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November 6, 2019

SVSU student from Bay City shows perseverance to complete degree, continue service to country

Chaz Fowler is as determined in completing his education at Saginaw Valley State University as he was in completing his training to become a United States Marine.

Thanks in part to financial support through the Robert and Ellen Thompson Military Scholarship at SVSU, the political science major from Bay City is closing in on his mission to graduate and return to military service.

Fowler served as a U.S. Marine and presidential sentry for five years. He said his training was grueling, but that he always had his eyes set on achieving his goals.

“This position required immense commitment and persistence in the face of adversity,” Fowler said. “Each time a new obstacle came my way, I prayed I would have the resolve to push through.”

His ultimate goal in the service – to be one of the White House sentries, comprised of four Marine Corps non-commissioned officers who act as a ceremonial guard outside the West Wing of the White House – proved to be just out of his reach.

“The aesthetic for the media required Marines be within a few inches of each other when standing outside the West Wing — for presentation. I was not 6-foot, 4-inches tall as Corporal Bernard was, and thus had come up short,” Fowler said.

He was devastated at the news but turned it into an opportunity to persevere.

“I wanted to prove that, if I was not going to the White House, I would be the best — wherever I went.” Fowler said.

His tour of duty included service as a presidential sentry at Camp David, where his responsibilities included safeguarding the president.

After completing five years of military service, Fowler enrolled at SVSU, which has been consistently named “Best for Vets” by Military Times and a military-friendly university by VIQTORY.

College presented many familiar challenges for Fowler.

“Time management, commitment and determination are all necessary components for success here. I would like to say I have done well at traversing these obstacles,” said Fowler, president of the Student Veterans of America club at SVSU.

Fowler was able to finance his degree until his senior year, where “again I had come up short.”

When he heard about the Robert and Ellen Thompson Military Scholarship, Folwer knew it would provide him the opportunity to finish one of his life goals.

Fowler is grateful that the scholarship will allow him to complete his degree and return to military service, this time as a college-educated officer.

“I would like to personally thank Mr. and Mrs. Thompson for their gracious efforts in helping students, veterans and, most specifically, for helping me when it mattered most,” Fowler said.

He will join others at SVSU in recognizing Veterans Day during a Veterans Day Celebration that begins at 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11 in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.

Col. Rhoda K. Daniel will serve as the featured speaker. Today a Freeland business owner, she has served over 34 years in both the Army and the Army National Guard. An Iraq War veteran, Daniel earned the Combat Action Badge, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. 

The public is welcome to attend.

November 6, 2019

SVSU to host Foreign Language Day event for 400 visiting high school students

SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts • Thursday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

An annual celebration of language, culture and friendship will return to Saginaw Valley State University this week.

As part of the university's Foreign Language Day event, more than 400 high school students from across the Great Lakes Bay Region will visit campus Thursday, Nov. 7, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

That is when the group will participate in friendly competitions involving singing, dancing, theatrical skits, and creating posters that highlight languages from across the globe. The event also includes an international awareness contest, focusing on the importance of foreign language study for 21st century learners.

Many of the day's activities — including the competitions — will take place on stage in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.

Since 1976, SVSU has hosted Foreign Language Day events yearly. The university's Department of Modern Foreign Languages organizes the event.

For more information about Foreign Language Day at SVSU, please contact Monika Dix, chairperson of SVSU's Department of Modern Foreign Languages, at

November 5, 2019

Student's beloved Pakistan dish among meals set to spice up SVSU's International Food Festival

Farwa Fatima is accustomed to international food festivals. When the neighborly Saginaw Valley State University student from Pakistan cooks chicken biriyani, a food festival of sorts materializes in her apartment living room. There, classmates and friends from a variety of cultures — American, Japanese, and Polish, among others — often gather to enjoy the feast and flavors produced by her family recipe.

Fans of Fatima’s food will expand considerably next week. Her chicken biriyani will be one of more than 30 dishes served at SVSU’s 22nd Annual International Food Festival on Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in SVSU’s Marketplace at Doan.

An all-you-can eat admission ticket costs $9.75. The public is welcomed to the feast, which will feature items prepared by the university’s cooking staff using recipes provided by international students from 15 nations.

Fatima, for one, is looking forward to the event.

“It’s a chance to see so much diversity in food and people while eating with others,” the computer science major said. “There are different foods, people, languages and accents — all in one place.”

