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July 16, 2020
As fall semester approaches, SVSU reimagines campus spaces to address safety during pandemic
Since in-person classes were suspended in March, Ron Portwine has remained one of the few members of Saginaw Valley State University’s staff working at the campus. There – like so many higher education institutions in the nation that shifted the college experience to online and virtual environments in response to the pandemic – the vibrancy of student life at SVSU’s admired facilities was replaced by empty hallways and vacant classrooms.
This week, that vibrancy seemed to stir back to life in the eyes of Portwine, who has spent months working with colleagues preparing the campus for students’ return in August. On Tuesday, freshmen participated in orientation sessions that placed them in classrooms and campus spaces re-configured with features designed specifically to keep students safe from the COVID-19 virus.
“We have been working on this plan for a long time, and now we’re seeing how it looks with students here on campus,” Portwine said. “It’s exciting and provides an opportunity to receive student feedback on the changes we’ve made.”
As SVSU’s associate vice president for Administration and Business Affairs and its chief business officer, Portwine has taken a leading role in adapting SVSU to the pandemic. While the university announced masks were required to enter campus, ensuring a safe fall semester also meant reimagining the physical makeup of classrooms, cafeterias and other spaces while also providing resources and signage that encourages other safety-based practices. It has been a massive undertaking involving consultation with local health experts, modified ventilation practices, an emphasis on frequent sanitation, lots of stored furniture, and plexiglass.
Plenty of plexiglass.
“Students will notice the changes when they come back in the fall,” he said. “Safety is our priority. We also want them to enjoy the college student experience.”
Compared to many university settings, SVSU was uniquely suited to maintain a safe environment that defends against the spread of COVID-19. Historically, SVSU has maintained a reputation as an institution where students enjoy cozy classrooms. While other universities sometimes sit hundreds of students in a single room, many of SVSU’s classrooms traditionally hosted less than 30 people. That population-per-room this fall will be reduced further – by about 50 percent in most cases – to allow for even more room to safely practice social distancing, Portwine said.
“Preparing for this involved a lot of spreading-out of tables and removing chairs so that no one is sitting closer than 6 feet apart,” he said.
There will be exceptions to that 50 percent reduction rule. SVSU will utilize some of its larger spaces – typically reserved for events and conference gatherings – to host courses with larger numbers of students. The size of the venue, however, will allow for social distancing.
Next week, the university plans to begin installation of plexiglass shields positioned at classroom podiums and transaction counters, adding another layer of security that reduces the likelihood of disease transmission when adequate social distance can’t be maintained. Portwine said the setup will resemble the use of plexiglass material utilized by grocery and retail stores during the pandemic.
Hand sanitizer and environmentally-friendly cleaning agents also will be available in classrooms. Students will be expected to clean their classroom work surface as part of a shared responsibility to maintain a safe campus.
Other campus spaces that will be noticeably changed are SVSU’s dining locations. Using largely the same approach as the classroom changes, the removal of chairs and the spreading of tables will encourage social distancing, Portwine said. Students can eat in privacy or at a table for up to four people.
“We’ll have plenty of residential students who live together in groups of four and we want them to be able to dine together as part of their college experience,” Portwine said.
The cafeterias also will follow the practices of many restaurants. While the menu will remain largely the same, the way students gather food will change. Staff will serve food and beverages to students, with some plexiglass separating customers from cooks. The elimination of self-serve salad bars and beverage dispensaries reduces the number of touchable surfaces on which people can transmit diseases.
Plexiglass will be installed in other transactional spaces including where students pick up and drop off documents from the Registrar’s and Campus Financial Services offices. Plexiglass also will protect people visiting offices for counseling or tutoring services, although staff will encourage most of those appointments take place online or at locations on campus where 1-on-1 interactions can be most safely practiced. The same approach will be encouraged when students visit their professors. In the past, those visits happened within the professor’s office, where social distancing practices will be challenging.
