November 20, 2015

SVSU marching band to perform various pop hits in 40th annual indoor concert

Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal marching band will perform in its 40th annual indoor concert during a send-off performance for its longtime director.

 

Bill Wollner, SVSU associate professor of music, will direct an ensemble of 112 student musicians Monday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Encompassing students of various academic backgrounds, the marching band performs at all home football games and other fall events on campus.

 

The concert will be Wollner’s last as marching band director. He is retiring in the spring after 34 years as band director.

 

Wollner described his feelings on his retirement and final concert as marching band director as “bittersweet.”

 

“We’ve worked really hard over these past 34 years, and there comes a time when you want to move on and do something different,” he said.

 

Wollner added that, while he’s excited for retirement, he will miss directing and the people he worked with.

 

“I’ve worked with some of these people for over 30 years, so that’s the part you’ll miss,” he said.

 

The program lineup will consist of renditions from popular songs such as Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries,” Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Mark Ronson's “Uptown Funk,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic,” Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and Styx’s “The Best Of Times.”

 

The concert is free and open to the public. For more information on the concert, visit SVSU's Department of Music online at www.svsu.edu/music.

November 20, 2015

SVSU group to present business research at Oxford

A group from Saginaw Valley State University will present their research paper at the 13th annual Global Conference on Business and Economics at Oxford University in England.

George Puia, SVSU’s Dow Chemical Co. Centennial Chair in Global Business, will attend the conference Nov. 22-23 with two alumni and two current students who helped him draft the paper that explores links between culture and entrepreneurial development.

“It is a great honor to present at Oxford University,” Puia said.

“It gives us the opportunity to receive feedback on our research from some truly outstanding scholars. I am also very excited that my colleagues from around the world will have the opportunity see the outstanding students that our College of Business and Management graduates. We are very proud of their work.”

Among those attending are students Zackary Gibson, a marketing major from Davison, and Heidi Hicks, a management major from Saginaw.

Two SVSU alumni also worked on the research paper: Lisa Maroni and Rosalie Stackpole. Maroni, a Royal Oak native who received a bachelor’s degree in international studies in 2010, now serves as assistant director of international recruitment and admissions at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. Stackpole, a Trenton native who received her bachelor’s degree in marketing in May, works as a marketing project manager at Bloomfield Hills-based Flexible Plan Investments, Ltd.

The group’s paper is titled, “Indulgence, Restraint, and Within-Country Diversity: Exploring Entrepreneurial Outcomes with New Constructs.”

The Global Conference on Business and Economics is sponsored by the Oxford Journal, as well as the Association for Business and Economics Research.

November 20, 2015

George Corser, assistant professor of computer science & information systems College of Science, Engineering & Technology

George Corser’s educational background is in the modern sciences. His aspirations in academia, however, call back to ancient Greece.

The assistant professor of computer science & information systems knows well the role of technology in learning. Yet his academic ambitions are inspired by the great Greek thinkers who regularly engaged in forums of intellectual debate. 

“In current times, universities are the center of intellectual activity,” Corser said. “They can provide the kinds of forums ancient Greece had. You can learn information online, but do you really think Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have been as effective if they hadn’t met?”

Providing a 21st century intellectual forum is at the heart of Corser’s work at SVSU. His efforts extend beyond the classroom. They also involve the community.

In August, Corser was responsible for bringing a world-renowned speaker series to the campus when SVSU hosted a TED Talks event. The TED Talks series began in 1984 as a conference where “Technology, Entertainment and Design” converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. 

SVSU’s TED Talks featured technology showcases and speakers discussing topics ranging from fatherhood to smartphone security. While Corser spearheaded the idea, he called on students to organize much of the one-day event.

Corser’s desire to get students engaged in learning also extends to his research interest: vehicle network privacy, which focuses on network routers installed in vehicles. The technology has obvious practical applications, but using computers to track vehicles raises privacy concerns.

“We want to learn about the boundaries,” he said. “How do you know some system administrator isn’t using this for nefarious purposes? How do we protect ourselves?”

Corser was hired at the university in 2014, but he has been familiar with the institution for years. His father — who shares his name — was an SVSU mechanical engineering professor before retiring two decades ago.

