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May 28, 2020
SVSU graduate earns spot in prestigious film school
Madilyn Witherspoon doesn't let anything or anyone hold her back. Her determination to combine her passions for business and art has led to her tremendous success and has helped her forge her own unique path despite the obstacles that have stood in her way.
"I'm really keen on accomplishing what I set out to do," the Saginaw native said. "Once I set my mind on something, I'm going to achieve it."
This dedication earned the May 2020 Saginaw Valley State University marketing graduate a coveted spot in one of the most prestigious film schools in the nation. Witherspoon will be utilizing her grit and drive as she pursues a Master of Fine Arts degree in film production, with a specialization in directing, from Florida State University in the fall.
“Florida State University is ranked as the 13th best film school in the U.S. Among public universities, FSU ranked fourth. All of my hard work -- including submitting a portfolio, recording an introductory video, and traveling to Tallahassee on Valentine’s Day for an in-person interview -- paid off,“ Witherspoon said.
“I am both honored and humbled to be selected as one of 24 production students out of hundreds of applicants. If you have a dream, and have the courage and tenacity to pursue it, it can come true.”
Witherspoon, whose parents both graduated from SVSU, is all about pushing her limits and expanding her horizons. A film editing class in high school sparked her enthusiasm for art, but she didn't find a way to combine her creative mindset with her future career goals until she came to SVSU.
When Witherspoon started at SVSU, she was following in her father's footsteps as a management major, but enrolling in a graphic design course gave her a new outlook. She loved the creative aspect of the class and wanted to find a way to apply her artistic side to a business degree, so she decided to switch her major to marketing.
"I want to eventually own my own business or company of some sort, and I think that helps me," Witherspoon said. "A marketing degree has the aspect of both a business and creative mindset. I can have a creative outlet with business knowledge."
She was inspired to find a way to keep art a priority in her life and future career so she enrolled in additional art classes, spending countless hours printing photos in the lab and fine-tuning her artistic abilities.
Witherspoon received steep pushback for her ambition to study business and art, as well significant resistance when trying to get others to understand her goals. She was told that, if she was a business student, she would have to abandon her creativity and that she was not a true artist. But she was determined to prove others wrong and create her own path to success.
She decided to push her limits even further when she enrolled in an advanced-level video production multimedia course her sophomore year.
Per the course requirements, Witherspoon created her own detailed documentary for the class, choosing to highlight the history of SVSU for her project. She completed extensive research about the inception and development of SVSU, extending from the days of Saginaw Valley College in the 1960s to the present. She interviewed former longtime Board of Control member Charles Curtiss as well as former SVSU presidents Jack Ryder and Eric Gilbertson and Donald Bachand, the current president. The details and cinematography of her documentary, titled "A Brief History of SVSU," were impressive enough that it was featured by SVSU's Alumni Association.
When her class was tasked with creating a short film in groups, she planned to again utilize her skills behind the scenes and in editing. However, her group encouraged her to step outside her comfort zone, and instead, she assisted in writing and directing the film as well as taking on the lead acting role. Witherspoon was nervous about transitioning from being behind the camera to on-screen, but pushing past her reservations paid off, adding to her passion for computer graphic design and the film industry.
When the short film assignment, entitled "Camille,"
was completed, Witherspoon and her group members submitted their semester-long assignment to various festivals, not expecting a response. However, Camille's story of an artist reliving her memories through painting caught the attention of several film festivals. The short-film was screened at various festivals around the country and won multiple awards, including Audience Winner and Official Selection twice.
"We didn't know if Camille would be successful but it was something we were passionate about," Witherspoon said. "It was really rewarding that it got that kind of recognition."
Not only did these projects earn her recognition, but they also reinforced her passion for filmmaking.
“The work that I did in the video production class, with 'A Brief History of SVSU' and 'Camille,' gave me the spark and confidence that I need to ignite me in following my true passion; I cannot be more thankful for that. What an amazing experience. I will always be proud of my beginnings here at SVSU,” Witherspoon said.
As Witherspoon continues to flourish in her film career, she will join the ranks of other successful SVSU alumni, including one of "Camille’s" co-creators, Anita Pico. Pico, a 2017 SVSU graphic design alumna who recently earned her master’s degree in filmmaking from the esteemed University of the Creative Arts in the United Kingdom. Pico shares Witherspoon’s commitment to their craft, which earned Pico a prestigious commission by BBC Arts and Arts Council England to shoot her next film as part of their New Creative talent scheme.
Witherspoon plans to find her own unique path within the film industry while also honoring the SVSU and FSU alumni who have come before her.
In addition to Witherspoon’s dedication to filmmaking, she has found multi-faceted ways to unleash her talents. She utilized her passions by remaining active in various organizations at SVSU, including the Cardinal Photography Student Association, Cardinal Business Edge, Delta Sigma Pi, and the Vitito Global Leadership Institute.
