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October 3, 2019

SVSU alumnus in national spotlight with inspirational story about marching band's supportive performance

A Saginaw Valley State University alumnus' neighborly nature was music to the ears of one northern Michigan high school last week. Now the support the school marching band director offered has attracted the attention of media outlets across the country.


Brandon Deike, who received a bachelor's degree in music education at SVSU in 2009, made national news when his school's marching band performed during a football game at another high school, which lacked a band. Deike brought the Forest Area Schools marching band he directs to Maple City Glen Lake for its Friday, Sept. 27 home game. The arrangement was made after Glen Lake Athletic Director Mark Mattson called Deike the same week the band director's high school lost its football team due to a lack of players.


"We had a news team come in about our football team being shut down," Deike said. "They talked to the band and asked them how that affected them. I think the athletic director saw that story, so he called me and said, 'Hey, we don't have a high school band right now, and you don't have a football team, so do you want to make something happen?'"


Deike said he put the offer to a vote among his band students who would have to travel to Glen Lake, about 45 miles from Deike's school, which is near Traverse City.


"When I talked to the band, I said, 'This is quick. We've got a three-day turnaround. You have to make an adult decision on whether you want to do this or not. We can haul all our stuff up there, arrange everything and help these kids out,'" Deike said. "All the band raised their hands."


Deike said he believes his students made the leap of faith to go because Forest Area had lost its band program a few years prior.


"Our story is, we were worse off than Glen Lake was," Deike said. "We've been rebuilding since 2011. I think a lot of the kids remembered where we come from and what we had to face, and they really wanted to help these kids."


Deike said Forest Lake features 11 middle school students in band and one high schooler who performs with the middle school. He hoped his high school band students showed the Glen Lake middle schoolers that they can be successful in band. He said Forest Area was a great example of this because its high school band, jazz band and choir received high marks during last year's local band festival.


"Rebuilding can be done if you put yourself in the right place," Deike said. "I think the kids were coming off that awesome year, and we see Glen Lake is missing out without band. So we wanted to show them how successful they can be in band."


Shortly after the Forest Area band decided to play at Glen Lake, the story was picked up nationally by outlets such as The Associated Press, Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald and CNN. Deike said he was surprised by the attention the story received.


"We're in northern Michigan, in the woods, and we're removed from the country," he said. "You never go into something thinking, 'Well, let's hope this makes the national news.'"


While Deike was happy the story was circulated, he said there was "one thing missing" from most of the articles.


"Our program was basically born out of the ashes of nothing," he said. "For our kids to turn around and do this seven or eight years later is a testament to the work they put in. It's just really cool."


He said the band's decision to play at Glen Lake would be an inspiring story for more outlets to share. A social media campaign has begun, attempting to get the story told on NBC's The Ellen DeGeneres Show.


"Basically, our school is low-income, low-socioeconomic status," he said. "We have nothing in the way of money, budget or instruments. We're working with chicken wire and duct tape here. From what we've come from and where we've gone, for another school an hour away to call us and say, 'Hey, come be our band,' why wouldn't you want to share that story?"


Deike said his students enjoyed their experience at Glen Lake and would return if asked.


"We're looking at schedules to see about returning," he said. "If we can line it up, we will return. I know the music director there is trying to rebuild their band, so I don't want to step on their toes. If they've got their vision to get this thing going again, that's great."


He said the Forest Area band would be more than willing to lend their support as Glen Lake rebuilds.


"I think the bigger story is that you can go to rags to —not riches — but 'rags to successful,' and turn it all around so you can be someone who helps others take risks and support them," he said.

October 3, 2019

SVSU fundraising tradition to boost Midland nonprofit's educational programs across region

Saginaw Valley State University students’ commitment to support the community remains as strong as ever. They are inspired to compete — now only against themselves — during a fundraiser next week that will support a nonprofit’s expansion of a developmental educational program already positively impacting Great Lakes Bay Region teens.