Fatima plans to taste her classmates’ cooking — she is particularly interested in food from the recipes of students from the Philippines — while offering three dishes from her native Pakistan. The crowd favorite among her trio of selections, she predicts, will be the chicken biriyani.

For Fatima, the food brings her memories of her family. Her mother and sister often would cook the meal for her. It can be a tricky dish to prepare — “Be careful with the salt,” she said — but has proven a wonderfully welcoming way to introduce friends on campus to her cultural roots in Pakistan.

Pat Shelley, SVSU’s international student adviser, said the intercultural exchange remains one of his favorite aspects of the festival.

“Some people differ in their approach to foods, but I encourage people to be open to tasting and trying different foods they may have never eaten before,” he said.

Featured dishes include savory items such as chicken korma from Pakistan and Armenian dolma with grape leaves. Among the sweet items on the menu are chè bắp, a corn pudding from Vietnam, and white fungus sweet soup from China. Drinks selection includes “Da Soda,” a mix of Sprite with milk, from Pakistan.

Among the other nations that will be represented on the menu are Japan, India, Nigeria, Panama, Poland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Members of SVSU’s International Students Club volunteer to represent their country by decorating cooking stations and serving patrons during the event. The festival includes a competition in which participants can act as judges for categories including best sweet dish, best savory dish, most refreshing, best decorations, and best customer service.

Shelley said he expects a large turnout for the festival. About 2,000 people attended the previous event in November 2018.


November 5, 2019

SVSU selected to national academy focused on advancing student success

Saginaw Valley State University is home to hard-working students who often overcome challenges in pursuit of their degrees. The university has placed additional emphasis on degree completion by participating in an exclusive program offered by one of the nation’s leading higher education accreditors.

SVSU was selected as one of eight institutions nationally to participate in the Higher Learning Commissions Student Success Academy, a 3-year initiative that will connect university staff and faculty with industry experts and resources aimed at impacting student success.

“Everyone on our campus has a role in student success; it’s at the core of everything we do at SVSU,” said Deborah Huntley, SVSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

“Participation in the Student Success Academy is a way to systematically assess our initiatives and to enhance the services and supports that we provide to our students from their first engagement with the university through their post-graduation success. This benefits our students, it benefits our university, and it benefits all the communities SVSU serves.”

The Student Success Academy will pair SVSU representatives with higher education scholars. Together, they will examine the university’s existing programs affecting student success and later identify opportunities to implement additional initiatives to impact outcomes. The data-based analysis will involve examining the student population, how SVSU policies and practices impact student outcomes, and what kind of actions may generate more success.

The 3-year program kicked off when SVSU representatives and their Student Success Academy peer institutions met in October for a roundtable conference in St. Charles, Illinois, just outside Chicago. The gathering included Higher Learning Commission staff and members — including renowned experts in higher education-related issues — providing an overview of the academy objectives.

The conference introduced attendees to the year-by-year goals of the academy. The first-year goal involves reviewing SVSU student data and identifying gaps that exist in the student success initiatives at the university. The second-year goal includes identifying opportunities for closing those gaps. The goal for the final year involves designing an action plan to eliminate those gaps.

The conference also provided national data points — relating to topics such as rates of student retention and course completion — aimed at helping academy members measure their respective universities against peer institutions.

The Higher Learning Commission accredits SVSU. The university most recently received a 10-year reaccreditation from the agency in June 2014.

A committee of SVSU faculty and staff members participated in the academy. That roster includes the following:

  • Jenna Briggs, senior director of Advanced Studies and International Student Services
  • Sidney Childs, associate provost for Student Affairs and dean of students
  • Rachel Florence-Spaetzel, director of orientation programs
  • Dawn Hinton, professor of sociology
  • Poonam Kumar, director of the Center for Academic Innovation and Online Learning
  • Josh Ode, associate provost
  • Erik Trump, professor of political science
  • Nick Wagner, executive director of institutional effectiveness

October 31, 2019

Driven SVSU engineering student overcomes every obstacle

Mitch Hughes has shown the drive, determination, and work ethic to overcome any challenge. The senior mechanical engineering student at Saginaw Valley State University defies limits by balancing a full load of rigorous engineering courses, a demanding and time-consuming co-op, and his responsibilities as a varsity college athlete.

He thrives off a challenge and perseveres past obstacles. His grit and fortitude have fueled his desire to achieve, and he is proud of all that he’s accomplished in the face of adversity.

