One year after Evan Willman's funeral, family and friends will gather for a different kind of ceremony where they will honor his legacy as a beloved classmate and dedicated student.
During Saginaw Valley State University's commencement ceremony Friday at 7:30 p.m. in O'Neill Arena, Willman's mother will accept an Honorary Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree on her son's behalf.
Before he died following a fall from a moving vehicle in December 2016, Willman was on schedule to graduate this week alongside a close-knit cohort of 58 classmates enrolled in the same master's program. SVSU’s occupational therapy program teams the same group of students in courses and activities from their first semester in the program until their graduation. This particular cohort (shown in part in the adjoining photo, with Willman in front, giving the thumbs-up sign) will be among 570 SVSU total graduates participating in commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday.
"I hope that he would have been proud of himself for accomplishing enough to receive this degree," said his mother, Rebecca Willman. "I know I'm proud of what he accomplished."
Her son was a standout member of the latest class graduating from SVSU's Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program, classmates and faculty say. His outgoing personality and radiant charm won him friends, impacted lives and influenced wardrobe choices.
"He originated something we called 'Flannel Fridays,'" said Cody Zietz, a classmate from the master's program who befriended Willman.
Willman and his classmates followed the program's dress code: khakis and polos, as is typically worn by professionals in occupational therapy. But Willman convinced faculty members to allow the group to don flannel attire on Fridays as a way to express camaraderie. The weekly tradition also involved bringing pancake ingredients to campus and cooking breakfast for the group.
"He wanted you to be personable like that," Zietz said, "because he was personable like that. He was the kind of person where, if you were walking in the hallway and he knew you, he was going to stop you and make you smile."
The 23-year-old's death devastated many on campus who knew him. Weeks later, when Willman's parents visited campus to close their son's affairs with the university, they were met by students, faculty, staff and administrators who encouraged them to request a posthumous degree.
Receiving such an honor is a relatively rare occurrence. Academic committees, administrators and registrar officials must review each request to determine the student's eligibility based on several factors. Willman's honorary degree was approved in time for the university's May commencement, but his parents asked to postpone the recognition until he could be honored along with his classmates, scheduled to graduate this week.
Ellen Herlache-Pretzer, an SVSU assistant professor of occupational therapy who worked with Willman's group, said the honorary degree is a fitting tribute to her former student and a solemn comfort to his classmates.
"A lot of people looked up to Evan," she said. "They are happy to see him have a chance to finish with them, in a way."
Willman's journey to SVSU began long before his freshman year, his mother said. When his grandmother suffered a stroke in 2006, the family's involvement in the recovery process exposed the then-middle school student to occupational therapy.
"He was fascinated by her therapy sessions," his mother said. "That's where he figured out what he wanted to be. He had a strong desire to help people."
Willman's other interests included athletics. He was a member of all-area football and baseball teams while at Breckenridge High School, where he graduated in 2011. When he enrolled at SVSU, he joined the men's rugby club team, eventually becoming a team captain.
Classmates also were aware of his love for the outdoors. When Willman befriended Zietz, the two became hunting and fishing buddies.
At SVSU, Willman also met Mary Iott, a student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy cohort one year ahead of Willman's group. The couple fell in love and were engaged to be married in August 2017. She graduated from SVSU days before his death.
In the wake of that tragedy, Willman's classmates organized a GoFundMe webpage, raising more than $10,000 to pay for their classmate's funeral. Because of that support, his family was able to afford using Willman's life insurance to create The 3-Cent Scholarship in honor of Willman and the amount of money left behind in his bank account.
"We have this saying about Evan," his mother said. "We say, 'He lived life to the fullest … and a bank account to show it.'"
The scholarship is available to Breckenridge High School graduates. Earlier this year, the Willman family awarded three $1,000.03 scholarships to college-bound students.
His SVSU classmates aren't finished honoring Willman. During this week's ceremony at SVSU, members of his master's program cohort plan to pin flannel fabric to their commencement robes, observing Flannel Friday one last time for their friend.
"Even though he's not going to be there with us, we wanted to show he made a lasting impression," Zietz said, "because that's what he did."
A passion for exploring literary theory led Saginaw Valley State University student Victoria Phelps to write a college essay recently honored as the top undergraduate paper presented at a conference for the Midwest chapters of Sigma Tau Delta, an English honors society.
Phelps, an English literature major from Rochester Hills, presented the paper at Western Illinois University in November. For winning the top undergraduate prize, Phelps earned a certificate, $100 and the curiosity of her peers in attendance.
"People came up to me after I won the award, asking me questions," said Phelps, vice president of SVSU's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. "It was great getting that kind of feedback from people. The people who came up to me were all interested in learning more."
