December 18, 2017

SVSU students find their voice in forensics program, speaking their way to among Michigan's best

When Jill Castle walked into the classroom for her first day of the Intercollegiate Forensics course at Saginaw Valley State University, she did not fully realize she was joining the forensics team. What she thought was an upper division 3-credit communication course turned out to be an opportunity of a lifetime.

Castle, a communication major from Standish, has qualified to compete against the best forensics students in the country during the 2018 National Forensic Association National Championship tournament scheduled April 19-23 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

She will be joined by two of her classmates from the SVSU forensics team; the strong collective showing led to the group's third-place showing during the fall Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League tournament at Oakland University Dec. 9.

Castle earned a first-place individual award in the After Dinner Speaking category. As a result, she qualified to advance to the national contest along with fellow SVSU students Jrew Brickel, a criminal justice major from Midland, and Tiler Jewell, a creative writing major from Essexville. Brickel earned a fourth-place finish in the Extemporaneous Speaking category and Jewell placed fifth in the Informative category.

Castle's fortuitous registration for the forensics team landed her in the middle of a close-knit group of students working together to compete in local, regional, and state level competitions based on individual public speaking and debate skills.

"Unlike other colleges, my goal for this team is purely educational instead of competitive," said Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication and forensics team advisor. "Winning is always fun, of course, but I want my students to learn from these events more than anything."

After competing in similar events in high school, Pierce understood the experience builds valuable skills among the competitors. With these principles in mind, Pierce has been directing the team since she founded it in 2001.

The benefits of her different approach to competitive public speaking are not lost on her students.

"Dr. Pierce's educational philosophy has taken so much pressure off of me," said Gina Kearly, a communication major from Midland. "This has allowed me the opportunity to cultivate important skills that are incredibly valuable in all aspects of life, not just forensics."

In the December tournament, Kearly placed third for her presentation in the Rhetorical Criticism category.

"The speeches are required to be 10 minutes long, so understanding what information is important for each argument is vital," Kearly said.

 Kearly added that these competitions have helped her learn to lose, to network, and how to take constructive criticism.

This educational philosophy is what draws students from all majors, not just communication. Pierce said that she finds a lot of education, political science, and criminal justice majors in her Intercollegiate Forensics classroom.

The first few months of the class Castle stumbled upon are dedicated to writing speech outlines, researching topics, and helping students choose drama scenes or pieces of poetry for their interpretive performances, Pierce explained.

"Once everything is set, it's all about rehearsing for competition, constantly editing, revising, and perfecting their performances," she said. 

Although she mainly focuses on how students can learn from these competitions, Pierce still understands the importance of doing well in these events. Because of this, she equips her students with the right tools to succeed in each area of competition, which is exactly what they did in the December tournament.

Many of the participants from SVSU were considered novice, meaning they have competed in fewer than six competitions in their forensics careers. The best novice speaker in each event is awarded Top Novice. Out of the 11 awards presented at the tournament, seven were given to SVSU students.

Kearly and her partner Kelley Gray, a communication major from Sandusky, won third place for their duo performance in Dramatic Interpretation.

Allison Milke, a communication major from Macomb, took third place for her persuasive performance and Jayla Jenkins, a communication major from Detroit, won Top Novice for both her sixth place performance in Dramatic Interpretation and second place presentation for Programmed Oral Interpretation.  

Castle competed in the After Dinner portion of the event, designed as a humorous approach to persuasive speaking. Her speech on bisexual inclusion landed her in first place and earned a Top Novice recognition.

Happenstance may have brought her to the forensics team, but natural talent and a love for competitive public speaking has made her stay.

"Forensics has developed so much more than just my speaking skills,” Castle said. “When you join this team, you gain public speaking skills, critical thinking skills, organization skills, and a family. "    

December 18, 2017

SVSU Board approves room and board rates for 2019-20 academic year

The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved the auxiliary operations budgets for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, Dec. 15.

