Saginaw Valley State University students performed their way to achieve a number of "firsts" for the university at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for Region III Jan. 9-14 in Indianapolis.
“This was one of our strongest showings we have ever had,” said Ric Roberts, SVSU professor of theatre. “We hope to have continued success with the Kennedy Center moving forward.”
The event includes colleges and universities from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin; 20 SVSU students were among the 1,400 who attended the festival.
For the first time, three SVSU students advanced to the semi-finals for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions, a feat which has not been achieved in the 19 consecutive years that SVSU has participated in this festival. Abigail Burgess, a theatre major from Commerce Township; Brianne Dolney, a political science major from Bay City; and Donte Green, a Detroit native who graduated from SVSU with a bachelor's degree in theatre in December; each were judged among the top 45 actors at the festival.
Madalyn McHugh, a Caro native who graduated from SVSU in December with a bachelor's degree in music, followed suit, as she made it to finals for the Musical Theatre Intensive portion of the festival. This marked the first time SVSU was represented in that category.
Jessica Hurley, a theatre major from Essexville, impressed the judges, as well. Out of the 125 actresses that auditioned for a part in a two-woman show, she was chosen to play one of the two characters during the 10-minute performance at the festival.
Hurley said the event is about much more than recognition.
"The festival is a fantastic opportunity to gain new knowledge, experience and contacts in the theatrical field," she said.
Three other SVSU students captured honors, as well. Amber Tanner, a business major from Hemlock, advanced to the finals of the sound design competition. Zachery Wood, a theatre major from Flushing, was awarded honorable mention in the dramaturgy category, which involves the theory and practice of dramatic composition. Jennifer Lothian, a communication and theater education major from Linwood, was selected to present her costume designs at the costume parade event.
A previous SVSU award-winner was invited to return. Last year, Bay City native Jacob Kaufman won the first-ever Region III Arts Management Fellowship and earned an invitation to the national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Because of this achievement, Kaufman was asked to return to run the registration desk for the 2018 festival.
Saginaw Valley State University moot court program expects to face its toughest challenge yet during its ninth year competing in the national tournament.
Julie Keil, SVSU’s moot court adviser, said the team will be more ready than ever.
“The preparation is the best we've ever had,” said Keil, SVSU assistant professor of political science. “I have high hopes we will do well this year.”
Three SVSU students qualified for this year's tournament scheduled Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19-20, on the campus of University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law in Dallas. The students and Keil are completing months of intense preparation having arrived in Texas one week early – something they haven’t done before – to begin scrimmaging for the American Moot Court Association nationals.
Acting as teams of two attorneys, students competing in the tournament are tasked with arguing two hypothetical legal cases based on real-life courtroom battles. The competition is judged based on the clarity of the students' argument, their public speaking skills, their ability to answer questions, and how well they know the law and the case.
SVSU has built a nationally recognized program, and is currently ranked No. 24 in the country out of the more than 425 colleges and universities who field teams.
This year, SVSU students Jrew Brickel, a criminal justice major from Midland, and Lindsey Mead, an English literature major from Saginaw, represent one of the 80 teams set to face off at the tournament. Joshua Atkins, an SVSU English literature major from Reese, will team with Gabe Klotz, a Bay City native and Kalamazoo College student.
The entire contingent plans to gather in Texas beginning Sunday, Jan. 14, when Keil will begin organizing scrimmages simulating the two courtroom cases planned for the tournament: one involving Fifth Amendment Constitutional rights and a second concerning the legality of prisoners being exposed to "extreme sensory deprivation" solitary confinement.
The five days of preparation in Texas - away from the everyday distractions back home - is intended to focus the group and elevate the students' performances come tournament time. Any advantage could provide the difference versus a field of competition that's never been stronger, Keil said.
"It was much harder getting to the national this year than any other year."
Since a group of highly motivated students founded SVSU's moot court program with Keil in 2009, at least one team from the university has qualified for the nationals each year because of strong performances in regional competitions. During the 2017-18 season, more teams than ever - over 425 - participated in the American Moot Court Association regional contests, up from about 350 two years ago.
"You're getting some really top-notch schools competing, and only the top 19 percent of the competition qualified this year - but we got in," Keil said. "Fortunately, we have two good teams with some of the best students I've ever had. It shows the academic quality of our students."
It also helped that those students - and the program itself - received support from the community and SVSU alumni, she said.
The Ludington Family Foundation, a Sanford-based nonprofit, provided funding to cover the group’s travel expenses. Students involved in this year's program also received support from 16 alumni of earlier SVSU moot court teams who volunteered to help throughout the year - including when they were asked to serve as judges in the regional tournament hosted by SVSU in December.
“They were there for us at the drop of the hat," Keil said. "All of this shows the value of our program.”
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."