These involvements expanded her worldview and inspired her vision for the future.
“My four years at SVSU have provided me with a solid educational foundation to take on whatever comes my way in the future. I learned a great deal academically, developmentally and culturally through my on-campus experiences and study abroad trips,” Witherspoon said.
“Through these programs and courses in my SVSU journey, I discovered a lot about myself and took away a lot of knowledge that has been beneficial to my growth as an individual."
As a member of SVSU's Vitito Global Leadership Institute -- a leadership development initiative for students enrolled in the university's Scott L. Carmona College of Business -- she had the opportunity to combine her business skills and artistic mindset with her service project, titled "Smiles for Seniors." Witherspoon and her group aimed to inspire joy and creativity in the residents of Edgewood Assisted Living in Saginaw Township. They accomplished this through art projects that included teaching the seniors how to sponge paint trees.
“I was influenced by a ton of great people and was able to work with local businesses on various projects as well as be involved in some community engagement projects that were extremely rewarding and enriching,” Witherspoon said.
“I believe that all of these opportunities at SVSU helped me become who I am, a more well-rounded and prepared individual. My experiences have made me ready for the future that now awaits me ahead.”
Witherspoon has spent her entire life in Saginaw, but aspires to travel the world and live all across the country. She has made the most of her opportunities at SVSU to satisfy her travel bug, including participating in two study abroad trips.
She traveled to France on a faculty-led study abroad for one of her marketing courses, touring Paris and the champagne country of Reims. Her passions traveled with her to France as well. There, she toured several prominent businesses in the area and visited the Louvre during her free time. Witherspoon also traveled to the "Fairytale City" of Prague in the Czech Republic over spring break 2020 to learn about global business practices as part of the Vitito program.
“I was very grateful and honored to be a Vitito Fellow. Being a member of the group and experiencing Prague was life changing. I am very thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Vitito for providing the scholarship, and to SVSU for providing me the opportunity to go to the Czech Republic,“ said Witherspoon.
All of her world travels gave her the confidence she needed to take the next step and move across the country to chase her passions.
Witherspoon's determination to follow her own path and refusal to let others limit her potential has led to incredible opportunities and vast success. While she greatly values the advice and knowledge she receives from others, she knows that to achieve all of her future goals, above all else she needs to listen to herself.
"You have to listen to other people, but also listen to yourself and what you need to do. If I listened to others I wouldn't be where I am," Witherspoon said. "I'm proud of how far I've gotten and everything I've accomplished. I have no regrets."
May 27, 2020
After pandemic cancels signature event, SVSU Cardinal Formula Racing revs up for 2021 ... and maybe 2022
For more than two decades, Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal Formula Racing team built a reputation for engineering some of the fastest vehicles in the international college competition circuit. Even as the competition’s talent pool deepened, the team’s Indy-style vehicles blew past peers from multiple hemispheres. After a global pandemic spoiled the hard work of the last 12 months for the team, members say the next 12 months will present a new kind of challenge that will reveal as much about their character as their car.
The results, they predict, will demonstrate the team’s world-class determination and persevering spirit.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) officials canceled the annual Collegiate Design Series less than two months before the May competition at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The competition has served as a capstone to a year’s worth of engineering work by Cardinal Formula Racing and more than 100 competitors from higher education institutions across the world.
“The entire team was very saddened by the cancellation,” said Edward Tomczyk, co-captain of the 2019-20 Cardinal Formula Racing team. “It was going to be a big moment for our young team and a test of improvement.”
Instead, the group already has plans to rally for next season which, in many ways, has already begun.
When the FSAE competition comes and goes in May, the SVSU students who expect to participate in the contest for the following year immediately meet to begin planning. The new group typically spends the next 12 months designing and engineering a new vehicle, although sometimes concepts from earlier models are utilized.
“We refined last year’s design for the 2020 car and fixed small things as necessary,” said Tomczyk, a Grand Blanc native who will join the team for a fourth and final year.
The mechanical engineering major expects the new team will use the vehicle intended for the FSAE competition this month. Cardinal Formula Racing will refine the vehicle – known as “The 113 Car” – utilizing the additional 12 months of preparation time to optimize the car’s capabilities.
Tomczyk will remain a captain for a team that will only lose two of its 16 members to graduation.
“With a running and competition-ready car sitting in the shop, our team has been sitting on our hands, just itching for the chance to continue working toward our next race,” he said.
Brooks Byam, the team’s adviser and an SVSU professor of mechanical engineering, said the team may also explore an additional objective for the next 12 months.
“There may be an opportunity to get a car ahead by starting the 2022 car,” he said. “That plan is budget dependent.”
