On a beautiful breezy June afternoon, the 10 members of the Gembrowski family gather for a photo at their Freeland home where they are hosting yet another graduation party. They laugh, joke and tease each other while the photographer sets up. Once he gives the signal, each brother and sister falls into place unrehearsed as if they’ve done this family photo thing a time or two.
In the center is the matriarch, Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A. She smiles proudly as the camera snaps off a few shots. To the untrained eye, this might look like any old picture. But if you know the story of the Gembrowski family, then you know there’s something else you can see in this photo:
A flock of Cardinals.
Sharon Gembrowski isn’t the only SVSU grad in the family. Seven of her eight children have either graduated from SVSU or are currently attending, turning most family functions into unofficial alumni outings.
“From a very early age we had high expectations for everyone,” she said. “We told them they need a degree, but they could choose the school and program they wanted.”
And all but one of those children picked SVSU. The result is what Jim Dwyer, executive director of alumni relations, believes is the largest collection of immediate family to attend SVSU. “I can think of a few families with three or four children, but seven? That’s pretty remarkable.”
The Gembrowskis are a model of the kind of generational commitment Dwyer and his Alumni Relations office hope to encourage with new outreach efforts.
“They truly are the poster children for what we are trying to accomplish long-term,” Dwyer said. “We want to cultivate a spirit of loyalty to the university, and the Gembrowskis are living our charge: ‘Red Pride … Pass It On.’”
Peter Gembrowski, one of the youngest of the Gembrowski children and a freshman at SVSU, was among the first recipients of the Alumni Legacy Endowed Scholarship. Alumni Relations created the scholarship this year to benefit children of alumni.
“This program tells our alumni, ‘You are family for life,’” Dwyer said.
For this particular family, the SVSU legacy began with Sharon Gembrowski. She enrolled in 1980 after high school, but eventually put her degree on hold when she and her husband, Marty, moved to Grand Rapids.
Though being a mom was a full-time job, she realized it would be wise to finish her degree. She returned to SVSU in fall 1991, just after their fourth child was born.
Her education was a sacrifice for the entire family. Sharon’s mother watched the kids so she could go to class. She’d often do her grocery shopping in the middle of the night. It was common in the early 1990s to see her coming to campus to drop off a class assignment, five or six kids in tow.
“I remember late at night we would all get together to do our homework,” said oldest daughter, Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now a geriatric nurse practitioner in Grand Rapids. “She took us to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum so we could see where mom went to school. It was great.”
Marty Gembrowski boasts that his wife was “insanely disciplined,” keeping checklists and calendars to make sure everything was in order and taking a class or two at a time to get through it. She walked across the stage during commencement in May 1997. A couple weeks later, her twin boys, Peter and Matthew, were born.
And on this June day, it’s those twin boys’ high school graduation the family is celebrating. Matthew will be the first child to attend college elsewhere, while his twin brother readies for his first year at SVSU, studying mechanical engineering.
“Being part of a big SVSU family is cool,” Peter Gembrowski said. “I’ve always gone to campus to do things with my brothers and sisters. I’m right at home.”
Sharon Gembrowski said one of the things she appreciates most about SVSU is the university’s value. All of her children received some form of scholarship to attend and graduated with little to no debt.
“SVSU provided an opportunity for my kids to advance their lives,” she said. “I’m just so happy that so many decided to go there.”
The Gembrowski Cardinals
Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A., was far from the last member of her family to attend SVSU. Seven out of eight of her children have graduated from or are enrolled at SVSU.
Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now works as a nurse practitioner at Mercy Health Saint Mary's in Grand Rapids.
Claire Gembrowski, 2011, B.B.A., now works for the lean manufacturing/purchasing team in Ford Motor Company in Dearborn.
Mary Gembrowski, 2013, M.S.O.T., now works as an occupational therapist at Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw.
Luke Gembrowski, 2014, B.S.M.E., now works as a mechanical engineer for Nexteer Automotice in Buena Vista Township.
Enrolled at SVSU
Anne Gembrowski is a nursing major.
Adam Gembrowski is a computer science major.
Peter Gembrowski is a mechanical engineering major.
