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January 15, 2019

Regional leaders to be honored as Drum Major Award recipients at MLK Celebration

An educator, an advocate for peace and the leader of a local NAACP branch will be honored at Saginaw Valley State University this month for community work that exemplifies the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision.


Ben Gibson, Jeanne Lound Schaller and Leola Wilson recently were named recipients of the latest Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award, given annually to leaders in the Great Lakes Bay Region. The latest recipients will be recognized during the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23 at SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts, where former President Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett will serve as the event's keynote speaker.


The three recipients - one each from Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties - will receive a $1,000 award for a charitable organization of their choice.


The honoree from Bay County is Gibson, a retired flight instructor and educator who taught students at Bay City Public Schools for 26 years. He taught aviation courses at Averill Career Opportunities Center in Saginaw as well as Delta College. Several of his students joined the U.S. Air Force or became pilots working for major airlines. From 1996 to 2013, Gibson himself served as a corporate pilot.


In 2002, Gibson was elected as a trustee with the Bay City Public Schools Board of Education. He helped lead the school district until 2015.


The Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award honoree from Midland County is Schaller, who leads the Midland chapter of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization working to "transform the world's response to conflict."


She worked as a peace advocate for a number of organizations including Community Resolution Center, which has offices in Saginaw and Flint. She also helped lead both Midland Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice as well as the Midland-based Helen M. Casey Center for Nonviolence. At age 68, she became a member of the Rotary Peace Fellowship. She earned a professional development certificate in conflict resolution and peace in 2015 at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.


Wilson is the Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Award honoree from Saginaw County. Wilson who just retired as president of the Saginaw branch of the NAACP, the second-largest chapter in Michigan. Wilson joined the NAACP 50 years ago. She has served as area director of the organization's Michigan statewide conference as well as its state treasurer. She was the recipient of Michigan's NAACP President of the Year Award in 2008.

Then- Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Wilson to SVSU's Board of Control in 2005. She served on the board until 2013. In 2016, she received the Distinguished Service Award, SVSU's most prestigious award given to a member of the community. She remains involved in the institution as a member of the SVSU Diversity Council.


For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration hosted at SVSU, contact the university's Office of Diversity Programs at (989) 964-4068.

January 4, 2019

SVSU students invited to perform, compete in regional Kennedy Center theater festival

A group pf 21 Saginaw Valley State University students will take their passion for theater to the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Region III Festival Jan. 8-13 in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival is a national theater program involving college students across the nation dedicated to improving the quality of theater. The participating SVSU students will celebrate the creative process, share experiences and as one another's work, as well as offer insights within the theater community.

The festival honors excellence of overall production and presents student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in the categories of playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design.

Students participating in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship will compete for $500 scholarships. The eight SVSU students who will perform are:

  • Brianne Dolney, a political science and theatre major from Bay City, and Abby Burgess, a theatre major from Commerce Township
  • Tristian Evanoff, a theatre major from Bay City, and Holly Houck, an international studies major from Saginaw
  • Josh Lloyd, a theatre and communication major from Bay City, and Clayton Singer, a theatre and psychology major from Frankenmuth
  • Dominic Pnacek, a theatre major from Saginaw, and Joe Green, a theatre major from Shelby Township

The following seven SVSU students will work with professionals experienced in musical theatre performance:

  • Erica Close, theatre major from Essexville
  • Indigo Dudley, music major from Saginaw
  • Melanie Frasca, theatre major from Waterford
  • Olivia Greanias, theatre major from Saginaw
  • Rhiannon Hall, theatre major from Bay City
  • Jessica Hurley, theatre major from Essexville
  • Conner Wieland, theatre major from Essexville

The following eight SVSU students will engage with professionals involved in costume, sound, stage, and lighting design:

  • Cailey Brown, a psychology major from St. Charles
  • Melanie Frasca, a theatre major from Waterford
  • Jessica Hurley,  a theatre major from Essexville
  • Lucas Inman, a theatre major from Saginaw
  • Jennifer Lothian, a communication and theatre education major from Linwood
  • Amber Tanner, a business major from Hemlock
  • Natasha Nash, a theatre major from Saginaw
  • Arianna Whisman, a special education major from Bay City

December 20, 2018

SVSU staff member recognized by National Multiple Sclerosis Society for fundraising feat

A Saginaw Valley State University staff member overcame what she believed were her own physical limitations as well as rough environmental conditions to earn praise from a national nonprofit for her passion to raise awareness — and funds — to fight multiple sclerosis.