Since Byam started as the team’s adviser in 1998, Cardinal Formula Racing has built an outstanding reputation in the FSAE college circuit despite the competition’s expansion to include teams from international institutions. Byam was the 2013 recipient of the Carroll Smith Mentor's Cup from the Society of Automotive Engineers, the top honor given to faculty who advise college formula racing programs.
For five consecutive years, SVSU has recorded the highest finish among exclusively undergraduate programs in the FSAE Collegiate Design Series.
Cardinal Formula Racing has placed in the top 20 five times overall: 6th place in 2002, 8th in 2005, 14th in 2008 and 18th in 2010. The team placed 19th last year.
The Collegiate Design Series competition measures its participating vehicle in a number of categories including acceleration, endurance, autocross, cost, presentation, and skid pad. SVSU traditional excels in designing vehicles built for speed. Twice SVSU built the fastest college race car in the world, winning the acceleration category in 2008 and 2014.
May 21, 2020
State award reinforces SVSU’s reputation for supporting students with military ties
Saginaw Valley State University’s dedication to students affiliated with the military once again was recognized statewide.
The university earned certification as a Veteran-Friendly School from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency for the sixth consecutive year. The institution earned a gold-level status, the highest honor for recipients of the veteran-friendly recognition.
Bethany Alford, director of SVSU’s Military Student Affairs office, said the continued recognition reinforces the university’s tradition of support military service members, veterans, and families of those military service members and veterans.
“We work very hard to create an environment that makes SVSU a top choice for military-connected students,” Alford said. “We are dedicated to providing resources and developing policies that benefit those students. I am proud that we are being recognized for the environment we create.”
The SVSU Military Student Affairs office reaches nearly 300 military-connected students across campus, helping them achieve success in the classroom as well as the community. The office staff offers support including helping students’ initial admission in the university and providing guidance as they select their classes and acclimate to college life.
In February, SVSU was designated as a Military Friendly School by VIQTORY media company for the ninth consecutive year.
May 15, 2020
SVSU student earns prestigious internship with Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
A Saginaw Valley State University student’s passion for law and helping others will intersect this summer when she serves as an intern for a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that influences policy to advance African-American communities.
Arianna Jones was selected as one of 57 interns – out of 700 applicants nationally – to serve the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
for eight weeks beginning June 1. She is one of two college students in the state to earn the internship this summer.
“With this amazing opportunity, I will have a chance to learn more about the inner workings of our government, and how laws are made and change is brought about,” said the Midland resident.
The nonprofit's leadership includes members of the U.S. House of Representatives such as Cedric Richmond, Sheila Jackson Lee and Joyce Beatty as well as other prominent national figures including Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University. The foundation’s board includes industry leaders with companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, Microsoft and NBC Universal.
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation promotes public policies focused on health and financial empowerment while developing strategic policy-supporting research and resources for the public. The internship program was established in 1986
A prospective Civil Rights attorney, Jones said the internship will provide her with a platform to learn about how public policies are created and implemented.
“This opportunity will give me the resources to network and meet my role models,” said Jones, a professional and technical writing major at SVSU.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones will be performing her internship duties remotely from home rather than from the foundation’s Washington, D.C. headquarters.
Jones is an accomplished student at SVSU.
She was selected as one of 10 students to participate in the 2019-20 class of the Roberts Fellowship Program, a year-long leadership development initiative. She also participates in SVSU’s moot court program, which is ranked No. 17 in the nation; as well as the campus chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
Jones serves as SVSU's chapter president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically African-American Greek-lettered sorority for college-educated women. She also worked as a photographer for The Valley Vanguard, SVSU's student newspaper.
May 13, 2020
SVSU announces Cardinal 'NEST' plan with New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow
SVSU planning for safe return to campus for fall 2020 semester
Saginaw Valley State University President Donald Bachand announced Wednesday, May 13 that the university is putting plans in place to safely welcome our Cardinal community back to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
Changes to campus operations are grouped under a new "Cardinal NEST Plan." The NEST acronym stands for "New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow." The Cardinal NEST Plan offers an organized response to potential further disruptions caused by COVID-19. It defines how the university community will manage new expectations that prioritize the health, safety and education of students, faculty and staff.
“We are absolutely committed to providing quality instruction to our students and doing all that we can to ensure the safety of our entire campus community,” Bachand said. “We believe our small class sizes, our caring faculty and staff, and our modern housing and academic facilities provide us with opportunities to make the adjustments necessary for our ‘new normal,’ which includes bringing students back to campus safely this fall.”
The Cardinal NEST Plan includes:
- A flexible instructional model. SVSU plans to offer classes that are taught face-to-face on campus with appropriate safeguards. To facilitate safety and in accordance with health guidance, SVSU also is prepared to teach courses virtually by remote instruction, or through some combination of online and in-person.
- Investments in realigned technologyto maximize instruction and learning in all courses and to facilitate safe interactions on campus.
