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January 16, 2020

'It's a group project now;' SVSU support drives moot court program to another record year

Despite facing competition growing exponentially in size and talent, hard-driven student work ethic and a campus' support will help Saginaw Valley State University’s national tournament-bound moot court program cap off one of its most successful years ever this weekend.
“When our program started 10 years ago, we were competing against 180 teams across the country; this year, there are 467 teams and more top-level schools involved,” said Julie Keil, the founder and co-adviser of the SVSU moot court team currently ranked No. 17 nationally.
“This year, teams from elite schools such as Yale, Rutgers, Cornell and the University of Chicago have competed in moot court, for instance. In the face of that, what our program has accomplished is outstanding.”
What the program has accomplished this year: Three teams of SVSU students — each team consists of two students — will compete at the 80-team American Moot Court Association national tournament scheduled Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17-18, at Baton Rouge-based Southern University Law Center. The tournament involves teams arguing both sides of 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.
SVSU’s moot court program has never missed a national championship qualification since Keil founded the group in 2010. This is the fourth time six students — a record number from SVSU — qualified for a national tourney. Students qualify for the nationals based on their performances during regional competitions in the fall.
The qualifying teams this year include the tandems of Justine Brabaw and Erik Byron; Ashley French and Joshua High; and Lindsey Mead and Justin Weller.
The teams’ preparation for this moment began all the way back in May 2019 when the American Moot Court Association announced details of this competitive season’s case files.
The moot court teams are formed over the summer months. The students in the fall semester then enroll in a moot court course led by Keil, an SVSU associate professor of political justice. They also meet regularly with Keil and her co-adviser, Amy Hendrickson. The group participates in a number of competitions in the fall across the nation, including the regional tournaments.
“There’s a huge time commitment from our students,” Keil said.
She was quick to also credit the SVSU community’s support for the program’s standing as one of the nation’s best.
Keil said Hendrickson’s participation as co-adviser beginning about five years ago provided a substantial boost to the program’s quality. The two former attorneys split time mentoring participants. Keil typically develops the younger students while Hendrickson works with the veterans of the group.
“It really has made all the difference,” Keil said of the support provided by Hendrickson, an SVSU associate professor of law. “Our skill sets really complement each other. She gets paid nothing for this, which shows her dedication.”
It also helps that moot court alumni return to campus to provide coaching for their successors, especially considering the growing number of students signing up to compete, Keil said. This year, 20 students participated in SVSU moot court.
She said campus administrators and colleagues also deserve credit for the program’s ongoing success.
As SVSU moot court continued to send students to the nationals each year, the resulting growth in on-campus awareness inspired more and more fellow faculty members to serve as de facto talent scouts. Her colleagues have recommended a number of the program’s top-performing students in recent years.
SVSU administrators also helped Keil sustain the program’s momentum by creating — and increasing — a budget that allows her to send students to more competitions across the country.
“It’s a group project now,” Keil said.
Among this year’s participants, Mead and Weller are competing in their second consecutive national tournament. They advanced to the round of 32 last year. Mead also qualified for the 2018 nationals. She is an English major from Saginaw. Weller is a political science major from Bay City.
French is a political science major from Bay City. High is an accounting major from Traverse City. Brabaw is a political science major from Breckenridge. Byron is a political science major from Birch Run.

January 15, 2020

Leaders in education honored as part of SVSU's 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Three community leaders will be recognized for their advocacy for diversity and education during the 11th annual Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Saginaw Valley State University later this month.

Dave Stickles and Carolyn Wierda as well as the late Charles L. McNair were selected as the 2020 recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Awards, given annually to leaders in the Great Lakes Bay Region who best embody the cultural ideals of Dr. King.

Stickles and Wierda will accept their awards while a family friend will accept McNair’s award on his behalf during the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.

The event is free and open to the public. Ruth D. Jones, who is a leader with NASA and a trailblazer in her industry, will deliver the keynote address at the event.

The three Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award recipients will receive a $1,000 award for a charitable organization of their choice. Each recipient is honored for work performed in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties, respectively.

McNair will be recognized as the Saginaw County recipient of the award. McNair, who died in December 2019 at the age of 85, is remembered by members of the community as a beloved educator, mentor, and friend. He worked over 50 years in education as a teacher, counselor, principal and father figure to students and educators alike. He served in a number of roles for the Saginaw Public School District. He also contributed to communities outside of the classroom. For over 30 years, he helped organize the Saginaw African Cultural Festival, which is one of the longest-running festivals celebrating African culture in the United States.

