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October 24, 2014

Dow Corning Foundation and SVSU growing love of STEM at Saginaw middle school

Diamond Weakley had a sense she wanted to become a science teacher someday. Now, the seventh grader at Thompson Middle School in Saginaw is quite sure of it.

“Classes like this help me feel that way,” Weakley said of the learning taking place inside the science class of teacher Lori Hall.

Hall is tasking Weakley and 70 of her peers with growing plants without the use of soil. It's a long-established practice known as hydroponics, but putting that practice to play inside Hall's classroom is a new initiative she said was made possible by a Saginaw Valley State University and Dow Corning Foundation partnership aimed at piquing K-12 student interest and improving attitudes in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“They're getting excited about the work,” she said of her students. “They want to come to class. None of them are tardy.”

The Dow Corning Foundation/SVSU STEM Community Partnership this year began training and funding supplies for 13 select K-12 teachers - including Hall - in Saginaw, Bay, Midland and Tuscola counties.

Last year, Hall said her science teachings largely relied on study assignments and exams. With the training and resources provided by the STEM partnership, this year's classroom activities focus more on hands-on learning.

“It's more application than investigation,” she said. “They're designing, they're investigating and they're figuring out problems instead of looking up the answers. They're more involved.”

Hall's hydroponics assignment involves tasking groups of two to four students with building an apparatus that will grow plants without the use of soil. One of the early stages of the project involved constructing a network of pipes that eventually will feed water to the plants.

During an early October class, Weakley and her two group members were drilling holes into the pipes when the girl reminded her peers of a lesson learned:

“We're all going to have to help, because you remember what happened last time,” Weakley said, getting a laugh out of the group.

“What happened last time” was that her teammates, Tamareyon Steward and Xavier Walker, weren't holding the pipes steady when Weakley began drilling, causing some of the equipment to come undone.

It was a lesson learned by all in the group. That element of teamwork has boosted the impact of STEM education. Hall said she also has noticed the improved learning outcomes in several special needs students whose work with the hands-on assignments has become indistinguishable from the rest of the students.

“They don't need as much help,” Hall said of special needs students this year compared to previous years.

Yet they do have help - as does Hall herself. She is working together with Amanda Ross, SVSU lecturer of biology, as part of the project. Each teacher involved in the program is teamed with SVSU faculty as part of the partnership, which was funded by a $254,000 Dow Corning Foundation grant.

“I feel like I have more resources and more connections now at Saginaw Valley,” Hall said. “I can call them up and say, ‘Hey, tell me what you think about this.’ I feel like I have a connection out there. It's been so helpful.”

October 23, 2014

Best-selling author to explore America's educational system during SVSU talk

Author and investigative journalist Amanda Ripley will explore the state of America's school systems during a lecture at Saginaw Valley State University.

Ripley's talk, “A Global Quest To Save America's Schools,” is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

Ripley is an investigative journalist for Time, The Atlantic and other magazines, as well as the author of “The Smartest Kids in the World - And How They Got That Way,” a 2013 New York Times bestseller.

In her book, Ripley details three American students who exchanged education in the U.S. for school systems in Finland, South Korea and Poland, respectively. Ripley's research explores how these countries reformed education over one decade to create a system where children bought into the promise of education.

For Time and The Atlantic, Ripley's investigative reporting has explored the science of motivating children as well as how online learning courses are changing the landscape for college students on a global scale.

Ripley has appeared as an expert on TV networks such as ABC, NBC, CNN and FOX News. She has presented at the Pentagon, the Senate, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, along with conferences regarding leadership, public policy and education.

Today, she works as an Emerson Fellow at the nonprofit think-tank New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Ripley's appearance is co-sponsored by SVSU’s College of Education, Gerstacker Fellowship Program and the Dow Visiting Scholars and Artists Program. The event is part of the university's annual Fall Focus speaker series.

October 23, 2014

'Exhibition is our performance,' says art prof

At the age of 18, Hideki Kihata moved to Michigan from Tokyo, Japan, to be a photojournalist. “I was inspired by the great American photojournalists working for Life magazine,” he said. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and photography, and then a Master of Fine Arts in photography (the terminal degree in his discipline), he accepted a position at SVSU in 1987.

Kihata is passionate about art. “I tell my students that art reflects the basis of creativity that can be applied to anything. No matter what field you finally go into — whether business, law, medicine — creativity is what allows you to excel. And you create things by looking into yourself.”Hideki Kihata, Professor of Art

In his own artwork, Kihata has used his internal focus to create photographic work that has been exhibited widely and has won numerous awards. He believes that exhibiting regularly is important for any artist in the same way that musicians need to perform in public. “Performing music in front of people is the end product of hours of practice for musicians; the performance is the end product,” Kihata said. “Exhibition is our performance.” For his efforts, he has been recognized with awards such as the Muscarelle Museum of Art “Purchase Award” and the Earl L. Warrick Award for Excellence in Research, SVSU’s highest award for scholarship or artistic endeavor.