The Michigan chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society this month presented Michele Gunkelman with its Rookie Rider award for her participation in the Great Lakes Bavarian Breakaway event where cyclists rode through Frankenmuth to raise funds in September.

Gunkelman raised $2,790 and biked nearly 75 miles over the course of the weekend event, including a final day in which cold temperatures and rainfall caused 130 of 150 participants to drop out.

Gunkelman, SVSU’s director of Residential Life, was one of the 20 people who endured the harsh conditions. Her driving motivation was the same one that inspired her to sign up for the cycling fundraiser for the first time and train hard for five months.

“I did this for my mom,” she said of Sharen Gunkelman, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (sometimes referred to as "MS") 19 years ago. “When I heard about the terrible conditions on the last day, I thought to myself, ‘Mom can’t wake up this morning and choose not to have MS because of the weather,’ so I chose to keep going."

Michele Gunkelman said her experience helping to care for her 74-year-old mother over the years instilled in her a sense of responsibility to raise awareness and find ways to fight the disease that impacts the central nervous system.

“It’s a scary thing when you or a loved one is diagnosed with MS, because everyone is impacted differently,” she said. “You start to wonder how that person will be affected — like, will she be able to hold her grandchildren?”

Gunkelman said, nearly two decades later, some of her mother’s motor functions are affected by the disease. She at times has challenges communicating verbally and her memory suffers.

“It’s something I don’t want anyone — or their family — to have to go through,” Gunkelman said. “I want to do anything I can to prevent that from happening to others.”

So when a friend mentioned the Great Lakes Breakaway Ride fundraiser, Gunkelman decided to join despite not being an avid bicycler.

“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to challenge myself,” she said. “Living with MS is hard, and I didn’t want to go easy on myself.”

The Freeland resident set her expectations high: She pledged to raise $2,500 and finish two 50-mile bicycle treks during the event. Meeting both goals involved a lot of work in the months leading up to the September event.

Beginning in April, she rode her bicycle between 10 to 40 miles per day and joined a sponsored team known as “Rollin’ with the Homies” that planned to support each other during the fundraising. Meanwhile, she campaigned hard for friends and family to support her fundraising goal.

“So many people supported me,” she said. “There was a tear in my eye every time I received a donation.”

In total, 50 people contributed to her fundraising goal, which she surpassed by $290.

Gunkelman said she was prepared but filled with anxiety when the Sept. 29-30 Great Lakes Bavarian Breakaway bicycling event arrived. Still, she managed to finish the first day’s 50-mile course. Gunkelman’s mother was present to cheer her on.

“I was drained but amazed I had accomplished that,” she said.

When the next day arrived, temperatures dropped to 41 degrees and a steady rain poured down on participants.

“Some of the more experienced riders were worried about hypothermia,” Gunkelman said. “I felt an obligation to try to finish, though.”

She slipped on a pair of winter gloves and a rain jacket, then set forth among a thin group of participants. Cold and soaking wet, Gunkelman pushed herself 12.5 miles that day.

“That was a challenge in those conditions,” she said. “There was no shame in not completing the 50 miles that day.”

Members of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society cited the St. Clair Shores native’s persevering spirit and supportive nature when presenting her with the Rookie Rider award earlier this month. With the new year approaching, Gunkelman said she already is making plans for a sophomore effort in a 2019 bicycling fundraiser for the nonprofit.

“Supporting the fight against MS is a cause that’s close to my heart,” she said. “It’s such a worthwhile cause.”

December 20, 2018

SVSU medical lab science student 1 of 5 nationally to win scholarship

Carly McKenzie is a determined student, and her work ethic has resulted in winning a highly-competitive national scholarship. She was one of five students selected from more than 300 applicants to receive a $2,000 scholarship from the American Proficiency Institute (API), based in Traverse City.

A medical laboratory science major from Saginaw, McKenzie has impressed her professors.

“Carly has worked very hard throughout the medical laboratory science program and has been a very consistent performer in both the student laboratory and lecture courses,” said Kay Castillo, SVSU associate professor of medical laboratory science. “The API Scholarship is quite an honor and I am very proud of Carly. She will be an asset to the laboratory profession.”