The younger Corser didn’t join SVSU to follow in his father’s footsteps, however. The university’s relaxed and open work environment appealed to him.

“I’ve never had a moment’s doubt about the decision [to teach at SVSU], and I still don’t,” he said.

November 17, 2015

SVSU research study highlights strength of family-owned businesses in region

Saginaw Valley State University researchers have found that family businesses in the Great Lakes Bay Region exhibit extraordinary longevity, leadership and giving. Results of the research study will be shared with the public Wednesday, Nov. 18 from 4 to 6 p.m. in SVSU’s Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

“The family business sector in our region is even stronger and more robust than it is nationally,” said Rejeana Heinrich, associate director of the Stevens Center for Family Business at SVSU. “Because family businesses are so vital to a community's economic well-being and its quality of life, it's important to understand the characteristics of family-owned businesses here in our region.”

Rama Yelkur, dean of SVSU’s College of Business and Management, directed the research study. Key findings for family businesses in the Great Lakes Bay Region include:
•    These enterprises survive longer than the average in the United States
•    CEOs of family businesses serve in this leadership role longer than the national average
•    The vast majority of these businesses give back to their communities with some form of philanthropy

“In recent years, a lot of data has been accumulated about family businesses in the United States, and in countries throughout the world,” Heinrich said.

About 30 percent of family businesses survive to the second generation; 12 percent make it to the third generation, and 3 to 4 percent are viable into the fourth generation and beyond.
                        
“Family businesses here are beating those odds, as the average age of a family business in our region is 39 years, compared to 24 years nationally.”

The Nov. 18 program will feature case studies on four Great Lakes Bay Region family businesses: Alloy Construction, Amigo Mobility International, Duperon Corporation, and Glastender.

National research indicates that family businesses employ about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce; account for 65 percent of all wages paid in the U.S.; and generate 64 percent of the country's GDP.

Family business does not necessarily mean small business.  About 60 percent of all public companies are family businesses, and about 34 percent of S & P 500 firms are family businesses.   


SVSU’s research was funded by a Regional Economic Innovation grant from Michigan State University, and supported by the economic development centers and chambers of commerce in Bay, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties.  

For more information about the research study or the public reception, contact Heinrich at 989-964-4035.

About the Stevens Center for Family Business at Saginaw Valley State University

As part of the College of Business and Management of Saginaw Valley State University, the Stevens Center for Family Business supports family business success through the generations by providing a wide range of educational and networking opportunities.  Its emphasis is on topics and issues that are unique to family businesses, especially those having to do with familial relationships, communications and succession planning.   With a triple focus on community outreach, academics and original research, the Center serves a wide range of constituencies, including family business owners and leaders, trusted advisors to family businesses, and SVSU students.  Since its founding in 2000, the SCFB has served more than 950 family business people from over 330 different family firms.  Approximately 600 other community leaders have benefited from the Center’s offerings, and more than 875 students have attended courses, programs and presentations offered by the Stevens Center for Family Business.

November 17, 2015

New Message from SVSU Alumni Relations: We Want You.

This is a story about family.

Not the family one is born to. Not the kind one marries into. Not the sort one raises, either.

No, this is a story about the family one joins when first attending and then graduating from a university. And this particular story is all about the SVSU family.

It is one that includes change, a subject real to every family; a subject often difficult at first to embrace, but that soon becomes a source of invigoration, new life and opportunity to build new traditions. This family story is about moving into a new chapter that parallels the transformation of the university, the strengthening of a region and the return of alumni long absent from a place they once considered home.

Since arriving as a student at SVSU in the early 1970s, Detroit native Jim Dwyer, 1976, B.A.; 1985, M.A.T., never left this particular “home.” He was hired at the still-fledgling institution shortly after graduating and through the years has held a variety of roles. Most recently, President Don Bachand appointed Dwyer executive director of alumni relations.

The new position meant more than a job change for Dwyer. It represented a shift in the way SVSU engages its former students and helps shape a new vision rethinking how alumni can positively impact the university community.

Dwyer and a growing coalition of supporters are sold on that vision. “We want to let our alumni know that they are a very important part of the university’s strategic past, present and future,” Dwyer said. “We want them to know, ‘You’re still family.’ We want them to know, ‘We need you.’”