Phelps' paper - originally written for an SVSU English course in the fall of 2016 - examined the 2015 Edwidge Danticat novel, "Untwine," about a sister's despair following the death of her identical twin. The paper, titled "Understanding Twin Loss and Grief in Danticat's Untwine," explored the character's loss as a form of mental amputation. That perspective aligned with Phelps' interest in examining literature dealing with disabilities, both physical and mental.
Phelps said it was valuable to speak to peers involved in other chapters of Sigma Tau Delta.
"One of the great things about the conference is meeting other people and learning from them," she said. "One of the really incredible things was being able to listen to others present on their papers. You learn a lot."
The conference appearance was Phelps' first experience presenting an essay in front of a crowd. But it won't be her last.
A member of SVSU's Honors Program, Phelps plans to present her Honors thesis at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts hosted in Orlando in March. Her paper is titled "Depictions of Disabilities Once Upon a Time: Analyzing Disabled Characters in the Context of Victorian Fairy Tales."
Phelps also plans to attend Sigma Tau Delta's international conference hosted in Cincinnati in March.
Phelps expects to graduate from SVSU in May 2018. She currently is applying to graduate schools offering master's degree programs in library information science.
"I want to work with serving the public in the library setting," Phelps said of her professional ambitions.
In addition to her academic work, Phelps has served as editor of SVSU's student arts and literature publication, Cardinal Sins, for three years. She also works as a tutor at SVSU's Writing Center and as a reporter with The Valley Vanguard, SVSU’s student newspaper.
Saginaw Valley State University will support two professors in their scholarly endeavors to improve people’s health. Jay Scott, associate professor of biology, and Danilo Sirias, professor of management, have been awarded SVSU’s Braun Fellowship.
Scott intends to continue investigating the influence of dietary fats, carbohydrates and contaminants on health and disease. Sirias plans to produce case studies regarding the management of patient flow in health care environments.
Each will receive research support grants totaling up to $37,500 over the next three years to further their scholarly and professional activities. Funds may be used for research expenses, equipment, travel and/or other related support.
Scott has studied metabolic syndrome, characterized by an increase in body weight, fat accumulation, inflammation, and altered metabolism. These symptoms have proven to lead to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Through his latest research, Scott plans to examine the signs of metabolic syndrome induced by diets with varying macronutrient ratios and work to determine if diet-related changes in physiology are modified by the exposure to environmental contaminants. This study should increase understanding of how dietary components lead to disease states, and help to identify whether environmental contaminants in food are independent risk factors for disease.
Through other grant-supported research, Scott has previously investigated related topics such as cardiovascular disease. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the cardiology division of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. An active researcher, Scott has written 12 scholarly articles and given 19 invited scientific presentations.
Scott joined the SVSU biology faculty in 2012. He completed his bachelor’s degree at SVSU, where he played on the baseball team. A native of Ontario, Scott completed his Ph.D. at Queen's University.
As a result of his research, Sirias plans to publish three teaching case studies on the topic of managing patient flow in different health care environments. The three areas he will examine are primary or specialist care, admitted patients, and operating rooms. Sirias will outline the most common difficulties associated with each environment, as well as offering strategies to address the problems detailed throughout the case studies and suggestions for how the material should be taught.
Sirias has prior research experience on the topic. In 2015, he presented “A Proposed Framework to Determine Chokepoints Preventing Better Patient Flow in Emergency Departments,” to the International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciplines. Sirias has received six prior grants -- four of which were through SVSU -- in order to fund research related to labor force, coordination in health care systems, virtual education and management techniques.
Sirias joined the SVSU management faculty in 2001. He completed his bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at the National University of Engineering in Nicaragua. Sirias then completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Memphis.
Established in 2005, the Braun Fellowship program was created through a $1.5 million endowment from the Saginaw-based Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation. Administered by the Saginaw Community Foundation, the program's purpose is to recognize the exceptional accomplishments and potential of select SVSU faculty and staff. It is named in honor of Ruth Braun and her late husband, Ted.
Saginaw Valley State University student Pedro Marin, a marketing major from Grand Blanc, was honored for his outstanding leadership and service skills at an annual conference for student leaders in college campus housing operations.
Marin received the Student of the Year award from the Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls during the group’s conference at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Friday, Nov. 17. The student-run organization works to promote and improve student life on college and university campuses across Michigan, Ontario, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.
Marin also received a received a Top 10 Program award for his program, "Really…You?", which incorporated activities and discussions that allowed students to look at and address their own biases towards other groups of people. The students involved gained a better understanding of how to create a more inclusive environment in and beyond the walls of their residence halls back at their home universities.
A student-designed electronic banner, displaying information about SVSU, was awarded Best Banner at the conference.
Ten members of Saginaw Valley State University's Residence Housing Association, an organization dedicated to providing resources for students who live on campus, attended this event.