The Board approved a $30.9 million auxiliary fund budget for the 2019 fiscal year and a $31.4 million auxiliary fund budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Auxiliary services include self-supporting campus operations such as housing, dining and conferencing.

The Board had previously approved room and board rates for the 2018-19 academic year. Incoming freshmen who reside in a Living Center unit with shared bedrooms will pay $9,786 for the upcoming year, including their meal plan; that is an increase from $9,378 currently. The increase includes an additional $150 charge to cover improvements made to the wireless network for residential students, as negotiated with the SVSU Student Association two years ago.

SVSU has changed its housing policies for students who choose to reside in the First Year Suites; all suites will now feature individual bedrooms. Students residing there will pay $10,186 next year, up from $9,874; this also includes funding the wireless improvements.

Housing rates for returning students in 2018-19 generally will remain unchanged, ranging from $4,380 to $7,430 for students whose meal plan participation is optional. The total weighted increase for the 2018-19 academic year is 1.6 percent.

For the 2019-20 academic year, incoming freshmen who reside in a Living Center unit with shared bedrooms will pay $10,030, including their meal plan. Residents in the First Year Suites will be charged $10,440. The total weighted increase for the 2019-20 academic year will be 2.4 percent.

SVSU’s housing has been recognized as the best in Michigan and No. 19 nationally, according to

the website Niche and its “Best Dorms” rankings.  Niche calculates their rankings using a weighted formula where 70 percent of a school’s score came from students’ satisfaction with their housing, as well as data from the U.S. Department of Education. The ranking assesses 1,398 four-year colleges and universities.

In other business, the Board:

  • Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2017 SVSU men’s soccer team and head coach Andy Wagstaff. The team qualified for the NCAA Division playoffs, and Wagstaff was named GLIAC Coach of the Year.
  • Passed a resolution to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Approved sabbatical proposals for 12 faculty: David Cline, teacher education; Tony Crachiola, mathematics; Eric Gardner, English; Jaime Huffman, nursing; Art Marin, biology; Jason Pagano, chemistry; Beth Roe, nursing; Ross Singer, communication; Chris Surfield, economics; Paul Teed, history; Lee Trepanier, political science; Yu Zou, electrical and computer engineering.
  • Approved the confirmation of board members for previously authorized public school academies.
  • Approved the appointments of Bill Allen, Veronica Horn and Ryan Tarrant to the SVSU Board of Fellows, a community advisory board.
  • Approved 2 percent raises for the 2018 calendar year for executive staff. President Bachand’s salary was set at $286,200; Deb Huntley, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, will receive a salary of $228,900; and James G. Muladore, Executive Vice President for Administration and Business Affairs, will be paid $218,500.

December 14, 2017

Remembered as an inspiration to classmates, Breckenridge native will receive posthumous degree at SVSU ceremony

One year after Evan Willman's funeral, family and friends will gather for a different kind of ceremony where they will honor his legacy as a beloved classmate and dedicated student.

During Saginaw Valley State University's commencement ceremony Friday at 7:30 p.m. in O'Neill Arena, Willman's mother will accept an Honorary Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree on her son's behalf.

Before he died following a fall from a moving vehicle in December 2016, Willman was on schedule to graduate this week alongside a close-knit cohort of 58 classmates enrolled in the same master's program. SVSU’s occupational therapy program teams the same group of students in courses and activities from their first semester in the program until their graduation. This particular cohort (shown in part in the adjoining photo, with Willman in front, giving the thumbs-up sign) will be among 570 SVSU total graduates participating in commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

"I hope that he would have been proud of himself for accomplishing enough to receive this degree," said his mother, Rebecca Willman. "I know I'm proud of what he accomplished."

Her son was a standout member of the latest class graduating from SVSU's Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program, classmates and faculty say. His outgoing personality and radiant charm won him friends, impacted lives and influenced wardrobe choices.

"He originated something we called 'Flannel Fridays,'" said Cody Zietz, a classmate from the master's program who befriended Willman.