***

With new resources, staff and tactics, Alumni Relations last winter began rolling out a strategically placed welcome mat meant to invite alumni back (see sidebar on page 20 for more details on these strategies).

Whereas the department’s goals previously were tied closely to the SVSU Foundation’s initiatives — the two offices even shared a suite until recently — Bachand’s new vision tasks Alumni Relations with inspiring former students to engage with the university in ways extending beyond fund development.

Those ways include attending more campus events, serving as mentors to students, hiring them as interns, recruiting future Cardinals, and sharing stories about the SVSU experience with others.

“As we seek to advance SVSU’s reputation and draw upon those relationships that can help us recruit bright students, our alumni must be engaged with the university, serving as our ambassadors to a much greater extent and in innovative ways,” Bachand said upon announcing Alumni Relations’ new direction earlier this year.

The hope is that new direction will lead to strengthened support from the community. As noted by Bachand and echoed by Dwyer, this is of particular importance in the area of recruitment, where SVSU is navigating the challenges of a declining number of Michigan high school graduates, uncertain state appropriation levels and competition from other higher education institutions.

Alumni are prime candidates to strengthen that community support. Not just because of their contacts in the community, but also because they are the community. Of the university’s 42,000 living graduates, 15,000 reside within the nine counties closest to campus, and 85 percent live in Michigan.

Dwyer and his staff aim to build support among alumni exponentially, with every alumnus recruited for the cause becoming recruiters themselves. In other words, Alumni Relations wants to send a proverbial snowball down the hill and watch it build into an avalanche of momentum that talks, walks, shares and supports SVSU’s story. Dwyer believes the benefits alumni experience when reconnecting with SVSU grows that momentum.

David Kowalski understands those perks well. The SVSU alumnus — now president and owner of Euclid Automotive in Bay City — has been a beneficiary for years.

But it wasn’t always that way.

***

Thirty-six years ago, Julia Kowalski gifted her grandson a congratulatory card and a single stick of gum.

Many may have seen this as a modest offering, but David Kowalski knew his grandmother. From her, this was a tribute fit for kings. She had watched him honored earlier during SVSU’s commencement ceremony, and the occasion left her beaming with pride.

“Of all her children, of all her grandchildren, I was the very first she saw graduate,” the younger Kowalski says now of earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration in May 1979. “That was pretty special for her, and that made it special for me.”

Julia Kowalski died two months later.

“Looking back, that was one of my most memorable moments,” David Kowalski said, “that my grandmother was able to see me graduate.”

And as happens with families and work commitments, other priorities commanded his time and attention. Aside from attending some home football games, Kowalski’s interaction with his SVSU family for years was limited to passing glances out car door windows while driving along Bay Road.

“I had no idea what was happening at SVSU,” Kowalski said. He was brought up to speed on the university’s development about a decade ago when his son enrolled there. “When I saw how far [SVSU] had come since I had been here … wow!,” Kowalski said.

It’s that same sense of awe he expects other graduates will experience once they re-engage with SVSU. After all, Kowalski’s renewed interest in his old school proved a fruitful, fulfilling experience. Whereas once his love of the institution was frozen in time — those recollections of a proud grandmother among many lasting reminders of a remarkable undergraduate experience there — his reunion strengthened his kinship with the school.

“There’s this real sense of belonging since I became involved again,” he said. “I belong with this university now.”

As part of his reunion with SVSU, he joined the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors in 2010. He served in that capacity until earlier this year when he was appointed inaugural chairman of the Alumni Ambassadors Council, where former Board of Directors members serve as SVSU ambassadors once their terms on the association expire. They also mentor new board recruits.

Although, not every recruited alumnus has to serve on a board in order to experience that renewed kinship with SVSU. Engagement of all degrees can benefit both the former student and their alma mater.

“This is going to be great for the university,” Kowalski said. “By saying, ‘We want you to be part of something,’ I think SVSU’s relations with alumni will blossom.”

***

Since Alumni Relations underwent its makeover earlier this year, a number of initiatives have been enacted. Two of the initial changes were substantial and strategic.