- Students living on campus. SVSU's residence halls have been ranked No. 1 among all public universities in the nation in the annual "best dorms" rankings by Niche. We will take measures to provide a safe living environment in our modern housing facilities.
- Enhanced health and safety protocolsto include guidelines such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, increased sanitization procedures, and more. SVSU has enjoyed an outstanding campus safety record for many years.
- Education and training of the campus communityto understand what safety measures are put in place, why they are needed, and how to comply.
- Safe campus dining options. SVSU is working with its dining partner, Aramark, to follow national best practices.
- An enriching student experiencethat includes access to academic support services such as tutoring centers, and student support services such as student counseling, as well as student programming, and social and extracurricular activities that are important to the total college experience.
- Access to medical services. SVSU has a longstanding partnership with Covenant HealthCare, including a MedExpress facility located on campus. SVSU also has relationships with other health care providers in the Great Lakes Bay Region, including several comprehensive health systems located within minutes of SVSU.
- Testing capacity. SVSU plans to partner with health care providers to provide the ability to quickly test students, faculty and staff, as needed. SVSU also has plans in place to be able to quarantine residential students who test positive.
- Contact tracing capabilities. SVSU is planning to train a team of contact tracers to be able to quickly identify individuals who may have had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
SVSU's plans are being developed in accordance with local, state and federal guidance.
“The primary emphasis of the SVSU experience has always been, and will always be, on student success,” Bachand said. “What our students find appealing about SVSU – our small class sizes, our open spacious campus, and our dedicated faculty and staff – place us in a unique position to accommodate social distancing and to have flexibility to adapt to changing demands for health and safety.”
SVSU has a unique ability to accommodate social distancing. The average class size is 23 students and only 5% of class sections have more than 50 students. Many classes are broken into smaller labs and sections of fewer than 25 students.
“Our students want to be back on campus this fall. They are not only telling us that; they are showing us,” Bachand said. “Despite all the challenges students and families are facing, we continue to receive housing deposits at the same pace as last year. We have an obligation to do all that we can to serve them and to establish the proper procedures to allow them to safely return to campus.
“We are doing all of this to ensure students receive a quality education while also maintaining affordability. We already have the lowest tuition among Michigan's public universities, and I have recommended to our governing board that we freeze tuition for the year ahead. We continue working to expand our commitment to supporting students through scholarships and financial aid, as well.”
Fall classes at SVSU begin Monday, Aug. 31. Students, parents, faculty and staff are encouraged to stay informed of the university's plans by visiting www.svsu.edu.
May 13, 2020
SVSU class of 2020: Saginaw native excels mixing chemistry with community engagement
Saginaw native Vincent Flores’ drive and determination push him to make an impact through his undergraduate research efforts so that he can positively influence the community he calls home.
The Saginaw Valley State University senior’s passion for science was sparked while he was a student at Nouvel Catholic Central High School in Saginaw. Being in the lab inspired him to pursue a chemistry major and mathematics minor at SVSU.
“I loved being in the chemistry lab conducting experiments and I wanted to continue that in college,” said Flores.
Flores knew that, if he wanted to maximize his time in the lab, he would need to go to a university that supported undergraduate research. He found what he was looking for just a few miles from where he grew up.
“I chose SVSU because I believed this is where I would have the most opportunities to grow as a person and as a chemistry major. Specifically, I believed I would be able to get into a research group sooner and have more independence in the lab and have more control over my research project,” said Flores.
Once he started at SVSU, Flores didn’t waste any time getting involved. He joined the chemistry club as a freshman, and eventually served as the president as an upperclassman.
As part of his involvement in the club, he found ways to empower youth in the Great Lakes Bay Region to discover their own passion for science. He helped coordinate several community outreach events at SVSU, including Girl Scout Stemapalooza and STEM KIDposium.
His commitment to serving his community didn’t stop there. Flores also joined the Richard V. Wolohan Fellowship, one of SVSU’s programs of distinction. This fellowship is named for a local Saginaw-based business owner who dedicated his life to community leadership, and the program strives to continue this legacy.
This has included various projects to give back to the Great Lakes Bay Region, including a free book-sharing exchange program.
“We organized a book drive and held a dedication for the opening of our group’s Little Free Library in January of 2020 at the SVRC Marketplace in Saginaw,” said Flores.
Despite his busy schedule, Flores found every opportunity he could to don a lab coat and use a microscope. He started conducting research experiments during his first year at SVSU, which is an opportunity few undergraduate students have at most other universities.
Flores recently presented his findings for one of his research projects at SVSU’s annual undergraduate research showcase. While the symposium is typically an in-person event, it was adapted to an online platform due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“My research project addresses a lack in understanding of well-known compounds that have pharmaceutical applications. The purpose of my research is to study the basic interactions of organic complexes that have the ability to donate nitric oxide to biologically relevant metals,” said Flores.
