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November 15, 2019

Mental health crisis in black communities focus of SVSU student's award-winning speech

A Saginaw Valley State University student’s passion for raising awareness about the mental health crisis in black communities recently helped her take home the top prize for a longstanding annual public speaking contest at the institution.

Simone Vaughn, a communication major from Saginaw, was the first-place prize recipient during the 30th annual Sims Public Speaking Competition Friday, Nov. 8, at SVSU. A panel of judges selected Vaughn for her presentation, titled “Black Hole: The Mental Health Crisis in the Black Community.”

Vaughn will receive a $400 cash prize.

Vaughn is accustomed to presenting to crowds. In July, she was voted the titleholder of Miss Saginaw County, which is part of the Miss America Organization that offers scholarships to women across the nation.

Five other students earned cash prizes for their speeches during the Sims Public Speaking Competition. They are as follows:

  • Kailey Johnston, a communication major from Shelby Township, earned second place and $250 for her presentation, titled “Stopping Alt-Right Groups From Recruiting Teen Boys Online.”
  • Jessica Davis, an elementary education major from Fowlerville, received third place and $150 for her speech, titled “Secondary School Start Time.”
  • Mikayla Rigda, a communication major from Birch Run, earned $50 as a finalist for her presentation, titled “Adoption Laws in America.”
  • Brittany Rubio, a communication major from New Haven, received $50 as a finalist for her presentation, “Campus Housing Safety.”
  • Austin Teeple, a communication major from Bay Mills, eared $50 as a finalist for his speech, titled “Palm Oil.”

SVSU's annual Sims Public Speaking Contest is sponsored through an endowment funded by Larry and Linda Sims, longtime supporters of the university. Larry Sims recently retired as president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Saginaw County. Linda Sims recently retired as SVSU’s executive director of communications and external affairs. She previously served as chair of the university’s Board of Control.

November 15, 2019

Former student-actor returns 'home' to direct SVSU production of 'Émilie'

Once a talent on the stage during her days as a student, a Saginaw Valley State University alumna will return to her alma mater next week, this time moving behind the curtains to direct a production of "historic" proportions.

Brianne Dolney, a leading cast member in campus productions before her May graduation, will sit in the director's chair for the SVSU production of “Émilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight.”

Performances of the Lauren Gunderson-penned play — a fictional account of a real-life historical figure struggling with her genius legacy and love life — are scheduled Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22-23, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Black Box Theatre. The venue is located in Curtiss Hall, room C180. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the SVSU Box Office.

Dolney's return to the SVSU stage comes months after her most recent acting performance playing one of the three leads in the April 2019 production of "9 to 5: The Musical." She portrayed the character made famous by Jane Fonda in the 1980 film. Dolney's other recent SVSU stage credits include “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” in February 2019, “The Servant of Two Masters” in October 2018, “Death by Design” in February 2018, and “Decision Height" in October 2017.

“It’s really awesome to be able to come back and take on something new in a place that feels like home to me,” she said.

“I think it’s the perfect scenario for my first big directing experience because I’m in an environment I’m comfortable in and have the support of mentors that I’ve been working with all throughout my college experience.”

The production is part of the theatre department's Studio X.P. Program, in which students and alumni are provided an opportunity to direct a play under the guidance of SVSU faculty members. Assistant professors of theatre Margaret "Peggy" Mead-Finizio and Tommy Wedge will serve as advisers this time.

Dolney graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science in May 2019. Since then, she has been traveling and working full-time in a classroom with special needs children and children with autism. The Bay City native said she was excited for her return to the performing arts and, specifically, working as a director on a play that inspired her.

“I wasn’t very familiar with ‘Émilie’ prior to being offered the director position, but as soon as I read it, I fell in love,” she said.

Gunderson's play, published in 2010, offers a theatrical rediscovery of one of history’s most intriguing women. The play's title character, Émilie du Châtelet, was a real-life French philosopher, mathematician, physicist and author from the 18th century. In the play, Émilie spars with her companion and lover, Voltaire, while defending the groundbreaking legacies for which she was denounced until after her death.

Dolney said audiences should expect to be “totally enlightened” when coming to see “Émilie."

“This is a story about an amazingly significant woman of the 1700s who has somehow been brushed over by history,” Dolney said. “Like so many other women of significance from the past, the light is finally being shed on Émilie’s story — it only took three centuries.”

The play is rated for audiences 16 and older due to strong language and mild adult themes. 

For more information, please contact the SVSU Box Office at (989) 964-4261.