Willman and his classmates followed the program's dress code: khakis and polos, as is typically worn by professionals in occupational therapy. But Willman convinced faculty members to allow the group to don flannel attire on Fridays as a way to express camaraderie. The weekly tradition also involved bringing pancake ingredients to campus and cooking breakfast for the group.

"He wanted you to be personable like that," Zietz said, "because he was personable like that. He was the kind of person where, if you were walking in the hallway and he knew you, he was going to stop you and make you smile."

The 23-year-old's death devastated many on campus who knew him. Weeks later, when Willman's parents visited campus to close their son's affairs with the university, they were met by students, faculty, staff and administrators who encouraged them to request a posthumous degree. 

Receiving such an honor is a relatively rare occurrence. Academic committees, administrators and registrar officials must review each request to determine the student's eligibility based on several factors. Willman's honorary degree was approved in time for the university's May commencement, but his parents asked to postpone the recognition until he could be honored along with his classmates, scheduled to graduate this week.

Ellen Herlache-Pretzer, an SVSU assistant professor of occupational therapy who worked with Willman's group, said the honorary degree is a fitting tribute to her former student and a solemn comfort to his classmates.

"A lot of people looked up to Evan," she said. "They are happy to see him have a chance to finish with them, in a way."

Willman's journey to SVSU began long before his freshman year, his mother said. When his grandmother suffered a stroke in 2006, the family's involvement in the recovery process exposed the then-middle school student to occupational therapy.

"He was fascinated by her therapy sessions," his mother said. "That's where he figured out what he wanted to be. He had a strong desire to help people."

Willman's other interests included athletics. He was a member of all-area football and baseball teams while at Breckenridge High School, where he graduated in 2011. When he enrolled at SVSU, he joined the men's rugby club team, eventually becoming a team captain.

Classmates also were aware of his love for the outdoors. When Willman befriended Zietz, the two became hunting and fishing buddies.

At SVSU, Willman also met Mary Iott, a student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy cohort one year ahead of Willman's group. The couple fell in love and were engaged to be married in August 2017. She graduated from SVSU days before his death.

In the wake of that tragedy, Willman's classmates organized a GoFundMe webpage, raising more than $10,000 to pay for their classmate's funeral. Because of that support, his family was able to afford using Willman's life insurance to create The 3-Cent Scholarship in honor of Willman and the amount of money left behind in his bank account.

"We have this saying about Evan," his mother said. "We say, 'He lived life to the fullest … and a bank account to show it.'"

The scholarship is available to Breckenridge High School graduates. Earlier this year, the Willman family awarded three $1,000.03 scholarships to college-bound students.

His SVSU classmates aren't finished honoring Willman. During this week's ceremony at SVSU, members of his master's program cohort plan to pin flannel fabric to their commencement robes, observing Flannel Friday one last time for their friend.

"Even though he's not going to be there with us, we wanted to show he made a lasting impression," Zietz said, "because that's what he did."

December 14, 2017

SVSU student nabs top honor for essay examining 2015 young adult novel

A passion for exploring literary theory led Saginaw Valley State University student Victoria Phelps to write a college essay recently honored as the top undergraduate paper presented at a conference for the Midwest chapters of Sigma Tau Delta, an English honors society.

Phelps, an English literature major from Rochester Hills, presented the paper at Western Illinois University in November. For winning the top undergraduate prize, Phelps earned a certificate, $100 and the curiosity of her peers in attendance.

"People came up to me after I won the award, asking me questions," said Phelps, vice president of SVSU's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. "It was great getting that kind of feedback from people. The people who came up to me were all interested in learning more."

Phelps' paper - originally written for an SVSU English course in the fall of 2016 - examined the 2015 Edwidge Danticat novel, "Untwine," about a sister's despair following the death of her identical twin. The paper, titled "Understanding Twin Loss and Grief in Danticat's Untwine," explored the character's loss as a form of mental amputation. That perspective aligned with Phelps' interest in examining literature dealing with disabilities, both physical and mental.