Alumni Relations for years operated out of one office within a third floor suite in Wickes Hall. Now the department has an entire suite on the first floor, where windows give visitors a view of Alumni Relations before they even enter the building.

“We’ve gone from being invisible to being the front door,” Dwyer said. “That demonstrates how our alumni are a priority in this new plan.”

Another significant change involves staff size.

One of those first floor windows is in the new office of Kevin Schultz, associate director of alumni relations. Since his hiring in 2008, he had been the only full-time staff member working for Alumni Relations. Now there are four employees: Dwyer; Schultz; Pamela Wegener, associate director; and Linda Schmidt, administrative secretary.

Schultz says his department’s evolution was inevitable. That progression largely falls in line with the school’s development.

“In the big scheme of things, SVSU and Alumni Relations have been going through this growth, and now we’re really gaining traction,” he said. “We’re starting a whole new era with a new commitment to alumni.”

Wegener says the changes have created a comfortable atmosphere in the office and among the alumni who interact with the staff. “It’s been really remarkable,” she said. “It truly feels like home.”

Dwyer has been encouraged by early feedback from alumni. “I’ve been incredibly pleased by the reaction of alumni so far,” he said. “Their willingness to get engaged in a variety of ways — whatever their talents are — shows that people still realize this place is special.”

That feeling of being part of something special at SVSU is contagious, Dwyer said. “As we create this bonding, there’s this sense — and our students and those who are pondering enrolling here can see — that when you come to SVSU, you’re a member of the Cardinal family, and we help each other.

“In the end, it’s all about family.”

November 17, 2015

Award-winning playwright Donna Hoke places 'Safe' bet on SVSU theatre production

Award-winning playwright and journalist Donna Hoke is conquering the theatre world one step at a time, and the Buffalo-based talent has great expectations for her future.

Her present is at Saginaw Valley State University, where the theatre department will produce her latest play “Safe” with the collaboration of Road Less Traveled Productions, a Buffalo theatre company where Hoke works as part of an ensemble playwright group.

Showtimes for SVSU's production of “Safe” are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21. A matinee is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. All shows will be held in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $13 for the general public and $10 for senior citizens and students.

The play is part of a collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions, a professional theater company based in Buffalo, New York. In 2014, the company agreed to work with SVSU’s theatre department, which will put the play on stage for the first time. Road Less Traveled plans to follow with its own production of “Safe” in March.

Recently, Hoke shared her history with an SVSU audience when she participated in a question and answer forum on campus.

Since she was a child, Hoke loved writing, she explained. During her college years, she largely wrote fiction and poetry. When she graduated, at the age of 25, she gravitated towards journalism since, as an introvert, she felt vulnerable about sharing her feelings with those who read her work.

After a few years working at a magazine, Hoke decided to attend some of Buffalo's playwright workshops, until finally she started writing plays again for fun. She landed her first production in 2010.

“You just need to write and get your work out there,” she said. “That's it.”

Since pursuing that dream, Hoke has earned praise for her work. For three consecutive years, she was named Best Writer by Artvoice, a news magazine based in Buffalo. A number of her plays also have earned various awards.

“Safe” was largely influenced by a teen suicide believed by some to be encouraged by bullying in her school district. The play exhibits the pain and strength that reside in the hearts and minds of those who experience bullying.

While the SVSU production is the first time it will be put on stage, "Safe" already has won the 2014 Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, 2014 Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest. The play was a finalist for the T. Schreiber New Works Competition, and also a semi-finalist at both nuVoices at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and the 37th Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

As for the future, Hoke is considering Broadway. She hopes to have an agent in the next five years to help her spread her work throughout the country.

“I am happy with what I accomplished,” she said. “I would love to be at the point where I can get a number of productions every year, just to be out there.”

As a last piece of advice for future playwrights that struggle with feedbacks, she quoted Stephen Schwartz, an American musical theatre lyricist and composer: “There is always an answer that will satisfy both people and you just need to work to find it. You just need to go to the room with collaborative spirit, respect for the text and the director.”

For more information about her play, "Safe," visit www.svsu.edu/theatre.
For more information on Donna Hoke visit www.donnahoke.com.