November 14, 2019

SVSU Flute Choir to perform Friday concert

Saginaw Valley State University’s Department of Music will present the SVSU Flute Choir concert on Friday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Founders Hall on campus.
This musical performance is free and open to the public.
Musical selections for the concert include songs composed and arranged by modern composer Phyllis Avidan Louke in addition to historical musicians including German composers J.J. Quantz, of the 18th century, and Franz Abt, of the 19th century.
The SVSU Flute Choir is open to membership from participants outside of the SVSU community. The ensemble is directed by Townes Osborn Miller, an instructor of music at SVSU.
For more information about Friday’s concert, please visit or call the SVSU Department of Music at (989) 964-4159.

November 13, 2019

SVSU Cardinal Singers and Concert Choir to perform, raise awareness about mental health issues

Musicians with Saginaw Valley State University's Cardinal Singers and Concert Choir groups, inspired to shine a light on social issues, will perform a concert this week aimed at raising awareness about mental health challenges. The concert, titled “Threads of Joy,” is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Rhea Miller Recital Hall.

Kevin Simons, SVSU associate professor of music and the performance's director, said this is the first SVSU choir concert to explore such a socially-relevant topic.

“I selected the music for this program to help our singers, university and community better understand some of the problems with how we talk about mental illness, and to celebrate the contributions of artists who experienced mental illness themselves,” Simons said.

The concert will feature selections such as “Threads of Joy” by composer Dale Trumbore; “In meinem garten, op. 29 n. 2” and “Der träumende See, op. 33 n. 1” by 19th century German composer Robert Schumann; and “You Will be Found” from the Tony award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” by American songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The two SVSU ensembles — with a combined 41 vocalists — will be joined by Amanda Stamper, piano accompanist.

The concert is free and open to the public.

For more information about the event, contact the SVSU Department of Music at (989) 964-4159 or visit

November 8, 2019

At your service: SVSU receives ‘Best for Vets’ ranking for sixth year

For the sixth consecutive year, Saginaw Valley State University has been recognized for its support of military-affiliated students, earning a place in the Best for Vets: Colleges 2020 rankings by Military Times.

SVSU is rated No. 104 among all four-year institutions nationwide in the 2020 rankings by the independent media organization dedicated to news and information about the military. This year, SVSU placed second out of all Michigan four-year institutions.

For a school to be placed on the Best for Vets list, colleges and universities are evaluated on policies and programs offered to service members, military veterans and their families. To be considered for the list, colleges and universities complete a comprehensive survey which is evaluated by Military Times. Institutions were then ranked based on survey responses and data collected by three different federal agencies. 

Bethany Alford, SVSU’s director of Military Student Affairs, said her office staff takes pride in creating a friendly and welcoming place on campus.

The SVSU Military Student Affairs office assists students and family members with paperwork, accessing their federal benefits, academic advising, and generally serving as a “one-stop shop” for military-affiliated students.

“We are consistently looking at ways to better serve our military-connected students, whether it's referring them to resources on or off campus, to reevaluating the education and training they've received in the military for academic credit,” she said. “We will strive to always be a top choice to military-connected students and work hard to show how much we value them on our campus.”

The Military Student Resource Center is also provided for use by any military-affiliated student at SVSU.

Services the office provides are veteran orientation, Veteran Peer Support group and the Student Veterans of America group.

November 7, 2019

SVSU selects K-12 educators for Gerstacker leadership program

A new group of K-12 education leaders committed to professional growth will join the Saginaw Valley State University Gerstacker Fellowship program in 2020.

As part of the initiative, 11 teachers, principals, and program administrators from across Michigan will receive concentrated leadership training over a 1-year period. The experience will include an international trip to Japan in June.

Previous overseas trips have included China, South Korea, Poland, Taiwan, Finland, and Germany.

These trips send participants to educational institutions, where participants learn about international educational systems and corporate settings. There, they discover how leadership plays out in different cultural and economic settings. 

Last year’s group visited Finland and Germany. Their stops included K-12 schools, Helsinki University, Hochshule Ansbach, secondary German vocational schools and numerous cultural sites.

The program was established in 2005 with a $1.5 million endowment from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation of Midland. Participants are known as Gerstacker Fellows. They meet monthly on weekends.

Experts in the field instruct the group on subjects such as organizational leadership, ethics, finances, communication, human resources, entrepreneurship and education with a global perspective.