Phelps said it was valuable to speak to peers involved in other chapters of Sigma Tau Delta.

"One of the great things about the conference is meeting other people and learning from them," she said. "One of the really incredible things was being able to listen to others present on their papers. You learn a lot."

The conference appearance was Phelps' first experience presenting an essay in front of a crowd. But it won't be her last.

A member of SVSU's Honors Program, Phelps plans to present her Honors thesis at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts hosted in Orlando in March. Her paper is titled "Depictions of Disabilities Once Upon a Time: Analyzing Disabled Characters in the Context of Victorian Fairy Tales."

Phelps also plans to attend Sigma Tau Delta's international conference hosted in Cincinnati in March.

Phelps expects to graduate from SVSU in May 2018. She currently is applying to graduate schools offering master's degree programs in library information science.

"I want to work with serving the public in the library setting," Phelps said of her professional ambitions.

In addition to her academic work, Phelps has served as editor of SVSU's student arts and literature publication, Cardinal Sins, for three years. She also works as a tutor at SVSU's Writing Center and as a reporter with The Valley Vanguard, SVSU’s student newspaper.

December 14, 2017

SVSU professors to use Braun Fellowship to study signs of metabolic syndrome, managing patient flow in health care

Saginaw Valley State University will support two professors in their scholarly endeavors to improve people’s health. Jay Scott, associate professor of biology, and Danilo Sirias, professor of management, have been awarded SVSU’s Braun Fellowship.

Scott intends to continue investigating the influence of dietary fats, carbohydrates and contaminants on health and disease. Sirias plans to produce case studies regarding the management of patient flow in health care environments.

Each will receive research support grants totaling up to $37,500 over the next three years to further their scholarly and professional activities. Funds may be used for research expenses, equipment, travel and/or other related support. 

Scott has studied metabolic syndrome, characterized by an increase in body weight, fat accumulation, inflammation, and altered metabolism. These symptoms have proven to lead to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Through his latest research, Scott plans to examine the signs of metabolic syndrome induced by diets with varying macronutrient ratios and work to determine if diet-related changes in physiology are modified by the exposure to environmental contaminants. This study should increase understanding of how dietary components lead to disease states, and help to identify whether environmental contaminants in food are independent risk factors for disease.

Through other grant-supported research, Scott has previously investigated related topics such as cardiovascular disease. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the cardiology division of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. An active researcher, Scott has written 12 scholarly articles and given 19 invited scientific presentations.

Scott joined the SVSU biology faculty in 2012. He completed his bachelor’s degree at SVSU, where he played on the baseball team. A native of Ontario, Scott completed his Ph.D. at Queen's University.

As a result of his research, Sirias plans to publish three teaching case studies on the topic of managing patient flow in different health care environments. The three areas he will examine are primary or specialist care, admitted patients, and operating rooms. Sirias will outline the most common difficulties associated with each environment, as well as offering strategies to address the problems detailed throughout the case studies and suggestions for how the material should be taught.

Sirias has prior research experience on the topic. In 2015, he presented “A Proposed Framework to Determine Chokepoints Preventing Better Patient Flow in Emergency Departments,” to the International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciplines. Sirias has received six prior grants -- four of which were through SVSU -- in order to fund research related to labor force, coordination in health care systems, virtual education and management techniques.

Sirias joined the SVSU management faculty in 2001. He completed his bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at the National University of Engineering in Nicaragua. Sirias then completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Memphis.

Established in 2005, the Braun Fellowship program was created through a $1.5 million endowment from the Saginaw-based Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation. Administered by the Saginaw Community Foundation, the program's purpose is to recognize the exceptional accomplishments and potential of select SVSU faculty and staff. It is named in honor of Ruth Braun and her late husband, Ted.