Stickles will be recognized as the Midland County recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award. After retiring from Dow Corning Corp. in 2005 after 32 years, Stickles continued channeling his passion for STEM in part by helping to organize the annual Midland-based Sci-Fest event, which offers hands-on science activities and demonstrations for the community. He has served on the board of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America Michigan Chapter since 2000 in several roles including vice president. Stickles also has volunteered with Midland Special Olympics as an assistant basketball and softball coach. He has volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region in Midland for 34 years.

Wierda will be recognized as the Bay County recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award. She serves as SVSU's special assistant to the president for STEM Initiatives. Before joining SVSU, she led a distinguished career in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent. She worked as superintendent for the Bay City Public Schools district from 2003-09. Her contributions to education included her work creating the Great Lakes Bay College and Career Resource Center in 2008. Since then, more than 1,000 first-generation college students have received financial support for their education in part because of the center's support.

The Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration event also will include the presentation of regional scholarship awards by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations to high school seniors who embody Martin Luther King Jr.'s ideals.

The event is sponsored in part by the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations; Delta College; Dow; the King-Chavez-Parks Initiative; local NAACP chapters; and Nexteer Automotive.

For more information about the event, contact the SVSU Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068 or visit

January 15, 2020

'Images from China' featured in SVSU art gallery exhibition

As part of an exchange program with Shenyang Aerospace University in China, Saginaw Valley State University is hosting an art exhibition featuring paintings and lacquerware that explores culture and memory, among other themes.

The artwork of Shenyang Aerospace University professors Li Shaohong and Liu Wei is on display now at the SVSU University Art Gallery, located on the first floor of SVSU’s Arbury Fine Arts Center. The exhibition, titled "Images from China," ends Friday, Feb. 7.

The community is invited to the exhibition’s reception Thursday, Jan. 16, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the gallery.

Since 2012, Shaohang has been featured in solo exhibitions at galleries in the U.S. and China. His paintings focus in part on childhood dreams and memories as well as history and cultural traditions. 

Wei specializes in lacquerware, which are objects — such as containers and tableware — decorated with intricate designs. Through his art, Wei attempts to make connections between the northern and southern Chinese cultures while focusing on the concept of fate.

Shenyang Aerospace University has an articulation agreement with the SVSU art department in graphic design, allowing Chinese students the opportunity to spend two years at SVSU. As part of this agreement, the two professors were chosen to share their artwork at SVSU.

The University Art Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The gallery is closed Monday, Jan. 20, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

For more information about the "Images from China " exhibition, visit

January 13, 2020

National thought leaders to speak during regional health conference at SVSU

Two thought leaders and change agents will headline a regional health conference at Saginaw Valley State University Friday, Jan. 24. This eleventh annual conference, titled “The Region's Health and Health Care Systems: Communities Achieving Excellence and Moving Upstream,” will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This conference will bring two world-renowned speakers to the Great Lakes Bay Region, Dr. Rishi Manchanda and Dr. Brian C. Castrucci, who will highlight their innovative discoveries and implementation strategies within public health and upstream health care.

Dr. Manchanda is a physician, author, and health care leader who currently serves as the President and CEO of HealthBegins. With this mission-driven consulting and technology firm, Dr. Manchanda has dedicated his career to helping health care and community partners improve the care and social factors of health for vulnerable populations.

On an international stage, Dr. Manchanda's 2013 TEDbook, “The Upstream Doctors,” has become recommended reading in medical schools and universities worldwide. In this book he introduced the “Upstreamists,” a new model of health care workers who improve care and equity by addressing the entire scope of patients' health-related social needs. In addition, his TED talk on the subject has reached over 1.8 million views.  

Dr. Manchanda currently serves on the board of the Beyond Flexner Alliance, on the California Future Health Workforce Commission, and was a member of the HHS Health Care Payment Learning & Action Network's Primary Care Payment Model Work Group. As a pillar in his community, he also served as the director of social medicine for a network of community health centers in south central Los Angeles, was the lead physician for homeless veterans at the Greater Los Angeles VA hospital, and was the first chief medical officer for a self-insured employer with a large rural immigrant workforce.