The conference provided informational sessions that developed the leadership skills of the attendees. The students also had the opportunity to learn about different programming ideas to bring back to SVSU's residence halls.
Madison Ledbetter, a psychology major from Alma, and Andrew Lienau, a management major from Chesaning, joined Marin in presenting information on different programs they have organized at SVSU.
An advocate for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace globally will serve as the keynote speaker during the ninth annual Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Saginaw Valley State University.
Karen S. Carter, the chief inclusion officer for The Dow Chemical Company, will deliver her address Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.
As Dow's first chief inclusion officer, Carter is tasked with driving Dow into the forefront of global industries that integrate diversity and inclusion as a key element of the company’s growth strategy.
Carter has more than 20 years of experience with Dow. She previously held the position of North America commercial vice president of Dow packaging and specialty plastics. In that role, Carter was a member of the global business leadership team responsible for the profits of a division of Dow worth more than $18.4 billion in sales. She was responsible for developing and driving business strategy.
Active in a number of community-minded organizations, Carter is a member of the Board of Directors for Kids' Meals, a Houston-based nonprofit organization that delivers free, healthy meals to children in need. She also remains an active member of The Links, Inc., a nonprofit that serves the Houston community by providing educational, civic and intercultural activities.
For her innovative leadership contributions, Carter was profiled by the website fortyover40.com on its Forty Women to Watch Over 40 list in 2014. Her work has been published in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association and featured in The Huffington Post, as well as MORE Magazine.
Carter completed a bachelor's degree in marketing at Howard University and a master's degree in international business at DePaul University.
She joins a prestigious list of keynote speakers featured during the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Celebration at SVSU, most recently former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2017.
In addition to Carter's keynote address, the program will include the presentation of regional scholarship awards by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations to high school seniors who have embodied Martin Luther King's ideals.
Officials also will announce the winners of the Drum Major Award at the event, which recognizes people whose community involvement in the Great Lakes Bay Region serves to advance King's vision.
The event is sponsored in part by Dow; the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw County chambers of commerce; the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations; local chapters of the NAACP; Delta College; SVSU and many others. A full list of sponsors is available online at www.svsu.edu/mlk.
For more information about the event, please contact SVSU's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.
Saginaw Valley State University will host its annual fall Engineering Symposium Friday, Dec. 8.
During the event, 29 mechanical engineering students will demonstrate their practical problem-solving abilities as shown through their senior projects. All SVSU mechanical engineering majors are required to collaborate with outside clients or university organizations as part of the senior projects.
Eight teams of students took on the task of prototype production and technological engineering for their designated client. The regional organizations and manufacturers being represented are B&P Littleford, the Bay Port Chamber of Commerce, Huhtamaki Group, Inspire Outcomes LLC, Kremin Inc., Nexteer Automotive, and SVSU's Boutell Memorial Greenhouse.
The Engineering Symposium will begin with poster presentations in SVSU’s Pioneer Hall from 10 a.m. to noon when the SVSU engineering students will be available to discuss their projects with attendees. The event is free and open to the public.
At SVSU, local high school students donating, wrapping gifts for Saginaw nonprofits
Friday, Dec. 8, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Curtiss Hall banquet rooms, SVSU
More than 90 local high school students with Saginaw Valley State University's Great Lakes Bay Regional Youth Leadership Institute will wrap gifts collected to benefit two nonprofits.
Each year, the institute – an SVSU-housed leadership development initiative for high school students in the Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties – chooses local organizations to support. This year's participants chose to support The Emmaus House as well as Restoration Community Outreach, both based in Saginaw.
The Emmaus House is a nonprofit that provides shelter and services to help transition women released from incarceration. Restoration Community Outreach supports homeless men.
Great Lakes Bay Regional Youth Leadership Institute members will gift-wrap items collected to donate to clients supported by both nonprofit organizations. The wrapping session is scheduled Friday, Dec. 8, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in SVSU's Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.
They expect to collect and wrap gifts such as clothing, reading material, activity books, gift cards and toiletries.
For more information, contact SVSU's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.
The director of Global Citizenship for The Dow Chemical Company will speak to graduates of a university nationally recognized for community engagement during Commencement exercises at Saginaw Valley State University. Rob Vallentine will deliver the keynote address to SVSU's newest graduates.
Vallentine, who serves as both the director of Global Citizenship for Dow as well as president and executive director of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, will speak at both of SVSU's commencement ceremonies this month. The first event is scheduled Friday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and the second ceremony is set for Saturday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m., both in O'Neill Arena of the Ryder Center.
Commencement exercises for graduates in the colleges of Business & Management and Health & Human Services will be held Friday evening. Students completing degrees in the colleges of Arts & Behavioral Sciences; Education; and Science, Engineering & Technology will take part in the ceremony scheduled for Saturday morning.