SVSU’s “Battle of the Valley” fundraiser from Oct. 6-11 will benefit The ROCK Center for Youth Development, a Midland-based nonprofit that provides after-school programs as well as educational development initiatives at 30 middle and high schools in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties. SVSU students will spend the week collecting funds that will be used to expand the nonprofit’s programs across the region.


From Battle of the Valley's conception in 2003 until last year, the annual event was a fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University students. The two sides raised $652,385 for various nonprofits and organizations over the years. But GVSU students backed out of the event this year. Regardless, SVSU student leaders decided to continue the tradition minus the competition.


The re-imagined effort will maintain many of its hallmarks. The public can continue to contribute to the cause. Off-campus events benefiting the fundraiser are planned at establishments in Kochville and Saginaw townships such as Buffalo Wild Wings all day Monday, Oct. 7; Pierce Road Bar and Grill all day Wednesday, Oct. 9; and Stardust Lanes all day Friday, Oct. 11. For more information about the week’s Battle of the Valley-related events, visit


Madeline Lowry, the chairperson of the fundraiser organized by SVSU’s student government, said she and her peers selected The ROCK Center for Youth Development from 50 applicants because of its offerings to teens — and, by extension, their families — in need of support.


“Their programs are designed to enhance students’ ability to work in the professional world as well as in the college environment after high school,” said Lowry, an exercise science major from Lake Orion.


Kylie Anderson, The ROCK Center for Youth Development’s director of development, said the nonprofit started small in 2001 in Midland, where it offered after-school programs for teens there. Those after-school initiatives still exist — now housed at Jefferson and Northeast middle schools as well as the nonprofit’s headquarters in the Greater Midland Community Center — but the organization has evolved to include other initiatives with the help of eight full-time and 20 part-time staff members.


“The spirit of how we started remains, but we’ve grown and added so much since then,” Anderson said. “We’ve learned a lot about youth development over the years.”


One of its most popular programs is Discover You, a curriculum-based initiative that provides middle and high school students with life skills meant to prepare them better for adulthood. Through partnerships with about 30 organizations and schools in the Great Lakes Bay Region, Discover You involves the nonprofit’s staff hosting weekly hour-long sessions at each client's site including at campuses during school hours, when they work with teens in group settings.


“Discover You deals with a lot of problem-solving and resiliency-building skills that help with self-esteem and self-image,” Anderson said. “We find that kids also build stronger relationships with their classmates as a result of Discover You.”


She said about 5,000 teenagers in the region were impacted by the program last year alone. Among the Discover You clients are Swan Valley middle and high schools. Mat McRae, superintendent of the Swan Valley School District, said the initiative made a positive difference in the lives of his students.


“We now consider this a valuable piece of our multi-tiered systems of support and look forward to its continuation,” McRae said. “This program benefits not only our students and schools, but also our families and the Swan Valley community.”


Anderson said she expects much of the funds collected through the Battle of the Valley initiative will enable the Discover You program to expand across more schools across the region. More schools will necessitate more staff, staff hours and training — all of which will require budget investments, she said.


“We’ve been in Midland since the beginning, but we’re newer in Bay and Saginaw counties, so that financial support will help us become better established there,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest out there, but there’s only so much we can do in terms of our capacity to meet those needs.”


If Battle of the Valley 2019 matches the performance of the fundraiser's previous five years, The ROCK Center for Youth Development could receive somewhere between $25,000 to $35,000. Last year, SVSU raised $36,210 for The Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network.


Lowry said she doesn’t expect the change in the fundraiser’s format will impact the final tally this time around. She said the spirit of giving among SVSU students will endure regardless of the absence of a competing university.


“We’re all broke college students, yet we still manage to come up with $30-something-thousand dollars every year,” Lowry said. “It’s really cool to see all the students come together just to support another organization. It’s just amazing.”

October 3, 2019

Season-opening winning streak continues for SVSU forensics program

Hard work and dedication helped Saginaw Valley State University's forensics team experience its fifth consecutive year winning the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League season-opening tournament.