Not all changes to the campus will involve rearranged furniture or installed plexiglass.
Portwine said few physical changes were planned for the residential halls. Instead, the room capacity will be reduced in common spaces to encourage social distancing. Shared bedrooms that traditionally utilized a bunk bed to house two students have been converted to single occupancy. The amount of space available to residential students already was a treasured feature that led to SVSU’s No. 1 ranking among public universities in the student survey-driven “Best Dorms” list from the website Niche. Now that space-per-residential student will widen for the 2020-21 academic year.
Signage across campus will limit the number of people that can enter smaller spaces such as laundry rooms and elevators.
Custodial staff will be deployed regularly to clean surfaces people often touch, including door handles and hand railings.
Portwine said the university also will employ a 2-pronged ventilation strategy designed to address the circulation of shared air that could potentially transmit diseases.
“We will increase the amount of outside air brought into the buildings and exhaust conditioned air outdoors to the extent possible, based on weather conditions and occupant comfort,” he said.
“When we are unable to bring outdoor air into a building, we have to rely on filtration. We will run air handlers for longer periods of time when buildings are occupied for increased air circulation and filtration.”
Portwine said he expects the changes to the physical setup of the campus as well as the implementation of smart practices will encourage a culture of safety that students will accept and champion.
“We’re creatures of habit, but we’re constantly learning how to adapt to the pandemic,” he said. “We’re going to continue to adapt, but this is still going to feel like SVSU."
June 26, 2020
Navigating substantial obstacles, SVSU students move forward with annual fundraiser; beneficiary announced
For the second year in a row, Saginaw Valley State University students demonstrated determination to support their community and will organize a long-standing fundraiser to benefit others, despite major hurdles.
SVSU’s student government – known as Student Association – today announced it selected the Bay Area Women’s Center
as the community benefactor of Battle of the Valley, an annual student-run fundraiser that has raised $652,385 for nonprofits across the state since 2003.
“With everything going on in the world, people can feel hopeless,” said Olivia Nelson, the Student Association philanthropy chair and lead organizer of this year’s event. “With Battle of the Valley, we want to empower and uplift people by giving them a chance to make a positive difference.”
Plenty of obstacles could have derailed this year’s fundraiser, but students were resolved to keep the community-engaging SVSU tradition alive, she said. While dates and other details remain unknown, Nelson and her peers are committed to organizing the event during the 2020-21 academic year.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that ended in-person classes at SVSU and other universities in March, the Student Association organized its exhaustive search for a beneficiary largely without meeting in person. More than 40 nonprofits applied to benefit from the fundraiser this year.
“The Bay Area Women’s Center stood out right off the bat in their application,” said Nelson, a psychology major from Highland. “I could see the passion coming through in their words.”
The Bay City-based nonprofit offers crisis intervention, advocacy services and safe haven to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“They deal with issues that are relevant today,” Nelson said. “So many people end up in situations where they could use the kind of services offered there. We want to support that.”
For much of the SVSU fundraiser’s history, there was a competitive element. SVSU and Grand Valley State University annually raised money for each institution’s selected beneficiary, with the winning student population earning temporary possession of a trophy. The competition was scheduled during the week leading up to the football game between the two universities.
But after GVSU students pulled out of the competitionlast year, SVSU students last year re-imagined the event in fall 2019 as a fundraiser without a competitive element. SVSU raised $20,302 for The Rock Center for Youth Development in Midland last year.
Nelson said she hopes her peers are able to raise a similar amount for the upcoming Battle of the Valley. Doing so will involve navigating new hurdles because of the pandemic.
SVSU plans to resume in-class teaching in August. Many aspects of student life will look different, making it more challenging to raise funds, Nelson said. Student leaders still hope to center the week-long fundraiser around an SVSU sporting event. Student Association is remaining flexible on the dates because decisions regarding NCAA sports at the Division II level have yet to be made.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the football season, but if that doesn’t happen, we may hold it in the basketball season during the winter,” Nelson said.
