Born in 1980 in Poland, Izabela Szymanska witnessed the birth of the country’s Solidarity movement, and though young during its flourishing decade, was awestruck by its impact. She saw this movement transform her country’s peoples as it empowered them to take responsibility for their lives. Notable were economic changes, as citizens went from being government-supported to owning businesses.
Family business and entrepreneurship were fledgling opportunities that motivated a young Szymanska to dream that one day she would study business and entrepreneurship in the U.S. because, as she asks, “Who does it better?”
So it is no wonder that the assistant professor of management chose a case study of family business and innovative changes for her recently-defended doctoral dissertation.
And it’s equally no wonder that Szymanska felt that when she arrived at SVSU in fall 2014, she had found a “perfect fit.” That’s because she is teaching entrepreneurship classes as well as working with the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute at SVSU, the Stevens Center for Family Business, and SVSU students.
She is quick to point out that SVSU’s focus on family business was not only very attractive to her, but that such a program affiliated with a university is not very common. That, she says, is great for both students and the region.
It is in the role of teacher that Szymanska makes her greatest impact. “I work with students on independent studies, take them to business events, and bring speakers into the classroom, all to enrich the student experience. “
And in the very brief time she has been at the university, she has led a student team to the University of Vermont’s Family Enterprise Case Competitions held each winter. She is already planning a return trip in 2015-16, noting the value of this competitive experiential learning for her academic college’s students.
Szymanska especially enjoys teaching Introduction to Entrepreneurship, a semester-long course where students create a comprehensive business plan. “Some love it and some learn that entrepreneurship is not for them. That’s not a bad thing; rather it’s invaluable for students to participate in that discovery process,” Szymanska said.
And some students are excited about becoming an “intrapreneur,” an employee within a company charged with bringing new products or innovations to market. “This can be very appealing to students who don’t necessarily want to start a business, yet who want to bring that entrepreneurial energy to a company.”
Szymanska’s enthusiasm and efforts must be paying off, as an influx of student interest in entrepreneurship has led to adding another section of the course this academic year.
Leaders in Midland County have always been serious about improving health outcomes for county residents. In 2014, they enlisted a serious research partner to better understand where they stand and what it would take to be a healthier county. The SVSU team of five faculty and 15 students — all undergraduates — spent nearly a year gathering, analyzing and sharing data. Those who selected SVSU for the project were seriously impressed when the team submitted its final report.
“We are extremely pleased with the quality of the work performed by SVSU students and faculty,” Sharon Mortensen, president and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation, said after the report was made available in May 2015. The foundation joined with the Health and Human Services Council of Midland County and other agencies on the study.
“The faculty team met numerous times with our small planning group. They adapted their work to the needs of our community and provided a finished product that will greatly benefit Midland County.”
Based on a successful prior study by SVSU — and an exemplary record of community engagement — the Midland County consortium approached the university to lead the research.
“We were very satisfied with the work SVSU did on the Midland County needs assessment and the corresponding Midland County Dashboard,” Mortensen said. “The responsiveness of the staff and faculty to our community needs has been outstanding. When it was time to again conduct the health survey, we thought this provided another great opportunity to work with our local university.”
“I’m well ahead of my peers”
While Midland County leaders are pleased with the final product, SVSU faculty and students are thrilled with the learning experience.
Nathan Peters, 2015, B.S., worked extensively on the research. County-wide health surveys are typically conducted by phone, but SVSU was committed to going into the community. The exercise science major from Deckerville was among those on the front lines asking people to complete surveys.
“It’s amazing to shake the hands of the people you know will benefit from what you’re doing,” he said. “Once families responded, that would make me even more proud, because not only are we trying to help the adult population, it’s really all about the children, how they’re raised and continuing those positive health behaviors.”
Peters has begun his graduate program at the University of South Carolina. He received a research and teaching assistantship (full tuition, plus stipend) and plans to complete his Ph.D. in exercise science there. His involvement on this study and other research projects has prepared him well for the demands of graduate school.
“Every conference I attend to present research,” he said, “I get asked, ‘Are you doing this for your dissertation?’ SVSU and our kinesiology department have given me every possible tool to be successful. I am very confident that I’m going to be well ahead of my peers.”
More work, more reward
Playing a role in stories such as Peters’ is why Josh Ode, 2001, B.A., professor of kinesiology at the time of the study, returned to his alma mater.