Five SVSU students qualified for a national tournament spot in April as a result of their individual performances during the team's victory Friday, Sept. 27, at Oakland Community College's Orchard Ridge campus.

Amy Pierce, an SVSU associate professor of communication serving as co-adviser for the forensics group, said a forensics-focused communication class offered at the university allowed students to prepare early in the semester for the competition.

"While most of the students in the class had no previous experience with forensics, the class introduces them to the norms and culture of competitive speaking," she said, "which sets us apart from other schools."

Friday's competition featured students competing in categories such as prose, dramatic interpretation, impromptu, and informative.

These students placed in the following categories during individual competition:

  • Jessica Carpenter, a communication major from Saginaw, placed fourth in the prose category.
  • Imani Clark, a communication major from Saginaw, earned second place in the impromptu category.
  • Monae Colvin, a criminal justice major from Detroit, received third place in the prose category.
  • Savannah Senyk, a communication and theatre education major from Smiths Creek, earned second place in the prose category.
  • Simone Vaughn, a communication major from Saginaw, placed second in the informative category.

The SVSU team will compete in a Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League tournament at its own campus in December. The National Forensics Association Championship Tournament, meanwhile, will be hosted by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in April.


Along with Pierce, the SVSU team is advised by Ryan Rigda, a lecturer of communication at the university.

October 1, 2019

Record-high number of SVSU students admitted early to medical school

Saginaw Valley State University students passionate about pursuing health care professions combined their outstanding academic preparation with exemplary community service commitment to be accepted early into medical school. They did so using a program that networks talent from SVSU to other institutions.

A record-high 10 seniors applied to various medical schools that have Early Assurance Program (EAP) agreements with SVSU. All 10 were accepted. The program allows SVSU students to apply to medical schools the summer before their senior year. Currently, SVSU has partnerships with the medical schools at Central Michigan University, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

Heidi Lang, SVSU's pre-health professions adviser, said the 10-for-10 feat is no small accomplishment, especially considering the overall acceptance rate for medical schools in the U.S. is about 40 percent.

While SVSU has had 100 percent acceptance in the past, this is the first year 10 students applied. Usually, three or four students apply, Lang said.

“This year’s class is exceptionally strong, and I am not at all surprised to see 100 percent acceptance,” she said. “Among the 10 students, we have individuals who have volunteered and worked in local hospitals and clinics, but they have all gone a step further to truly make an impact on the community, especially serving those who are from under-served communities.”

Lang said each student who applied this year is dedicated to helping others and will succeed in their careers.

“One thing they all have in common is a genuine desire to serve others through health care,” she said. “They will be a great addition to their respective medical school classes and, perhaps more importantly, the communities where they eventually practice.”  

Several of the SVSU students — including Darby Richards — cited Lang’s help as a key reason for their success.

“Heidi is a great asset to have,” said Richards, a biology major from West Branch. “She really advocates for us and gets us prepared. She does mock interviews in the fall to get us ready. I think having that preparation really helps.”

Richards performs community service through Standing in the Gap, a Christian-based student organization; she also pushes herself academically through SVSU’s Honors program. She will be the first SVSU student to attend Wayne State University under the EAP program, as the university joined the partnership this year.

“I’m really interested in working with under-served populations in lower income areas,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in Wayne. They’re right in the heart of Detroit, and they do a lot outreach in the region with the homeless population and the low-income population.”

Cailtin Coulter will be attending CMU next fall. She also is in SVSU’s Honors program, and she is a past president of SVSU's student government, Student Association. Coulter was thankful for the opportunities afforded her by attending a university where faculty and staff know her personally. 

“At a lot of schools, there’s so many people that you can get lost in the mix,” said Coulter, a biology major from Mount Morris. “Here, I think I’ve had opportunities I wouldn’t have had other places.”

Among other opportunities, Coulter works as a medical scribe at Covenant Medical Center. She said Central Michigan University College of Medicine's commitment to philanthropy was a key reason for wanting to attend the medical school there.


“My ultimate goal down the road is to serve on a nonprofit board in the community I am working in,” she said. “Their model of curriculum is based around philanthropy, as well as every year, you are required to do a service project." 


