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March 18, 2019

Theatre director from SVSU brings collaborative spirit to 'Mamma Mia!' regional production

A play with a plot about uniting friends and family despite distances that once separated them. A theatrical production aimed at bringing together the region's diverse performing arts talents. A director hailing from a university that serves as a community-engaged bridge for that region.

There's a lot going on with the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's unprecedented multi-theatre production of "Mamma Mia!" planned for fall. But one common theme — the desire to unify communities — seems to neatly tie together the ambitious effort for director Tommy Wedge, an assistant professor of theatre at Saginaw Valley State University.

"'Mamma Mia!' is about a character trying to get her three dads to join her family, and this production is about three different theaters joining together as a family, so it seems an apt framing device for what we're trying to do," Wedge said.

"It's about bringing people together."

The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance recently announced it would present "Mamma Mia!" and elements of the production in September and October at three venues: Bay City Players, Midland Center for the Performing Arts, and Pit and Balcony Theatre in Saginaw. The schedule will include performances — both open to the public and exclusive for high school student audiences — as well as community workshops and other performances relating to the musical.

"I've never been part of a process like this before," said Wedge, who has worked for productions at all three theaters. "There are a lot of moving pieces, but all of them are achievable."

For the South Dakota native, confidence comes in part because he knows the barriers separating the performers, producers and audiences for the three theaters are largely arbitrary. Wedge said collaboration between the trio of venues has increased in recent years. Managers communicate to ensure they don't produce the same plays during the same seasons, and props and equipment often are shared between the different crews.

"And, especially for the younger performers and staff, the barriers are nonexistent," said Wedge, pointing out that several SVSU students and alumni have résumés highlighting work at all three locations.

"We have been on this path of opening doors between the three theatres for a while, and that led us to where we are today."

Wedge said embracing the spirit of collaboration driving the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's production came natural to him. After all, he adopted an enthusiasm for community engagement from SVSU when he first joined the university in 2011.

"SVSU is one of the most supportive universities when it comes to using our shared strengths to improve the communities around us," he said. "Showcasing the absolute best this region has to offer is something I know how to do."

His work at SVSU already is carrying over to his latest production. Melanie Frasca, an SVSU theatre and English double major from Waterford, was involved in several Wedge-directed plays at the university. She will serve as his stage manager for "Mamma Mia!"

He said other members of the SVSU community likely will be involved in "Mamma Mia!" Openings remain for the production crew staff. Cast auditions begin in July.

Wedge most recently directed the February 2019 SVSU production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." He directed two plays at Midland Center for the Arts including "Beauty and the Beast" in April 2017, and four shows at Pit and Balcony including "Spring Awakening" in May 2014. He served as a directing consultant at Bay City Players.

The fall lineup of "Mamma Mia!" performances will mark his first experience working with the beloved Broadway-born musical about a young woman's effort to unify her family on the eve of her wedding.

"I'm a huge fan of the movie," he said of the 2008 film starring Meryl Streep. "For my money, it's the most successful jukebox musical there is. I'm looking forward to bringing a fresh perspective to it."

Tickets for "Mamma Mia!" will go on sale to the general public on June 27 and will be available from the box offices and websites of all three theatres (,, and

For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance's production of "Mamma Mia!,'" visit the organization's website at

March 14, 2019

SVSU welcomes Yale professor for talk on American Muslim communities

Zareena A. Grewal, associate professor of American studies, religious studies and anthropology at Yale University, will give a public lecture at Saginaw Valley State University Thursday, March 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall.

Grewal is an author and documentary filmmaker whose research focuses on race, gender, religion, nationalism and transnationalism across a wide spectrum of American Muslim communities. She has received awards for her writing and research grants from the Fulbright, Wenner-Gren and Luce Foundations.

Her first book, “Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority,” is an ethnography of transnational Muslim networks that link U.S. mosques to Islamic movements in the Middle East through debates about the reform of Islam.

Grewal’s first film, “By the Dawn's Early Light: Chris Jackson's Journey to Islam,” examines the racialization of Islam and the scrutiny of American Muslims' patriotism.

At SVSU, Grewal’s lecture will cover the subject of her forthcoming book, titled “Is the Quran a Good Book?” which combines ethnographic and cultural studies analyses with historical research to trace the place of Islamic scripture in American imagination, especially in relation to national debates about intolerance.