“And, if that doesn’t happen, we will still figure something out. Our goal is to have the fundraiser involve face-to-face interactions, but we are going to do everything possible to keep people safe. We are going to follow the university’s guidelines on safety in a way that we can still make connections.”
As in years past, there will be some elements of the fundraiser hosted online, she said. Nelson hopes Battle of the Valley will retain many of its traditions including a date auction and an event that allows participants to pay money to smash a junk vehicle.
In total, SVSU has raised $445,959 for nonprofits as part of the annual event since 2003. GVSU from 2003-18 raised $226,728.
June 23, 2020
SVSU police officer earns national award for response to 2019 shooting of Saginaw Township officer
A Saginaw Valley State University police officer’s quick response to a fellow law enforcer’s need for help earned him national recognition this week.
Persails’ act of heroism happened during the early morning hours of Jan. 22, 2019. He was the first person to respond to a call for help from Saginaw Township Police Officer Jeff Koenig, who was shot in the jaw and shoulder during a traffic stop in nearby Saginaw Township.
Koenig survived the shooting, the gunman was apprehended hours later and then eventually sentenced to 75 years in prison. But, at time of the emergency call at 2 a.m. on that Tuesday morning, uncertainty and a determination to help a fellow officer meant “all bets were off” for Persails, he said.
“In my mind, as I’m driving there, I’m thinking, ‘Is this going to be an ambush?,’” Persails said. “I was expecting the worst at first, but by the time I got there, I forgot all that. I was focused on helping Officer Koenig.”
Within moments of Persails’ arrival, Saginaw Township Det. Greg Remer pulled up to the scene, Persails said. They helped their injured colleague into the back of Remer’s vehicle before it sped toward Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw.
“You could tell Jeff was in pain, but it was a good sign that he was talking,” Persails said of Koenig, who had called in his own shooting to Central Dispatch earlier. “We just wanted to make sure he was calm while we were getting him to the hospital.”
When they arrived at Covenant, Koenig was listed in critical condition at first. He was upgraded to stable condition and released to recover at home over the course of the next few weeks.
The experience was humbling for Persails, a 10-year veteran of SVSU’s University Police force who enjoys a tight-knit relationship with his university colleagues as well as peers in the law enforcement agencies patrolling the region surrounding the campus. The agencies often collaborate and network resources, and Persails knew Koenig long before Jan. 22.
Persails’ close relationship with his peers as well as his close proximity to the dangerous incident — he was patrolling the area less than five miles at the time of the shooting — put things into perspective for him.
“It really opens your eyes to the kind of danger you can find yourself in as a police officer,” Persails said. “99 percent of the people we run into are good people, but there’s always that danger.”
The experience was eye-opening in other ways, he said.
“Everyone really came together to help, from the doctor and nurses who helped Jeff to all the businesses and people who have put together fundraisers to help him with expenses,” he said.
“It’s been great, the way the community has responded to this. It’s good to know police have that kind of support here.”
June 22, 2020
SVSU fall semester to finish through online/remote instruction
The final two weeks of the fall semester at Saginaw Valley State University will be conducted through online and remote instruction, so that students do not need to return to campus after Thanksgiving break.
“We want our students, faculty and staff to be safe, and this is one prudent measure we can take to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 in the event of a late fall resurgence,” said Donald Bachand, SVSU president.
“Most on-campus operations will continue, and we plan for academic and student support services, such as Zahnow Library, to be open after Thanksgiving, following appropriate health and safety protocols.”
SVSU will begin its fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31. Students living on campus will move into their residence halls on a more staggered schedule, in the interest of health and safety.
More information on move-in plans will be shared in early July.
For more information on plans for the upcoming year, including New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow (NEST) at SVSU, visit https://svsu.edu/nestplan/
June 19, 2020
SVSU initiative for registered nurses ranked among state's elite academic programs
A Saginaw Valley State University online academic program that empowers working nurses with a bachelor’s degree education was recognized as one of the best of its kind in the state.