In July, Ode accepted an appointment to oversee SVSU’s community engagement activities as associate vice president for academic affairs. He noted that the team on the Midland study was interdisciplinary, and in his estimation, a prime example of community-based research.
“We said, ‘We can do this another way,’ and that’s exactly what we did. We included multiple students in a service-learning project to get data that was requested, and we personalized it for Midland. We asked the kind of questions — above the traditional survey that’s done on a regular basis — they wanted to know.”
The research process also included meetings every two weeks where students reflected upon what they had learned.
“That’s really what service-learning is,” Ode said. “You take what you learn in the classroom; put it into practice, and then you go further. You have students talk and reflect about what works and what doesn’t, identify the challenges, and determine how to move forward.”
Putting the research to work
Many of the students have completed their SVSU degrees and have started careers or graduate school. Faculty will evaluate their research work for scholarly publications and move on to other projects, but they remain in the Great Lakes Bay Region community. That should assist with an important next step: using the research to improve the health of Midland County’s people.
Leslie Perry, 2007, M.A., already has submitted grant proposals based on the study’s findings. More Midland-area physicians are writing prescriptions requiring patients to exercise, and she sees a need for these patients to have a dedicated liaison to keep them informed, encouraged and held accountable.
The study identified significant health differences among population groups. For example, 49 percent of respondents with a high school diploma engaged in no physical activity regularly; the same was true for just 11.6 percent of respondents with a bachelor’s degree.
As engagement director for Greater Midland, a non-profit group that includes popular facilities such as the Midland Community Center and Tennis Center, Perry wants to see more people take advantage of community assets — many of which are free of charge — for health and wellness.
“We have enough programs and resources, but not enough people are using them,” she said.
More recommendations and action items will be developed, and eventually a new health study will be needed, but bonds forged between professors and students will continue for many years to come.
Peters praised SVSU’s exercise science faculty, especially Becca Schlaaf, B.S., 2008, assistant professor of kinesiology, for how he was mentored.
“Faculty want students to be successful,” he said. They encourage students to get outside of the classroom and participate in these community-based research projects.
“You can’t get any closer with a faculty member than I have at SVSU. If I would have gone somewhere else, there is no way I could have had the experience I did. I would not be where I am today if I had gone anywhere besides SVSU, and I'm really confident in saying that.”
A leading scholar on ethics and the philosophy of science will present the annual Edward Lecture at Saginaw Valley State University. Peter Railton will present “Homo Prospectus: Toward a New Synthesis in Thinking About the Mind and Brain” Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7p.m. in SVSU’s Founders Hall.
On a beautiful breezy June afternoon, the 10 members of the Gembrowski family gather for a photo at their Freeland home where they are hosting yet another graduation party. They laugh, joke and tease each other while the photographer sets up. Once he gives the signal, each brother and sister falls into place unrehearsed as if they’ve done this family photo thing a time or two.
In the center is the matriarch, Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A. She smiles proudly as the camera snaps off a few shots. To the untrained eye, this might look like any old picture. But if you know the story of the Gembrowski family, then you know there’s something else you can see in this photo:
A flock of Cardinals.
Sharon Gembrowski isn’t the only SVSU grad in the family. Seven of her eight children have either graduated from SVSU or are currently attending, turning most family functions into unofficial alumni outings.
“From a very early age we had high expectations for everyone,” she said. “We told them they need a degree, but they could choose the school and program they wanted.”
And all but one of those children picked SVSU. The result is what Jim Dwyer, executive director of alumni relations, believes is the largest collection of immediate family to attend SVSU. “I can think of a few families with three or four children, but seven? That’s pretty remarkable.”
The Gembrowskis are a model of the kind of generational commitment Dwyer and his Alumni Relations office hope to encourage with new outreach efforts.
“They truly are the poster children for what we are trying to accomplish long-term,” Dwyer said. “We want to cultivate a spirit of loyalty to the university, and the Gembrowskis are living our charge: ‘Red Pride … Pass It On.’”
Peter Gembrowski, one of the youngest of the Gembrowski children and a freshman at SVSU, was among the first recipients of the Alumni Legacy Endowed Scholarship. Alumni Relations created the scholarship this year to benefit children of alumni.
“This program tells our alumni, ‘You are family for life,’” Dwyer said.
For this particular family, the SVSU legacy began with Sharon Gembrowski. She enrolled in 1980 after high school, but eventually put her degree on hold when she and her husband, Marty, moved to Grand Rapids.