Grewal's visit to SVSU is supported through the Dr. Raana Akbar Memorial Lecture Series in partnership with SVSU's Edwards Lecture Series and Dow Visiting Scholars Lecture Series.

The Raana Akbar Memorial Lecture on Islam and Culture was established in 2011 by Dr. Waheed Akbar in memory of his late wife Raana, a former member of the SVSU Board of Control, physician and community leader.

The William and Julia Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion is a forum where recognized scholars in religion and philosophy are invited to share their work with the campus community.

The Dow Visiting Scholars and Artists program was established through an endowment from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to enrich our regional cultural and intellectual opportunities.

For more information, visit

March 14, 2019

SVSU 'Human Library' event challenges prejudice through dialogue

Saginaw Valley State University will host its third annual "Human Library" event Tuesday, March 19, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first floor of Melvin J. Zahnow Library.


The event is free and open to the public.


Human Library events are designed to build a positive framework for conversations aimed at challenging stereotypes and prejudices. At these Human Library events, people are asked to serve as "books," telling their life stories to guests in attendance.


Organizers say this year's "books" will tell a variety of stories including the experience of living with a mental illness, the struggles of being a teenage mother, and the experience of being part of an interracial marriage. Other "book" topics will include living with narcolepsy, being an international student at a university, public misconceptions of Puerto Ricans, the challenge of raising an autistic son as a single mother, and the trials and tribulations of being a woman in the professional world.


Angelica Johnson, an SVSU engineering technology management major from Saginaw, served on the Human Library Planning Committee. Johnson said she expects both the event's participants and its attendees will gain wisdom from the experience.


"I believe the Human Library event gets at an understanding of a special individual who has a unique story in their life," she said. "This event goes above and beyond contributing the hard work of others and establishing new connections to human 'books.'"


For more information on Human Library events, visit

March 14, 2019

SVSU earns Voter-Friendly Campus designation

Saginaw Valley State University's commitment to civic engagement has been recognized with the  institution being selected as a “Voter Friendly Campus.”

The Voter Friendly Campus Initiative is led by the national nonpartisan organizations Campus Vote Project and NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, which hold participating institutions accountable for planning and implementing practices that encourage their students to vote.

In total, 123 institutions in 31 states earned the designation for 2019-20.

To participate in the Voter Friendly Campus designation program, SVSU worked with the organization to craft a statement of interest, draft and execute an action plan for democratic and civic engagement initiatives and events happening on campus and evaluate their efforts to set new goals for the future.

The staff of the SVSU's Center for Civic Engagement also created a coalition of community members, on-campus partners and student groups who helped draft and submit SVSU's application.

“Your institution's efforts to break down barriers and empower students with the information and tools they need to participate in the political process puts the civic mission of higher education into action,” read a statement by organizers of the initiative when SVSU's designation was announced.

As part of their action plan, the Center for Civic Engagement included its plans for the 2018 Cardinals Vote campus initiative, which saw hundreds of SVSU students registered to vote, educated about their choices and transported to the polls.

Riley Hupfer, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement, credits SVSU's success on a campus community full of engaged citizens.

“I think it's a combination of things. Students across campus are interested in this and putting time into it, and there is kind of a wave of youth voter engagement improving,” Hupfer said. “SVSU students as a whole were engaged in this. They were interested, and when the resources were there, they engaged with them. I think people were just excited to get involved.”

The Voter Friendly Campus designation program was started in 2016 with the goal of helping institutions develop plans to coordinate administrators, faculty and student organizations in civic and electoral engagement. It focuses primarily on voter registration, voter education, voter turnout and treating students as voter advocates.

“It reinforces the commitment across the country and the recognition that when students vote and get involved, great things happened,” Hupfer said. “This is just a large support network for that, and that's pretty promising.”

March 13, 2019

Economist to discuss central bank's influence on U.S. economy during SVSU talk

An economist hoping to familiarize Midwestern communities with the United States’ central banking system will visit Saginaw Valley State University later this month.

Cindy Ivanac-Lillig, an economic outreach specialist at the Chicago Federal Reserve, will discuss the central bank’s influence on the U.S. economy Thursday, March 28, at 6 p.m. in SVSU's Curtiss Hall, seminar rooms D and E. The event is free and open to the public.