SVSU’s RN to BSN (shorthand for “registered nurses” and “Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” respectively) online program recently was ranked No. 2 in the state by RegisteredNursing.org
in the category of Best Online RN to BSN Programs.
RegisteredNursing.org is a Carlsbad, California-based organization that provides resources for prospective nurses. To determine SVSU’s ranking, RegisteredNursing.org used data from multiple sources – including the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics – as part of its methodology.
Karen Brown-Fackler, the chair of SVSU’s Department of Nursing and an associate professor of nursing, said she was honored to learn about the distinction ... even though she did not entirely agree with the placement.
“We think we should be ranked No. 1,” Brown-Fackler said. “We offer some great advantages. We have online classes but accessible faculty teaching the classes. Students can start the program whatever semester is best for them and take classes at their own pace.”
She said other highlights of the online RN to BSN program include an adviser that helps students with admission, scheduling and academic progression.
Another element she said elevates the program: Its standout faculty. For instance, Sally Decker, a professor of nursing that helped design and establish the program, recently was honored with a lifetime achievement award
from American Nurses Association-Michigan in part for her contributions to helping registered nurses earn bachelor's degrees in their professional field.
Brown-Fackler said the RN to BSN program offers empowering coursework.
“There are only five core classes and the other courses are electives they choose from, which could be graduate courses toward future programs or interesting continuing education courses relevant to working nurses,” she said.
SVSU President Donald Bachand said he was proud of the university's faculty and staff for building the program and developing some of the region’s top health care professionals.
“Especially in times such as these, this program’s excellence is critical to the public health of our region, state, nation and world," Bachand said.
June 18, 2020
SVSU professor earns lifetime achievement award after decades-long dedication to nursing education
With a deep sense of the history of modern nursing and an understanding of the profession’s importance during this critical moment, Sally Decker’s recent recognition as a statewide lifetime achievement award recipient was especially meaningful to the well-decorated Saginaw Valley State University educator.
“This is both the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale and the time of a pandemic,” Decker said. “The world is recognizing the knowledge and compassion of nurses and all other members of the healthcare team, and all of them deserve this award. I am especially honored to receive the award at this point in history.”
“We all recognize the need to nurture and educate the next generation to be able to care for and protect the vulnerable,” she said. “I appreciate all of the support and encouragement I have received from professors, colleagues, and healthcare team members over the years.”
The award is a well-deserved honor for Decker, her colleagues say.
“She has been unwavering in her lifelong commitment and dedication to the nursing profession and to nursing education,” said Karen Brown-Fackler, an SVSU associate professor of nursing.
“Sally is a continuous learner. She not only stays current in the content of her own courses; she sends other faculty articles related to courses that they teach as well. Although she is the most senior faculty member in the department, she often accepts the biggest work load with the most course preparations.”
The lifetime achievement award is the latest validation of Decker’s decades-long dedication to providing nursing education to others. Decker received SVSU's highest faculty honors, winning the Landee Award for Teaching Excellence in 2002 and the Warrick Award for Excellence in Research in 1991. In 2018, she was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholar award
, which provided her the opportunity to instruct faculty members at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland on how best to utilize simulation technology in nursing education.
Decker began her professional life practicing nursing while serving her country. As a captain in the U.S. Army, she served first as a staff nurse and later as head nurse at the U.S. Army Womack Hospital at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1972.
She joined the ranks of higher education in 1978 as a research assistant and nurse clinician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Decker earned a master’s degree in nursing from the institution. She also received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1990.
She joined SVSU’s faculty in 1980.
Her four decades at the campus have been defined in part by her passion for bringing a global perspective of nursing to her students. She has led SVSU students on study abroad experiences in England, Australia and Nepal. Those experiences focused on the differences in health care in different nations and cultures.