The Institute’s scholarship program is in its 11th year of furthering students’ medical laboratory science education through funding its award recipients.

“It amazes me how far the medical field has come and what we are able to do,” McKenzie said. “Every tube of blood is a patient relying on us to offer accurate results.”

A graduate of Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy, McKenzie is completing her professional course work on campus and will begin field work in July.

December 20, 2018

New opportunities for SVSU students through partnership with Wayne State School of Medicine

Saginaw Valley State University students inspired to pursue a career in medicine now have an additional pathway to continue their education.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and SVSU have signed an Early Assurance Program agreement that will provide SVSU pre-medicine students enhanced opportunities for admission to the WSU School of Medicine.

The program will reserve up to two seats in WSU's medical school for qualified SVSU students who have a passion for practicing medicine in underserved areas or who are dedicated to careers in medicine.

"Partnerships like this highlight our commitment to advancing the medical careers of our pre-med students, and this provides an additional pathway for them," said Heidi Lang, SVSU pre-health professions advisor. "Our professors really challenge our students — while supporting them at the same time — and that's a big reason our students consistently are accepted to medical schools at rates that far exceed the national average."

Through this latest partnership, SVSU students will apply in February 2019 for admission to WSU's school of medicine for acceptance into the entering class for 2020.

“This partnership with Saginaw Valley State University continues our efforts and commitment to recruit the finest students whose health career goals align with our mission as a nationally recognized top tier medical school known for urban clinical excellence,” said WSU Vice Dean for Medical Education and Professor of Ophthalmology Richard Baker, M.D. “Students who have the desire to serve others through medicine deserve the chance to become the type of physicians that we educate and train.”

December 19, 2018

SVSU Battle of the Valleys initiative honored by regional fundraising organization

A Saginaw Valley State University student government-led initiative that has raised over $425,000 for nonprofit organizations since 2003 recently received recognition from a group of regional fundraising professionals.


The Mid-Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals awarded its Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award to SVSU's Student Association for its work organizing the fundraising competition known as Battle of the Valleys.


“The annual fundraiser initiative is a phenomenal example of philanthropy in action,” said Dick Touvell, the secretary of the Mid-Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “SVSU’s ‘Battle’ is, without a doubt, inspiring to countless nonprofit leaders and staff members throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.”


Battle of the Valleys is an annual student-led charity fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University. The competition takes place during the week leading up to the game between the universities’ rival football programs. Students from both institutions select a nonprofit partner each year to benefit from the fundraising effort.


During the most recent Battle of the Valleys in October, SVSU raised $36,210 for the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network. The funds helped bolster the Saginaw-based nonprofit’s work to prevent suicide, educate communities and provide no-cost, 24/7 aftercare for those affected when prevention is not possible.


Barb Smith, the organization’s founder and executive director, praised the Battle of the Valleys initiative in a letter to SVSU.


“While I continue to be overwhelmed with the fundraising success, I want you to know how deeply touched I was to witness the passion and heartfelt drive of the SVSU community toward this significant university tradition,” Smith wrote. “It was an honor to work with this next generation of leaders who are truly making a difference.”


Since Battle of the Valleys was established in 2003, SVSU has raised over $425,000 for nonprofit organizations. Both SVSU and GVSU have combined to raise over $650,000 during that same period of time.


It is a great honor to receive this award,” said Cheyenne Wilton, a creative writing major from Ortonville who serves as the SVSU Student Association's philanthropy chairperson this year.

“It is really great to see that the community is recognizing our campus’ efforts to help others. So many of our students understand how important philanthropy is and do whatever they can to help out.”


The Association of Fundraising Professionals is a 30,000-member strong worldwide network that helps philanthropic organizations raise funds effectively and ethically. Aside from granting awards and celebrating charity work, the organization researches fundraising best practices and certifies fundraising professionals.

December 18, 2018

SVSU students to spend winter break learning through service

Saginaw Valley State University students often defy stereotypes. At the end of the fall semester, may college students return home to sleep in, binge watch Netflix and generally unwind. But for Alina Devoogd, Chantel Poquette and nearly 100 SVSU students, they are dedicating their winter break from school to volunteer at locations across the country, helping a number of organizations in need.

Alternative Breaks is a student-led program organized through SVSU's Student Life Center. The program offers college students an "alternative" to the traditional university break to learn about different social issues across the U.S.