‌Kihata is passionate about the mission and purpose of SVSU as well. “I consider myself fortunate to be part of this university,” he said, “because I believe teaching means understanding students, spending time with them, listening to their concerns.”

Kihata has brought his experience and his understanding and listening skills to a leadership role within the art department. He has been elected and re-elected by his colleagues to serve as chair for the past 17 years. But he prefers the term “mediator” to “leader.”

“I have one vote, and it is the same as every member of the department. I have tried to be the person who gathers us together to discuss the important issues.”

Nevertheless, Kihata has been chair during a period of significant growth within the department, with the number of students increasing three-fold and the number of full-time faculty increasing at an equal rate.

A resident of Midland, Kihata lives with his wife Ayumi, 1997, B.F.A.; 2000, M.A., and their two sons, Noah and Naoki, in a house designed by associates of famed architect Alden B. Dow.

With nearly three decades at SVSU, Kihata remains proudest of his work with students.

“We provide opportunities,” he said. “Students come to us from a wide range of backgrounds — academic, cultural, social. I marvel at where some of them are now. I suppose I’m proudest,” he said, “that some of my former students are now professors.”

October 23, 2014

Aquatic ecology expert studies Saginaw Bay

SVSU students assess quality of ecosystem

Most people would never realize that wading into a river and turning over a rock disturbs the home of dozens of different living organisms.

But Art Martin isn’t like most people. The associate professor of biology is an expert researcher on aquatic ecology. Since joining the 

Art Martin

“I’ve always wanted to do research at an institution that emphasizes teaching, which is exactly why SVSU is a good fit for me,” said Martin, who earned his Ph.D. in behavior neuroscience (i.e., “how animals make decisions”) and has engaged in post-doctoral studies of how hormones impact animal behavior.

“I really like having the flexibility to research ideas that are of interest to me,” Martin said. “I can take my students out of the classroom or lab and go into the field to collect invertebrates, which allows us to assess the quality of an ecological system. For example, certain species that exist in one spot but not in another let us draw conclusions about the quality of the aquatic systems in our region.”

And these studies, Martin said, are of great interest and value to environmental agencies on both a state and national level. In recent years, Martin — in collaboration with David Karpovich, H.H. Dow Endowed Chair in Chemistry at SVSU — has received several grants that provide financial support to conduct water quality research. (See sidebar, below.)

“The difference between working in a lab or in the field is that the research scenarios are less controlled in the field — so you’ll see what really happens as compared to when you control what happens in a laboratory,” Martin said. In the field, “students are learning how to collect samples and how to analyze them — which are experiences they never forget.”

As a result of the field-based experiences, Martin said students learn to see their environment in different ways. “They begin to realize what happens in small eco-systems,” Martin said.

Including what might be found living under a rock.

October 23, 2014

SVSU Hosts Saginaw County College Night Monday

Saginaw Valley State University will host Saginaw County College Night Monday, Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

About 45 colleges will be in attendance to provide resources and opportunities for local high school students and their families. Michigan public universities will be represented as well as Michigan private universities, Michigan community colleges and universities from Ohio and Indiana.

Students and parents will have the opportunity to speak with admissions representatives from the colleges and universities. Representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces will also be in attendance.

“This is a prime opportunity for Saginaw County high school students, especially juniors and seniors, to explore a wide variety of college options in one setting,” said Jennifer Pahl, SVSU director of admissions. “Whether you are just starting your college selection process or are close to making your decision, this event can provide valuable information to help you make the best choice for you.”

A presentation by representatives of SVSU's Scholarships and Financial Aid office will be given at 7 p.m. Students and families will receive information on how to finance their college education. Tips on how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and how to identify scholarships and grants a student may qualify for will also be given.

For more information, contact the SVSU Admissions Office at (989) 964-4200.

October 22, 2014

SVSU hosts fall employment fair Friday

Saginaw Valley State University will host more than 80 employers during its Fall University-Wide Employment and Networking Fair Friday, Oct. 24. The event runs from noon to 3 p.m. in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

A recent study by Michigan State University found that employers expect a 16 percent increase in hiring those with bachelor’s degrees.

Participating employers at SVSU’s fair include Chemical Bank, Dow Corning, Garber Management Group, General Motors, HealthPlus of Michigan, IBM and Quicken Loans. A complete list is available online through the SVSU Career Services website,

Professional attire must be worn by all job seekers. The event is open to the public. Advanced registration for SVSU students is available on Cardinal Career Network. Those who pre-register will receive printed ID tags and will be the first allowed to enter the fair.