December 13, 2017

SVSU student wins Student of the Year at regional leadership conference

Saginaw Valley State University student Pedro Marin, a marketing major from Grand Blanc, was honored for his outstanding leadership and service skills at an annual conference for student leaders in college campus housing operations. 

Marin received the Student of the Year award from the Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls during the group’s conference at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Friday, Nov. 17. The student-run organization works to promote and improve student life on college and university campuses across Michigan, Ontario, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.

Marin also received a  received a Top 10 Program award for his program, "Really…You?", which incorporated activities and discussions that allowed students to look at and address their own biases towards other groups of people. The students involved gained a better understanding of how to create a more inclusive environment in and beyond the walls of their residence halls back at their home universities. 

A student-designed electronic banner, displaying information about SVSU, was awarded Best Banner at the conference.

Ten members of Saginaw Valley State University's Residence Housing Association, an organization dedicated to providing resources for students who live on campus, attended this event.

The conference provided informational sessions that developed the leadership skills of the attendees. The students also had the opportunity to learn about different programming ideas to bring back to SVSU's residence halls.

Madison Ledbetter, a psychology major from Alma, and Andrew Lienau, a management major from Chesaning, joined Marin in presenting information on different programs they have organized at SVSU.

December 11, 2017

Inclusion advocate from Dow to keynote regional MLK event at SVSU

An advocate for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace globally will serve as the keynote speaker during the ninth annual Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Saginaw Valley State University.

Karen S. Carter, the chief inclusion officer for The Dow Chemical Company, will deliver her address Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

As Dow's first chief inclusion officer, Carter is tasked with driving Dow into the forefront of global industries that integrate diversity and inclusion as a key element of the company’s growth strategy.

Carter has more than 20 years of experience with Dow. She previously held the position of North America commercial vice president of Dow packaging and specialty plastics. In that role, Carter was a member of the global business leadership team responsible for the profits of a division of Dow worth more than $18.4 billion in sales. She was responsible for developing and driving business strategy.

Active in a number of community-minded organizations, Carter is a member of the Board of Directors for Kids' Meals, a Houston-based nonprofit organization that delivers free, healthy meals to children in need. She also remains an active member of The Links, Inc., a nonprofit that serves the Houston community by providing educational, civic and intercultural activities.

For her innovative leadership contributions, Carter was profiled by the website on its Forty Women to Watch Over 40 list in 2014. Her work has been published in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association and featured in The Huffington Post, as well as MORE Magazine.

Carter completed a bachelor's degree in marketing at Howard University and a master's degree in international business at DePaul University.

She joins a prestigious list of keynote speakers featured during the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Celebration at SVSU, most recently  former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2017.

In addition to Carter's keynote address, the program will include the presentation of regional scholarship awards by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations to high school seniors who have embodied Martin Luther King's ideals.

Officials also will announce the winners of the Drum Major Award at the event, which recognizes people whose community involvement in the Great Lakes Bay Region serves to advance King's vision.

The event is sponsored in part by Dow; the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw County chambers of commerce; the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations; local chapters of the NAACP; Delta College; SVSU and many others. A full list of sponsors is available online at

For more information about the event, please contact SVSU's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.

December 7, 2017

SVSU students showcase senior projects at engineering symposium

Saginaw Valley State University will host its annual fall Engineering Symposium Friday, Dec. 8.

During the event, 29 mechanical engineering students will demonstrate their practical problem-solving abilities as shown through their senior projects. All SVSU mechanical engineering majors are required to collaborate with outside clients or university organizations as part of the senior projects.

Eight teams of students took on the task of prototype production and technological engineering for their designated client. The regional organizations and manufacturers being represented are B&P Littleford, the Bay Port Chamber of Commerce, Huhtamaki Group, Inspire Outcomes LLC, Kremin Inc., Nexteer Automotive, and SVSU's Boutell Memorial Greenhouse.

The Engineering Symposium will begin with poster presentations in SVSU’s Pioneer Hall from 10 a.m. to noon when the SVSU engineering students will be available to discuss their projects with attendees. The event is free and open to the public.