Poquette departed for Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday, Dec. 16 to a crisis center called The Nest. The Nest offers a safe place for education, healing, counseling, and support to women, children and families in crisis. The social work major from Holly says she is passionate about her topic because it relates to her personal life.

“I want to be able to give back to people,” she said. “I am going into a career that focuses on serving others and this trip not only helps me achieve my own goals but to help others.”

Devoogd, a political science and Spanish double major from Algonac, and her Alternative Breaks team are focused on the topic of incarcerated youth. The SVSU students traveled to Colombia, South Carolina to work with youth in the juvenile justice system. There, they are engaging with the youth in positive ways, as well as celebrate the holidays.

“I chose to do an alternative break trip because my life calling is to use my privileges to help someone who needs a hand,” she said. “Sometimes we all need someone to believe in us and help us.”

Alternative Break destinations and topics for SVSU students this December include:

  • Twelve students are volunteering at The Nest Center for Women, Children and Families in Lexington, Kentucky.
  • Twelve students traveled to Memphis to work alongside Serve 901 to focus on community development.
  • Eleven students headed to Asheville, North Carolina to work with Habitat for Humanity.
  • Three students are dedicating their time to health and wellness of the LGBTQ+ community at the Lifelong in Seattle.
  • Rural cultural sensitivity and animal rescue is the main focus for 12 students working at Visit Appalachia LLC in Harlan, Kentucky.
  • In Atlanta, 12 students will aid in resettling refugees into their communities with the International Rescue Committee.
  • Poverty and structural racism is what 12 students will focus on while in Washington, D.C. working at the Steinbruck Center.
  • Champion Athletes of the Ozarks is the organization 12 students are working with to help Individuals with special needs and disabilities in Springfield, Missouri.
  • Twelve students traveled to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia, South Carolina to work with the incarcerated youth.

After returning from their trips, many of the SVSU students engage in volunteer service for a nonprofit organization in the Great Lakes Bay Region or their home communities devoted to a cause similar to what they experienced on their Alternative Break.

 For more information about the Alternative Breaks program at SVSU, visit

December 17, 2018

SVSU Board approves faculty sabbaticals, congratulates Student Association

The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved 11 faculty sabbaticals during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, Dec. 14.

Those 11 faculty members will pursue a variety of research projects in their respective disciplines during the 2019-20 academic year. Those who were approved for sabbaticals were:

  • Elson Boles, sociology
  • Veronika Drake, English
  • Mark Giesler, social work
  • Susan Hillman, teacher education
  • Garry Johns, mathematical sciences
  • Gail Kantak, biology
  • Julie Keil, political science
  • Kim Lacey, English
  • Andrew Miller, geography
  • Conor Shaw Draves, English
  • Marilyn Skrocki, health sciences

The Board also congratulated the SVSU Student Association for raising more than $36,000 for the Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Network during the 2018 Battle of Valleys fundraising competition. SVSU students have raised more than $425,000 over the past 15 years to support a variety of community causes.

In other action, the Board:

  • Passed a resolution congratulating the men’s soccer team, which qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament.
  • Passed a resolution congratulating the women’s soccer team, which qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament.
  • Passed a resolution congratulating the men’s cross country team, which qualified for the NCAA Division II national championships, where they placed 6th overall, and head coach Rod Cowan, who was named the Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
  • Passed a resolution to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Approved confirmation of board members for previously authorized public school academies.
  • Approved 2.5 percent raises for the 2019 calendar year for executive staff. President Bachand’s salary was set at 293,400; Deb Huntley, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, will receive a salary of $234,600; and James G. Muladore, Executive Vice President for Administration and Business Affairs, will be paid $224,000.

December 13, 2018

SVSU forensics students impress judges; 9 have qualified for national tournament

The Saginaw Valley State University forensic team continued to collect the rewards of its determined preparation, winning several honors at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Tournament at Eastern Michigan University Saturday, Dec. 8.

SVSU students claimed six of the 11 top novice awards, given to the student who places highest in an event and who has participated in fewer than six competitions. The SVSU team is largely comprised of novice competitors.

Three students qualified for the National Forensics Association competition in April 2019 by virtue of their impressive public speaking at the tournament:

  • Aubree Harrell of Essexville and Josh Lloyd of Bay City, both communication and theatre majors, earned top novice as well as second place for their duo interpretation performance.
  • Tiler Jewell, a communication and creative writing major from Midland, earned third place in persuasion.