October 22, 2014

SVSU student Pedro Marin named National First Year Student of the Month

Saginaw Valley State University student Pedro Marin has been selected as the First Year Student of the Month by the National Association of College & University Residence Halls. The association represents 597 colleges and universities across the U.S. and select other countries, including Canada and Qatar.

A graphic design major from Grand Blanc, Marin received the honor after making an immediate impression on campus and showing extraordinary involvement.

“Pedro is an example of an outstanding student, going beyond what many juniors and seniors can accomplish, and he's only been in class for two weeks,” wrote Tyler Bradley, an SVSU resident assistant who nominated Marin.

Marin was selected as SVSU’s First Year Student of the Month for August.  He then was chosen as the top freshman residential student in the Great Lakes region, and ultimately at the national level.  

“ During orientation, we challenge the students to show up; Pedro is a first year student who took the challenge of 'show up' to heart, said Michele Gunkelman, SVSU director of Residential Life. “He has taken advantage of the opportunities at SVSU and has made strong connections with fellow students, faculty and staff as a result of showing up to events, classes and opportunities.”

Beyond mere attendance, Marin has joined the Student Affairs student staff where he designs publications and promotions. He also writes for the student newspaper, The Valley Vanguard, and had a role in SVSU's recent theatre production of “The Grapes of Wrath.” A member of the student-alumni philanthropic group Forever Red, Marin also became the first “first year student” member of the 63 Club, a program within Forever Red that raises money for student scholarships.  

Marin arrived on campus early due to his membership in SVSU’s Living Leadership Program, which focuses on developing rising leaders. He was also one of 90 incoming SVSU students selected to participate in Pathfinders, a three-day program before classes begin that helps students visualize what their college days will be like.

SVSU has 1,089 first-year students residing on campus this fall, representing 73 percent of the freshman class.

October 21, 2014

‘Top 1 Percent’ SVSU Student Valerie Adams Admitted to Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Duke

Valerie Adams has an extraordinary record of accomplishment at Saginaw Valley State University. Her latest achievement: gaining acceptance into the highly competitive Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Duke University.

An exercise science major from Washington Township, Adams will graduate from SVSU in May 2015 and begin the three-year program at Duke next fall. The 2011 graduate of Rochester Stoney Creek High School was confident about her choice of college major.

“I chose the field because I've always been very passionate about exercise in general,” she said. “I always thought I might want to pursue physical therapy, even from a young age when I went to physical therapy. I fell in love with the atmosphere of the clinic, the people and the relationships I built.”

Adams danced competitively for years and attended physical therapy in sixth grade after she was diagnosed with Achilles Tendinitis. She made a full recovery and appreciated the positivity from the physical therapists who worked with her.

Duke's physical therapy program has a pass/fail team-based learning curriculum so students can work together to focus on treating patients. This community-driven and supportive environment is appealing to Adams.

“Upon researching Duke, it was a no-brainer in terms of what their program had to offer,” Adams said.

Rebecca Schlaff, SVSU assistant professor of kinesiology, is Adams' faculty mentor for both her honors thesis and a research project designed by Adams. Schlaff said Adams already displays the initiative of a graduate student and young professional as she pushes herself to deeply understand the material covered in classes.

“Duke is a good choice for Val because their program will not only allow her to pursue her goal of becoming a physical therapist, but will also place her within a class of highly motivated, engaged, and inquisitive students like herself, pushing her to grow as a young professional,” Schlaff said.

“Of all the undergraduate students I have taught and mentored, I easily consider Val to be in the top 1 percent with respect to her intelligence, maturity, critical thinking ability, creativity, and capacity for high quality work.”

Eventually Adams would like to open her own physical therapy clinic and specialize in women's health. She also wants to complete a Ph.D. in epidemiology, the study of the spread of disease.

‌As a student, Adams has received funding from SVSU's Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute for her research about athletes’ perceptions of nutrition and their athletic performance. She has presented her research at the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine conference, where she was awarded the Undergraduate Research Award of Excellence.

Through her research Schlaff said Adams has made a significant impact in educating student-athletes and her fellow kinesiology students about proper nutrition.

“Val truly is a leader among her peers, consistently seeking out opportunity to involve other students within any endeavor she engages, providing an excellent example for her peers.  I truly believe these actions have significantly impacted the student culture within our department and will be felt for years after she graduates,” Schlaff said.

Adams is working on manuscripts in the hopes of publishing her research; she also is a student research assistant for two faculty grant projects.  

Adams values her SVSU opportunities and is grateful to the faculty members who have supported her through her undergraduate experience.

“That has given me the encouragement I needed to pursue some of my dreams and some of my goals. They're reachable and I need to tackle them,” Adams said.   
In addition to her academic prowess, Adams holds numerous other leadership positions on campus.  She is the fitness coordinator for SVSU’s Campus Recreation office, overseeing the Fit Into College Program that teaches incoming SVSU freshmen about the value, fun and simplicity of leading a healthy lifestyle.

