Participating in only his third competition ever on the college forensics circuit, a Saginaw Valley State University senior this week became a national champion.
Dan Visnovsky, a political science major from Sparta and a member of SVSU's forensics team, qualified to compete against the best U.S. college talent at the National Forensic Association Tournament April 18-22 in Santa Ana, California. A panel of judges at the public speaking-based competition crowned him the first-place award recipient in the novice category of extemporaneous speaking, which featured students who had participated in fewer than six college forensics competitions.
In total, 180 college students competed in the extemporaneous speaking category, where the finalists participated in four rounds of play.
Success requires intense study and preparation. In each round, participants are asked to respond to a question related to world politics, allowed 30 minutes to research and develop an answer, and then must deliver their statement in seven minutes to a panel of three judges – all in front of a crowd of their peers.
Visnovsky had competed in only two forensics tournaments before winning the national title in his third appearance.
“I was a little nervous,” he said. “I had very little concept of how well I would do. They were challenging questions.”
Visnovsky said his interest in reading about world politics aided in his performance.
“Although at this tournament, the questions were more focused on international economics, and I'm more familiar with foreign policy,” he said.
For the fourth and final round, Visnovsky was asked to present a strategy for defeating a political party in Finland. Ryan Rigda, an SVSU lecturer of communications and an assistant director for the university's forensics team, was in the audience when Visnovsky delivered the winning speech.
“It just amazed me how he was able to speak about the subject so logically and coherently,” Rigda said. “It was like he was from Finland.”
Visnovsky and Jessica Carpenter, a communication major from Saginaw, were the first students ever to represent SVSU at the national tournament level.
“It was a blast,” Visnovsky said of the experience at the five-day tourney. “I was not expecting that I would win.”
As a senior about to graduate from SVSU next month, it marked Visnovsky’s final tournament, but SVSU’s forensics program is building for the future. It was founded in 2000 by Amy Pierce, an SVSU associate professor of communication who remains the team's coach.
Rigda said he hopes the team's appearance in the nationals inspires more student participation for next academic year. Rigda's sister, Mikayla Rigda – who competed at the nationals this week as a Delta College student – plans to enroll at SVSU in the fall and join her brother's team. And five members from this year's team are expected to return.
After Visnovsky graduates in May graduation, he said he will participate in a fellowship program at a state policy organization in Austin, Texas. He hopes one day to attend graduate school in pursuit of a career working for political nonprofit organizations.
A Saginaw Valley State University student turned her passion for understanding the human effects of the Flint water crisis into a nationally-presented research project that will be among about 80 research initiatives presented at SVSU this week.
The annual Undergraduate Research Project Student Symposium is scheduled Friday, April 26, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in SVSU’s Gilbertson Hall. The public is invited to attend the event, which will feature students explaining research performed in a variety of academic fields.
Among those presenters will be Alexandria Miller, a sociology major from Saginaw, whose Flint water crisis-related research began as part of a pilot study in an independent studies course at SVSU. Since then, her work has developed into part of a course curriculum and was featured at a national conference.
“It's probably one of the most important things I've done in my undergraduate career,” Miller said of the research opportunity. “There's the things you hear about that are going to make you successful after graduation – like participating in an internship or co-op – and I think service learning is right up there, as well.”
To start the research, Miller surveyed 30 Flint residents in 20-minute, face-to-face interviews. She sought to better understand how the water crisis impacted the community sociologically.
“We're looking at how they have developed methods of resilience in the wake of the Flint water crisis, and how their relationship to water itself has changed,” Miller said.
Her results attracted the interest of individuals beyond Michigan. She was invited to present her early findings as part of a poster presentation at the Society for Applied Anthropology in Portland, Oregon on March 22.
Now other SVSU students are benefiting from the research project.
Miller's faculty adviser, Rosina Hassoun, SVSU associate professor of sociology, incorporated the research project into her Sociology of Medicine course at SVSU. After receiving a grant from the SVSU Foundation to expand the number of people surveyed in Flint, students in the class are adding to the data Miller began collecting.
