A Saginaw Valley State University staff member overcame what she believed were her own physical limitations as well as rough environmental conditions to earn praise from a national nonprofit for her passion to raise awareness — and funds — to fight multiple sclerosis.
The Michigan chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society this month presented Michele Gunkelman with its Rookie Rider award for her participation in the Great Lakes Bavarian Breakaway event where cyclists rode through Frankenmuth to raise funds in September.
Gunkelman raised $2,790 and biked nearly 75 miles over the course of the weekend event, including a final day in which cold temperatures and rainfall caused 130 of 150 participants to drop out.
Gunkelman, SVSU’s director of Residential Life, was one of the 20 people who endured the harsh conditions. Her driving motivation was the same one that inspired her to sign up for the cycling fundraiser for the first time and train hard for five months.
“I did this for my mom,” she said of Sharen Gunkelman, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (sometimes referred to as "MS") 19 years ago. “When I heard about the terrible conditions on the last day, I thought to myself, ‘Mom can’t wake up this morning and choose not to have MS because of the weather,’ so I chose to keep going."
Michele Gunkelman said her experience helping to care for her 74-year-old mother over the years instilled in her a sense of responsibility to raise awareness and find ways to fight the disease that impacts the central nervous system.
“It’s a scary thing when you or a loved one is diagnosed with MS, because everyone is impacted differently,” she said. “You start to wonder how that person will be affected — like, will she be able to hold her grandchildren?”
Gunkelman said, nearly two decades later, some of her mother’s motor functions are affected by the disease. She at times has challenges communicating verbally and her memory suffers.
“It’s something I don’t want anyone — or their family — to have to go through,” Gunkelman said. “I want to do anything I can to prevent that from happening to others.”
So when a friend mentioned the Great Lakes Breakaway Ride fundraiser, Gunkelman decided to join despite not being an avid bicycler.
“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to challenge myself,” she said. “Living with MS is hard, and I didn’t want to go easy on myself.”
The Freeland resident set her expectations high: She pledged to raise $2,500 and finish two 50-mile bicycle treks during the event. Meeting both goals involved a lot of work in the months leading up to the September event.
Beginning in April, she rode her bicycle between 10 to 40 miles per day and joined a sponsored team known as “Rollin’ with the Homies” that planned to support each other during the fundraising. Meanwhile, she campaigned hard for friends and family to support her fundraising goal.
“So many people supported me,” she said. “There was a tear in my eye every time I received a donation.”
In total, 50 people contributed to her fundraising goal, which she surpassed by $290.
Gunkelman said she was prepared but filled with anxiety when the Sept. 29-30 Great Lakes Bavarian Breakaway bicycling event arrived. Still, she managed to finish the first day’s 50-mile course. Gunkelman’s mother was present to cheer her on.
“I was drained but amazed I had accomplished that,” she said.
When the next day arrived, temperatures dropped to 41 degrees and a steady rain poured down on participants.
“Some of the more experienced riders were worried about hypothermia,” Gunkelman said. “I felt an obligation to try to finish, though.”
She slipped on a pair of winter gloves and a rain jacket, then set forth among a thin group of participants. Cold and soaking wet, Gunkelman pushed herself 12.5 miles that day.
“That was a challenge in those conditions,” she said. “There was no shame in not completing the 50 miles that day.”
Members of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society cited the St. Clair Shores native’s persevering spirit and supportive nature when presenting her with the Rookie Rider award earlier this month. With the new year approaching, Gunkelman said she already is making plans for a sophomore effort in a 2019 bicycling fundraiser for the nonprofit.
“Supporting the fight against MS is a cause that’s close to my heart,” she said. “It’s such a worthwhile cause.”
Carly McKenzie is a determined student, and her work ethic has resulted in winning a highly-competitive national scholarship. She was one of five students selected from more than 300 applicants to receive a $2,000 scholarship from the American Proficiency Institute (API), based in Traverse City.
A medical laboratory science major from Saginaw, McKenzie has impressed her professors.
“Carly has worked very hard throughout the medical laboratory science program and has been a very consistent performer in both the student laboratory and lecture courses,” said Kay Castillo, SVSU associate professor of medical laboratory science. “The API Scholarship is quite an honor and I am very proud of Carly. She will be an asset to the laboratory profession.”
The Institute’s scholarship program is in its 11th year of furthering students’ medical laboratory science education through funding its award recipients.
“It amazes me how far the medical field has come and what we are able to do,” McKenzie said. “Every tube of blood is a patient relying on us to offer accurate results.”
A graduate of Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, McKenzie is completing her professional course work on campus and will begin field work in July.