Micah Whitehead's career goal is to work as a cardiothoracic surgeon, helping patients experiencing problems with their hearts and lungs.
It's a goal that felt far-fetched to the Saginaw native not so long ago, when he struggled with his own medical issues. But now – fueled by his own perseverance, the support of faculty and staff at Saginaw Valley State University, and a second chance offered by his current school – Whitehead is on his way to achieving that goal.
After graduating SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Whitehead has embarked on a 5-year path to a medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He started school at the East Lansing campus in July, enrolled in the school’s Advance Baccalaureate Learning Experience (ABLE) program, a year-long initiative offered by the College of Human Medicine for disadvantaged students.
“SVSU provided me with the best foundation possible so that I can succeed in this rigorous program,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the program. Those who graduate from ABLE earn admission to the College of Human Medicine's traditional courses.
“I don't think I would be in this position if I hadn't gone to SVSU,” he said. “I developed a strong support system there.”
Whitehead applied to the program because his college transcripts reflect medical struggles he experienced during his sophomore year at SVSU, when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. His medical struggles led him to withdraw from several courses that year.
Those struggles could have made applying for enrollment at medical schools - which accept students heavily based on high-achieving college transcript records - a futile effort. But Whitehead said his supporters and mentors at SVSU helped him regain his footing academically.
Among those supporters was Heidi Lang, SVSU's pre-health professions advisor. Lang serves as advisor to SVSU’s Health Professions Association, a group that prepares students for graduate and professional schools relating to health professions. Whitehead was a member of the group while he attended SVSU, serving as its president during his senior year. He credited Lang's guidance in part for his admission to medical school.
“There were times when I was freaking out about something at 9 at night, and I would text her about it,” Whitehead said. “Whatever it was, she would take care of it.”
Lang said Whitehead is an outstanding student because of his passion for learning as well as his leadership.
“I see him as having incredible potential,” Lang said. “He is somebody who has such a heart and passion for serving others. Micah has the sensitivity, intelligence and the fortitude to be an excellent physician. He possesses great empathy for others and provides a listening ear for many of his peers. They seek him out.”
Whitehead said he enjoys helping students in the early stages of developing an interest in the health professions.
“I found out through the Health Professions Association that most of the younger students are kind of lost,” Whitehead said. “I remember being in their shoes, so I like to give them the kind of advice that was given to me. I love being a mentor to others.”
Less than one semester into his time as an Michigan State University medical student, Whitehead is excited about the opportunity ABLE provides.
“The ABLE program at MSU is absolutely miraculous,” he said. “We are in extremely tough courses right now, and the same attention I received at SVSU is being provided here. I look forward to waking up, and spending my days in the Gross Anatomy labs.”
He said SVSU faculty such as Gary Lange, professor of biology, and Tami Sivy, associate professor of chemistry, helped prepare him academically for his current studies.
“Dr. Lange, and especially Dr. Sivy, my biochemistry adviser and professor during my undergraduate degree, provided the extremely important foundational work that lets me learn the material at a much faster pace. It's like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant with how intense it is. Without SVSU, and the faculty who helped support me, I'm not sure I would be succeeding as I am right now.”
Chris Pryor knows his decision to attend SVSU changed his life for the better.
Today he helps others see the possibilities of a better life through a college education, earned perhaps, right in their own backyard.
The pastor at Victorious Believers Ministries in Saginaw, Pryor preaches a simple equation: salvation + education = success.
It was a mantra his father, the late Bishop Marvin C. Pryor, said often. And so attending college after high school was never up for debate in his family.
Pryor’s experience at SVSU and the relationships he built while on campus helped him forge a bond with the university that still exists today.
He encourages young people in his ministry to attend SVSU, helps fund scholarships for students and is actively involved in a number of programs that bring young people from the Saginaw community to campus. Every other week, he also invites area college students to eat meals cooked by members of his ministry so they can get a taste of home cooking even when away from home.
To Pryor, the role of church and university are very similar.
“Both exist to educate and better people’s lives,” said Pryor, 1995, B.B.A.; 2000, M.Ed.. “I do so from a spiritual aspect and SVSU does so from the academic side.”