With the help of community partners in Flint, Hassoun's students recently conducted 38 new face-to-face interviews with Flint residents to expand the survey findings. Hassoun said Miller plans to conduct another 30 surveys on her own while her classmates will conduct another 32 surveys over the course of the spring.
Hassoun said the data will paint a portrait – using both quantitative and qualitative data – showing how Flint residents are coping in the aftermath of the water crisis. Hassoun said she plans to publish the findings from the research in academic journals.
At the Undergraduate Research Project Student Symposium, Miller plans to describe the research's methodology and findings. Her classmates will present a panel presentation on their experience with the study and with service learning in the classroom.
Other research projects scheduled to be presented at the symposium include studies on topics including the public's perception of genetic testing, the effect of teacher salary on student outcomes, mental health issues in Japan, and the demographics of opioid use in Saginaw County, among others.
For more information about SVSU's Undergraduate Research Program, go to svsu.edu/ugrp.
Saginaw Valley State University student Cole Pero has worked hard in the classroom and in the lab, and it has resulted in an extraordinary opportunity to continue his academic career.
Graduating from SVSU in May, Pero has been accepted to begin his Ph.D. studies at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and he credits several factors for his success, including his introduction to student research through SVSU's Honors Program.
“The biggest thing is the research experience,” Pero said. “I would have never even been interested in this route if I hadn't had the research experience. Doing the research myself, I realized I liked it.”
Pero, a graduating biology major from Bay City, has steadily focused his academic interests by learning practical skills through job shadowing, research and the guidance of his mentor, Sylvia Fromherz, assistant professor of biology.
Pero's research – performed with the guidance of his professor and the wisdom gained from his job shadowing – will be featured as one of 52 research presentations showcased at SVSU's annual Science and Engineering Symposium on Friday, April 26, in Pioneer Hall. The public is invited to hear students discuss and demonstrate their work from 10 a.m. to noon.
The research projects presented will include poster, paper and panel presentations on topics ranging from best practices in tutoring to a study on the environmental impact of plastic microbeads.
Being able to not only make meaningful contributions to research as an undergraduate, but being able to lead the research at times, is something made Pero a more attractive candidate for graduate schools, he said.
“It'll be a research degree, but I'm going to a medical school,” Pero said. “I do like that I get to integrate the previous medical interest with the new research interest, so I'll still be learning a lot of the medical applications of the research. I think it's a good fit for me.”
Pero has one key piece of advice for undergraduates looking for a sense of direction:
“Shadowing,” he said, referring to his time observing practicing veterinary and medical professionals.
Pero started his college career intending to be a veterinary technician, which made the choice to major in biology an easy one for him. However, by observing work in the field for hundreds of hours, Pero determined veterinary medicine wasn't for him and moved on to human medicine and neuroscience, eventually focusing on biomedical research.
Starting in the winter of 2017, Pero has carried out research with Fromherz in the area of sensorimotor systems biology, the study of the part of the nervous system that allow animals to control their bodily movements.
“When he started, Cole was on a medical school trajectory, but he quickly caught the ‘research bug’ and absolutely showed himself to have all the attributes suggestive of a great budding scientist,” Fromherz said.
Pero presented his research at the December 2018 joint meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and European Molecular Biology Organization in San Diego.
“That was a huge learning experience,” Pero said. “It can be very intimidating with all those professional scientists walking around. Just learning how to talk about my research, that's not something a lot of undergraduates get.”
Pero is also the president of the Judy V. Spencer Organization, a domestic violence information and advocacy group.
“I was always more of an introvert; I honestly don't know why I thought I could start an organization,” Pero said. “It definitely helped me become a more confident speaker, and that helps with interviews and with professional development.”
Through all these experiences, Pero has valued the practical knowledge that being a student and researcher at SVSU offered him. Other students should go out of their way to find these types of opportunities as undergraduates, Pero said.