Dr. Castrucci, is the President and CEO of the deBeaumont Foundation, as well as an award-winning epidemiologist with 10 years of experience working in state and local health departments. The deBeaumont Foundation brings together research and practice by advancing policy, building partnerships, and strengthening the public health system. These objectives are accomplished under Dr. Castrucci's leadership through projects that include CityHealth, the BUILD Health Challenge, and the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey.

As a scholar, Dr. Castrucci has published more than 70 health care articles, with his most current work focusing on the public health needs of large cities, the need for better data systems, and public health system improvements. One of his recent articles, Meeting Individual Social Needs Falls Short of Addressing Social Determinants of Health, was featured by Health Affairs as the second-most read health affairs blog post of 2019. Dr. Castrucci also serves as an editor and contributing author to “The Practical Playbook. Public Health. Primary Care. Together,” published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

This regional health care conference is sponsored by the Mid Central Michigan Area Health Education Center, Dow, the Hospital Council of East Central Michigan, the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance, and SVSU.

The event will be held in the Ott Auditorium of Gilbertson Hall at SVSU. Registration is now open with a cost of $75 per person or $25 for students. The conference will also be simulcast at Central Michigan University and Kirtland Health Sciences Center in Grayling. Registration information is available online at

January 13, 2020

Gov. Whitmer to speak to Great Lakes Bay Economic Club at SVSU in advance of her ‘State of the State’ address

Governor Gretchen Whitmer will speak to the Great Lakes Bay Economic Club about her vision for the future of Michigan during a special meeting of the club Friday, Jan. 17 at Saginaw Valley State University. Her talk will come less than two weeks before she delivers her State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

Gov. Whitmer is expected to provide a preview of portions of her State of the State address. Her priorities include working to ensure every Michigander has an excellent public education and a path to a good-paying job, every community has clean, safe drinking water, and everyone can drive to work or drop their kids at school safely, without blowing a tire or cracking a windshield.

Entering her second year in office, Gov. Whitmer has signed executive directives to clean up Michigan’s drinking water, end discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity, secure equal pay for equal work, and expand opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses.

Prior to being elected governor, Whitmer served in the Michigan House of Representatives and the State Senate, where she served as the Senate Democratic Leader. 

Her visit to SVSU comes just weeks before the university is expected to publicly open its 38,500 square foot building addition for the Scott L. Carmona College of Business; the construction project received $9.8 million in state funding. A public dedication is planned for late February.

Registration for the Jan. 17 luncheon will begin at 11:30; lunch will be served at noon in SVSU’s Curtiss Hall banquet rooms. The program with Gov. Whitmer is scheduled from 12:20 to 1 p.m. More information is available at

Founded in 1978 the Great Lakes Bay Economic Club encourages the exchange of ideas on economics, business, and policy on a wide range of economic issues affecting the Great Lakes Bay Region. The club achieves this by having meetings with high-profile speakers that initiate members to interact and network allowing the cultivation and collaboration of economic knowledge.