The graduating class consists of 639 students who are expected to complete degrees, including 570 individuals who have indicated that they intend to don regalia and march in the ceremonies. The class includes 520 who will receive bachelor's degrees, and 119 who will receive master's or education specialist degrees.
As is tradition, SVSU President Don Bachand will congratulate each graduate as he or she crosses the stage.
Vallentine is responsible for corporate engagement with Dow stakeholders at the global, regional and local levels. He drives business decisions at the intersection of sustainability, innovation and citizenship while utilizing Dow's capabilities to achieve business and social impact.
He works closely with Dow's Foundation Board of Directors to provide strategic direction on the company's philanthropic priorities around the world. A number of those community-minded endeavors have benefited SVSU initiatives to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education for both college-level and K-12 students. Most recently, the foundation partnered with the university in June to create a program where SVSU prepares K-12 students to serve as leaders and "chief science officers" in their schools.
In addition, Vallentine manages a team responsible for public affairs strategies and programs at Dow's 50 sites in North America.
Throughout the 30 years he has been at Dow, Vallentine has been committed to weaving together the personal and the professional to change the world for the better. He believes that a harmonious balance of life, work and community service is the key to "doing good and doing well," and is at the heart of good business. Through his leadership of the company's global citizenship activities, Vallentine helps people find their purpose and then share that purpose to contribute to society.
Actively involved in community service, Vallentine currently serves on the boards of directors for the Council of Michigan Foundations, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and the Chemical Educational Foundation. He also serves as a community director at Chemical Bank. Vallentine previously served in board positions for the United Way of Midland County, the Delta College Foundation, and Hidden Harvest.
Vallentine completed a bachelor's degree in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University and a Master of Business Administration at Drake University. He and his wife Nancy have four children and reside in Midland.
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.
Elementary students to engage in computer code activities at SVSU
Friday, Dec. 1,9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
SVSU computer labs and Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum
Saginaw Valley State University faculty and students will engage about 100 elementary school students in learning computer programming.
As part of the globally-observed Hour of Code initiative - aimed at increasing interest as well as diversity in computer science - fourth graders will participate in computer code-related activities Friday, Dec. 1 on SVSU's campus.
Two classes of students from Big Rock Elementary in Chesaning and Martin G. Atkins Elementary from the Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School District will participate.
George Corser, SVSU assistant professor of computer science and information systems, and SVSU computer science and information systems students will guide the elementary school students through the process of writing a computer program using programming language. Those sessions will take place in the Doan Science East building (rooms SE 136 and SE 145).
In addition to writing code, students from the participating schools will tour the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum at SVSU. At the museum, students also will craft necklaces using beads that spell out the participant's name in computer code language.
The Hour of Code event is a global movement that reaches students in over 180 countries. Friday's event will mark the third consecutive year SVSU has participated in Hour of Code activities.
A national organization dedicated to promoting healthy and safe college campuses has honored Cortney Heileman of Saginaw Valley State University for her commitment to empower SVSU students to help their peers make healthy decisions.
Heileman, program coordinator and assistant director of Student Wellness Programs, received the 2017 Outstanding Advisor Award from the BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA at the organization’s national assembly in Denver Nov. 18. She leads a team of 27 peer health educators at SVSU, students who are trained to educate their peers on a variety of topics including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; sexual responsibility; environmental sustainability; and sexual assault prevention.
SVSU student Jenna Smith, a nursing major from Mayville and a current peer health educator, nominated Heileman for the honor.
“Cortney does a lot to empower all of us,” Smith said. “She leaves notes of encouragement and praise around our office for all of us. She is always willing to help when we need it whether it be in our personal or academic worlds, or with an event we're doing on campus for our students. Every day any of us are around Cortney is a day she makes all of us want to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Another SVSU student, Charles Ferens, a psychology major from Saginaw and a peer health educator, was invited to present a program at the national assembly. His presentation, “My [Green] Campus,” highlighted a multitude of ways that peer health educators from around the nation can take steps to create environmentally-friendly initiatives on their respective campuses. Ferens focused on the implementation and impact of employing recycling bins in classrooms within academic halls.
Smith said her experience working with Heileman will benefit her in her career.
“She has challenged me because she knew I was capable, even though at the time I was worried I would end up letting her down. Cortney is always there to provide different possibilities and approaches for how to go about things whether it be conflict resolution, improvising, or problem solving. She has inspired me to make a difference on SVSU's campus and in the world each and every day whether it be big or small.”
A 2011 graduate of SVSU, Heileman has overseen the Peer Health Education program since her return to campus in 2015.
NASPA is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. It serves a full range of professionals who provide programs, experiences, and services that cultivate student learning and success in concert with the mission of our colleges and universities. Established in 1918 and founded in 1919, NASPA is comprised of over 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and eight U.S. Territories.