November 17, 2015

SVSU theatre teams with Buffalo production company to present 'Safe'

Playwright Hoke and SVSU’s Rzeszutek for theatre production 'Safe'‌‌After a year of preparation, Saginaw Valley State University this month will bring the play “Safe” to audiences in a worldwide premiere.

The play is part of a collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions, a professional theater company based in Buffalo, New York. In 2014, the company agreed to work with SVSU’s theatre department, which will put the play on stage for the first time. Road Less Traveled plans to follow with its own production of “Safe” in March.

Throughout the process, SVSU theatre students have worked with the play's award-winning author, Donna Hoke. Her work has been commissioned, produced, and/or developed in 34 states and five continents. She makes her artistic home as an ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions, which has hosted productions that included Hollywood actors such as Alec Baldwin and James Rebhorn.

For writing “Safe,” Hoke won the 2014 Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, 2014 Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest.  The script also was a finalist for the T. Schreiber New Works Competition, and a semi-finalist at both nuVoices at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and the 37th Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us,” said Dave Rzeszutek, SVSU associate professor of theatre and director of the SVSU production. “We're working with a new script and having direct contact with the playwright.”

In fact, Hoke has already made changes to the script based on watching SVSU students rehearse the play.

In “Safe,” a young gay teen hangs himself in 2011 – but the events leading to the suicide began decades before, in 1986, when bullies tormented Nancy and her best friend. Twenty-five years later, the cycle continues when Nancy is confronted by another bully – her son. The show exhibits the pain and strength that reside in the hearts and minds of those who experience bullying.

“The play has themes of bullying, self-worth, guilt and suicide,” Rzeszutek said.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21. A matinee is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. All shows are hosted in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $13 for the general public and $10 for senior citizens and students.

The cast includes five SVSU students. Tristian Evanoff, a theatre major from Kalamazoo, plays the lead, Nancy.

Rounding out the rest of the cast are:
•    Cassandra Graham, a pre-social work major from Memphis, Michigan
•    Joseph Green, a theatre major from Shelby Township
•    Carl Mizell, a theatre major from Flint
•    Zach Wood, a theatre major from Flushing

For more information or to order tickets, contact the Box Office at (989) 964-4261 or visit http://www.svsu.edu/theatre/showschedule/.

Photo depicts playwright Hoke (left) and SVSU’s Rzeszutek (right).

November 12, 2015

SVSU honored for top health and wellness program

A Saginaw Valley State University program that boosts health and wellness for its faculty and staff has earned high praise.

During the organization’s annual conference, the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine awarded SVSU’s HealthyU program with the 2015 Active U Competition award. The honor is given to the top health and wellness program among higher education institutions in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Elizabeth Ballien, an SVSU student intern who helps organize HealthyU, was present during the awards ceremony Saturday, Nov. 7, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“When they announced, ‘SVSU.’ I was shocked and so proud,” she said.

HealthyU promotes health and wellness for employees through education, wellness and physical activity programs. Since its inception in 2006, nearly 50 percent of those eligible for the initiative's benefits have participated in it.

The program is administered through SVSU’s Human Resources office – where Ballien works as a student intern – but officials there were quick to praise the across-the-campus support for HealthyU.

“It takes a team effort to pull this off,” said Cynthia Bala, associate director of Human Resources.

“Without all the hard work of the student interns, numerous student volunteers and the collaboration with Cardinal Fitness and the Department of Kinesiology, there would be no wellness program. It’s great to work for an employer that values the health and well-being of their employees.”

The program also offers a learning experience for students. Ballien is the latest student intern to help oversee the HealthyU program.

“There’s a lot of organizing, time management, troubleshooting and problem solving that goes into it,” said Ballien, who has served as the program’s student intern since fall 2014.

The role helps her network both with SVSU employees as well as representatives from the community connected to HealthyU.

“It’s great to know people’s names and faces and to just have that kind of connection with the university,” said Ballien, who plans to apply for jobs similar to her role with HealthyU when she graduates in May 2016.

“HealthyU has really prepared me for what I want to do,” she said. “It’s been a great experience.”

At the same conference, SVSU student Melissa Jones, an exercise science major from Shelby Township in Macomb County, received the Outstanding Undergraduate Oral Presentation award. Her presentation was titled “Influence of Parental Characteristics on Time Spent Being Active with their Children.”