December 20, 2019

SVSU's Henry Marsh Institute for Public Policy continues legacy of leadership

Inspired by one of the region’s trailblazers, a Saginaw Valley State University-based political leadership program continues to create a legacy of its own nearly a decade after its founding, organizers say.
SVSU’s Henry Marsh Institute for Public Policy on Friday, Dec. 13 graduated 12 members of its 2019 cohort while inducting 15 members into its 2020 class. Participants include local politicians, CEOs, first responders and SVSU students, among others.
“I am consistently inspired by all the individuals who take part in this program,” said Riley Hupfer, program coordinator and the director of SVSU’s Center for Community Engagement. “They each bring unique perspectives and teach us valuable lessons. I look forward to what our 2019 cohort will continue to accomplish in the community, and what our 2020 cohort will achieve together, now, and in the future.”
Civic and business leaders founded the organization in 2011, naming it after the late Henry Marsh, who was one of the first black mayors elected in the United States when he led Saginaw beginning in 1967. Graduates include elected representatives in communities across the Great Lakes Bay Region.
The Henry Marsh Institute of Public Policy’s mission involves educating citizens to be effective advocates and change agents in the Great Lakes Bay Region. The 10-month program incorporates the understandings of local political institutions, public policy analysis, campaigning, and effective governance.
Jamie Forbes, an advisory board member with the institute, was excited for the leadership members offer their communities.
“I am confident that the graduating class of the Henry Marsh Institute for Public Policy will go forward to use their incredible skills, leadership and relationships across the political spectrum to positively move our region forward,” Forbes said. “They are truly the legacy of Henry Marsh in action.”
The 2019 graduating class includes the following 12 individuals:
  • Brad Blanchard, of Auburn; an environmental, health, and safety specialist at SK Innovation
  • Moira Branigan, of Bay City; director of YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region
  • Madison Clements, of Auburn; director of governmental affairs at Bay Area and Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce
  • Angela Cole, of Midland; legal counsel and litigator at the Law Office of Angela Cole
  • Stephanie Davis, of Auburn; vice president and chief learning officer at Greater Michigan Construction Academy
  • Karen Gerhardt, of Saginaw; owner and artist at Sister Studio
  • Steven Gerhardt, of Saginaw; technical consultant at KLA Laboratories
  • Brandon Harris, of Saginaw; sales assistant at Art Van Furniture
  • Alan Malesky, of Saginaw; fire chief at Kochville Township Fire Department
  • Channing McKay, of Saginaw; program assistant at Saginaw Community Foundation
  • Stephen Prince, of Bay City; an SVSU student studying management
  • Bill Wickes, of Saginaw; constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee
Those who have been inducted into the class of 2020 include the following individuals:
  • Denise Berry, of Saginaw; chief executive officer at Family & Children's Services of Mid-Michigan
  • Martin Blank, of Bay City; physician at Martin Blank, MD, PLC
  • Lucy Cornwell, of Haven; an SVSU student studying political science
  • Jocelynn Fair, of Essexville; residential advocate at Underground Railroad and an SVSU student studying public administration
  • Andrea Foster, of Saginaw; director of programs and partnerships at Little Forks Conservancy
  • Jennifer Geno, of Saginaw; executive director of Career and Technical Education at Saginaw Intermediate School District
  • Scott McFarland, of Midland; owner of Scott McFarland, LLC
  • Tom Meyer, of Saginaw; manager of patient logistics at Covenant HealthCare
  • Diane Middleton, of Auburn; vice president of advocacy at Midland Business Alliance
  • Susan Moody, of Saginaw; director of memberships and sponsorships at Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce
  • Thom Pepe, of Midland; senior director for community impact and engagement for the Great Lakes Loons
  • Maria Sandow, of Midland; co-owner at Grandma's Pumpkin Patch, Earthmovers of Midland, and Larkin Food Center
  • Chloe Updegraff, of Midland; coordinator at Great Lakes Bay Regional Census Hub
  • Paul White, of Flint; attorney at Law Office of Paul J. White
  • Mitzi Zanotti Brown, of Bay City; group sales director for the Saginaw Spirit

December 19, 2019

A 'Hidden Figure' in modern times; NASA leader to keynote regional MLK Jr. event at SVSU

Saginaw Valley State University next month will welcome Ruth D. Jones, a leader with NASA and a trailblazer in her industry, to deliver the keynote address during the 11th annual Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the campus. 

Jones will appear Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

As the branch chief at the Industrial Safety Branch of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Jones oversees the safety and mission assurance functions at the U.S. government's Huntsville, Alabama-based civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research facility.

Jones became the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in physics from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1994. Six years later, she was the second African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics in the state of Alabama, graduating from Alabama A&M University.

In her career, Jones thrived in an industry where many of her peers were white and male. Now she travels the nation as a motivational speaker seeking to inspire others to pursue careers in STEM fields while serving as a role model for women and minorities.

“No matter what your color is, no matter what your gender is, what matters is what’s in your head,” she said during a 2017 interview.

Jones will serve as a Dow Visiting Scholar as well as a King-Chavez-Parks Scholar during her stay. Along with presenting as a keynote speaker, she will be involved in STEM-centric initiatives on and off campus. Jones plans to meet with participants in the SVSU Chief Science Officers program, a leadership development initiative aimed at empowering middle and high school students to serve as STEM education advocates in their home school districts.