“It’s how you overcome those challenges,” the Davisburg native said. “I was never really gifted anything. I’ve worked for everything I have.”

With a strong aptitude for math and grandparents that worked in engineering, Hughes had always been interested in the field and was drawn to the complexity and problem-solving elements it provides.

“I love the challenge,” Hughes said. “No two problems are ever the same. There’s something new every day. It makes you think.”

A first-generation college student, Hughes knew that he always wanted to pursue a four-year degree, even though he would be the first in his family to do so. He pushed himself to achieve in high school and prepared for the rigors of university by balancing multiple advanced placement courses with three varsity sports, including two during the same season. His hard work and determination paid off with a near perfect grade point average, over 20 college credits, and an opportunity to pursue collegiate athletics. 

Hughes had always enjoyed playing golf with his family, but didn’t begin playing seriously until his freshman year of high school. He worked hard to improve his game and began to excel during his junior year, placing him in contention to play collegiately.

The opportunity to compete in Division 2 athletics, combined with the scholarships he received, helped guide Hughes’ decision to attend SVSU. Knowing that he was paying for college on his own, he strived to find ways to reduce the cost of his education. His determination paid off and earned him SVSU’s most elite merit-based scholarship, the President’s Scholarship, as well other private scholarships, that allowed him to begin his college career without having to take out any loans. He knew his decision to pursue higher education was beneficial for his future, and it inspired his younger brother and sister to do so as well.

However, he did not always have this certainty. Hughes was excited to grow and challenge himself even further at college, but didn’t know what to expect.

“I was always worried about classes being extremely hard, meeting new people, and fitting in,” Hughes said.

These reservations were soon resolved, and he continued to thrive. Hughes soared academically— earning himself a spot on either the President’s List or Dean’s List each semester at SVSU and continually received recognition at the athletic department’s annual academic banquet.

His teammates made him feel welcome and he developed a strong community at SVSU. The genuine connections he built made him feel at home and his team helped him open up to his new environment.

“It’s like a family. I built a bond with a bunch of people. I’m going to talk to them for the rest of my life,” Hughes said. “We’re always there for each other when we need it. It’s a big reason why I’ve done so well.”

Despite this encouragement, his road to success was not always an easy one. The support of his teammates and his perseverance to overcome obstacles became his driving force when facing challenges, both on the course and in the classroom.

With a large roster and only the top third of players getting to compete for the Cardinals, Hughes had to fight for a spot in the lineup. Not having the chance to play as an underclassman, he was determined to compete during his senior season.

He dedicated himself to the team’s early morning workouts and weekend practices, pushing himself to constantly improve. Although there was no mandatory practice during the week, Hughes would go to nearby Saginaw Valley Public Golf Course in between his demanding class schedule to practice on his own whenever he had the chance.

His grit and dedication paid off and earned him a spot in the lineup his final year. He competed in nearly every competition for the Cardinals, placing in the top 10 individually and helping lead the team to several top 5 finishes.

“I love the competition,” Hughes said. “I forgot how much I missed it.”   

He extended this resiliency and competitive spirit into the classroom as well. Even though he had an impressive GPA and resume, he struggled to find work experience in his field.

“It was hard to get a co-op for a while,” Hughes said. “It took two years to get one. I kept fighting though.”

This determination and work ethic paid off when Enayat Mahajerin, professor of mechanical engineering, recommended him for a co-op with B&P Littleford in Saginaw. The company was impressed by Hughes and has entrusted him with advanced responsibilities over the several months he has worked there.

“I help design parts, modify drawings, run vibration tests, and help the guys who are building machines in the shop,” Hughes said.

His patience was worthwhile as the co-op has been an excellent fit. He worked full-time during the summer months, and 15-20 hours during the school year in addition to being a full-time student and athlete. Hughes hopes to continue working for the company upon graduation, with the goal of one day being a certified professional engineer and opening his own engineering company.

Balancing everything on his schedule has been a challenge, but one that Hughes has embraced. His discipline and time management keep him on track to achieving his goals.

“It’s a grind. You really have to teach yourself how to have a schedule because when you get off your schedule that’s when the stress and anxiety kicks in and you’re behind,” Hughes said. “It definitely puts a lot of stress on you, but it also makes life interesting in a way because I’m always doing something.”

His dedication to excellence and the experiences he’s gained from his co-op have influenced his senior design project as well. As a capstone course, engineering students at SVSU are placed in groups and paired with a company to solve a need and build something new.