Below is a list of each SVSU student accepted into medical school for 2020 under EAP agreements, organized by university. 


Wayne State University School of Medicine 

Darby Richards, a biology major from West Branch


Michigan State University College of Human Medicine 

Emily Beardsley, a biochemistry major from Bay City

Katelyn Hartupee-Malett, a biology major from Mount Pleasant

Bayley Pfau, a biology major from Bay City

Tyler Sadilek, a biology major from Chesaning


Central Michigan University College of Medicine 

Caitlin Coulter, a biology major from Mount Morris

Anh (Wendy) Pham, a biology major from Bay City

Kathleen Murphy, a biochemistry major from Bay City

Garrett Richardson, a biology major from Gaylord

Aiden Van Loo, a biology major from Freeland

October 1, 2019

Bay City third graders to visit 'the world' — and many of its cultures — at SVSU

A group of third grade students from Bay City will drive a few miles from their school to take a tour of the world.

Saginaw Valley State University's English Language Program will host its Passport to the World event Friday, Oct. 4. Nearly 100 third grade students from Kolb Elementary School in Bay City will visit campus, where they will learn about different countries and cultures through a series of performances and activities organized by SVSU staff and students.

The day-long event begins with cultural performances hosted by SVSU international students.

SVSU staff and students later will read the book, “Same, Same But Different" by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, to the children. The children's book follows the relationship between two pen pals on opposite sides of the globe.

The day of international exploration also includes yoga sessions led by SVSU students, a tour of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on campus, and clay-sculpting activities.

The third grade attendees will then have the opportunity to "visit" 13 different countries at educational tables staffed by international students with information about other cultures. During the event, the visitors will learn about Japan, Vietnam, Panama, Taiwan, China, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, India, Armenia, Italy, Peru, Rwanda, and Guatemala.

For more information on Passport to the World, contact Amy Cook, assistant director of SVSU’s English Language Program, at or (989) 964-2733.

September 26, 2019

SVSU pushes students to get involved, election participation doubled in 2018, report shows

Saginaw Valley State University leaders determined to engage more students in casting their votes during the 2018 election helped those students find their voice, a new study shows.


A September report by The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education — housed at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life — shows the percentage of SVSU students voting doubled during the 2018 election compared to the 2014 election, from 18.4% to 36.8% last year. An upward trend in election participation was experienced at higher education institutions across the nation, the report showed.


“I was really excited to see a spike at the university level and nationwide,” said Riley Hupfer, director of SVSU’s Center for Community Engagement. “It represents a strong commitment by our university and youth in our country to be part of the voting process.”


SVSU’s Center for Community Engagement — supported by student Democracy Fellows with the university’s Cardinals Vote initiative, a nonpartisan effort dedicated to connecting SVSU students with opportunities to engage in the democratic system — organized a number of voter registration drives leading up to November 2018, Hupfer said.


Cardinals Vote involved co-sponsoring Secretary of State mobile unit appearances on campus, advocating for registration at campus events, and recruiting other student groups and community members to advocate for voter registration.


Hupfer said more than 500 students registered to vote as a direct result of Cardinals Vote, but it’s likely the number was higher.


The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education reported other positive trends at SVSU. The study indicated the voter registration rate for SVSU students increased from 60% in 2014 to 67.1% in 2018; and the voting rate of registered students climbed from 30.6% to 54.8% during the same span.


“We’re not done,” Hupfer said of the program’s plans for the 2020 election. “We want to exceed what we did in 2018.”


SVSU was one of more than 1,000 higher education institutions to participate in The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education’s report, titled the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE).


The national NSLVE report can be read online at

September 26, 2019

Former New York Mets manager to visit SVSU in October

A retired Major League Baseball manager and Midland native will return to the region next month to talk about his passion for leadership during a presentation at Saginaw Valley State University.


Audiences can meet Terry Collins — who led the New York Mets to the World Series in 2015 — during his presentation Monday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event will be moderated by Paul Barbeau, former president and general manager of the Great Lakes Loons. Admission is free and open to the public.