“My research experience here has been a kind of shadowing experience,” Pero said. “Just try things, whatever you think you might be interested in, just give it a try for a while and see if it's right.”
Newly-elected leaders of Saginaw Valley State University's student government promise to continue a fundraising competition that has raised more than a half-million dollars for nonprofits and charities statewide.
Since 2003, students with SVSU and Grand Valley State University have engaged to in a charitable fundraising competition during the annual Battle of the Valleys, a week-long fundraiser that concludes when the institutions' rival football teams play in the fall. In March, though, GVSU's student government voted to withdraw from the competition, leaving the contest's future in question.
But representatives with SVSU's student government — the SVSU Student Association — have announced plans to reconfigure and continue the event on their own.
Members of the outgoing and incoming leadership drafted and signed a public letter of statement that pledges to move forward to identify a charity partner to benefit from a fundraiser this year.
One of those signatures belonged to Hunter Koch, the recently-elected Student Association president who will take office in a few weeks. The St. Charles native studying for a master's degree in public administration said the annual fundraiser was too important to let slip away for SVSU's community-engaged students.
“Student Association found it critical that we maintain our commitment to SVSU and the region because we have always placed an emphasis on philanthropic endeavors, supporting our community and local non-profits, and showcasing that SVSU truly has twice the heart,” said Koch, who received a bachelor's degree in political science from SVSU in 2018.
He said details on the reconfigured event — tentatively titled “Battle of the Valley” — will begin to take shape when the Student Association appoints leadership for the fundraising effort at an April 22 meeting.
One detail that seems certain: This year's funds will be raised exclusively by SVSU's community because it's unlikely a substitute for GVSU could be identified in time for the fall event, Koch said. That could change for the 2020-21 academic year.
“While we would like to have found a new university for the 2019-20 school year, it is not feasible to find a new university to partner with and negotiate an extensive contract with them that would prevent abrupt withdrawals in the future,” he said.
“While this year will focus on SVSU students and alumni exclusively raising funds for a deserving not-for-profit, it is our hope throughout the next academic year to reach out to different universities with similar demographics to SVSU in order to find a phenomenal new partner and competitor for fall 2020.”
In the meantime, Koch and his Student Association leadership say they anticipate support for the fundraiser will grow. Nora Lipetzky, the recently-elected speaker of the Student Association, said she hopes the April 9 statement letter signed by two generations of student leaders will immediately begin to generate excitement among SVSU students.
“Current Cardinals — as well as our fantastic alumni — have expressed such eagerness and excitement for what the future holds for Battle of the Valley at SVSU,” said the political science major from Palos Heights, Illinois.
“Philanthropic work is important to us, especially with local non-profits. It is our hope that Battle of the Valley this year will be bigger and better than ever.”
SVSU students raised $36,210 or the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network during the Battle of the Valleys fundraising competition in October 2018. Between SVSU and GVSU, the universities raised a combined total of $652,385 since Battle of the Valleys started in 2003. SVSU contributed $425,657 of that total.
An enthusiastic celebration of culture and color will return to Saginaw Valley State University this week.
The Holi Festival of Colors is planned Saturday, April 20, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. largely in SVSU’s James E. O’Neill Arena in the Ryder Center.
Perhaps the most visually-recognizable element of the tradition — a fun spectacle featuring attendees throwing 300 lbs. of colorful powder at themselves and each other — is expected to take place between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. near the outdoors pond by the Ryder Center.
The South Asian Student Association, a registered student organization at SVSU, organizes the event each year. The annual holiday celebrates the beginning of spring and the victory of good over evil, organizers say. The tradition encourages participants to throw colorful powder at each other.
In addition to the 300 lbs. of powder, the crowd can also utilize about 1,500 water balloons and water-spraying tools as part of the celebration, organizers say.
The event also will include South Asian-based food, dance and music.
Tickets are $10 for the public and $5 for SVSU students. Attendees can pay $5 to participate exclusively in the color throw. Children ages 6 and under can participate for free.