Hughes’ group was partnered with Duro-Last in Saginaw to develop a ladder-like cart system for the company, and they have dedicated countless hours to the project.

“We designed a custom hand truck with a system that can ride up the rungs of a ladder and be pulled up by a pulley or wench system,” Hughes said. “Some groups have to modify a system, but ours is brand new. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Along with weekly group meetings, Hughes devotes 8-10 hours per week individually on the project to ensure that it is successful. Ultimately, this inner drive and the satisfaction he achieves from a job well done is what motivates him more than any external recognition.

“I have this underlying desire to be great. To prove everyone wrong and to prove that I can be someone,” Hughes said. “There’s something burning inside me. There’s a fire.”

Hughes is grateful for all the opportunities he’s had at SVSU and for how much he’s grown, both as an athlete, engineer, and individual. His college experience has been critical to his professional and personal development.

“Besides giving you a degree and education, it gives you a chance to learn about yourself,” Hughes said of attending college. “It’s really a life changing experience. You realize you have more potential than you think you did.”

As a senior graduating in May 2020, he has no doubt that he made the right choice in attending SVSU.

“Over the years I’ve realized this is an amazing place and I’m really glad I came here,” Hughes said.

October 30, 2019

SVSU student inspired to pursue her passions and a future legal career

As a first-generation college studentLindsey Mead’s parents instilled in her that it’s best to pursue a career that inspired passion within her. The Saginaw Valley State University student followed that advice, leading her both on the path to study law and to help communities in need.

“My parents always pushed me at least to follow my passions. As long as they knew I was trying my best, they were proud of me,” Mead said. That has been the most motivating factor for me; knowing that failure was an option and okay.”  

Mead, an English major and pre-law student from Saginaw, became involved with two groups her sophomore year that put her on the path to studying law: SVSU's Alternative Breaks program and the moot court team. 

When Mead applied to be a site leader for Alternative Breaks — an initiative that sends SVSU students to volunteer for national nonprofits during the university’s holiday breaks — she knew it was a risk because she had less experience with the program than most site leaders. 

“It was the first time I’d applied for something that was a stretch; where there was an opportunity to fail,” Mead said. “When I got selected as a site leader, it made me want to rise up to the occasion.  

Mead’s passion for helping disadvantaged communities was enhanced by the experience. 

Alternative Breaks exposed me to communities outside of my own, struggling and prospering in ways that Saginaw isn’t,” Mead said. 

A late start to her first season as a competitor for moot court could have been her excuse to not do as well ... or to quit. But Mead rose to the challenge and has qualified and competed in nationals for the past two years. 

Acting as teams of two attorneys, students competing in moot court tournament are tasked with arguing two hypothetical legal cases based on real-life courtroom battles. The competition is judged based on the clarity of the students' argument, their public speaking skills, their ability to answer questions, and how well they know the law and the case. 

The competition fit Mead's passion for fighting to help others in need.

“What I want to do is advocate for people, and so moot court was the perfect stepping stone not only to my friend group – the people I’m closest with – but to my career path, she said. 

As a member of the 20th class of Roberts Fellows, one of SVSU's most prestigious student leadership development initiatives, Mead traveled to China, Taiwan, and Japan with her cohort last summer. The Roberts Fellows program focuses on fostering students with a strong interest in community engagement, and Mead used this program to help a local non-profit she already had ties to. Mead and other Roberts Fellows organized a fundraiser to help pay for renovations at Community Village, a local assisted living facility, by inviting people to participate in a bowling tournament to raise funds for the cause. 

It was the first time I’d been placed in a room with that many leaders,” Mead said. “It was the first time where I had to know when I needed to step down and follow. 

After taking the LSAT in the fall, Mead continues to set high goals for herself. She is in the process of selecting a law school to attend. 

October 30, 2019

Student resiliency expert to discuss neuroscience and education during SVSU talk

A leader in the field of education will visit Saginaw Valley State University in November to discuss the role of neuroscience in education.

Horacio Sanchez, an SVSU Foundation Visiting Scholar, will examine the subject in front of an SVSU audience Monday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m., in Gilbertson Hall's Ott Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.

Sanchez is one of the nation’s prominent experts on promoting student resiliency and using neuroscience to improve school outcomes. As a clinician, he has helped students with severe emotional issues become resilient so they can cope and thrive academically while facing challenges and adversity.