Saginaw Valley State University students inspired to pursue a career in medicine now have an additional pathway to continue their education.
The Wayne State University School of Medicine and SVSU have signed an Early Assurance Program agreement that will provide SVSU pre-medicine students enhanced opportunities for admission to the WSU School of Medicine.
The program will reserve up to two seats in WSU's medical school for qualified SVSU students who have a passion for practicing medicine in underserved areas or who are dedicated to careers in medicine.
"Partnerships like this highlight our commitment to advancing the medical careers of our pre-med students, and this provides an additional pathway for them," said Heidi Lang, SVSU pre-health professions advisor. "Our professors really challenge our students — while supporting them at the same time — and that's a big reason our students consistently are accepted to medical schools at rates that far exceed the national average."
Through this latest partnership, SVSU students will apply in February 2019 for admission to WSU's school of medicine for acceptance into the entering class for 2020.
“This partnership with Saginaw Valley State University continues our efforts and commitment to recruit the finest students whose health career goals align with our mission as a nationally recognized top tier medical school known for urban clinical excellence,” said WSU Vice Dean for Medical Education and Professor of Ophthalmology Richard Baker, M.D. “Students who have the desire to serve others through medicine deserve the chance to become the type of physicians that we educate and train.”
A Saginaw Valley State University student government-led initiative that has raised over $425,000 for nonprofit organizations since 2003 recently received recognition from a group of regional fundraising professionals.
The Mid-Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals awarded its Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award to SVSU's Student Association for its work organizing the fundraising competition known as Battle of the Valleys.
“The annual fundraiser initiative is a phenomenal example of philanthropy in action,” said Dick Touvell, the secretary of the Mid-Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “SVSU’s ‘Battle’ is, without a doubt, inspiring to countless nonprofit leaders and staff members throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.”
Battle of the Valleys is an annual student-led charity fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University. The competition takes place during the week leading up to the game between the universities’ rival football programs. Students from both institutions select a nonprofit partner each year to benefit from the fundraising effort.
During the most recent Battle of the Valleys in October, SVSU raised $36,210 for the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network. The funds helped bolster the Saginaw-based nonprofit’s work to prevent suicide, educate communities and provide no-cost, 24/7 aftercare for those affected when prevention is not possible.
Barb Smith, the organization’s founder and executive director, praised the Battle of the Valleys initiative in a letter to SVSU.
“While I continue to be overwhelmed with the fundraising success, I want you to know how deeply touched I was to witness the passion and heartfelt drive of the SVSU community toward this significant university tradition,” Smith wrote. “It was an honor to work with this next generation of leaders who are truly making a difference.”
Since Battle of the Valleys was established in 2003, SVSU has raised over $425,000 for nonprofit organizations. Both SVSU and GVSU have combined to raise over $650,000 during that same period of time.
“It is a great honor to receive this award,” said Cheyenne Wilton, a creative writing major from Ortonville who serves as the SVSU Student Association's philanthropy chairperson this year.
“It is really great to see that the community is recognizing our campus’ efforts to help others. So many of our students understand how important philanthropy is and do whatever they can to help out.”
The Association of Fundraising Professionals is a 30,000-member strong worldwide network that helps philanthropic organizations raise funds effectively and ethically. Aside from granting awards and celebrating charity work, the organization researches fundraising best practices and certifies fundraising professionals.
Saginaw Valley State University students often defy stereotypes. At the end of the fall semester, may college students return home to sleep in, binge watch Netflix and generally unwind. But for Alina Devoogd, Chantel Poquette and nearly 100 SVSU students, they are dedicating their winter break from school to volunteer at locations across the country, helping a number of organizations in need.
Alternative Breaks is a student-led program organized through SVSU's Student Life Center. The program offers college students an "alternative" to the traditional university break to learn about different social issues across the U.S.
Poquette departed for Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday, Dec. 16 to a crisis center called The Nest. The Nest offers a safe place for education, healing, counseling, and support to women, children and families in crisis. The social work major from Holly says she is passionate about her topic because it relates to her personal life.
“I want to be able to give back to people,” she said. “I am going into a career that focuses on serving others and this trip not only helps me achieve my own goals but to help others.”
Devoogd, a political science and Spanish double major from Algonac, and her Alternative Breaks team are focused on the topic of incarcerated youth. The SVSU students traveled to Colombia, South Carolina to work with youth in the juvenile justice system. There, they are engaging with the youth in positive ways, as well as celebrate the holidays.
“I chose to do an alternative break trip because my life calling is to use my privileges to help someone who needs a hand,” she said. “Sometimes we all need someone to believe in us and help us.”
