Michelle Knous has never forgotten the excitement in her father's voice when she called to tell him she qualified for the 2010 U.S. Winter Olympics women's bobsled team. She was in a hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland that January, hours after her determined performance during an international bobsled competition helped a selection committee decide she should represent her nation one month later during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"I ended up losing my dad in 2011, so I was happy I was able to share that excitement with him," Knous said.
That shared elation was one of the memories that came flooding back to Knous this month when she returned for the first time to that same St. Moritz hotel, this time as a member of the selection committee charged with choosing the men's and women's bobsled teams that will compete at the Winter Olympics games in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.
"It's been kind of eerie, how I'm back here like this," said Knous, a clinical coordinator for exercise science students at Saginaw Valley State University.
"Really, it's like nothing's changed. So much of it feels the same, even at the hotel. The same guy who served me pizza eight years ago is still here, telling the same jokes."
Knous and the selection committee spent the weekend watching Americans compete in the international bobsled circuit where she once excelled. The athletes who will represent the U.S. this year were announced Monday, Jan. 15. (Selections posted at https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Bobsled-Skeleton-Federation.)
While this time she won't face the pressures of competition, she said there is a different sense of urgency — and a consequential duty — involved in picking the best representatives of her country in her sport.
"The truth is, there are some athletes whose Olympic journey will end here," Knous said. "It's a lot of responsibility, but I am honored to be a part of the Olympic team selections. It feels great to give back to the sport that gave me so many memories of a lifetime."
For Knous, those memories included earning a spot as a pusher for the top U.S. women's bobsled team in the 2010 games, where she and her teammate, Shauna Rohbock, finished sixth in the world.
Her story as one of the world's best bobsledders began on a pole vault track. As a member of Michigan State University's track and field team in the mid-2000s, Knous — then Michelle Rzepka — impressed bobsled team recruiters with her athleticism as a pole vaulter. And she welcomed the new challenge.
For two years, Knous, a Novi native, trained at the Olympic Village camp in Lake Placid, New York while competing on the international bobsled circuit. By January 2010 in St. Moritz, where the U.S. selection committee was set to finalize the Winter Olympics bobsled team, Knous already was considered a frontrunner.
"When the team was announced officially, I still had tears in my eyes," she said. "Just hearing my name and knowing it was final — that it was real — was a powerful moment."
Immediately, she called her parents, David and Holly Rzepka, to share the news. They already were planning their trip to watch their daughter in Vancouver.
Having finished her duties, Knous is set to return to the U.S. on Tuesday. Next month, she will watch the teams she selected compete on a TV set in the comfort of her Freeland home beside the family she built after her bobsled career: her husband, Jeremy Knous, an associate professor of kinesiology at SVSU; and their two sons, Barrett and Drake.
"I have a joke I like to tell people," she said, "that I never won in the Olympics, but that's OK, because they are my three gold medals."
Saginaw Valley State University expects to begin construction on a 38,500 square foot building addition for its College of Business and Management later this year, following construction authorization and a commitment of $9.8 million by the State of Michigan that was signed into law Thursday, Dec. 28.
“This is tremendous news for our enterprising business students and faculty, and for the regional business community,” said Donald Bachand, SVSU president. “Innovation drives business profitability, and this new facility will allow us to further innovate our strong business curriculum and promote the collaborative learning and problem-solving that fuels the modern economy.”
SVSU will undertake a $25 million project to build an addition connected to the existing Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts, near Curtiss Hall, where faculty offices for the College of Business of Management are located. The expansion is estimated to cost $18.5 million, and $6.5 million is allocated to cover renovations to Curtiss Hall and other business school needs.
Last July, SVSU had received planning authorization for its capital outlay request for state funding; that was included in the 2018 fiscal year budget for the State of Michigan.
Planned improvements for the new facility include:
SVSU's College of Business and Management is accredited by AACSB International, placing SVSU in the top 5 percent of business schools worldwide. Included among the 28 academic programs are specialized opportunities that draw upon the unique business resources of the Great Lakes Bay Region, such as academic minors in entrepreneurship and family business management. SVSU hosts the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute and the Stevens Center for Family Business.
President Bachand expressed appreciation to the legislators who supported SVSU’s proposal.