His Monday presentation will focus on how to use neuroscience to improve instruction, behavior and school climate, which are topics Sanchez explores in his best-selling book, “The Education Revolution."

His book focuses on what he identifies as the keys to academic success — maximizing student capacity to learn in the classroom and motivating the student. His talk will discuss how educators can achieve these goals.

He has served as a teacher, administrator, clinician, mental health director and education consultant across the nation. His diverse educational experience has helped him to merge research, science, and practice.

Sanchez is the president and CEO of Resiliency Inc. The organization is a leader in helping institutions improve school climate, instruction, and discipline. He also serves on the True Health Initiative Council of Directors, a coalition of over 500 world-renowned health experts seeking to educate others on evidence-based pillars of lifestyle as medicine while also fighting fake medical facts.

Sanchez has published several articles and books about resiliency, closing the achievement gap and using neuroscience to improve educational practices and outcomes.

His appearance is part of SVSU's annual Visiting Scholars and Artists program. 

October 30, 2019

SVSU social work student dedicated to empowering her community

Helping others comes naturally for Jessalyn Gaskin. The second-year Saginaw Valley State University social work major and youth services minor has always possessed a clear vision of what she wants her future to be: serving others and helping them navigate their futures.

She found this same selfless nature and caring spirit at SVSU. Her compassion for others guided her degree path and influenced her career objectives. The support Gaskin has received from her campus community and the connections she has built have set her up for success and helped her take strides toward realizing her goals.

After she completes her bachelor’s degree at SVSU, she wants to work in a juvenile delinquency center to make a positive impact on youth, and then she plans to pursue a master’s degree to become a licensed clinical social worker in a hospital.

The Detroit native’s ultimate career goal is to empower and encourage all members of her community by opening her own Boys and Girls Club of America-style establishment. She is passionate about finding ways to help others one-on-one, as well as addressing the root causes of a variety of social issues.

“I just have the itch to help everyone regardless of their ethnicity, their background, or what they’re going through,” Gaskin said. “Being a social worker is not just about helping people, it’s about correcting social injustice.”

Although Gaskin knew she needed to go to college and earn a four-year degree to achieve these goals, she wasn’t always sure that she would begin college immediately after high school. She attended Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods, a charter school authorized by SVSU. Her teachers encouraged her to pursue a college education and her parents were supportive of this path as well.

But no one in her family had gone to college before her and she was worried about the change in environment.

“I felt nervous but also excited,” Gaskin said. “I’m a family person and I’ve never spent that much time away from home.”

A dedicated sister and daughter, Gaskin knew that college was the right choice, for her and her family. As a role model to her younger siblings, she knew that, if she went to college, she would open the door for them to pursue higher education as well. She wants to empower them to set their goals high and know that they can achieve them with hard work and determination.

“I thought going to college was important because I have young people that look up to me and I knew that me going to college would inspire them to go too,” Gaskin said. 

Gaskin was also concerned about the financial cost of her education. She originally considered staying home and working while pursuing a degree, but she knew this would not provide her with all of the opportunities she needed to make her dreams a reality. 

Scholarships played a big role in Gaskin’s decision to pursue a four-year degree, and she discovered that financial assistance is much more accessible than students often think.

“There’s a lot of scholarships. Students just don’t apply because they don’t know the resources available to help them get to college,” Gaskin said.

These opportunities for scholarships became one of the main reasons Gaskin chose to pursue her education at SVSU. Access to scholarships, one of the best social work programs in the state, and the proximity from home all led to SVSU being the perfect fit, Gaskin said. 

Part of this financial assistance from SVSU included the Public School Academy (PSA) scholarship, which also provides recipients with support— in and out of the classroom— as they transition into college. As a mentee in the PSA Transition Program, Gaskin had the resources and guidance she needed to thrive during her freshman year, including access to one-on-one tutoring, volunteer and leadership experience, and academic advising. Her devoted and friendly mentors helped her feel welcomed on campus and prepared her to take on any challenge.

“For my first year, we had coaches and mentors that kept us on track,” Gaskin said of the program. 

The unwavering care and dedication she received as a mentee inspired her to find ways to give back and support other students like herself. She now serves as a mentor in the King Chavez Parks (KCP) program to provide support and tutoring to first-generation college students in their freshman year. Her mentors guided her during a challenging time and now she wants to do the same for others. 