Those selected to participate in the 2020 program are as follows:

  • Joseph Amabile; IB coordinator/professional learning community leader, Oxford Public Schools
  • Deedra Baker; intervention teacher; Mt. Morris Consolidated Schools
  • Laura Chang; instructional consultant, literacy coach, and interventionist, Vicksburg Community Schools
  • Margaret Doan; elementary principal, Midland Public Schools
  • Tamara Johnson; executive director of fiscal services, Saginaw Public Schools
  • Jason Kowalski; assistant elementary and middle school principal, Carrollton Public Schools
  • Nathan Mausolf; assistant high school principal, Birch Run Schools
  • Scott Miklovic; director of technology and innovation, Elkton Pigeon Bayport Laker Schools
  • Justin Shaner; assistant middle and high school principal, Bay City Public Schools
  • Molly Sholten; instructional coach, Institute for Excellence in Education, Mount Pleasant
  • Penny Miller-Nelson; assistant superintendent, Midland Public Schools

November 7, 2019

SVSU students earn top recognition at regional geography conference

Two Saginaw Valley State University students’ passion for geography earned accolades at a recent regional geography conference hosted on campus.

The East Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers held their 2019 annual meeting and conference at SVSU in October. There were 117 attendees from 22 colleges and universities across Michigan and Ohio.

Samantha Turner, who received a bachelor's degree in biology from SVSU in May 2019, earned first place in the undergraduate poster competition for her poster titled, “Characterization of Cold Air Movement in Apple Orchards using High Resolution Topographic Data.” The Saginaw resident's passion for ecology and love of problem-solving inspired her to pursue this interdisciplinary research while an undergraduate student.

“Problem-solving has always been something I’m good at, so learning the software — ArcGIS with the Spatial Analyst Extension — was super intuitive to me when I started,” Turner said.

Turner hopes eventually to earn a master’s degree in geography and a graduate certificate in spatial ecology.

Gabrielle Gittens, an SVSU geography major from Saginaw, won second place in the undergraduate poster competition for her poster, titled “Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes: Pollen as the Key to the Past.”

Thirteen judges from various colleges and universities judged competitions for undergraduate student poster, undergraduate student presentation, graduate student poster, and graduate student presentation. Julie Commerford, SVSU assistant professor of geography, served as the conference coordinator.

“The conference is a neat opportunity for students to network and interact with faculty from around the region,” Commerford said. “It’s a once- or twice-a-year opportunity to make the world a little bit bigger.”

During the conference, speaker sessions addressed different areas of geography such as economic geography, urban geography, human geography, physical geography and geospatial techniques. 

The conference also included a panel discussion organized and facilitated by Dayne Walling from the University of Minnesota. Evelyn Ravuri, SVSU professor of geography, served as a panelist and covered topics related to urban revitalization.

November 6, 2019

SVSU to host recital dedicated to late opera singer Jessye Norman

Saginaw Valley State University will continue its Rhea Miller Concert Series this week with a musical performance by LaToya Lain, a soprano singer familiar to the Great Lakes Bay Region, and Casey Robards, pianist. The performance is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU’s Rhea Miller Recital Hall. 

This event is free and open to the public.

This program is dedicated to the late Jessye Norman, who died in September. She was an American soprano singer who was an internationally recognized opera performer. She earned five Grammys as well as awards including the Kennedy Center Honor in 1997 and the National Medal of Arts in 2009. 

Born in New Orleans, Lain is a soprano singer who has traveled all over the U.S. to study voice and music. She recently toured abroad, visiting Germany, France, Zimbabwe, and Bolivia with performances and solo recitals; in 2018, she performed with the Saginaw Choral Society as a featured soloist. Lain also currently serves as an assistant professor of music at the University of North Carolina.  

Known for her adaptability and musical knowledge, Robards is a pianist and vocal coach. She has played across the globe with instrumentalists and singers. She also is a founding member of two musical groups: KO Trio and the Patterson Piano Duo.

Musical pieces planned for the SVSU performance include “Love, Let the Wind Cry. . . How I Adore Thee!” by Undine Smith Moore, “Wesendonck Lieder” by Richard Wagner, and “Cantata” by John Carter.

The Rhea Miller Concert Series is made possible by a generous gift from Rhea E. Miller, a longtime friend of SVSU. Her gift, administered by the Miller Trust for Music Education, has provided the university with the opportunity to offer outstanding performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed musical artists at no cost to the audience since 1993. 

For more information, call SVSU's Department of Music at (989) 964-4159 or email

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

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