Jessica Carpenter refuses to let her social anxiety stand in her way. The Saginaw Valley State University student not only has overcome that challenge and embraced public speaking; she has competed in forensics tournaments and established herself among the nation’s best.
Carpenter, communication major from Saginaw, and Dan Visnovsky, a political science major from Sparta, will become the first students ever to represent SVSU at the National Forensic Association Tournament April 18-22 in Santa Ana, California.
Both will travel outside the Midwest for the first time in their lives to compete against the nation's best collegiate public speakers.
Carpenter will be competing in the category of poetry. She has been a strong public speaker since first joining forensics in middle school, but she still faces struggles, despite her years of experience.
“I discuss the topic of anxiety through poetry because I actually suffer from really bad social anxiety,” Carpenter said. “Forensics has given me a way to write and be open about that issue.”
Visnovsky had very little experience in public speaking before joining the SVSU forensics team in January 2019. He first appeared on the forensic coaches' radar in November 2018 when he was awarded second place at the SVSU's Sims Public Speaking Competition for his speech on transgender rights. It was not until then that Vinosky fully grasped how his talent and passions could intertwine.
“I not only realized after the Sims Competition that I enjoyed public speaking, but that I was being given the chance to research and speak on things that I really cared about,” said Visnovsky.
Forensics events consist of a wide variety of speech-related and debate-related events that range anywhere from impromptu speeches to series of dramatic interpretations. Visnovsky will be participating in the category of informative speaking with his piece on the dangers in the current rise of white supremacy and also in the category of extemporaneous speaking. Extemporaneous speaking is a minimally-prepared speech which the speaker does not know their topic until minutes before their delivery to the judges.
Last year, the national tournament was hosted by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where 65 schools participated. It is predicted that this year's competition will be just as large with 100 to 200 students in each event. This tournament will consist of 11 events and a debate competition.
The SVSU Forensics Team was founded by its current coach, Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication, in 2000. SVSU students first began participating in competitions in 2001 through funding provided by an SVSU Foundation grant. Since its beginning, SVSU students have been finalists 28 times at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Forensics Tournament. In addition, its participants have been recognized 23 times as top novice competitors.
Pierce and her assistant director, Ryan Rigda, an SVSU lecturer of communications, both realize the competitiveness of this tournament but are confident in the abilities of Carpenter and Visnovsky.
“I have no doubt that Dan and Jessica will represent SVSU well.” Pierce said.
Rigda, who will be attending the tournament for his eleventh time – both as a student competitor and as a coach at different institutions – said that this is an incredible opportunity for students.
“What I appreciate most is that they are paving the way for future SVSU students to attend the national tournament,” Rigda said.
A Saginaw Valley State University student's passion for international educational experiences will lead her to return to an Argentinian city this summer.
Madison Savard recently received a $2,500 scholarship from The National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi to student teach in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 15 to August 15.
The elementary education major from Saginaw said that this experience will help her stand apart from other teacher applicants in her future career.
“Student teaching abroad is not something many have the opportunity to do, and my situation is even more unique because I played a role in making this happen,” she said.
Last summer, Savard was inspired to participate in a two-week, faculty-led study abroad trip to Buenos Aires, where SVSU students went to elementary schools and childcare centers in the city to learn about their education system and practices.
She said, as soon as she decided she wanted to return to Argentina, she put all of her effort into applying for as many scholarships as she could.
“Luckily, all the time and effort put into scholarship applications paid off,” she said.
There is more than just the educational aspect of the trip that is similar to the study abroad trip she went on a year prior. She will be living with the same host family.
“I am very excited to be living with them again,” she said. “We have stayed in contact, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else when I return.”
Savard is graduating in December 2019, and she said that receiving this scholarship has reminded her how wonderful the Spanish faculty in SVSU's Department of Modern Foreign Languages are.
“Some of my best experiences have been because of my experiences in the department, and the experiences they allowed me to be a part of led me to be qualified to receive this scholarship,” she said.