Many of these students are facing the same struggles Gaskin encountered when starting college, including financial obstacles, difficulty with time management, and learning how to adjust to a college mindset. Gaskin loves to connect with them and share her own experiences in order to help them succeed.

“I like the experience because I understand how they feel,” Gaskin said of being a mentor. “I like to tell them that I went through the same thing and I understand.”

The guidance Gaskin received at SVSU has allowed her to excel academically— earning her a spot on the Dean’s List as a freshman— and has helped her grow and thrive on a social and personal level as well. Prior to starting college, Gaskin was very reserved and had been in school with the same small graduating class for years. She worried about feeling like she wouldn’t belong in college but soon met many welcoming and friendly individuals that dissolved her concerns. Joining organizations like the Organization of Black Unity and Impact, a campus ministry organization, helped her build a community on campus that broke her out of her shell.

“My favorite part of being in college is meeting new people,” Gaskin said. “It opened me up more and helped me experience a lot of new things and opportunities.”

As Gaskin reflects on how much she has learned and the genuine relationships she has built since starting college, she wants all high school students considering pursuing higher education, especially minority and first-generation college students, to know that it is okay to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace something new. Although there may be challenges, if they open themselves up to new experiences and opportunities, they will have the support and resources they need to succeed, she said.

“I learned that if you stay you won’t get anywhere,” Gaskin said. “In order to have opportunities and actually experience college, you have to open up.” 

October 30, 2019

First-generation college student determined to continue her education at SVSU

Talia Pruiett had the grades, the dream, and the drive to attend college, but she wasn’t sure she would make it. With hard work, perseverance, and endless support she made her goal a reality.

A first-generation college student at Saginaw Valley State University, her parents were encouraging of this dream but had little experience navigating the college admission and selection process.

Pruiett had little prior exposure to different types of careers and was unsure of what she wanted to study, but her high school pushed going to college and she was determined that it was the was the right path for her. While much of her future was uncertain, going to college was one thing she knew she needed to strive for.

“I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do,” the Bay City native said. “I just knew I needed to go to college.”  

Now, as a second-year student at SVSU, Pruiett is sure she made the right choice and is proud of what she’s achieved.

Throughout high school, Pruiett pushed her limits and was a disciplined student, always trying to put herself in the best position for success. She challenged herself by dual-enrolling to earn college credit while still in high school to prepare herself for the next step in her education, knowing how many opportunities this would provide to her.

Since Pruiett knew she would be paying for her own college education, her financial situation was the biggest obstacle she faced when deciding where she wanted to pursue her degree. She was determined to find ways to reduce costs and avoid debt. She wanted to determine which schools were most affordable, while also providing her with the best opportunities.

She found this combination at SVSU.

“It was deciding what was best for me and what was financially the best,” Pruiett said. “SVSU had the most opportunities.”

As part of her commitment to financial success, Pruiett diligently completed her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It was an exercise critical to her ability to afford college, she said.

“I would highly encourage every single person to do that,” Pruiett said of filling out the FAFSA.

Pruiett also applied for a multitude of scholarships and was awarded two from SVSU, as well as an opportunity grant. Her hard work and dedication to completing these applications paid off and kept her from having to take out any loans during her first year of school. To help offset costs even more, Pruiett continued to push herself and gain on-campus employment. While balancing her coursework and a demanding schedule, she also works as an orientation leader, a tour guide, and in the counseling center. 

A college degree was the ultimate end goal for Pruiett, and when she arrived on campus, she felt that dream becoming a reality.

“It was really just surreal,” Pruiett said of coming to SVSU. “You go to school for 12 years and college is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Pruiett was excited to start college and begin the next chapter of her life, but she had her reservations as well not knowing what to expect. She soon encountered many friendly and devoted individuals who welcomed her and provided her with the support she needed to adjust to such a big transition. This empowered her to take on more challenges and opportunities.

Pruiett was part of a first-year transition program at SVSU, and her supportive coordinator, Sarah Ward, was dedicated to making sure she had all the resources she needed to succeed. Ward was always approachable and there to help whenever Pruiett had questions about her class schedule and major, or needed advice on acclimating to college. She was grateful to have someone that genuinely cared about her success.

“She always reassured me that everything was going to be okay and pointed me in the right direction,” Pruiett said. “She’s helped guide me in a lot of ways and I’m so appreciative of that.”

Knowing that she had a support system already in place at SVSU before she had even started her classes made Pruiett feel more confident as she began college.