December 7, 2017

At SVSU, local high school students donating, wrapping gifts for Saginaw nonprofits

At SVSU, local high school students donating, wrapping gifts for Saginaw nonprofits

Friday, Dec. 8, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Curtiss Hall banquet rooms, SVSU


More than 90 local high school students with Saginaw Valley State University's Great Lakes Bay Regional Youth Leadership Institute will wrap gifts collected to benefit two nonprofits.

Each year, the institute – an SVSU-housed leadership development initiative for high school students in the Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties – chooses local organizations to support. This year's participants chose to support The Emmaus House as well as Restoration Community Outreach, both based in Saginaw.

The Emmaus House is a nonprofit that provides shelter and services to help transition women released from incarceration. Restoration Community Outreach supports homeless men.

Great Lakes Bay Regional Youth Leadership Institute members will gift-wrap items collected to donate to clients supported by both nonprofit organizations. The wrapping session is scheduled Friday, Dec. 8, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in SVSU's Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

They expect to collect and wrap gifts such as clothing, reading material, activity books, gift cards and toiletries.

For more information, contact SVSU's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.

December 7, 2017

Dow community engagement leader to deliver SVSU commencement address this month

The director of Global Citizenship for The Dow Chemical Company will speak to graduates of a university nationally recognized for community engagement during Commencement exercises at Saginaw Valley State University. Rob Vallentine will deliver the keynote address to SVSU's newest graduates.

Vallentine, who serves as both the director of Global Citizenship for Dow as well as president and executive director of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, will speak at both of SVSU's commencement ceremonies this month. The first event is scheduled Friday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and the second ceremony is set for Saturday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m., both in O'Neill Arena of the Ryder Center.

Commencement exercises for graduates in the colleges of Business & Management and Health & Human Services will be held Friday evening. Students completing degrees in the colleges of Arts & Behavioral Sciences; Education; and Science, Engineering & Technology will take part in the ceremony scheduled for Saturday morning.

The graduating class consists of 639 students who are expected to complete degrees, including 570 individuals who have indicated that they intend to don regalia and march in the ceremonies. The class includes 520 who will receive bachelor's degrees, and 119 who will receive master's or education specialist degrees.

As is tradition, SVSU President Don Bachand will congratulate each graduate as he or she crosses the stage.                                           

Vallentine is responsible for corporate engagement with Dow stakeholders at the global, regional and local levels. He drives business decisions at the intersection of sustainability, innovation and citizenship while utilizing Dow's capabilities to achieve business and social impact. 

He works closely with Dow's Foundation Board of Directors to provide strategic direction on the company's philanthropic priorities around the world. A number of those community-minded endeavors have benefited SVSU initiatives to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education for both college-level and K-12 students. Most recently, the foundation partnered with the university in June to create a program where SVSU prepares K-12 students to serve as leaders and "chief science officers" in their schools.

In addition, Vallentine manages a team responsible for public affairs strategies and programs at Dow's 50 sites in North America.

Throughout the 30 years he has been at Dow, Vallentine has been committed to weaving together the personal and the professional to change the world for the better. He believes that a harmonious balance of life, work and community service is the key to "doing good and doing well," and is at the heart of good business. Through his leadership of the company's global citizenship activities, Vallentine helps people find their purpose and then share that purpose to contribute to society.

Actively involved in community service, Vallentine currently serves on the boards of directors for the Council of Michigan Foundations, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and the Chemical Educational Foundation.  He also serves as a community director at Chemical Bank. Vallentine previously served in board positions for the United Way of Midland County, the Delta College Foundation, and Hidden Harvest.

Vallentine completed a bachelor's degree in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University and a Master of Business Administration at Drake University. He and his wife Nancy have four children and reside in Midland.

In 2015, SVSU received the Community Engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a distinction achieved by only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities. By their senior year, 84 percent of students have engaged with community employers and agencies in internships, field placements or some other component of their academic preparation.