“I would like to thank members of our legislative delegation in the Great Lakes Bay Region, especially Senator Ken Horn and Representative Tim Kelly; as well as senators Darwin Booher and Tonya Schuitmaker, and Representative Larry Inman of the joint capital outlay committee; and Governor Rick Snyder for their support,” Bachand said. “This facility will serve as a vital resource to advance economic prosperity in our region and our state.”
A groundbreaking ceremony is anticipated for the spring or summer of 2018.
The SVSU Foundation has begun a fundraising campaign to support the project, and hopes to generate up to $15 million in private donor support.
Saginaw Valley State University student Bria Rivet has received a $2,000 award named in honor of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke. In addition, Rivet now is preparing to co-author a publication about the Saginaw-born writer.
The memory of Theodore Roethke has been honored through the Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival, coordinated by SVSU. This year's festival, which will include a series of arts events in the Great Lakes Bay Region, will take place March 23-28.
As part of the Festival, SVSU selects one student as the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Writing Award. Sponsored by the Friends of Theodore Roethke, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of Roethke, the award is granted to an outstanding SVSU student based on a creative writing portfolio of either poetry or fiction
Rivet, a creative writing and English literature double major from Bay City, received this award for her poetry portfolio as well as her promise for continued growth as a creative writer.
Vince Samarco, SVSU professor of English and a judge for the award, noted the following about Rivet's work:
"Bria's poetry displays a sharp, critical eye," he said. "That eye is concerned with lots of things, but it's mostly concerned with mapping the reaches of the male gaze - in art, thought and identity. The work is provocative and important."
Coincidentally, before she received news of the scholarship, Rivet and Joshua Atkins, an English literature major from Reese, had been working on a publication about Roethke and the memorial prize named for him.
"It is such an honor to win this award the same year that my name will be on a published book about this remarkable poet and his legacy," she said.
Rivet's publication will cover information about Roethke, including poetry and photos of the famous poet. The majority of the publication, however, will be comprised of biographies, photos, interviews, and selections of poetry from all 12 recipients of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize.
At SVSU, Rivet also has earned other honors for her writing, including the Tyner Prize for poetry and the Seitz Creative Writing Scholarship in 2016.
Eight teams of Saginaw Valley State University students are spending a week of their winter break traveling to seven states in order to volunteer their time as part of SVSU’s Alternative Breaks program.
Alternative Breaks is a student-run organization that sends its members to locations across the U.S. to participate in a range of volunteer opportunities during regular school break periods.
This year, 90 SVSU students are engaged in volunteer service during the week of
Dec. 16-23. Divided into eight teams, each group will travel to a different U.S. community to aid the following nonprofit organizations:
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 www.svsu.edu/officeofstudentlife/serve/.
When Jill Castle walked into the classroom for her first day of the Intercollegiate Forensics course at Saginaw Valley State University, she did not fully realize she was joining the forensics team. What she thought was an upper division 3-credit communication course turned out to be an opportunity of a lifetime.
Castle, a communication major from Standish, has qualified to compete against the best forensics students in the country during the 2018 National Forensic Association National Championship tournament scheduled April 19-23 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
She will be joined by two of her classmates from the SVSU forensics team; the strong collective showing led to the group's third-place showing during the fall Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League tournament at Oakland University Dec. 9.
Castle earned a first-place individual award in the After Dinner Speaking category. As a result, she qualified to advance to the national contest along with fellow SVSU students Jrew Brickel, a criminal justice major from Midland, and Tiler Jewell, a creative writing major from Essexville. Brickel earned a fourth-place finish in the Extemporaneous Speaking category and Jewell placed fifth in the Informative category.
Castle's fortuitous registration for the forensics team landed her in the middle of a close-knit group of students working together to compete in local, regional, and state level competitions based on individual public speaking and debate skills.
"Unlike other colleges, my goal for this team is purely educational instead of competitive," said Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication and forensics team advisor. "Winning is always fun, of course, but I want my students to learn from these events more than anything."
After competing in similar events in high school, Pierce understood the experience builds valuable skills among the competitors. With these principles in mind, Pierce has been directing the team since she founded it in 2001.