“I was a little nervous but very driven and determined,” Pruiett said. “I was excited to come here. I wanted to get involved and make the best of it.”

She translated her nervousness to excitement and was dedicated to immersing herself in all that a college experience has to offer. Coming from a small high school, Pruiett was concerned about making new friends and being overwhelmed by her new environment. However, getting involved on campus made her feel welcomed and at home. Having a community helped her open up to her new surroundings.

“I love being involved. I think all the events and clubs helped me find my best friends and break out of my shell,” Pruiett said. “You don’t realize how much you learn about yourself until you get involved in things.”

A vibrant campus life and the programs she committed herself to soon become Pruiett’s favorite parts of being at SVSU. She was inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, an honors organization that promotes leadership and service. She also dedicates her time to volunteering for the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Cardinal Volunteers, has joined a competitive intramural basketball team, and will be participating in a study abroad trip to Mexico as part of her Spanish minor. Pruiett also devoted herself to alternative breaks, an SVSU program that sends students to volunteer for nonprofits across the country during the university’s holiday breaks.

Her involvement in the latter program helped her find her career path. Pruiett traveled to South Carolina to work with youth in the juvenile justice system. She returned to SVSU with an enthusiasm for social work and made it her major.

“I realized I had a passion for helping others,” Pruiett said of her experience on the trip. “That really solidified it for me.”

Pruiett is now taking all that she’s learned in college so far and offering guidance to empower other students like herself. She serves as a dedicated mentor in the King Chavez Parks (KCP) grant program, which helps first-generation college students adjust during their freshman year.

She is determined to use her own experiences to help the students she coaches successfully acclimate to college, develop study habits, learn about all the resources available to them, and ensure they are keeping up with their classwork.

“I absolutely love working with them and learning from them,” Pruiett said.

Pruiett knows that going to college can be very intimidating, especially for individuals who are the first in their family to pursue a four-year degree. She wants to encourage others that, even though they may face challenges, they are not alone. With hard work and perseverance there are support systems in place to help them excel and achieve their goals.

“There are resources and people who are there to help,” Pruiett said. “If you do what you’re supposed to do and do it right, then good things will happen.”  

October 30, 2019

Leading role in 'Proof' showcases SVSU student's acting

Audiences familiar with Abigail Burgess' on-stage performance earlier this year as a Dolly Parton-inspired spitfire may have a hard time recognizing her as she takes center stage again — this time playing the troubled young woman leading Saginaw Valley State University's production of "Proof," a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a mourning family in crisis.

Performances for "Proof" are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Oct. 30-Nov. 2; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased online at

Burgess, a theatre major, will play the drama's lead, Catherine. The role is the follow-up to her performance in SVSU's production of the musical version of "9 to 5" in April, when the Commerce Township native played a gregarious role made famous in film by Parton.

The shift from playing a larger-than-life character in a musical to a character grounded in a harsh reality was a challenge Burgess was excited to accept.

"The role of Catherine is very different from other roles I’ve played, purely because this show is so set in reality, and every detail must be incredibly specific," she said.

“Proof” follows the story of Catherine as she struggles with her late father’s legacy as a brilliant mathematician. Following his death, Catherine must deal with her volatile emotions; the arrival of her estranged sister, Claire; and the attentions of Hal, a former student of her father's who hopes to find valuable work in the 103 notebooks that her father left behind. Over the course of one weekend, a burgeoning romance and the discovery of a mysterious notebook draw Catherine into the most difficult problem of all: How much of her father's madness — or genius — will she inherit?

Burgess said the play’s family dynamic — and how it explores issues such as grief and mental health — will make a memorable experience for audiences.

“The play is set in 1999; During this time, mental health carried even more of a stigma than it does today,” she said. “However, I think that the journey of these characters shows that struggles with mental health are still prominent here and now.”

Burgess’ favorite part of acting — especially in “Proof” — involves the relationships formed with cast and crew members, she said.

“It takes so many working pieces to make theatre happen,” Burgess said. “As both an actor and the costume designer for the production, I am so grateful for such an amazing and hardworking cast and crew.”

David Rzeszutek, SVSU associate professor of theatre, will serve as director of "Proof."

Like "9 to 5," the story of "Proof" also was featured on the big screen. A 2005 film starred Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of Catherine.

For more information about the SVSU production of "Proof," please contact the SVSU Box Office at (989) 964-4261.

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