Alternative Break destinations and topics for SVSU students this December include:
After returning from their trips, many of the SVSU students engage in volunteer service for a nonprofit organization in the Great Lakes Bay Region or their home communities devoted to a cause similar to what they experienced on their Alternative Break.
For more information about the Alternative Breaks program at SVSU, visit www.svsu.edu/officeofstudentlife/serve/.
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved 11 faculty sabbaticals during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, Dec. 14.
Those 11 faculty members will pursue a variety of research projects in their respective disciplines during the 2019-20 academic year. Those who were approved for sabbaticals were:
The Board also congratulated the SVSU Student Association for raising more than $36,000 for the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network during the 2018 Battle of Valleys fundraising competition. SVSU students have raised more than $425,000 over the past 15 years to support a variety of community causes.
In other action, the Board:
The Saginaw Valley State University forensic team continued to collect the rewards of its determined preparation, winning several honors at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Tournament at Eastern Michigan University Saturday, Dec. 8.
SVSU students claimed six of the 11 top novice awards, given to the student who places highest in an event and who has participated in fewer than six competitions. The SVSU team is largely comprised of novice competitors.
Three students qualified for the National Forensics Association competition in April 2019 by virtue of their impressive public speaking at the tournament:
Students on the SVSU forensics team say they have grown through the many hours of study and rehearsing, and from the team camaraderie.
“Coming from a theatrical background, I assumed I knew all that I needed to know about public speaking, and boy was I wrong!” Lloyd said. “Forensics has helped to broaden my horizons in public speaking, as well as creative thinking.”
Jewell said her involvement has helped her academically and socially.
“Forensics has given me a place to belong at SVSU when I was unsure of myself,” she said. “I'm proud of how far I’ve come and I'm even prouder of our amazing team.”
Six SVSU students qualified for nationals at previous tournaments. They are:
Other SVSU students to place at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Tournament include:
SVSU finished third overall among the seven Michigan colleges and universities who competed at the event.
The SVSU forensics team is coached by Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication, and Ryan Rigda, lecturer of communication.
“Seeing students apply what they have learned in a competitive, academic environment is rewarding to me as a professor of communication,” Pierce said. “These tournaments provide an opportunity for academic debate and foster an environment of inclusivity. SVSU students contribute to this dialogue and serve as ambassadors for our university.”
The next forensics tournament for SVSU is MISL Novice States, held for students competing in their first six tournaments. That will be hosted by Northwood University Saturday, Feb. 16.
Since Saginaw Valley State University's moot court program was established in 2010, SVSU never has failed to qualify competitors for the nation's most elite tournament.
Thanks to countless hours of preparation preparing for and rehearsing oral arguments, SVSU students have earned another impressive showing, and that streak will continue for a ninth consecutive year in 2019.
SVSU students Lindsey Mead and Justin Weller will advance as a team to the American Moot Court Association national tournament Jan. 12-13 at Florida A&M College of Law in Orlando. Mead will make her second consecutive appearance in the annual contest, which features 120 of the nation's best undergraduate moot court competitors.
Acting as teams of two attorneys, students competing in moot court tournament are tasked with arguing two hypothetical legal cases based on real-life courtroom battles. The competition is judged based on the clarity of the students' argument, their public speaking skills, their ability to answer questions, and how well they know the law and the case.
The SVSU moot court program has excelled in those categories since their inception. Julie Keil, SVSU associate professor of political science, has served as the team’s adviser for all nine years; today she is joined by Amy Hendrickson, SVSU associate professor of law
SVSU students have competed well over the years, and SVSU consistently has been ranked among the nation’s elite programs. Its current ranking by the American Moot Court Association at No. 19 is its highest yet, ahead of larger institutions such as Texas A&M University (ranked no. 21) and University of Louisville (No. 23). Last year, SVSU ranked No. 24 out of the more than 425 higher education institutions that fielded teams for the American Moot Court Association.
Mead, an English major from Saginaw, and Weller, a political science major from Bay City, earned their invitation to the 2019 national tournament based on the strength of their performance at a regional American Moot Court Association tournament hosted by SVSU in November. The pair advanced to the semifinal round, finishing third in a competition featuring 46 teams from 11 colleges and universities.
Three other SVSU teams finished among the top 16 teams at the SVSU-hosted tournament. Those teams featured the duos of Justine Brabaw, a political science major from Breckenridge, and Erik Byron, a political science major from Birch Run; Joshua Cianek, a political science major from Auburn, and Lauren Legner, a psychology major from Bay City; and Ted Meckley, a political science major from Saginaw, and Porche Spiller, a sociology major from Saginaw.