Though being a mom was a full-time job, she realized it would be wise to finish her degree. She returned to SVSU in fall 1991, just after their fourth child was born.
Her education was a sacrifice for the entire family. Sharon’s mother watched the kids so she could go to class. She’d often do her grocery shopping in the middle of the night. It was common in the early 1990s to see her coming to campus to drop off a class assignment, five or six kids in tow.
“I remember late at night we would all get together to do our homework,” said oldest daughter, Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now a geriatric nurse practitioner in Grand Rapids. “She took us to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum so we could see where mom went to school. It was great.”
Marty Gembrowski boasts that his wife was “insanely disciplined,” keeping checklists and calendars to make sure everything was in order and taking a class or two at a time to get through it. She walked across the stage during commencement in May 1997. A couple weeks later, her twin boys, Peter and Matthew, were born.
And on this June day, it’s those twin boys’ high school graduation the family is celebrating. Matthew will be the first child to attend college elsewhere, while his twin brother readies for his first year at SVSU, studying mechanical engineering.
“Being part of a big SVSU family is cool,” Peter Gembrowski said. “I’ve always gone to campus to do things with my brothers and sisters. I’m right at home.”
Sharon Gembrowski said one of the things she appreciates most about SVSU is the university’s value. All of her children received some form of scholarship to attend and graduated with little to no debt.
“SVSU provided an opportunity for my kids to advance their lives,” she said. “I’m just so happy that so many decided to go there.”
The Gembrowski Cardinals
Sharon Gembrowski, 1997, B.A., was far from the last member of her family to attend SVSU. Seven out of eight of her children have graduated from or are enrolled at SVSU.
Grace Hoffman, 2009, B.S.N., now works as a nurse practitioner at Mercy Health Saint Mary's in Grand Rapids.
Claire Gembrowski, 2011, B.B.A., now works for the lean manufacturing/purchasing team in Ford Motor Company in Dearborn.
Mary Gembrowski, 2013, M.S.O.T., now works as an occupational therapist at Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw.
Luke Gembrowski, 2014, B.S.M.E., now works as a mechanical engineer for Nexteer Automotice in Buena Vista Township.
Enrolled at SVSU
Anne Gembrowski is a nursing major.
Adam Gembrowski is a computer science major.
Peter Gembrowski is a mechanical engineering major.
Micah Whitehead's career goal is to work as a cardiothoracic surgeon, helping patients experiencing problems with their hearts and lungs.
It's a goal that felt far-fetched to the Saginaw native not so long ago, when he struggled with his own medical issues. But now – fueled by his own perseverance, the support of faculty and staff at Saginaw Valley State University, and a second chance offered by his current school – Whitehead is on his way to achieving that goal.
After graduating SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Whitehead has embarked on a 5-year path to a medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He started school at the East Lansing campus in July, enrolled in the school’s Advance Baccalaureate Learning Experience (ABLE) program, a year-long initiative offered by the College of Human Medicine for disadvantaged students.
“SVSU provided me with the best foundation possible so that I can succeed in this rigorous program,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the program. Those who graduate from ABLE earn admission to the College of Human Medicine's traditional courses.
“I don't think I would be in this position if I hadn't gone to SVSU,” he said. “I developed a strong support system there.”
Whitehead applied to the program because his college transcripts reflect medical struggles he experienced during his sophomore year at SVSU, when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. His medical struggles led him to withdraw from several courses that year.
Those struggles could have made applying for enrollment at medical schools - which accept students heavily based on high-achieving college transcript records - a futile effort. But Whitehead said his supporters and mentors at SVSU helped him regain his footing academically.
Among those supporters was Heidi Lang, SVSU's pre-health professions advisor. Lang serves as advisor to SVSU’s Health Professions Association, a group that prepares students for graduate and professional schools relating to health professions. Whitehead was a member of the group while he attended SVSU, serving as its president during his senior year. He credited Lang's guidance in part for his admission to medical school.
“There were times when I was freaking out about something at 9 at night, and I would text her about it,” Whitehead said. “Whatever it was, she would take care of it.”
Lang said Whitehead is an outstanding student because of his passion for learning as well as his leadership.
“I see him as having incredible potential,” Lang said. “He is somebody who has such a heart and passion for serving others. Micah has the sensitivity, intelligence and the fortitude to be an excellent physician. He possesses great empathy for others and provides a listening ear for many of his peers. They seek him out.”
Whitehead said he enjoys helping students in the early stages of developing an interest in the health professions.