By studying metal-containing compounds that rearrange to have nitric oxide attached to them within the human body, Flores’ findings can have potentially far reaching significance for improving anti-fungal and anti-viral medications.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 also inspired Flores to use his skills to support his community.
“I was part of the team at SVSU who made about 300 gallons of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Flores.
Gaining extensive hands-on research experience played a key role in helping Flores earn other opportunities to advance his skills.
He participated in two summer internships: one with the Dow Science & Sustainability Education Center at SVSU and the other at Cornell University in Ithica, New York.
These experiences solidified his dedication to chemistry and empowered him to further his education. He persevered in his academics and research, setting his sights on graduate school.
“SVSU has given me opportunities and resources I needed to get to where I am today. My professors -- especially my research advisor, Dr. Adam Warhausen -- have done their best to teach me everything I need to know to be prepared for graduate school. The knowledge and wisdom they have imparted on me will be valuable throughout the rest of my life,” said Flores.
After graduating from SVSU with his bachelor’s degree this month, Flores will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. He plans to continue in the footsteps of his supportive and connected mentors at SVSU by becoming a college professor himself.
Flores is excited to keep moving forward and take on even more challenges, but he is also reflecting back on the experiences that brought him to where he is today and the community he is leaving behind.
“Saginaw Valley State University has been my home for the past four years. While I will be sad to leave, I will forever be thankful for the experiences and people I have met here,” said Flores.
“The entire chemistry department has been like a second family and I will miss everyone that I have met during my time at SVSU.”
May 11, 2020
SVSU Board approves new environmental science program, and confers degrees, including 400 headed to ‘front line’ professions
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved a new bachelor’s degree program in environmental science and conferred degrees to a graduating class that includes many individuals pursuing careers in professions on the front lines of protecting communities. The Board’s regular meeting was conducted via a live video conference available to the public Friday, May 8.
By adding a new degree program in environmental science, SVSU will build upon strong academic programs in biology, chemistry and geography. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts 8% job growth in the field through 2028.
The Board also approved granting graduate and undergraduate degrees. Around 875 SVSU students are expected to complete degree requirements this May. SVSU is holding a virtual graduation celebration at 5 p.m. Friday, May 8. Information is available online at www.svsu.edu/2020.
Including those expected to complete degree requirements over the summer, more than 400 new SVSU graduates are completing degrees in fields that will place them in critical roles to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This total includes 72 students from SVSU’s nursing program who entered the health care workforce in recent weeks – before the official end of their final semester – in response to a State of Michigan executive order allowing graduating college students to quickly enter the field. Other examples include those graduating with degrees in criminal justice, health sciences, pre-medicine, public health, social work, and more.
In other action, the Board:
- Elected officers for the 2020-21 academic year. John Kunitzer will continue to serve as chair, and Vicki Rupp will continue as vice chair. Bhushan Kulkarni and Dennis Durco also will remain in their roles as secretary and treasurer, respectively.
- Passed a resolution thanking Hunter Koch, president, and the SVSU Student Association for their service during the 2019-20 academic year.
- Reappointed the firm of Andrews Hooper Pavlik PLC to serve as financial auditors.
- Approved the reauthorization of five public school academies: Chandler Park Academy, Charlevoix Montessori Academy for the Arts, Kingsbury Country Day School, Merritt Academy and Saginaw Preparatory Academy.
- Approved the reauthorization of five public school academies: Chandler Park Academy, Charlevoix Montessori Academy for the Arts, Kingsbury Country Day School, Merritt Academy and Saginaw Preparatory Academy.
- Modified the term of a previously authorized public school academy, Sigma Academy for Leadership and Early Middle College. The school is authorized for a three-year period, beginning in the fall of 2020.
- Modified the term of a previously authorized public school academy, iLEAD Michigan. The school is authorized for a three-year period, beginning in the fall of 2021.
May 8, 2020
Class of 2020: SVSU nursing grads finish semester early to join COVID-19 fight
When enrolling at Saginaw Valley State University, Kylie Ostrofsky understood the nursing program’s strong reputation for developing top-of-the-line health care workers. She expected faculty and staff would prepare her well to pursue her professional ambitions.
What she was not expecting back then: That, as her graduation day approached in May 2020, the university would also prepare her to immediately join the frontlines of a global pandemic straining the health care industry. But that's exactly what happened for Ostrofsky and many members of her academic program's graduating class already occupying critical positions at medical facilities across the state.
“Being a new nurse is already difficult, as there is always going to be that jump from student to professional,” said the Frankenmuth resident. “The pandemic brought it to another level.”
Ostrofsky was one of 72 students in SVSU’s nursing program who completed the program more than one week early in response to a state of Michigan executive order
allowing graduating college students to enter the health care workforce before the official end of their final semester this month. The measure was aimed at strengthening staffing levels at medical facilities struggling to manage high volumes of patients testing positive for COVID-19.