A Saginaw Valley State University-based program that prompted K-12 students to write postcards to the future governor of Michigan – before the election – resulted in a response that far exceeded organizers’ expectations. The messages received revealed the civic-minded hopes of today's youth, as well as their deep anxieties.
The SVSU Writing Center's “Write Your Future Michigan Governor” postcard campaign – performed in collaboration with the Great Lakes Bay Region YWCA – resulted in more than 1,500 postcard messages.
“We had anticipated receiving a few hundred postcards at the end of this campaign, said Helen Raica-Klotz, director of the SVSU Writing Center. “We were surprised – and very happy – with the number of postcards we did receive.”
The idea behind the civic engagement initiative was simple. The campus Writing Center, and its affiliated Bay Community Writing Center and Saginaw Community Writing Center, distributed blank postcards across the state. Michigan residents were invited to write a message on the postcards for the future governor in October, before voters elected Gretchen Whitmer. Participants then returned the postcards to the SVSU Writing Center. The correspondence will be mailed to Whitmer after she is sworn into office in January.
While the opportunity was open to all Michigan residents, the overwhelming bulk of messages were authored by K-12 students, Raica-Klotz said. Fifty-one teachers from 18 school districts in the Great Lakes Bay Region requested postcards for their pupils.
Those students responded with messages revealing their hopes, dreams and concerns. Regardless of the author's age, the subject matter ranged from humorous to deadly serious. Bullying, the Flint water crisis, gender equality, protecting the environment, homelessness, and school shootings were among the most common topics addressed.
“Every classroom should have all bulletproof windows,” read one message in the scribbled penmanship of a student likely in elementary school. “They should have a little room in the classroom the (sic) way all of the kids can go into if you need to and the little room must have no windows.”
Other messages likely from students early in the K-12 system struck more lighthearted tones. One student complimented the governor on the mitten-like shape of Michigan. Another requested legalizing owls as pets.
Hundreds of the postcards were written by teenagers. Kelli Fitzpatrick, a teacher at Beaverton Junior/Senior High School, said 17 students in her 12th grade English class participated.
“When I pitched the idea to them, I assumed they would pick topics that directly impacted them, but most of them picked other people's hardships or issues affecting the state,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was inspired by it and not quite prepared for it. They have a lot of energy they want to direct at society.”
While waiting until it's time to send the correspondence to Lansing, Raica-Klotz has lined the entire length of several walls within SVSU's Writing Center, located in Zahnow Library, with the 1,500-plus postcards. The sight provides a sense of scale for the impressive size of the response, she said.
“This campaign was important because it gave voice to many of our Michigan residents who are still elementary, middle, or high school students and are not able to vote – but they will one day soon,” Raica-Klotz said.
“I hope, by writing this postcard, each student understood that they can participate in the government by communicating their ideas through writing.”
Four Saginaw Valley State University students have been selected for a fellowship that will provide them with opportunities to apply their liberal arts education in a business setting.
SVSU annually selects several students in the College of Arts & Behavioral Sciences for the Botz Liberal Arts Fellowship, which provides support for the participants to gain a challenging internship in a business setting. The program connects regional employers with selected junior and senior liberal arts students for a semester-long, fellowship-funded internship. Through events, workshops and scholarship support, the initiative introduces liberal arts students to opportunities in business.
This year's class was selected due to their academic success, along with their current interest and potential for success and leadership in a business environment. The students will interview with employers during the 2019 winter semester to find an appropriate internship experience.
The students selected as Botz Fellows for the 2018-19 academic year are:
• Vincent Frank, a music major from Greenville
• Melanie Frasca, a theatre and English double major from Waterford
• Shelby Hagle, a psychology major from Port Austin
• Shelby Townsend, a graphic design major from Davison
To qualify, students must have completed at least 45 credit hours with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 and pass a rigorous selection process. The students are mentored by Joni Boye-Beaman, professor of sociology; Ranjana Dutta, professor of psychology; and Bill Stec, interim director of Career Services.
The fellowship was established in 2013 by SVSU alumna Janet Botz. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in both sociology and English in 1974. While a student at SVSU, she was a reporter and later editor of The Valley Vanguard, the university's student-run newspaper. Botz enjoyed a 30-year career with the Dow Corning Corporation, retiring as chief communications officer. She then served as vice president of Public Affairs and Communications at the University of Notre Dame.
Currently, Botz serves on the university's Foundation Board of Directors and is a past member of the Alumni Board and the Board of Fellows. For her accomplishments, she received the university's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998.