Ivanac-Lillig joined the Chicago Federal Reserve in 2008. She leads a variety of economic education programs for Midwest teachers, students and professional associations while also managing education partnerships on behalf of the organization. 

Prior to joining the Chicago Federal Reserve, Ivanac-Lillig provided financial consulting for London-based Ernst & Young and worked abroad for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ivanac-Lillig received a master’s degree in international affairs and economics from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in 2003 as well as a bachelor’s degree in finance from Boston College in 1995.


For more information on her appearance at SVSU, please contact Kellie Konsor, SVSU assistant professor of economics, at (989) 964-4323 or email event organizers at or

March 13, 2019

SVSU international students plan evening of dance, music, celebration of cultures

Audiences can expect to behold a colorful lineup of songs, dancing, fashion and theatrical performances — representing more than a dozen cultures — during Saginaw Valley State University’s 18th annual Intercultural Night.


Members of SVSU’s International Student Club will host the event — free and open to the public — Friday, March 15, at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. 


About 50 international students plan to participate on stage that evening. They will represent cultures and nations such as Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, El Salvador, India, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Palestine, Poland, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Members of SVSU’s African Student Union also will perform.


Each group will present entertainment and clothing native to their culture through traditional song and dance, instrumental performances, skits and a fashion show. 


"We consider learning about other cultures as an important part of a college education,” said Pat Shelley, an international student advisor at SVSU who advises the International Student Club. “Even if students don’t get a chance to study abroad, they still get an opportunity to interact with different cultures here on campus.”

March 13, 2019

SVSU event to connect teens with STEM professionals

An inspired idea by local teenagers to encourage their peers to pursue science careers will take shape at Saginaw Valley State University later this week.

SVSU will host a Teen Science Café on Thursday, March 14, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., in rooms GS 115 and GS 117 of Gilbertson Hall. The event is free and open to all middle and high school students.

Teen Science Café events aim to empower students by connecting them with STEM professionals eager to discuss their respective industries. The professionals planning to appear at SVSU's event will represent careers such as nursing, mechanical engineering, cybersecurity and agriculture, organizers say.

The SVSU-hosted Teen Science Café in part was the creation of local high schools students involved in the university's Chief Science Officers program, which is a branch of a national initiative designed to encourage middle and high school students to serve as advocates for science education among their peers.

Mackenzie Jean-Marcoux, a senior at John Glenn High School in Bay City and a member of the group that organized the Teen Science Café, said she was inspired to widen her influence as a science education advocate during her second year with the Chief Science Officers program.

"This year, I wanted to focus on STEM career exploration in more than just my high school," she said. "I thought the Teen Science Café would be a great idea that would accomplish my goals."

Jean-Marcoux said she is eager to survey those in attendance to measure the event's impact.

"I am most excited for when we'll be able to ask the students what they've learned and, hopefully, to see that some of them now have new ideas for possible careers," she said.

Adrianne Cole, the director of STEM@SVSU, said Teen Science Café events help attendees better relate to people in science-related careers.

"Teens gain a more realistic and positive perception of STEM professionals, get a glimpse of the interesting lives they lead, and learn that they are real, complex, multi-dimensional humans — just like them," Cole said.

For more information on the Chief Science Officers program as well as other STEM-based initiatives at SVSU, visit

March 12, 2019

SVSU to host nationally renowned author and commentator Michael Eric Dyson

Outspoken New York Times columnist, political TV pundit and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson will visit Saginaw Valley State University this month.

The Detroit native will serve as the keynote speaker at the SVSU-hosted Equity in the Classroom conference Sunday, March 17, at 6 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event featuring Dyson is free and open to the public.

An outspoken voice on a range of social issues - including race, politics, religion and culture - Dyson is recognized nationally both for his television appearances on top-rated political talk shows as well as his best-selling books and newspaper columns.

“Michael Eric Dyson is one of our nation's preeminent thought leaders,” said Mamie T. Thorns, the SVSU special assistant to the president for Diversity Programs who helped organize Dyson's visit.