As a result, graduates such as Ostrofsky are on track to serve as registered nurses earlier than originally scheduled, largely at regional health care facilities. Ostrofsky, for one, will soon begin her registered nurse career at Covenant HealthCare’s intensive care unit in Saginaw.
The fast-tracked process abbreviated SVSU's nursing program by less than two weeks for seniors. Despite the shortened semester, students and faculty say the graduates received the same high level of education as their predecessors who finished semesters in traditional fashion.
“Our professors were there for us and helped us finish strong,” Ostrofsky said. “Even though I knew I would be scared no matter what, I feel ready to do my part and make a difference in whatever way I can.”
That show of resilience and sense of community spirit is a common characteristic among the 72 graduates, said Andrea Frederick, an SVSU associate professor of nursing.
“They were absolutely ready for this,” said Frederick, a 10-year educator at SVSU who worked as a nurse from 1976-2010.
“I’m in awe of their courage and their compassion and their drive to want to get out there to make a difference in the health of their community. They’re rock stars. We’re all very proud of them.”
The 72 graduates are part of a larger group of SVSU students being prepared to work on the frontlines of the pandemic in the coming months. Of the 1,059 students on schedule to graduate from SVSU between now and August, 404 will be completing academic programs preparing them for jobs in frontline industries including health care, law enforcement and social work.
While graduates may seek jobs wherever they choose, Frederick said many nursing alumni likely will land at facilities in the region.
Another nursing program graduate, Connor Freel, last week became a registered nurse at McLaren Bay Region’s emergency room in Bay City. He served as a patient care associate before completing SVSU’s nursing program last month, then passing the nursing licensing exam known as NCLEX-RN.
“Many of my classmates are going to start working in ICUs and various other units across the state, where many hospitals were in need of hiring more nurses,” said the Alpena native. “Our instructors have prepared us well.”
After the state issued the executive order allowing nursing seniors to complete their studies early, SVSU faculty and staff reached out to representatives at health care systems in the Great Lakes Bay as well as Genesee County.
“We wanted to check to see if they agreed that it would be a good idea to accelerate our program, and they did,” Frederick said.
All 72 students completed their last day of studies April 24 – the originally-scheduled end of the semester was May 2 – making them available to begin orientation as employees at health care facilities on April 27.
After finishing SVSU’s program, graduates still must complete the NCLEX-RN exam before they can serve as registered nurses. Some members of SVSU's class of 2020 – such as Freel – already have completed that task. Others are scheduled to take the exam in the coming days and weeks. Those graduates still can perform some duties at the medical facilities where they work while awaiting their exam date.
Working as a nursing assistant at Covenant HealthCare since 2018, Ostrofsky said she is eager to complete her license exam soon and enter a new phase of her career.
“Despite the stress and uncertainty of everything, it has been very powerful to see my co-workers and the medical staff community come together as a whole during these unprecedented times,” she said.
“I have received a lot of kind words and support from SVSU and the community, which is so appreciated.”
May 7, 2020
SVSU class of 2020: With a lifelong love for animals, Midland resident chases a career as veterinarian
The interruption happens mid-sentence.
Before it, Mia Berlanga is describing how her passion in life blossomed while at Saginaw Valley State University, where she made connections and received hands-on learning experience in a career field she’s chased since middle school. Then, suddenly, the interviewer hears an abrupt, mysterious thud from Berlanga's end of the phone line.
“Hold on, I’m sorry,” she says, followed by a sigh. “My dog just jumped into the garbage, and I need to get her out. I’ll be right back.”
Berlanga quickly rescues the black lab mix. Her name is Monroe, or "that stinker," depending on her level of mischief at any given moment. Berlanga playfully criticizes the pup before returning to the phone conversation, resuming telling her still-unfolding story of success.
It’s a story that very much involves Monroe as well as Berlanga's other dog, Esper; her cat, Sherlock; and every other animal on the planet, for that matter. Berlanga is a bona fide animal lover, and she has channeled that affection and desire to help them — from situations much worse than the garbage — into her pursuit of a career in veterinary medicine. She will surpass one important milestone in her passionate chase this month when she graduates from SVSU with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Her undergraduate experience has included earning prestigious accolades, embarking on international endeavors relating to her chosen field, utilizing contacts at the university to earn a position at a nearby veterinary emergency care center, and taking advantage of many opportunities that contributed to her development as a community-engaged leader.
“College is such a formative point in your life, and my time at SVSU has been formative for me,” says Berlanga, who plans to attend a veterinarian school in fall 2021. “So many people have helped me get to this point.”
Berlanga’s veterinarian ambitions precede her time at SVSU. The daughter of two doctors (the sort who help humans), she was raised in Minnesota. Twelve years ago, Berlanga, her family and their pets moved to Midland.