She also plans to speak afterward with the audience attending a free SVSU showing of "Hidden Figures," the 2016 biographical drama about three African-American women who helped propel NASA during the "space race" of the 1960s. The public is invited to the movie presentation Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 5 p.m. in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The film is rated PG with a runtime of 127 minutes.

Jones joins a prestigious list of keynote speakers featured during the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Celebration at SVSU. Most recently, Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, served as the keynote in January 2019. In 2018, Karen Carter, the chief inclusion officer for The Dow Chemical Company, presented at the event. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was the 2017 keynote speaker.

In addition to Jones’ keynote address, the Jan. 22 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 Jr.'s ideals. Officials also will announce the winners of the Drum Major Awards, 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 the Bay Area, Midland Area and Saginaw community foundations; Delta College; Dow; the King-Chavez-Parks Initiative; local NAACP chapters; and Nexteer Automotive.

For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, go to

December 19, 2019

SVSU students volunteer for nonprofits across U.S. during winter break

Nearly 100 Saginaw Valley State University students dedicated to community service are spending a week of their winter break volunteering across the nation as part of SVSU’s Alternative Breaks program.

Alternative Breaks is a student-run organization that sends its members to locations across the U.S. to participate in a range of volunteer activities during college break periods including winter and spring breaks.

This week, nine groups of SVSU students are spending Dec. 14-21 in eight different states to aid nonprofit organizations involved in causes such as suicide prevention awareness, assisting in elderly care, engaging LGBTQ+ issues, and rebuilding homes, among other activities.

The following is a breakdown of the nine nonprofit organizations and causes that students are engaging as part of Alternative Breaks:

  • At the Center for Suicide Awareness — a nonprofit in Kaukauna, Wisconsin — students are supporting mental health programming for teens at Kaukauna High School.
  • At a Maryville, Tennessee-based wilderness retreat known as Once Upon a Time in Appalachia, volunteers are helping the nonprofit Breakaway. The organization links college students with communities to perform service projects addressing a variety of social, cultural and environmental needs.
  • At La Casa De Amistad — a nonprofit charitable organization that functions as a youth and community center in South Bend, Indiana — SVSU volunteers are serving Hispanic communities by organizing programming relating to immigration processes.
  • With the nonprofit Campus Pride in Charlotte, SVSU students are supporting the needs of LGBTQ+ communities and ally student leaders.
  • With the help of Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition Inc. — a nonprofit based in Murphy, North Carolina — volunteers are helping to maintain water quality in creeks, lakes and rivers that flow into the Hiwassee River.
  • At a Habitat for Humanity site in Birmingham, students are educating communities about global housing issues while learning how to tackle those issues.
  • A ninth team of SVSU volunteers are rebuilding, repairing and beautifying homes for disadvantaged homeowners with the help of the nonprofit United Saints Recovery Project in New Orleans.

After returning from their trips, many of the SVSU students engage in volunteer service for a nonprofit organization in the Great Lakes Bay Region — or their home communities — devoted to a cause similar to the causes they engaged during the Alternative Breaks trip.

Follow the journeys of the students participating in SVSU's Alternative Breaks program at the following Facebook page:

December 18, 2019

First-person perspectives from first-generation college students: Jessalyn Gaskin, of SVSU

The following is a part of a series of first-person narratives from SVSU students who are part of the first generation of their families to attend college. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find links to additional student stories.

The following is a first-person perspective from SVSU student Jessalyn Gaskin:

I knew I always wanted to go to college. I went to a college preparatory charter school authorized by Saginaw Valley State University and my parents always encouraged me to continue my education. As a first-generation college student with younger siblings, 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. I felt nervous, but also excited. I’m a family person and I’ve never spent that much time away from home. With a lot of opportunities for scholarships, one of the best social work programs in the state, and a good distance from home, SVSU was a great fit.

I have a major in social work with a minor in youth services, and I want to work in a juvenile delinquency center. I also want to earn my master’s degree so that I can become a clinical social worker in a hospital, and ultimately, I want to open my own Boys and Girls Club of America-style establishment.  

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

I knew I needed to go to college to achieve these goals, but I wasn’t always sure that I would go immediately after high school. I considered staying home and working because I was really concerned about the financial costs of going away to college. Scholarships played a big role in deciding to pursue a four-year degree and in choosing SVSU, and I found 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.