The benefits of her different approach to competitive public speaking are not lost on her students.
"Dr. Pierce's educational philosophy has taken so much pressure off of me," said Gina Kearly, a communication major from Midland. "This has allowed me the opportunity to cultivate important skills that are incredibly valuable in all aspects of life, not just forensics."
In the December tournament, Kearly placed third for her presentation in the Rhetorical Criticism category.
"The speeches are required to be 10 minutes long, so understanding what information is important for each argument is vital," Kearly said.
Kearly added that these competitions have helped her learn to lose, to network, and how to take constructive criticism.
This educational philosophy is what draws students from all majors, not just communication. Pierce said that she finds a lot of education, political science, and criminal justice majors in her Intercollegiate Forensics classroom.
The first few months of the class Castle stumbled upon are dedicated to writing speech outlines, researching topics, and helping students choose drama scenes or pieces of poetry for their interpretive performances, Pierce explained.
"Once everything is set, it's all about rehearsing for competition, constantly editing, revising, and perfecting their performances," she said.
Although she mainly focuses on how students can learn from these competitions, Pierce still understands the importance of doing well in these events. Because of this, she equips her students with the right tools to succeed in each area of competition, which is exactly what they did in the December tournament.
Many of the participants from SVSU were considered novice, meaning they have competed in fewer than six competitions in their forensics careers. The best novice speaker in each event is awarded Top Novice. Out of the 11 awards presented at the tournament, seven were given to SVSU students.
Kearly and her partner Kelley Gray, a communication major from Sandusky, won third place for their duo performance in Dramatic Interpretation.
Allison Milke, a communication major from Macomb, took third place for her persuasive performance and Jayla Jenkins, a communication major from Detroit, won Top Novice for both her sixth place performance in Dramatic Interpretation and second place presentation for Programmed Oral Interpretation.
Castle competed in the After Dinner portion of the event, designed as a humorous approach to persuasive speaking. Her speech on bisexual inclusion landed her in first place and earned a Top Novice recognition.
Happenstance may have brought her to the forensics team, but natural talent and a love for competitive public speaking has made her stay.
"Forensics has developed so much more than just my speaking skills,” Castle said. “When you join this team, you gain public speaking skills, critical thinking skills, organization skills, and a family. "
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved the auxiliary operations budgets for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, Dec. 15.
The Board approved a $30.9 million auxiliary fund budget for the 2019 fiscal year and a $31.4 million auxiliary fund budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Auxiliary services include self-supporting campus operations such as housing, dining and conferencing.
The Board had previously approved room and board rates for the 2018-19 academic year. Incoming freshmen who reside in a Living Center unit with shared bedrooms will pay $9,786 for the upcoming year, including their meal plan; that is an increase from $9,378 currently. The increase includes an additional $150 charge to cover improvements made to the wireless network for residential students, as negotiated with the SVSU Student Association two years ago.
SVSU has changed its housing policies for students who choose to reside in the First Year Suites; all suites will now feature individual bedrooms. Students residing there will pay $10,186 next year, up from $9,874; this also includes funding the wireless improvements.
Housing rates for returning students in 2018-19 generally will remain unchanged, ranging from $4,380 to $7,430 for students whose meal plan participation is optional. The total weighted increase for the 2018-19 academic year is 1.6 percent.
For the 2019-20 academic year, incoming freshmen who reside in a Living Center unit with shared bedrooms will pay $10,030, including their meal plan. Residents in the First Year Suites will be charged $10,440. The total weighted increase for the 2019-20 academic year will be 2.4 percent.
SVSU’s housing has been recognized as the best in Michigan and No. 19 nationally, according to
the website Niche and its “Best Dorms” rankings. Niche calculates their rankings using a weighted formula where 70 percent of a school’s score came from students’ satisfaction with their housing, as well as data from the U.S. Department of Education. The ranking assesses 1,398 four-year colleges and universities.
In other business, the Board:
One year after Evan Willman's funeral, family and friends will gather for a different kind of ceremony where they will honor his legacy as a beloved classmate and dedicated student.
During Saginaw Valley State University's commencement ceremony Friday at 7:30 p.m. in O'Neill Arena, Willman's mother will accept an Honorary Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree on her son's behalf.