Her academic interests extend to providing education to her peers overseas. One month before the pandemic reached Michigan, Decker in February 2020 traveled to Trinity and St. James Hospital in Dublin to participate in a research project relating to interprofessional learning.
One of her current research interests was inspired by knowledge gained during her experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Dublin. Decker is researching how changes in the levels of moisture beneath the skin can indicate the need for medical intervention to prevent pressure ulcers.
Another focus of interest in Decker’s professional life involves the simulation technology-based education she introduced to her peers in Dublin. She was the first member of SVSU’s faculty to earn certification in simulation-based education.
Decker over the years has played a leading role in developing SVSU curriculum for nursing education courses, colleagues say. Those academic programs include both a bachelor’s and master’s degree-level nursing program, a doctor of nursing practice program as well as an initiative tailored specifically for providing working registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
June 16, 2020
Toy-lending program to aid childhood development in Midland, say SVSU organizers
Saginaw Valley State University and the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library will team up to support the development of children, including those with special needs.
With help from a $5,626 grant from the Midland Area Community Foundation, two SVSU educators plan to establish a toy-lending initiative at the Midland-based library as early as fall 2020. However, organizers say the community’s recovery from a May flood could delay the implementation.
The program would make available toys for all children up to 5 years old including toys designed specifically for children with special needs. Each family will be able to “check out” two toys at a time from the library for a period of 21 days.
Lisa Brewer and Aricka Schweitzer, assistant professors of occupational therapy at SVSU, will organize the program.
“So many toys are played with and then abandoned, so this program will offer the ability for families to ‘try before they buy,’ as some adaptable toys can be very costly,” Schweitzer said.
“Especially with the challenges presented with the pandemic and now flooding to Midland County, this program can assist families that may have lost toys or cannot afford toys to play with their children. Hopefully, this program will not only enhance play and development of the children in Midland County, but also continue to show the importance of family relationships that can be built around play.”
The SVSU educators plan to provide manuals with each toy that show families the unique ways they can be utilized.
"Increasing play opportunities for young children can strengthen developmental foundations in a variety of domains, including social and emotional skills, cognitive skills, and physical skills,” Brewer said.
“Play is beneficial for all children, but it is especially important for children with special needs who often have limited access to engaging and appropriate toys that they can operate and manipulate independently. I believe this collaboration will help families to support the development of their child or children by matching toys to specific needs and, ultimately, providing opportunities for engagement and fun."
Schweitzer said the program hits home – literally – for her.
"Growing up and now raising my children in Midland County, we often frequent the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library for all of the great resources they have, but now that they will offer a toy program as well, I plan on recommending it to everyone I know,” she said.
The grant provides funds to cover the cost of a variety of accessible toys, thereby increasing opportunities for play and learning, organizers say.
June 9, 2020
Inspired to seek racial equality in justice, SVSU students lead one of community's largest protests in years
Indigo Dudley and Simone Vaughn won't forget the first time they watched video of George Floyd dying beneath the knee of a police officer. The disturbing footage of another public death of a black man – a man whose skin color so resembled their own – was relayed to the two Saginaw Valley State University students through the light of their smart phones.
Their screens, though, felt much more like mirrors in those moments.
“That could have been me,” Dudley said. “That could have been my family, my friends, Simone, someone in my hometown. That scared me.”
Alongside Vaughn, Dudley transformed that fear into a passion for action this week.
The two SVSU students – acquainted since their days as teens attending Arthur Hill High School and the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy together – were among six organizers who coordinated one of the largest protests in modern Great Lakes Bay Region history. Spurred in part by Floyd’s death and following in the footsteps of a movement that now spans the globe, their Tuesday, June 2 protest rallied hundreds of participants for a march that stretched from Ojibway Island to the front lawn of the Saginaw County Governmental Center.
It was an impressive and peaceful showing of mass support for police reform, they said. The crowd featured representation from many demographics. Even children attended, donning “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and holding signs demanding an end to racial inequality in the justice system.