One of my scholarships included the Public School Academy (PSA) scholarship at SVSU, which provides financial and personal support for recipients in the program. As a mentee in the PSA Transition Program, we had coaches and mentors that kept us on track in our first year with tutoring, volunteer and leadership experience, and academic advising. This support really helped me transition to college, and it inspired me to give back as a mentor in the King Chavez Parks (KCP) grant program. As a mentor, I help other first-generation college students and I like the experience because I understand how they feel. I like to tell them that I went through the same thing and I understand.

When I was transitioning to being a college student, I was worried about feeling like I wouldn’t belong. I was very reserved in high school and had been in school with the same small class for years, so it was really comforting to meet so many welcoming and friendly people at SVSU. Joining programs like the Organization of Black Unity and Impact, a campus ministry group, helped me build a community on campus that broke me out of my shell. My favorite part of being in college is meeting new people. It opened me up more and helped me experience a lot of new things and opportunities.

I would really encourage others to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new. If they open themselves up to new experiences and opportunities, they will have the support and resources they need to succeed. I learned that, if you stay, you won’t get anywhere. In order to have opportunities and actually experience college, you have to open up.

The following are links to additional first-person perspectives from first-generation college students:

Paloma Barba

Talia Pruiett

Lindsey Mead

Mitch Hughes

December 18, 2019

First-person perspectives from first-generation college students: Talia Pruiett, of SVSU

The following is a part of a series of first-person narratives from SVSU students who are part of the first generation of their families to attend college. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find links to additional student stories.

The following is a first-person perspective from SVSU student Talia Pruiett:

For me, college was always the goal. I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do– I just knew I needed to go to college. I wasn’t exposed to many careers and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, but my high school really pushed going to college and I always felt that was the right thing for me. My parents were supportive as well, but neither of them had gone to college and they didn’t know much about the admissions process. I worked hard and dual-enrolled to earn college credit while still in high school, and my financial situation was the biggest factor when deciding where I wanted to continue my education.

I knew that I was going to be paying for college on my own, so it was deciding what was best for me and what was financially the best. Saginaw Valley State University had the most opportunities. I completed my FAFSA, and I would highly encourage every single person to do that. I was determined and applied for a lot of scholarships. I was awarded two from SVSU, as well as an opportunity grant, which meant that I didn’t have to take out any loans for my first year of school. I also work on campus as an orientation leader, tour guide, and in the counseling center, which helps offset costs as well.

When I arrived at SVSU, it was just really surreal. You go to school for 12 years and college is the light at the end of the tunnel. I was excited to come here. I wanted to get involved and make the best of it.  I was a little nervous but very driven and determined. I wanted to learn more about the world around me. I was excited to get a new start and I felt like SVSU was the best place to do that.

Coming from a small high school, I was nervous about making friends, and I think all the events and clubs helped me find my best friends and break out of my shell. You don’t realize how much you learn about yourself until you get involved in things. I joined the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, an intramural basketball team, volunteered with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Cardinal Volunteers, and will be going on a study abroad trip to Mexico soon as part of my Spanish minor.

I also joined Alternative Breaks, an SVSU program that sends students to volunteer for nonprofits across the country during the university’s holiday breaks. I traveled to South Carolina and worked with youth in the juvenile justice system, and I realized I had a passion for helping others. That really solidified it for me. When I got back, I talked to the Career Services Office and my department chair, then switched my major to social work.

As a freshman, I was part of a first-year transition program as SVSU, and my coordinator was very supportive and helpful. She was always approachable when I had questions about my major and class schedule, or if I needed advice. She always reassured me that everything was going to be ok and pointed me in the right direction. She’s helped guide me in a lot of ways and I’m so appreciative of that.

Now, to share my experiences, I work in the King Chavez Parks (KCP) grant program to coach and mentor other first-generation students. I absolutely love working with them and learning from them. I build relationships, get insight on what they need with resources, make sure they’re doing ok in their classes and getting acclimated, guide them with study habits, and help set the foundation for them to be successful students.  

If anyone’s having troubling transitioning to college, I would encourage them to reach out because there are resources and people who are there to help. It may be challenging, but if you do what you’re supposed to do and do it right, then good things will happen.

The following are links to additional first-person perspectives from first-generation college students:

Paloma Barba

Lindsey Mead

Jessalyn Gaskin

Mitch Hughes

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