“His talents as an orator and his deep, scholarly understanding of our culture gives him a commanding presence as a speaker. Whether you agree or disagree with what he is saying, he has a true talent to engage audiences and encourage meaningful discourse.”

Dyson - the recipient of an American Book Award and two NAACP Image Awards - has appeared on TV programs such as Meet The Press, Face The Nation, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher, Good Morning America, and the Today Show.

Along with working as a New York Times op-ed writer, Dyson serves as a contributing editor for both The New Republic magazine as well as ESPN's The Undefeated website.

His 19 books include New York Times bestsellers such as “Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?” His 1994 book, “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X,” was considered one of the most important African-American books of the 20th century and was also named a “Notable Book of the Year” by The New York Times. His book, “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America,” was a finalist for the prestigious Kirkus Prize in 2016.

His latest New York Times Bestseller, “What Truth Sounds Like: RFK, James Baldwin, And Our Unfinished Conversation About Race In America,” was a recipient of The 2018 Southern Book Prize.

Dyson also serves as a sociology professor at Georgetown and as an ordained minister.

Karen S. Carter, the chief inclusion officer for The Dow Chemical Company, will serve as moderator for Dyson's discussion during his visit to SVSU. In January 2018, Carter was the keynote speaker at the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at SVSU.

For more information about Dyson, visit his website at

For more information about SVSU's event, contact SVSU's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.

March 11, 2019

Trailblazing retired Navy captain to speak at SVSU

A military veteran who retired as the highest-ranking African-American woman in U.S. Navy history will talk about her career as a trailblazer during a visit to Saginaw Valley State University.

Gail Harris, a retired U.S. Navy captain, will deliver her address, titled “Take Command and Win,” Thursday, March 14, at 5 p.m. in Curtiss Hall Banquet Room A at SVSU. The event is free and open to the public.

Harris was the first woman in U.S. Navy history to serve as an intelligence officer in a Navy aviation squadron. Harris, who served from 1973-2001, made groundbreaking strides for women and persons of color in the Navy, often serving as the “first” of every post she accepted in the military.

“We are extremely honored to welcome the highly-decorated Capt. Harris to SVSU,” said Bethany Alford, director of the university's Military Student Affairs office. “She is a true pioneer in the Naval community. We are very fortunate to hear about her experiences firsthand.”

Harris earned honors of distinction during her career in the military. She received the Meritorious Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, as well as the Navy Commendation Medal three times. Harris' story has been profiled by international TV networks including BBC and Fox News.

During Harris' visit to SVSU, she also will meet with student groups including individuals affiliated with the military.

Her visit to SVSU is sponsored by SVSU's offices of Multicultural Student Affairs, Military Student Affairs, Residential Life, and Student Life.

For more information on the event, please contact SVSU's Multicultural Student Affairs office at (989) 964-7090.

March 7, 2019

SVSU student qualifies for second event at forensic national championship

After another strong performance in a statewide contest, a Saginaw Valley State University student qualified to compete in a second event at the National Forensics Association Championship Tournament.


Dan Visnovsky was among three SVSU students — as part of the SVSU Forensics Team that competes against college peers in public speaking-based contests — to earn accolades at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Championship hosted Saturday, March 2 at Eastern Michigan University.


The political science major from Sparta won one Top Novice award in the competition's Informative Speaking category and a second Top Novice honor — as well as fifth place overall — in the Extemporaneous Speaking category.


Top Novice honors are given to students who have both competed in fewer than six tournaments in the forensics league and placed highest in a particular category.


In February, Visnovsky placed second in the Informative Speaking category at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League Novice State Championship, qualifying him to compete in that same category at the 2019 National Forensic Association National Championship Tournament scheduled April 18-22 in Santa Ana, California.


His performance Saturday will allow him to compete in a second category — Extemporaneous Speaking — at the national championship.


Jessica Carpenter, an English major from Saginaw, also will represent SVSU in Santa Ana after placing sixth in Poetry during the March 2 state championship.


Karlie Sherwood, an English major from Royal Oak, earned Top Novice honors in the After Dinner Speaking category during Saturday’s competition.


The SVSU Forensics Team next will compete in the National Speech Championship scheduled March 23-24 at Oakland University.


The group is advised by Amy Pierce, SVSU associate professor of communication, and Ryan Rigda, SVSU lecturer of communication.

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