Before he died following a fall from a moving vehicle in December 2016, Willman was on schedule to graduate this week alongside a close-knit cohort of 58 classmates enrolled in the same master's program. SVSU’s occupational therapy program teams the same group of students in courses and activities from their first semester in the program until their graduation. This particular cohort (shown in part in the adjoining photo, with Willman in front, giving the thumbs-up sign) will be among 570 SVSU total graduates participating in commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday.
"I hope that he would have been proud of himself for accomplishing enough to receive this degree," said his mother, Rebecca Willman. "I know I'm proud of what he accomplished."
Her son was a standout member of the latest class graduating from SVSU's Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program, classmates and faculty say. His outgoing personality and radiant charm won him friends, impacted lives and influenced wardrobe choices.
"He originated something we called 'Flannel Fridays,'" said Cody Zietz, a classmate from the master's program who befriended Willman.
Willman and his classmates followed the program's dress code: khakis and polos, as is typically worn by professionals in occupational therapy. But Willman convinced faculty members to allow the group to don flannel attire on Fridays as a way to express camaraderie. The weekly tradition also involved bringing pancake ingredients to campus and cooking breakfast for the group.
"He wanted you to be personable like that," Zietz said, "because he was personable like that. He was the kind of person where, if you were walking in the hallway and he knew you, he was going to stop you and make you smile."
The 23-year-old's death devastated many on campus who knew him. Weeks later, when Willman's parents visited campus to close their son's affairs with the university, they were met by students, faculty, staff and administrators who encouraged them to request a posthumous degree.
Receiving such an honor is a relatively rare occurrence. Academic committees, administrators and registrar officials must review each request to determine the student's eligibility based on several factors. Willman's honorary degree was approved in time for the university's May commencement, but his parents asked to postpone the recognition until he could be honored along with his classmates, scheduled to graduate this week.
Ellen Herlache-Pretzer, an SVSU assistant professor of occupational therapy who worked with Willman's group, said the honorary degree is a fitting tribute to her former student and a solemn comfort to his classmates.
"A lot of people looked up to Evan," she said. "They are happy to see him have a chance to finish with them, in a way."
Willman's journey to SVSU began long before his freshman year, his mother said. When his grandmother suffered a stroke in 2006, the family's involvement in the recovery process exposed the then-middle school student to occupational therapy.
"He was fascinated by her therapy sessions," his mother said. "That's where he figured out what he wanted to be. He had a strong desire to help people."
Willman's other interests included athletics. He was a member of all-area football and baseball teams while at Breckenridge High School, where he graduated in 2011. When he enrolled at SVSU, he joined the men's rugby club team, eventually becoming a team captain.
Classmates also were aware of his love for the outdoors. When Willman befriended Zietz, the two became hunting and fishing buddies.
At SVSU, Willman also met Mary Iott, a student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy cohort one year ahead of Willman's group. The couple fell in love and were engaged to be married in August 2017. She graduated from SVSU days before his death.
In the wake of that tragedy, Willman's classmates organized a GoFundMe webpage, raising more than $10,000 to pay for their classmate's funeral. Because of that support, his family was able to afford using Willman's life insurance to create The 3-Cent Scholarship in honor of Willman and the amount of money left behind in his bank account.
"We have this saying about Evan," his mother said. "We say, 'He lived life to the fullest … and a bank account to show it.'"
The scholarship is available to Breckenridge High School graduates. Earlier this year, the Willman family awarded three $1,000.03 scholarships to college-bound students.
His SVSU classmates aren't finished honoring Willman. During this week's ceremony at SVSU, members of his master's program cohort plan to pin flannel fabric to their commencement robes, observing Flannel Friday one last time for their friend.
"Even though he's not going to be there with us, we wanted to show he made a lasting impression," Zietz said, "because that's what he did."
A passion for exploring literary theory led Saginaw Valley State University student Victoria Phelps to write a college essay recently honored as the top undergraduate paper presented at a conference for the Midwest chapters of Sigma Tau Delta, an English honors society.
Phelps, an English literature major from Rochester Hills, presented the paper at Western Illinois University in November. For winning the top undergraduate prize, Phelps earned a certificate, $100 and the curiosity of her peers in attendance.