More than a decade ago, his connections at SVSU helped lead to a job at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, where he enjoyed a successful business career. When his father passed away in 2010, Pryor answered the call to serve and assumed his father’s role as the head of the church.
During that transition, Pryor sought the advice of former SVSU president Eric Gilbertson. The conversation they shared resonates with Pryor to this day.
“We were just sitting in his office reflecting on everything,” Pryor said, “And I remember him saying that leaders always take the time to step back and think. That’s always stayed with me.”
Today, the community leader boasts that he “truly bleeds SVSU red.” One of his main goals, he said, is to help youths and adults fulfill their destiny. Pryor has great expectations for the Great Lakes Bay Region and strongly believes the next generation of leaders is being built on the campus of SVSU as well as through his congregation of Victorious Believers Ministries.
“My focus is to expand people’s mindsets,” Pryor said. “To show them what else is out there in their life.”
Renowned musician Vijay (Robert) Gupta will deliver a lecture titled “Music and the Mind” at Saginaw Valley State University Monday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. His talk is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus Lecture Series.
A soloist and chamber musician, Gupta has performed internationally since the age of eight. Not long after joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he became a friend and violin instructor of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was the homeless and mentally ill musician who became the subject of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez's book “The Soloist.” The text was the basis of the 2009 movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
In his Fall Focus appearance, Gupta will discuss the ability of music to change an individual's brain, heal ailments and transform lives. He believes music should be a fundamental element in any educational curriculum, beyond an extracurricular hobby or even a medium to facilitate instruction in other fields, such as math or science. Erudite, eloquent, and passionate, Gupta shows audiences that music isn't just something to be enjoyed - it's something that can change lives.
Gupta received a master's degree in music from Yale University and made his solo debut at age 11 with the Israel Philharmonic. His interests extend beyond music. He studied pre-medicine as an undergraduate student and was part of several research projects in neurodegenerative biology.
All lectures in the Fall Focus series are open to the public; admission is free of charge. For more information on the series, visit svsu.edu/fallfocus.
Editor’s note: Early publicity materials indicated a different time for the lecture. The 4 p.m. time in the release is correct. A photo of Gupta is attached.
Saginaw Valley State University will showcase internationally acclaimed Baroque cellist Rene Schiffer, who will be joined by renowned harpsichordist Joseph Gascho during the next Rhea Miller Concert Series installment Saturday, Oct. 24. The performance, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Rhea Miller Recital Hall, is free and open to the public.
Schiffer has performed in three continents, including solo recitals in Amsterdam, Budapest, Tallinn, Utrecht, Versailles, the Flanders Festival and Grandchamp. He was also a permanent member of the Il Gardellino, with which he made trips to Israel, Guatemala, and many European countries.
Schiffer’s resume includes performances with the European Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brabants Orchestra in the Netherlands, the New Belgian Chamber Orchestra, the European Community Baroque Orchestra, the Les Musiciens du Louvre, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.
Gascho won his first prize in the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition in 2002. He has earned his master's and doctoral degrees in harpsichord from the Peabody Conservatory and the Univeristy of Maryland. His performing highlights include the National Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra.
Gascho has also conducted numerous operas from the Monteverdi to Mozart for Opera Vivente, and "Idomeneo" for the Maryland Opera Studio.
As active music educators, Schiffer and Gascho have helped inspire several young musicians around the world. Schiffer taught at various schools, including in Seoul, Korea; and at Case Western Reserve University; University of Michigan; The Oberlin Conservatory; and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He has also given classes at The Cleveland Music School Settlement.
Gascho currently conducts the student orchestra at the Oberlin Conservatory's Baroque Performance Institute. Additionally, he coaches chamber music, teaches basso continuo, and has recently joined the University Of Michigan School Of Music, Theatre & Dance's Department of Organ as an assistant professor.
Schiffer's and Gascho's Rhea Miller Concert Series program will include selections from musicians such as 18th century's Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as Schiffer's original compositions.