Both Dudley and Vaughn stood at the front of that crowd, inspiring followers with words and leading the half-mile march.
For the Saginaw natives, it was an unimaginable scenario only one week earlier. Up until they were asked last weekend to help organize Tuesday's protest, both students earned experience speaking publicly and leading groups through their studies and programs at SVSU, but neither envisioned themselves organizing such a large-scale gathering – let alone one that involved intense expectations and unsettling pressure from strangers to stay home.
“I received creepy messages on Facebook and then I got a call from an unknown number on the day of event from someone I had to hang up on,” Vaughn said. “I was a bit terrified, but I knew I was putting myself at risk for the right cause. You have to be strong and confident.”
With news stories about rioting and looting emerging from other protests across the state and nation, Dudley and Vaughn were determined to organize an event in Saginaw that was safe and peaceful yet still carried a powerful message.
“My personal goal was to educate and unify Saginaw,” Vaughn said. “The key was to make sure everything was well-organized ahead of time.”
Dudley, Vaughn and their fellow organizers recruited volunteers to help on the day of the event. They marketed the gathering using social media, where they shared videos of them preaching the need to ensure a peaceful and powerful protest. In the days leading up to the march, they gathered items to support the crowd, including food and water. With the march representing the largest gathering in the region since the beginning of a global pandemic that discourages large gatherings, they purchased protective face masks and hand sanitizer for protesters. They coordinated with local law enforcement agencies to inform them about their intended route and meeting spaces.
The resulting march exceeded expectations for Dudley and Vaughn, concluding without any reported negative incidents.
“We were trying to let people know, what happened to George Floyd could happen to you and it could happen here, so we have to stand together to do something about it,” Dudley said.
“This march was an opportunity to stand with people who felt the same way and raise awareness so that the police know how we feel.”
Along with the march, the event included guest speakers, highlighting black community members who discussed experiences where they felt justice was carried out unfairly due to the color of their skin. Listening to those stories was painful but necessary, Dudley said.
“We just want to be safe,” she said.
“I haven’t always felt this way, but my trust in the police is gone right now. I’m looking to get it back. I need help to get it back. That’s why we protest.”
Dudley and Vaughn said the Tuesday event was a step in the right direction. Both were encouraged by early signs of change to come. For instance, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer the following day announced plans to pursue statewide police reform to promote racial equality. And members of local law enforcement agencies have begun meeting with protesters, announcing plans to discuss potential policy reform.
Despite the victories, much work remains, Dudley and Vaughn said.
While their particular group of organizers has yet to announce plans for a second protest, both students are involved in other gatherings related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Vaughn has participated daily in protests this week, including in Detroit. Dudley on Wednesday was a panelist on a Facebook Live town hall-style discussion with regional political and law enforcement leaders.
“This is not going to go away easily,” Vaughn said. “We’re in this now.”
A mutual mentor said both Dudley and Vaughn are well-equipped to help lead this movement and ready to meet the moment. Dawn Hinton, an SVSU sociology of professor and a community organizer in Saginaw, was among the protesters during the march Tuesday. She watched with pride as Dudley and Vaughn led the mass demonstration.
“These students, who spoke passionately about their pain during the march, were fearless,” Hinton said.
“In the midst of a virus with no cure, both Indigo and Simone worked with the community to protest the injustices continually visited on the black community. I have never been prouder of the work we do here at SVSU than when I saw these women operate in their natural element. Our community is in good hands.”
Both Dudley and Vaughn said they felt prepared for the experience in part because of their experiences at SVSU and the mentorship of campus leaders such as Hinton. Vaughn, who serves as Miss Saginaw County and has been a regular in regional pageants for years, met the professor while attending community events. Dudley as a freshman was a student in one of Hinton’s sociology courses and continued to seek her mentorship in the years since.
“After that first class, I absolutely fell in love with the way Dr. Hinton engaged people,” Dudley said. “I said, ‘This is a person I want to keep getting advice from,’ so I’ve kept her in my life.”