"People came up to me after I won the award, asking me questions," said Phelps, vice president of SVSU's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. "It was great getting that kind of feedback from people. The people who came up to me were all interested in learning more."
Phelps' paper - originally written for an SVSU English course in the fall of 2016 - examined the 2015 Edwidge Danticat novel, "Untwine," about a sister's despair following the death of her identical twin. The paper, titled "Understanding Twin Loss and Grief in Danticat's Untwine," explored the character's loss as a form of mental amputation. That perspective aligned with Phelps' interest in examining literature dealing with disabilities, both physical and mental.
Phelps said it was valuable to speak to peers involved in other chapters of Sigma Tau Delta.
"One of the great things about the conference is meeting other people and learning from them," she said. "One of the really incredible things was being able to listen to others present on their papers. You learn a lot."
The conference appearance was Phelps' first experience presenting an essay in front of a crowd. But it won't be her last.
A member of SVSU's Honors Program, Phelps plans to present her Honors thesis at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts hosted in Orlando in March. Her paper is titled "Depictions of Disabilities Once Upon a Time: Analyzing Disabled Characters in the Context of Victorian Fairy Tales."
Phelps also plans to attend Sigma Tau Delta's international conference hosted in Cincinnati in March.
Phelps expects to graduate from SVSU in May 2018. She currently is applying to graduate schools offering master's degree programs in library information science.
"I want to work with serving the public in the library setting," Phelps said of her professional ambitions.
In addition to her academic work, Phelps has served as editor of SVSU's student arts and literature publication, Cardinal Sins, for three years. She also works as a tutor at SVSU's Writing Center and as a reporter with The Valley Vanguard, SVSU’s student newspaper.
Saginaw Valley State University will support two professors in their scholarly endeavors to improve people’s health. Jay Scott, associate professor of biology, and Danilo Sirias, professor of management, have been awarded SVSU’s Braun Fellowship.
Scott intends to continue investigating the influence of dietary fats, carbohydrates and contaminants on health and disease. Sirias plans to produce case studies regarding the management of patient flow in health care environments.
Each will receive research support grants totaling up to $37,500 over the next three years to further their scholarly and professional activities. Funds may be used for research expenses, equipment, travel and/or other related support.
Scott has studied metabolic syndrome, characterized by an increase in body weight, fat accumulation, inflammation, and altered metabolism. These symptoms have proven to lead to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
Through his latest research, Scott plans to examine the signs of metabolic syndrome induced by diets with varying macronutrient ratios and work to determine if diet-related changes in physiology are modified by the exposure to environmental contaminants. This study should increase understanding of how dietary components lead to disease states, and help to identify whether environmental contaminants in food are independent risk factors for disease.
Through other grant-supported research, Scott has previously investigated related topics such as cardiovascular disease. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the cardiology division of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa. An active researcher, Scott has written 12 scholarly articles and given 19 invited scientific presentations.
Scott joined the SVSU biology faculty in 2012. He completed his bachelor’s degree at SVSU, where he played on the baseball team. A native of Ontario, Scott completed his Ph.D. at Queen's University.
As a result of his research, Sirias plans to publish three teaching case studies on the topic of managing patient flow in different health care environments. The three areas he will examine are primary or specialist care, admitted patients, and operating rooms. Sirias will outline the most common difficulties associated with each environment, as well as offering strategies to address the problems detailed throughout the case studies and suggestions for how the material should be taught.
Sirias has prior research experience on the topic. In 2015, he presented “A Proposed Framework to Determine Chokepoints Preventing Better Patient Flow in Emergency Departments,” to the International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciplines. Sirias has received six prior grants -- four of which were through SVSU -- in order to fund research related to labor force, coordination in health care systems, virtual education and management techniques.
Sirias joined the SVSU management faculty in 2001. He completed his bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at the National University of Engineering in Nicaragua. Sirias then completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Memphis.
Established in 2005, the Braun Fellowship program was created through a $1.5 million endowment from the Saginaw-based Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation. Administered by the Saginaw Community Foundation, the program's purpose is to recognize the exceptional accomplishments and potential of select SVSU faculty and staff. It is named in honor of Ruth Braun and her late husband, Ted.