Students on the SVSU forensics team say they have grown through the many hours of study and rehearsing, and from the team camaraderie.

“Coming from a theatrical background, I assumed I knew all that I needed to know about public speaking, and boy was I wrong!” Lloyd said. “Forensics has helped to broaden my horizons in public speaking, as well as creative thinking.”

Jewell said her involvement has helped her academically and socially.

“Forensics has given me a place to belong at SVSU when I was unsure of myself,” she said. “I'm proud of how far I’ve come and I'm even prouder of our amazing team.”

Six SVSU students qualified for nationals at previous tournaments. They are:

  • Kennedy Bachman, a communication major from Grand Blanc
  • Monae Hawthorne, a criminal justice major from Detroit
  • Darious Henry, a communication major from Chesterfield Township
  • Gina Kearly,  a communication major from Midland
  • Ashley Murdock, a communication major from Oxford
  • Courtney Perrou, a communication major from Pinconning 

Other SVSU students to place at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Tournament include:

  • Samantha White, a communication major from North Branch, who earned second place in rhetorical criticism, along with earning top novice award in that event.
  • Henry, who earned third place in dramatic interpretation and fourth place in persuasion. He also earned top novice awards in both events.
  • Kearly, who earned third place in the POI event.
  • Hawthorne, who earned fourth place in poetry and top novice award in that category.
  • Perrou, who earned fourth place in prose as well as top novice award in that category.

SVSU finished third overall among the seven Michigan colleges and universities who competed at the event.  

The SVSU forensics team is coached by Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication, and Ryan Rigda, lecturer of communication.

“Seeing students apply what they have learned in a competitive, academic environment is rewarding to me as a professor of communication,” Pierce said. “These tournaments provide an opportunity for academic debate and foster an environment of inclusivity. SVSU students contribute to this dialogue and serve as ambassadors for our university.”

The next forensics tournament for SVSU is MISL Novice States, held for students competing in their first six tournaments. That will be hosted by Northwood University Saturday, Feb. 16.

December 12, 2018

SVSU students’ preparation pays off, team qualifies for moot court national tournament

Since Saginaw Valley State University's moot court program was established in 2010, SVSU never has failed to qualify competitors for the nation's most elite tournament.

Thanks to countless hours of preparation preparing for and rehearsing oral arguments, SVSU students have earned another impressive showing, and that streak will continue for a ninth consecutive year in 2019.

SVSU students Lindsey Mead and Justin Weller will advance as a team to the American Moot Court Association national tournament Jan. 12-13 at Florida A&M College of Law in Orlando. Mead will make her second consecutive appearance in the annual contest, which features 120 of the nation's best undergraduate moot court competitors.

Acting as teams of two attorneys, students competing in moot court tournament are tasked with arguing two hypothetical legal cases based on real-life courtroom battles. The competition is judged based on the clarity of the students' argument, their public speaking skills, their ability to answer questions, and how well they know the law and the case.

The SVSU moot court program has excelled in those categories since their inception. Julie Keil, SVSU associate professor of political science, has served as the team’s adviser for all nine years; today she is joined by Amy Hendrickson, SVSU associate professor of law

SVSU students have competed well over the years, and SVSU consistently has been ranked among the nation’s elite programs. Its current ranking by the American Moot Court Association at No. 19 is its highest yet, ahead of larger institutions such as Texas A&M University (ranked no. 21) and University of Louisville (No. 23). Last year, SVSU ranked No. 24 out of the more than 425 higher education institutions that fielded teams for the American Moot Court Association.

Mead, an English major from Saginaw, and Weller, a political science major from Bay City, earned their invitation to the 2019 national tournament based on the strength of their performance at a regional American Moot Court Association tournament hosted by SVSU in November. The pair advanced to the semifinal round, finishing third in a competition featuring 46 teams from 11 colleges and universities.

Three other SVSU teams finished among the top 16 teams at the SVSU-hosted tournament. Those teams featured the duos of Justine Brabaw, a political science major from Breckenridge, and Erik Byron, a political science major from Birch Run; Joshua Cianek, a political science major from Auburn, and Lauren Legner, a psychology major from Bay City; and Ted Meckley, a political science major from Saginaw, and Porche Spiller, a sociology major from Saginaw.

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