Collins will be looking back at his lengthy baseball career while discussing the leadership skills and determination that helped him perform at the highest levels of athletics.


After growing up in Midland, where he attended Midland High School before graduating in 1967, Collins spent his collegiate playing days at Eastern Michigan University. There, he was a star on the school’s baseball team, playing shortstop and second baseman. He later was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and spent 10 years in the Minor Leagues with the Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers.


After his professional playing career was finished, he transitioned to coaching teams. His first manager job in Major League Baseball came in 1993 when he was hired by the Houston Astros. He also was manager of the Anaheim Angels from 1997-99 before spending times overseas, leading teams in Japan and China.


He returned to the MLB in 2010, and was hired as the New York Mets manager that November. In 2015, during a 90-win season, he led the team to the World Series before falling to the Kansas City Royals. Two years later, he retired from the position, leaving as the longest-tenured manager in Mets history. He remains with the franchise today as a senior advisor for player personnel.


Collins’ appearance at SVSU is sponsored by SVSU's Foundation office.

September 20, 2019

SVSU enrollment down, but freshman class up nearly 20 percent over 2017

Saginaw Valley State University saw an overall enrollment decline for the 2019 fall semester, but it enrolled a much larger freshman class than 2016 or 2017, after increasing the number of first-time students by 28% last year.

SVSU welcomed 1,470 incoming freshmen this fall, a 19.5% increase over the 1,230 new students in fall 2017, though down from last year’s freshman class of 1,576.

“Last year’s freshman class far exceeded our most optimistic projections, and we knew it would be difficult to match that total, particularly as the number of high school graduates in Michigan continues to decline,” said Deborah Huntley, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “Our Admissions staff, along with faculty and staff across the university, worked hard to make connections with students and show them the value of an SVSU degree, so we are pleased with our student recruitment efforts for the incoming class.”

Overall, SVSU has 8,265 students taking classes for the 2019 fall semester, down from 8,535 last year.

Institutional efforts to diversify the international student population paid dividends, as SVSU welcomed new students from 32 separate countries this fall.  In all, 427 international students are taking classes, representing 43 countries overall.

“A few years ago, the lion’s share of our international students came from just two countries, China and Saudi Arabia,” Huntley said. “We have expanded outreach in Africa and in parts of Asia, and we’re seeing more students from those areas, as a result.”

SVSU’s housing, ranked No. 4 overall and No. 1 in the nation among public universities, continues to attract students, as 71% of the freshman class is living on campus.

The academic preparedness of the 2018 freshman class mirrors recent years with an average high school GPA of 3.4.

Fall classes at SVSU began Monday, Aug. 26.

September 20, 2019

SVSU is 4 for 4 in being selected as Great College to Work For

Saginaw Valley State University’s welcoming campus atmosphere and empowering environment has resulted in the institution's designation as a "Great College to Work For" for the fourth consecutive year.


SVSU was one of 84 higher education institutions named to the list released online and to appear in a special insert in The Chronicle for Higher Education Friday, Sept. 20. The Great Colleges to Work For program was co-founded in 2008 as a partnership between The Chronicle of Higher Education and ModernThink, a strategic human capital consulting firm. The program was funded this year by ModernThink, which shared the results in The Chronicle of Higher Education.


“Here at SVSU, we are dedicated to providing first-rate resources to our dedicated faculty and staff,” said SVSU President Donald J. Bachand. “This results in a culture of professional growth and personal satisfaction that strengthens the opportunities we provide our students and community partners. I am proud of this campus-wide commitment to excellence and pleased to see our university continues its reputation as a ‘Great College to Work For.’”


SVSU was the only public university in Michigan recognized as a "Great College to Work For" in 2019. The university – which employs about 750 people full time – has made the list each of the four years it applied.


Each institution on the list is recognized in specific categories. SVSU was honored in the same four categories for the third consecutive year: compensation and benefits; facilities, workspace and security; teaching environment; and tenure clarity and process. The university was also recognized for the first time in a new category: collaborative governance. 