Four Saginaw Valley State University educators will receive funding for their ideas to improve student learning after being selected to receive 2019-20 Dow Professor Teaching Awards from SVSU's Center for Academic Innovation.
The awards come paired with cash grants to help support the work of individual faculty and faculty teams.
Aneesha Gogineni, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, received $5,500 for materials needed to redesign a course on active learning in thermodynamics. Funds will be used to purchase and assemble hands-on materials, as well as for an app, which will be integrated into the class to increase student responses to questions, analyze their understanding level, and engage them in the subject. Data collected from the redesigned course will be presented at a conference.
Brandon Haskett, assistant professor of music, received $5,500 for upgrades to SVSU's music technology lab.
“This project would result in our students' increased exposure to digital music creation and collaboration, allow them to use their previous knowledge of popular music genres to create something new and give students real-world experiences with hardware, software and their related processes, which will prepare them more fully for the professional world,” Haskett wrote in his award proposal.
Scott Kowalewski, associate professor of rhetoric and professional writing, and Bill Williamson, professor of rhetoric and professional writing, jointly received $4,223.88 for upgrades to their department's recording studio and usability lab, where students create and assess websites and other digital documents. The upgrades will focus on digital video production.
“This project extends our students' professional development and career preparedness, meeting the demands of contemporary communicators,” the professors stated in their award proposal.
The awards are supported by the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Academic Fund at SVSU.
A Saginaw Valley State University student inspired to compose a musical theme for a superhero movie will see his work played by the SVSU concert band next week.
Nathan Grocholski's work, titled “Dark Fire,” will be one of several musical pieces performed at the band's spring concert Wednesday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.
Grocholski, a music major from Grand Rapids who also plays clarinet in the band, said he began creating “Dark Fire” for a musical composition class and later updated it when there was an opportunity to include it in the spring concert.
“I was watching movies without scores to them, and the first one that I came across was the 2012 found-footage superhero film ‘Chronicle,’” Grocholski said. “This piece is based off of common superhero themes like in ‘Avengers,’ and I was trying to capture a darker superhero theme that was in contrast to more light-hearted movies and their motifs.”
Although some of his original works have been performed in smaller ensembles before, this is his first large ensemble piece to be performed during a public performance.
“This is probably the most monumental moment in my career,” Grocholski said. “It has truly been an honor to work with such talented musicians here at SVSU. I feel strongly that my fellow band mates and instructors have put much care into my work and are always willing to share constructive feedback with me.”
Led by conductor and assistant professor of music Norman Wika, the band will be performing selections from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Selections being performed also include “Undertow,” by John Mackey, “Summoning Fire,” by Stephanie Berg and “New Wade'N Water,” by Adolphus Hailstork.
For more information on SVSU's Department of Music, visit svsu.edu/music.
Award-winning essayist Aisha Sabatini Sloan will read passages from her writing at Saginaw Valley State University on Wednesday, April 17, at 4 p.m. in Founders Hall at SVSU.
Sabatini Sloan's writing often touches on topics relating to current events and race while also offering analysis of art, film and pop culture. She authored books such as "The Fluency of Light” and “Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit." The latter work was nominated for the University of Iowa's Essay Prize and won the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’ Firecracker Award for nonfiction.
Sabatini Sloan’s essays are included in the anthologies “Trespass: Ecotone Essayists Beyond the Boundaries of Place, Identity, and Feminism,” “Truth to Power,” “How We Speak to One Another” and “The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide.” Her work has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. She was a finalist for both the inaugural Write-A-House contest in Detroit and the 2015 Disquiet Literary Prize.
The Los Angeles-born author also serves as the Helen Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of Michigan. For more information about Sabatini Sloan, visit her website at https://aishasloan.com/.
Her appearance at SVSU is sponsored by the university's Department of English as part of the Voices in the Valley Reading Series. Admission is free and open to the public.
For more information about the event, contact Arra Ross, SVSU associate professor of English, at email@example.com or (989) 964-4032.