Vaughn said Tuesday’s march was the largest crowd she ever addressed as a speaker. She felt prepared for that experience in part because of skills developed as a member of SVSU’s forensics team.
Both students also are active with on-campus organizations and offices. Dudley works as a student employee in the SVSU Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, where she helps organize diversity-inspired events on campus. Both students also are members of the SVSU registered student group known as The Organization for Black Unity. Dudley serves as president.
Both plan to graduate in May 2021. Dudley hopes to enroll in a graduate program after earning her bachelor’s degree in music. Her dream is to perform professionally as a singer and utilize her status to pursue social change issues including racial equality.
A communication major, Vaughn also plans to attend a graduate program after earning her bachelor’s degree. For years, she has volunteered in programs that seek to house the homeless as well as initiatives that promote mental health. After graduation, she plans to continue pursuing those endeavors while also continuing her activism to promote racial equality.
“I was very passionate about this subject even before George Floyd died,” Vaughn said. “His death just amplified that passion. It changed a lot of things for a lot of people, and I hope now we can do something with that change.”
June 9, 2020
Director 'Dreams' up modern twist to Shakespeare classic for online SVSU play
Karla Kash is no stranger to directing challenging productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Once, she led a group of fourth graders portraying the zany Athenian characters featured in one of the world’s original romantic comedies.
The Saginaw Valley State University assistant professor of theatre later this month will lead another challenging rendition of the play when she directs SVSU's second production presented via Zoom, the popular Internet teleconferencing program utilized by theatre companies during the pandemic. Audiences can watch the play live online for free at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 18.
The Internet-based production allows actors to play roles from the comfort of their homes, with each actor occupying a single panel in a multi-panel video session. The setup means Kash will be organizing the production design and leading rehearsals with cast and crew remotely.
“I tend to be a very physical director during rehearsals, so this will not be easy for me,” said the Dayton, Ohio native. “You’re missing that in-person human interaction that comes when you’re in the room with each other, but there are advantages to this format too.”
One of those advantages: The audience will have unlimited access to her students’ work.
While the play will be performed live, a recorded version also will be available for those unable to attend the debut. And, while audiences will miss out on attending a play at SVSU’s beloved performing arts venues, the seating capacity is unlimited on the world wide web. Since SVSU hosted a Zoom production of “Macbeth” in mid-April
, the recording has been viewed more than 9,700 times on Facebook.
Kash said audiences can expect plenty of production value in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play will also provide a very modern hook to the story's traditional aesthetic. While the cast will be portraying the classic characters in the setting of Athens, there will be 2020 elements including actors dressed to resemble people living during the COVID-19 pandemic. The characters will include “essential workers” as well as recognizable 21st century political figures and pop culture icons wearing protective face masks.
“Since Shakespeare has been done so many hundreds of times, I think it’s good to play with it,” Kash said. “We are all living through this pandemic. Since it’s a comedy and since we all need a good laugh, I wanted something a little tongue-in-cheek in nature.”
Kash said the production’s costume and set design crew will play critical roles. Clothing will be delivered to the homes of cast members not already equipped with the kind of wardrobe necessary for the play. The students and staff typically assigned to create elaborate settings in SVSU’s theatres instead will provide “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”-appropriate digital backgrounds that Zoom can utilize while still capturing acting performances in the foreground.
While this production will mark Kash’s first time directing a play online, she has experience as an actor in the format. She played a role in a recent Midland Center for the Arts production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
“It’s a challenge as an actor,” she said. “I enjoy challenges.”
The cast largely features SVSU students, but four of the 14 roles will be played by out-of-state professional stage actors that Kash previously has worked alongside.
“This is going to be a great learning experience for our students to work with professional actors we couldn’t otherwise invite to participate in a campus production,” Kash said.
Those students also will learn plenty from Kash, the latest addition to SVSU’s Department of Theatre faculty. Kash joined the university in August 2019.