A resident assistant in SVSU’s Pine Grove apartments, Adams also is a member of the National Residence Hall Honorary. She serves on the board of directors for Forever Red, a student-alumni networking organization that raises funds for student scholarships, and is a member of the Student Exercise Science Association.

For more information on Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, visit

October 21, 2014

Are you spending time or money?

Kaustav Misra knows that economics isn’t called the dismal science for its thrilling course content.

“The moment you start with big words, phenomena, concepts — students will leave the class,” the assistant professor in economics said. “Physically, they’ll be there, but mentally, they’ll have left.” 

“Your most important job is to keep them alive in the classroom,” he added. That’s why Misra brings laughter to his lectures. “You have to teach it in a way that students feel connected,” he said.

“Then you start bringing the concepts to the table.” 

It’s calculated, Misra said. “We joke around, but at the same time, I convey my message through the jokes. No matter what I’m teaching them, I want to make sure they’re getting it.” 

And from his experiences, it seems to be working. “They are alive in that classroom,” Misra said. “They talk. They laugh. They argue, and they work with me.” 

When you meet him, it’s clear the Calcutta, India, native and Mississippi State University Ph.D. is straightforward. For instance, he knows he has an accent. That’s why he acknowledges it with students on their first day of class.

“I tell them, ‘The accent, you’ve got to deal with,’” he said. “‘But if you think you can deal with it and get along with me, I’m sure the day you step out of this class, you will have learned something from me.’ And students have liked hearing that.” 

Overall, though, that’s what Misra wants for them: to think of themselves as investors. “I preach it to students every time I see them: Whatever you’re spending, time or money, find out what you’re getting out of it. Otherwise, you are spending your time and money, and it’s all going to go to the water.” 

In fact, from Misra’s teaching, students take theory outside the classroom. During his first semester at SVSU in winter 2011, Misra was teaching his international economics class about how buying and selling currencies can be incredibly lucrative. So students began doing it themselves, and asked Misra for his input.

Today, students still buy and sell currency even as they take classes. Since then, others have stepped forward, asking Misra for investment advice. (He reminds them that this isn’t his expertise and that the risk is entirely theirs, but he’s happy to offer help with the theory.) 

But no matter which way you look at it, economics isn’t an exact science. “It’s between a science and an art,” Misra said. “You need an imagination to understand and see it. That’s why the subject is tricky.” 

In the end, the study is all an investment, Misra said, and if you stick around, the return is high.

“You open your tired eye and understand the world in a new way.”

October 21, 2014

English prof brings pop culture to classroom

Sure, Kim Lacey is an assistant professor of English. But that hasn’t kept her from dabbling in cognitive psychology. 

“I’ve always thought about the sciences and the arts together,” Lacey said. “So I didn’t feel that choosing one meant leaving the other behind.” 

That link comes through in some of the courses Lacey teaches: one was called “Memory in Theory and Practice”; another, “The Watchers and the Watched”—a study of the effect of surveillance on human behavior. She even taught a course called “How to Think About Weird Things,” named after a textbook and designed to help students think about the fallacies people stumble over when writing about controversial subjects.

In short, Lacey is fascinated with the way the human mind works. “But what interests me most is how the brain plays tricks on us,” she said. “We rely on it for everything, so we take it for granted. But all of a sudden it can fool us.” 

In fact, before joining SVSU in fall 2011, Lacey had just defended a doctorate about the ways technology can manipulate our memories. In one study she likes to cite, researchers used photo editing software to add participants into photos.

“Then, through a series of interviews, they tell them, ‘Don’t you remember when you went on that balloon ride?’ And they say, ‘No. . . . but I’m in (this photo). I must have done it.’ And over a series of conversations, they end up believing it: ‘Oh, that’s right—I remember that shirt; I remember that happening. I remember it being cold that day.’”

Lacey and her fiancé, Jeff, live in Holly with two dogs: a bichon named Barkley and a Brussels griffon named Jerome.

Outside work, Lacey also writes for Guru Magazine, a paper-free science lifestyle magazine—“It’s science without the lab coats,” she said. “Our mission is really to write about the sciences for the everyday reader. It goes back to bridging my passions for the sciences and humanities and seeing how the two disciplines can talk to each other.”

Those passions found a haven at SVSU, Lacey added. “I’m able to do fun things like those crazy courses I’ve designed, and not face any resistance.”

And in addition to the freedom, there’s the people.

“There are so many smart, active researchers here, but they’re also wonderful teachers. So it’s been a great community to be a part of and thrive in, and it’s a lot of fun, too. That’s a very rare combination in a university.”

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