“I found out through the Health Professions Association that most of the younger students are kind of lost,” Whitehead said. “I remember being in their shoes, so I like to give them the kind of advice that was given to me. I love being a mentor to others.”
Less than one semester into his time as an Michigan State University medical student, Whitehead is excited about the opportunity ABLE provides.
“The ABLE program at MSU is absolutely miraculous,” he said. “We are in extremely tough courses right now, and the same attention I received at SVSU is being provided here. I look forward to waking up, and spending my days in the Gross Anatomy labs.”
He said SVSU faculty such as Gary Lange, professor of biology, and Tami Sivy, associate professor of chemistry, helped prepare him academically for his current studies.
“Dr. Lange, and especially Dr. Sivy, my biochemistry adviser and professor during my undergraduate degree, provided the extremely important foundational work that lets me learn the material at a much faster pace. It's like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant with how intense it is. Without SVSU, and the faculty who helped support me, I'm not sure I would be succeeding as I am right now.”
Chris Pryor knows his decision to attend SVSU changed his life for the better.
Today he helps others see the possibilities of a better life through a college education, earned perhaps, right in their own backyard.
The pastor at Victorious Believers Ministries in Saginaw, Pryor preaches a simple equation: salvation + education = success.
It was a mantra his father, the late Bishop Marvin C. Pryor, said often. And so attending college after high school was never up for debate in his family.
Pryor’s experience at SVSU and the relationships he built while on campus helped him forge a bond with the university that still exists today.
He encourages young people in his ministry to attend SVSU, helps fund scholarships for students and is actively involved in a number of programs that bring young people from the Saginaw community to campus. Every other week, he also invites area college students to eat meals cooked by members of his ministry so they can get a taste of home cooking even when away from home.
To Pryor, the role of church and university are very similar.
“Both exist to educate and better people’s lives,” said Pryor, 1995, B.B.A.; 2000, M.Ed.. “I do so from a spiritual aspect and SVSU does so from the academic side.”
More than a decade ago, his connections at SVSU helped lead to a job at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, where he enjoyed a successful business career. When his father passed away in 2010, Pryor answered the call to serve and assumed his father’s role as the head of the church.
During that transition, Pryor sought the advice of former SVSU president Eric Gilbertson. The conversation they shared resonates with Pryor to this day.
“We were just sitting in his office reflecting on everything,” Pryor said, “And I remember him saying that leaders always take the time to step back and think. That’s always stayed with me.”
Today, the community leader boasts that he “truly bleeds SVSU red.” One of his main goals, he said, is to help youths and adults fulfill their destiny. Pryor has great expectations for the Great Lakes Bay Region and strongly believes the next generation of leaders is being built on the campus of SVSU as well as through his congregation of Victorious Believers Ministries.
“My focus is to expand people’s mindsets,” Pryor said. “To show them what else is out there in their life.”
Renowned musician Vijay (Robert) Gupta will deliver a lecture titled “Music and the Mind” at Saginaw Valley State University Monday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. His talk is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus Lecture Series.
A soloist and chamber musician, Gupta has performed internationally since the age of eight. Not long after joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he became a friend and violin instructor of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who was the homeless and mentally ill musician who became the subject of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez's book “The Soloist.” The text was the basis of the 2009 movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.
In his Fall Focus appearance, Gupta will discuss the ability of music to change an individual's brain, heal ailments and transform lives. He believes music should be a fundamental element in any educational curriculum, beyond an extracurricular hobby or even a medium to facilitate instruction in other fields, such as math or science. Erudite, eloquent, and passionate, Gupta shows audiences that music isn't just something to be enjoyed - it's something that can change lives.
Gupta received a master's degree in music from Yale University and made his solo debut at age 11 with the Israel Philharmonic. His interests extend beyond music. He studied pre-medicine as an undergraduate student and was part of several research projects in neurodegenerative biology.
All lectures in the Fall Focus series are open to the public; admission is free of charge. For more information on the series, visit svsu.edu/fallfocus.
Editor’s note: Early publicity materials indicated a different time for the lecture. The 4 p.m. time in the release is correct. A photo of Gupta is attached.
Saginaw Valley State University will showcase internationally acclaimed Baroque cellist Rene Schiffer, who will be joined by renowned harpsichordist Joseph Gascho during the next Rhea Miller Concert Series installment Saturday, Oct. 24. The performance, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Rhea Miller Recital Hall, is free and open to the public.