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. National research has shown that students who are engaged in the community and on campus are more likely to be successful academically, and to have the critical thinking, problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, and adaptability desired by employers.

November 12, 2015

SVSU student wins top research honor for presentation on Midland Health Study

Saginaw Valley State University student Melissa Jones received the Outstanding Undergraduate Oral Presentation award at the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine annual conference in Fort Wayne, Ind. November 6-7.
                   
An exercise science major from Shelby Township in Macomb County, Jones’ presentation was titled “Influence of Parental Characteristics on Time Spent Being Active with their Children.” She was part of an SVSU research team of 15 students and five faculty that spent nearly a year gathering, analyzing and sharing data as part of the Midland Health Study.

Jones presented on evidence from the study that suggests that the amount of physical activity children partake in may be influenced by their parents’ demographic characteristics and lifestyle.

“I learned a lot more about the research process and what goes into presenting it so other people can understand it,” she said. “I also learned a lot about how the community benefits from these types of research projects.”

‌SVSU conducted the study on behalf of the Midland Area Community Foundation, the Health and Human Services Council of Midland County and other agencies.

“We are extremely pleased with the quality of the work performed by SVSU students and faculty,” Sharon Mortensen, president and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation, said after the report was made available in May.

“The faculty team met numerous times with our small planning group. They adapted their work to the needs of our community and provided a finished product that will greatly benefit Midland County.”

Jones faced strong competition for her award, as the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine includes colleges and universities from six states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. In all, 16 SVSU students attended the conference and eight students presented.

For her portion of the research, Jones worked closely with Meghan Baruth, assistant professor of health sciences, and Rebecca Schlaff, assistant professor of kinesiology.

“They were so supportive of students throughout the process and very willing to teach along the way,” Jones said.

Jones plans to continue to conduct research in graduate school after completing her SVSU degree.

At the same conference, SVSU’s HealthyU program was named the winner of the 2015 Active U Competition award. The honor is given to the top health and wellness program among higher education institutions in the six-state region.

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. National research has shown that students who are engaged in the community and on campus are more likely to be successful academically, and to have the critical thinking, problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, and adaptability desired by employers.

November 12, 2015

Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication College of Arts & Behavioral Sciences

“There’s a saying that the top two fears are death and public speaking,” Amy Pierce said. “What would be worse is to die while delivering a speech.”

It’s a joke, but the associate professor of communication is aware of the trepidation students feel before enrolling in her public speaking course. Their initial apprehension is why it’s especially gratifying for Pierce to watch those same students persevere.

“It’s satisfying to see a student who can barely deliver their first presentation, and by the end of the semester, they’re confident and well organized,” she said.

Pierce has built a career on those success stories. Along with her classroom achievements, she founded a forensics competition program 15 years ago that since has traveled the nation to compete in tournaments as well as took on oversight of the annual Sims Public Speaking Competition, first offered in 1989. Success in both competitions demands strong public speaking skills, measured by clear articulation, critical thinking and confident argument.

She founded the forensics team in winter 2001. The program experienced success immediately when it earned second place at that year’s Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League’s Annual Novice Forensics Tournament.

The forensics team continues to experience success today. During the last academic year, the program saw more of its students qualify for a national tournament than ever in its history.

“Although winning is always exciting, I strongly believe that forensics is an academic activity that provides students with the confidence to succeed and the ability to develop a work ethic that demands excellence,” Pierce said.

The program also teaches students to cope with and appreciate diversity. Students develop personal character and values by leading and participating within the context of the team, social, academic and competitive environments, she said. 

“This is what I love most about directing and coaching the forensics team,” Pierce said. “I get the opportunity to see students applying the material they learn in the classroom in a real world setting.”

She also is proud of her students’ work with the Sims Public Speaking Competition.

“Students tell me again and again that the day of competition is one of the most exhausting, meaningful and fun of their college careers,” she said.

Her two main goals as an educator are to teach students how to become more competent and responsible communicators, as well as instill in students an appreciation for the importance of communication in their daily lives.

“I want students to be confident in their abilities when they leave my classroom and know they possess the tools necessary to succeed in their lives,” Pierce said.