.
• Approved $800,000 in energy conservation projects. SVSU will install LED lights to the interior of a number of campus buildings and will enhanced the chilled water loop that assists with heating and cooling a number of campus buildings. After energy saving rebates are received, the total cost to SVSU will be closer to $400,000.
The disc golf team at Saginaw Valley State University won the inaugural Collegiate Cup Sunday, June 11 at Flip City Disc Golf Course in Shelby, Michigan.
SVSU competed against some of the best teams in the country, including two teams from Ferris State University who won national championships last year. Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Hendrix College from Arkansas also competed.
“The championship was a tremendous accomplishment,” said Kenneth Mize, a social work major from Flint and member of SVSU’s disc golf team. “We took home $2,000, which goes to our club fund so it will help us out tremendously.”
Disc golf is one of 27 club sports offered at SVSU where students compete against other collegiate club programs. Club teams receive some administrative and financial support from the university, but they also learn valuable skills through fundraising, making travel arrangements and the like. A total of 387 SVSU students competed in club sports during the 2016-17 academic year.
In disc golf, players toss flying discs toward targets; scoring is similar to golf. For the Collegiate Cup, the SVSU team played seven rounds of 24 holes.
“Personally I love the competition and seeing people fall in love with the sport” Mize said.
Other members of the winning SVSU team were:
• Mitchell Kloc of Freeland, who graduated in May with a degree in professional and technical writing
• Matthew Murdock, a physical education major from Montrose
• Alex Villanueva, a criminal justice major from Davison
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: 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.