Schiffer has performed in three continents, including solo recitals in Amsterdam, Budapest, Tallinn, Utrecht, Versailles, the Flanders Festival and Grandchamp. He was also a permanent member of the Il Gardellino, with which he made trips to Israel, Guatemala, and many European countries.
Schiffer’s resume includes performances with the European Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brabants Orchestra in the Netherlands, the New Belgian Chamber Orchestra, the European Community Baroque Orchestra, the Les Musiciens du Louvre, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.
Gascho won his first prize in the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition in 2002. He has earned his master's and doctoral degrees in harpsichord from the Peabody Conservatory and the Univeristy of Maryland. His performing highlights include the National Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra.
Gascho has also conducted numerous operas from the Monteverdi to Mozart for Opera Vivente, and "Idomeneo" for the Maryland Opera Studio.
As active music educators, Schiffer and Gascho have helped inspire several young musicians around the world. Schiffer taught at various schools, including in Seoul, Korea; and at Case Western Reserve University; University of Michigan; The Oberlin Conservatory; and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He has also given classes at The Cleveland Music School Settlement.
Gascho currently conducts the student orchestra at the Oberlin Conservatory's Baroque Performance Institute. Additionally, he coaches chamber music, teaches basso continuo, and has recently joined the University Of Michigan School Of Music, Theatre & Dance's Department of Organ as an assistant professor.
Schiffer's and Gascho's Rhea Miller Concert Series program will include selections from musicians such as 18th century's Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as Schiffer's original compositions.
The Rhea Miller Concert Series is made possible by a generous gift from Rhea E. Miller, a longtime friend of SVSU. Her gift, administered by the Miller Trust for Music Education, has provided the university with the opportunity to offer outstanding performances by nationally and internationally acclaimed musical artists at no cost to the audience since 1993. For more information, call (989) 964-4159 or email email@example.com.
Saginaw Valley State University will host more than 120 employers during its fall University-wide Employment and Networking Fair Friday, Oct. 16. The event — open to the public — is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. in the Curtiss Hall banquet rooms.
Numbers are up from last year's fall employment fair, where there were 86 businesses and organizations represented. Participating employers this year include Chemical Bank, Dow Corning Corporation, Covenant Health Care, General Motors, Nexteer Automotive and Quicken Loans. A complete list of employers is available online through the SVSU Career Services website at www.svsu.edu/careers.
Sponsoring the event are Aerotek, Independent Bank, Morley Companies, Saginaw Bay Underwriters and Walmart.
Professional attire must be worn by all job seekers.
As an additional benefit, Dymanic Focus Photography will be offering digital professional portrait photographs to be used for LinkedIn profile pages at no charge to all event attendees.
Advanced registration for SVSU students and alumni is available on Cardinal Career Network. Those who pre-register will receive printed ID tags, and will also be the first allowed to enter the fair.
An academic psychiatrist who specializes in mood illnesses, especially bipolar disorder, will discuss the findings of his book, “A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness.” Nassir Ghaemi will deliver the 12th annual James E. O'Neill Memorial Lecture at Saginaw Valley State University Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.
A New York Times bestseller, the book explores the powerful connections between mental illness and leadership, citing historic figures likely suffering from such illnesses, including Napoleon, Lincoln, Churchill and Hitler.
The text offers a controversial, compelling thesis that an Amazon review explains: “The very qualities that mark those with mood disorders also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. From the importance of Lincoln's depressive realism to the lackluster leadership of exceedingly sane men as Neville Chamberlain, 'A First-Rate Madness' overturns many of our most cherished perceptions about greatness and the mind.”
Ghaemi is a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the mood disorders program. He is also a clinical lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and teaches at the Cambridge Health Alliance. Ghaemi's clinical work and research has focused on depression and manic-depressive illness. He has published over 100 scientific articles and over 30 scientific book chapters.
The James E. O’Neill Jr. Memorial Lecture Series was established in 2003 to honor the late Saginaw educator, legislator and community servant. Co-sponsored by SVSU and the Field Neurosciences Institute of Saginaw, the series is intended to dynamically reflect O’Neill’s passion for excellence in government, education and the neurosciences, and to provide opportunities for people to learn about public service from individuals who have unselfishly contributed to the betterment of the human condition.
Ghaemi’s appearance is part of SVSU’s Fall Focus Lecture Series. All talks in the series are open to the public; admission is free of charge. For more information, visit www.svsu.edu/fallfocus.