The Rhea Miller Concert Series is made possible by a generous gift from Rhea E. Miller, a longtime friend of SVSU. Her gift, administered by the Miller Trust for Music Education, has provided the university with the opportunity to offer outstanding performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed musical artists at no cost to the audience since 1993. For more information, call (989) 964-4159 or email email@example.com.
Saginaw Valley State University will host more than 120 employers during its fall University-wide Employment and Networking Fair Friday, Oct. 16. The event — open to the public — is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.
Numbers are up from last year's fall employment fair, where there were 86 businesses and organizations represented. Participating employers this year include Chemical Bank, Dow Corning Corporation, Covenant Health Care, General Motors, Nexteer Automotive and Quicken Loans. A complete list of employers is available online through the SVSU Career Services website at www.svsu.edu/careers.
Sponsoring the event are Aerotek, Independent Bank, Morley Companies, Saginaw Bay Underwriters and Walmart.
Professional attire must be worn by all job seekers.
As an additional benefit, Dymanic Focus Photography will be offering digital professional portrait photographs to be used for LinkedIn profile pages at no charge to all event attendees.
Advanced registration for SVSU students and alumni is available on Cardinal Career Network. Those who pre-register will receive printed ID tags, and will also be the first allowed to enter the fair.
An academic psychiatrist who specializes in mood illnesses, especially bipolar disorder, will discuss the findings of his book, “A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness.” Nassir Ghaemi will deliver the 12th annual James E. O'Neill Memorial Lecture at Saginaw Valley State University Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.
A New York Times bestseller, the book explores the powerful connections between mental illness and leadership, citing historic figures likely suffering from such illnesses, including Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill and Hitler.
The text offers a controversial, compelling thesis that an Amazon review explains: “The very qualities that mark those with mood disorders also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of Lincoln's depressive realism to the lackluster leadership of exceedingly sane men as Neville Chamberlain, 'A First-Rate Madness' overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind.”
Ghaemi is a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the mood disorders program. He is also a clinical lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and teaches at the Cambridge Health Alliance. Ghaemi's clinical work and research has focused on depression and manic-depressive illness. He has published over 100 scientific articles and over 30 scientific book chapters.
The James E. O’Neill Jr. Memorial Lecture Series was established in 2003 to honor the late Saginaw educator, legislator and community servant. Co-sponsored by SVSU and the Field Neurosciences Institute of Saginaw, the series is intended to dynamically reflect O’Neill’s passion for excellence in government, education and the neurosciences, and to provide opportunities for people to learn about public service from individuals who have unselfishly contributed to the betterment of the human condition.
Ghaemi’s appearance is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus Lecture Series. All talks in the series are open to the public; admission is free of charge. For more information, visit www.svsu.edu/fallfocus.
Saginaw Valley State University writing tutors will offer their expertise for free to members of the community beginning this month.
Those services will be offered monthly - and eventually twice a month - beginning Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Butman-Fish Branch Library, 1716 Hancock in Saginaw.
One-on-one tutoring will be available from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A creative writing workshop will be offered for students in grades 6 to 12 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
SVSU organizers say they believe the Saginaw Community Writing Center is the first university-sponsored community writing center offered in the state. The tutors are the same student-tutors who offer services in SVSU's Writing Center, which helps students with essays, resumès and other writing-based work.
“Spider-Man says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ and it's our responsibility to share our talent with the community at large," said Helen Raica-Klotz, the Writing Center director. "Our tutors are very gifted students and teachers of writing.”
The genesis for the Saginaw Community Writing Center began after Chris Giroux, Writing Center assistant director and assistant professor of English, attended the International Writing Center Association's annual conference in October 2014. There, he listened to a presentation from Tiffany Rousculp, who established one of the first higher education-sponsored community writing center through Salt Lake Community College in 1998.
“What she had to say was very impressive, and I came back completely energized,” Giroux said. “We're a university that's about community engagement, and this fits perfectly into that initiative.”
Giroux and Raica-Klotz said the Writing Center's student-tutors are excited for the opportunity.
“This project would not have been possible if the tutors were not as responsive to the idea,” Raica-Klotz said. “This is an important initiative to them, and they've embraced it.”