Her professional theatre experience includes acting, directing and serving as a fight choreographer. She played a role in the cast or crew of more than 150 productions.
Kash’s “first loves” were musical theatre and dance, inspired in part by a formative experience attending a production of “Annie” as a young girl.
“After that, when I got home, I put on the album for ‘Annie’ and sang it at the top of my lungs,” she said.
After taking acting lessons in high school, she continued pursuing her passion in college. She earned her bachelor’s degree in acting – with an emphasis on musical theatre and dance – from Wright State University in her hometown of Dayton. Later, she received a master’s degree in acting from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Professionally, she worked in theatre in New York City and San Diego. Then she began a career in higher education on the faculty at Iowa State University before moving to her most recent stop at the University of Albany. Throughout the years, she also led theatre initiatives overseas including the Musical Theatre Summer Training Program at the International Lyric Academy in Italy.
Along with teaching her first courses at SVSU this academic year, Kash also directed the university’s production of “Home For The Holidays” in December 2019. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be her second directing job at SVSU.
To watch the production live on June 18 or to view the recording afterward, go to SVSU’s Department of Theatre Facebook page at https://bit.ly/3ctWDKX
June 2, 2020
Responding to racism, elevating equity and justice
Dear university community,
Like many of you, I have watched the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the community reactions across the country. I have struggled to find the words to express my feelings. I am appalled at his death and the deaths and mistreatment of other people of color due to racism and hatred. As a former police officer, as a former professor of criminal justice, as a university president, and as a human being, it angers me.
Let me be clear: racism has no place at our university. It cannot and will not be tolerated. We can and must do more on our campus and in our communities to create justice and equity for all, and especially for those who have been disenfranchised.
These issues are deeply personal to me and have guided my life’s work. The late Martin Luther King Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Growing up in a diverse, working-class neighborhood in Detroit, I watched the famed 1967 riots outside our family’s living room window. To this day, the scenes are etched into my memory. The dry cleaning business that sponsored my Little League baseball team was among those vandalized. I watched as the fabric of my neighborhood was shredded. Those silenced voices unleashed in a scream. We see that again today.
Not too long thereafter, I chose to pursue a career in law enforcement. I joined the Detroit Police Department. In 1967, the city had only about 50 African-American police officers. Fifty in a city of more than 1.5 million people. It is no wonder why the cries of the oppressed went unheard. More than 50 years later, the wounds exposed in 1967 are still not fully healed in our community. In my most discouraging moments, I wonder if they have healed at all.
I know what it means to work in a community whose residents feel that the application of law and order is anything but equal. When the police arrive in their neighborhood, the residents do not feel “protected” or “served,” they feel fear. That fear is justified by too many examples of mistreatment and worse. When I joined SVSU to teach criminal justice, it was because I wanted to prepare men and women for the challenges of law enforcement and to teach them that everyone deserves justice. This justice was denied to George Floyd and too many others like him.
We have worked hard to create an inclusive environment and a culture at SVSU where diversity training and education are available and encouraged, and where there is zero tolerance for racism and discrimination. We must do more. We cannot be bystanders. We cannot wait for change. We must initiate change.
I will appoint a task force of faculty, staff and community members to further elevate equity and justice within SVSU, especially for those who are marginalized, and to provide recommendations for how we can extend those efforts into our surrounding community. Our university values of diversity and inclusivity and a safe, friendly and respectful campus climate support this important work. Please watch for more information on this in the coming days.
Finally, if you have been silent about an issue of racism or intolerance within SVSU, I want to hear from you. I want your voice to be heard. Please e-mail me at email@example.com.
These challenges are even more difficult during a global pandemic that prevents us from gathering on campus, but we cannot allow that to be an excuse for indifference or inaction. I implore each member of our Cardinal family to step up and join in the cause of moving our university and our community toward the ideals on which our nation was founded.
Donald J. Bachand, President
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