The list was determined based on a survey of 236 higher education institutions as well as analysis of demographic data and workplace policy. The survey – distributed earlier this year to staff and faculty members online – examines individuals’ evaluations of their respective institution.


“The institutions recognized in this year's Great Colleges to Work For program don't wait for problems to occur to pay attention to their people,” said Richard K. Boyer, managing partner at ModernThink. “Conversely, they're intentional in being good stewards of their institutions’ cultures and shaping the day-to-day experience of their faculty and staff to the ultimate benefit of their students.”


For more information about “Great Colleges to Work For,” visit

September 20, 2019

Determination, innovative spirit earn SVSU alumnus role re-imagining agricultural technology in New Zealand

James Harder knows the benefits of hard work and perseverance. The 2019 Saginaw Valley State University mechanical engineering alumnus started college when he was just 14 years old. While being homeschooled, the Saginaw native took college classes for two years through the Great Lakes Bay Early College program at SVSU to get ahead and discover what he wanted to study.


After taking a third year to explore his options, Harder found his passion for engineering and decided to return to college full-time. However, since he was homeschooled, several universities denied him admission and scholarship opportunities.


SVSU welcomed him. The university recognized his value and sought him out to return as a student, even offering him the President’s Scholarship. The way that SVSU supported and empowered Harder made his decision simple, he said.


“I really appreciated the way they treated me as an individual person and not a number,” Harder said. “I came here with no reservations.”


When Harder returned to SVSU, he was initially overwhelmed with the transition he faced. His parents had moved out of the country for work, and he didn’t have much of a support system close by. SVSU staff and faculty soon stepped in to provide him with mentorship and guidance, and to ensure that he knew he wasn’t alone. Whenever he had questions or concerns, staff and faculty went out of their way to help him succeed, he said.


“I really valued that the engineering faculty were inviting students to come ask questions. They had open doors and were always inviting. When you went and asked them questions, they were glad you did,” Harder said.


Harder was determined to challenge himself and make the most of every opportunity he had to excel. When he decided he wanted to complete his degree in two and a half years, his supporters at SVSU rallied around him to help him achieve this difficult objective.


In addition to his accelerated course load, Harder also pushed himself to advance his hands-on experience with a multi-year co-op at Nexteer Automotive in nearby Buena Vista Township. In order to fit all his ambitions into his already full schedule, Harder would work from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Nexteer before coming back to SVSU to take his classes. The support he received from SVSU while managing this heavy workload was invaluable, he said.


“SVSU was there if I wanted to take opportunities like co-ops, taking extra classes, and finishing my degree quickly,” Harder said. “They were there to back me up when I wanted to challenge myself.”


Harder continued to push himself to defy limits and discovered his passion for startups while completing his senior design project. He collaborated with Nexteer to develop an electric power steering motor frame for a home gym. The opportunity to apply this innovative mentality and build something new led him to his next ambitious endeavor.


Harder decided to push himself further and study abroad for his final year. The staff at SVSU were dedicated to making this dream a reality, helping Harder earn a scholarship to study industrial design at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.


His drive to study internationally and to apply himself to innovative initiatives earned him his current position— working at the cutting-edge start-up, Halter, in New Zealand.


Harder has worked at the company for three months, utilizing his mechanical and electrical engineering expertise to design innovative technology that aims to transform the farming industry. He is currently working with his team to develop a solar powered collar for cows that allows farmers to track and monitor their herd remotely.


Harder’s drive to overcome challenges and his determination to follow his passions led him to start his career in a part of the world he had always dreamed of visiting. Even half a world away, Harder still remains in contact with SVSU and the people that helped him along the way, and he is grateful for all of the unique opportunities he had at SVSU that helped get him to where he is.


“Any opportunity that you get to do something extra, no matter how difficult it seems, take those difficult opportunities,” Harder said. “Work hard and when you find what you love, put in everything you have and you will be rewarded.”

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