“I was that kid who was constantly asking her parents for a dog until we got one,” she says. “We always had pets of one kind or another.”
Her love for animals evolved into a desire to keep them healthy and happy. By eighth grade, she and her mother hatched “a plan” for Berlanga one day to become a veterinarian.
“We were looking for schools that had a good science and arts program,” says Berlanga, who eventually graduated in 2016 from The Midland Academy of Advanced and Creative Studies.
While at the academy, she began working at River Rock Animal Hospital in Midland as a veterinary assistant. It was her first hands-on educational experience in the industry. Not her last.
Shortly after enrolling at SVSU, Berlanga joined the Health Professions Association, a registered student organization at the university featuring her peers seeking careers in health care industries. There, she was mentored by Heidi Lang, SVSU’s pre-health professions advisor; and fellow student, Reanna Cantrall, now an alumna.
The supportive network at SVSU connected Berlanga with Great Lakes Pet Emergencies, a full-service hospital for pets located four miles from campus. Lang knew doctors at the clinic — including SVSU alumna JoLynne Grant — and Cantrall worked as a veterinary assistant there. With their support, Berlanga quickly earned her own position at the facility, which she maintains to this day.
“I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here,” she says.
Berlanga serves as a veterinary assistant, a position that can involve different duties at different facilities. At Great Lakes Pet Emergencies, a veterinary assistant is the first point of contact with the pet owners, responsible for recording the information needed before a doctor arrives to examine each animal patient. Berlanga also assists doctors when an examination leads to a medical procedure. She is trained in CPR and performs diagnostic work on animals as well.
“In terms of atmosphere, there’s a really great team dynamic at Great Lakes Pet Emergencies,” Berlanga says. “Everyone there is committed to the goal of helping animals. I’m constantly learning and seeing something new each day. There’s so much exposure to the veterinary world.”
She earned additional hands-on experience in summer 2019 during an SVSU-sponsored study abroad trip to Costa Rica. There, she volunteered at two facilities including a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization called Kids Saving The Rainforest.
Her experience there led Berlanga to apply for a planned 3-month internship in summer 2020 at the Quepos-based facility. The Spanish-speaking Berlanga was accepted into the program. Then the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in those plans.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen now, but I may still be going sometime between June or August,” she says. “Even if I’m not able to go this summer because of the virus, I want to fit in that experience sometime this year before I start veterinary school next year.”
Costa Rica is not the only international trip Berlanga planned in the coming weeks. Last year, she was one of 10 students selected to SVSU’s prestigious Roberts Fellowship Program, a year-long leadership development initiative that concludes with a trip to Asia each May. This month’s trip was canceled because of the pandemic.
“It’s disappointing,” she says. “I still learned a lot from the program, though.”
Berlanga says a number of SVSU engagements helped her blossom as a leader and as a person.
She served as a member of the registered student organization, the Sexuality and Gender Spectrum Alliance, and she was an assistant with the behind-the-curtain crews staging SVSU's theatre productions.
“Working in the theatre department helped me grow into who I am; I’m more outspoken and comfortable now,” she says. “That’s where I met the friend group I have now.”
Still, much of her time is dedicated to helping animals … and children. Berlanga volunteers with PAWSitive Helpers, a program that connects children at the Midland County Juvenile Care Center with dogs from the Humane Society of Midland County. Berlanga helps the children train the dogs.
“There are a lot of unfair stereotypes about kids who have gotten into trouble,” Berlanga says. “Working with them, they love the animals. They’re just kids.”
Berlanga later this year plans to help PAWSitive Helpers extend the dog-training program to classrooms at Saint Brigid Catholic School in Midland.
“I’m excited about that,” she says, before pausing the interview again.
"Monroe is trying to eat something she shouldn’t be, I think,” Berlanga says.
A moment passes; she confirms her suspicion.
“Hold on a second. I need to take care of this.”
May 6, 2020
Class of 2020: Shared passions propel cousins from SVSU to dental school
Ashley Reece and Caitlin Durkee take being part of the “Cardinal family” literally. The inspiring cousins and seniors at Saginaw Valley State University not only share familial ties, but they also share a similar college journey and passion for serving others. Each will earn her bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry, from SVSU this month and will be attending dental school together at the University of Michigan in the fall.
The hard-working cousins grew up near each other in Macomb County — Reece in Richmond and Durkee in Clinton Township — but attending SVSU together made them closer than ever.
“I am so glad that we decided to take on this adventure together. We grew up together, and we’ve always been close; however, going to college together and seeing each other every day — and practically taking every class together — made this experience so much more fun and valuable,” Reece said.
“Almost everything we tried out at SVSU, we tried together. We have been residential assistants together, Orientation Leaders together, tour guides together, on the board of organizations together, all while doing our shadowing, volunteering and classes together. I could not look back at many memories at SVSU without Caitlin being there.”