The Dow Corning Foundation, Saginaw Community Foundation and the Public Libraries of Saginaw are sponsors of the Saginaw Community Writing Center.
For now, the program has enough funds to keep the center operational for two years, organizers say.
The center's services also will be available Tuesday, Nov. 10, and Tuesday, Dec. 8, at Butman-Fish Branch Library. The Nov. 10 workshop, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. will focus on writing effective resumes; the Dec. 8 workshop will focus on writing personal letters.
One-on-one writing tutoring will be available from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. both dates.
Beginning in January 2016, these services will be available twice a month throughout the academic year.
There is no need to register in advance for the workshops or tutoring services.
For more information, visit the Saginaw Community Writing Center website at www.svsu.edu/communitywriting.
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved spending up to $2.7 million to upgrade the university’s wireless network during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, Oct. 12.
This investment will improve wireless connectivity in academic and administrative spaces across campus. Work will begin immediately and should conclude next summer.
“We have an aging WiFi infrastructure,” said James Muladore, SVSU executive vice president for administration and business affairs. “This will directly affect WiFi performance in classrooms.”
The action follows $770,000 approved by the Board in February to improve WiFi service in SVSU’s residence halls. The SVSU Student Association previously shared that the residential upgrades have resulted in far fewer complaints from students.
The Board also authorized an extension of SVSU’s agreement with Wolverine Power Marketing Cooperative to supply natural gas. The new deal will run through Dec. 31, 2021 and is expected to result in $350,000 in annual utility savings, starting in the year 2018.
In other action, the Board:
• Passed a resolution of appreciation for Jeff T. Martin, who recently completed a term on the SVSU Board of Control.
• Passed a resolution of appreciation for Jerome L. Yantz, who recently completed a term on the SVSU Board of Control.
• Approved faculty tenure for Jason Kahler, assistant professor of English.
• Granted emerita status to Mary Graiver, who recently retired after serving on the SVSU nursing faculty for 36 years.
• Accepted the Annual Financial Audit and the Federal Awards Audit for the 2014-15 fiscal year, as presented by the accounting firm Andrews Hooper Pavlik PLC.
• Approved SVSU’s annual capital outlay request to the State of Michigan.
• Approved an extension of an existing agreement with Ming Chuan University to lease space on SVSU’s campus. A sister school of SVSU, Ming Chuan is based in Taiwan and became the first Asian university to be accredited in the United States.
The Great Lakes Bay Youth Leadership Institute will welcome 96 new high school participants during the program’s 2015-16 orientation session Friday, Oct. 2, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on SVSU’s campus.
Organizers also plan to introduce an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields during this year’s program by inviting guest speakers from the region’s STEM-based employers.
Mamie T. Thorns, the program’s coordinator, said the regional — and nation-wide — need for STEM employees prompted the new initiative.
“Because that’s a great concern in the region, we wanted to make sure we’re in line with those regional goals,” said Thorns, SVSU’s special assistant to the president for Diversity Programs.
This year’s participants will work with several regional nonprofit organizations as part of the Great Lakes Bay Youth Leadership Institute.
As part of a service learning project, students will team up with Saginaw-based Hidden Harvest, an organization that supplies food to soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters. Great Lakes Bay Youth Leadership Institute participants will help collect food for Hidden Harvest.
The program also will partner with Saginaw-based First Ward Community Center, which offers various services to the Saginaw community; Tri-City Links Inc., a volunteerservice organization for women; and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, a Dow Chemical Co.-sponsored organization that works with local school officials to create engaging STEM opportunities for youths.
This group of Great Lakes Bay Youth Leadership Institute participants will receive leadership development throughout the fall and winter. A recognition dinner and celebration will cap off the program in April.
Thorns has served as The Great Lakes Bay Youth Leadership Institute coordinator since its inaugural year.
“I knew the program would have lasting power,” Thorns said.
“What I didn’t realize was the impact it would have on our region. There are students — whether they were high school students or undergraduates — who feel very proud and continue to be proud that they were part of this institute. We have community members asking how they can volunteer for the program.”
In total, 663 high school students have graduated from the program since its inception.