The pair took the same classes, joined the same organizations, and were both inspired by the same dedicated mentor: Heidi Lang, pre-health professions advisor at SVSU.
“Heidi Lang is one of SVSU’s most valuable resources, and the number of students she helps is immeasurable. She really goes the extra mile to make each student feel heard, while also making sure that all of her students have the resources they need to be successful,” Reece said.
Lang also helped them discover their passion for dentistry by providing them both with job shadowing opportunities at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers' dental clinic in Saginaw.
“It was eye opening to witness the vast dental-related need in the community, and observing the work the doctors did to alleviate people’s pain increased my desire to make an impact in similar communities,” Durkee said.
“Coming into my freshman year, I did not know anything about graduate school, if I even wanted to pursue dentistry, or how to find out. Heidi helped connect me with great resources and was with me for each step of my undergraduate journey, both academically and personally.”
Both cousins were inspired to go into health care — specifically, dentistry — as a way to help others and serve their community.
“I always knew that I wanted to go into health care. I have always loved service, and health care seemed to be the best way to help people and see the immediate benefits of your actions,” Reece said.
They are driven to help as many people as they can, so in addition to job shadowing and volunteering in the Great Lakes Bay Region, they expanded their humanitarian efforts across the country and the globe.
Reece and Durkee both attended volunteer trips to North Carolina and Virginia through SVSU; they also studied abroad in Nepal together to learn about international health care systems.
“The Remote Area Medical trip I went on with Heidi Lang and a group of pre-health students to Wise, Virginia was hands-down my favorite experience I’ve ever had. I was able to learn about a new community and its needs, and completely immerse myself in direct, impactful service with an incredible group of girls who share similar passions,” Durkee said.
The pair looks forward to continuing to make a positive impact in dental school and beyond.
When they decided they wanted to further their education, they knew they wanted to do it together. Their determination and perseverance earned them each acceptance to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, and they will continue their journey together at one of the top dental programs in the nation.
“U-M’s dental school has been rated the No. 1 dental school in the country, and I feel as if it is a great honor to be accepted into their program,” Reece said.
“I also chose U-M because Caitlin wanted to go there, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t take the opportunity to experience a new school and new way of life together. We’ve been strong support systems for each other for a long time, and I think we will need that support more than ever when we get to dental school.”
Their paths likely won’t diverge until they graduate from dental school, as each cousin has her own career goals and future plans. However, Reece and Durkee both share the same objective: to keep serving others.
“After obtaining my DDS, I plan to find work in an underserved area of Michigan. I hope to travel and volunteer my services at free clinics in my spare time,’ Durkee said.
Reece has accepted a scholarship through the U.S. Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program and will serve her country as a dentist upon graduation.
“Upon becoming a dentist, I will be caring for active-duty sailors as well as their families at bases around the country and potentially out of the country. I am so excited to be part of such an awesome opportunity,” Reece said.
In addition to her naval scholarship, Reece is also SVSU’s second recipient of the Dr. Jessica R. Bentoski Endowed Scholarship for Pre-Dental Students, which assists in paying for dental school applications and testing fees. Bentoski is an SVSU alumna and has a pediatric dental practice in Saginaw.
“I felt very fortunate to receive such a generous scholarship from Dr. Bentoski," Reece said. "I hope that someday I can find a way to repay her for her continuous support that she provides the pre-dental students at SVSU. I truly could never repay her for the hope and sense of encouragement that her scholarship provided me."
As Reece and Durkee look forward to their next chapter, they also are taking time to reflect on their experiences at SVSU.
“SVSU has greatly prepared me through my various involvements and experiences," Durkee said. "I am confident that the skills I have gained and lessons I have learned from SVSU — both inside and outside of the classroom — have prepared me for both dental school and my career beyond."
Reece shares the sentiment:
“SVSU has prepared me in every way for my future. From the classes I took and the connections I’ve made, to the professors who genuinely cared, and the endless opportunities I was presented, I will be eternally grateful for my journey at SVSU. I don’t think I could’ve possibly gotten this much out of college if I would’ve gone anywhere else."
The SVSU tradition doesn’t end with the cousins. They’ve inspired many others to attend the university, and their family legacy there will continue.
“My sister and our closest friends came to SVSU with us, and I’m so glad we made college such a 'family affair,' because it was so much fun,” Reece said.
She and Durkee know they have a lot of hard work ahead of them, but credit their opportunities at SVSU for preparing them for what’s next.
As long as they stick together and support each other, they know the limits to what they can achieve are endless.
“Pursuing graduate school was a daunting task, but having Ashley with me every step of the way made the journey much easier and more enjoyable. We have always been close, but now pretty much anyone who knows us knows ‘we do everything together,’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Durkee said.
“I really cannot image having gone through all of these years without her.”
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