Lisa Micsak is from a 1-traffic light town, but when it comes to her career, she’s discovered an open road without a stop sign in sight.
The Linwood native now serves as the administrative services coordinator for The Conference Center at SVSU, where she began working while still an undergraduate student in 2010.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in management in December 2013, then returned as a full-time employee in June 2014 to The Conference Center at SVSU.
While a university campus provides a busier setting than her small town beginnings did, Micsak said it was the “close-knit family atmosphere” at her office that inspired her to apply for a job there after graduation.
“The best memories I have here all involve the people,” she said. “It is inspiring how well everyone looks out for each other and takes pride in the overall community-oriented culture of the university, making it a very harmonious atmosphere.”
That level of comfort spills over into their interactions with clients. The Conference Center at SVSU works both with clientele on campus as well as outside organizations and guests interested in utilizing the campus’ facilities for various events.
One of Micsak’s favorite work experiences involved coordinating the wedding of a couple whose groom was an SVSU graduate. Micsak, though, largely worked with the bride-to-be, who lived in another state at the time.
“Our correspondence was all by email or phone leading up to the wedding,” Micsak said.
“She had to really trust my recommendations and planning abilities; that everything would look the way she wanted it to look when she got here. When we finally met on the day before the wedding, it was amazing to see the excitement and joy on her face when she saw the final result, providing her with a beautiful memory for their special day.
Micsak’s professional ambitions include furthering her career in Higher Education. She is enrolled at SVSU in classes for a master’s degree in public administration, and expects to graduate in May 2018.
“I am very passionate about furthering my career in higher education,” she said. “Long-term, I would like to work with students and look forward to being a mentor to them.
“Most of my life, friends have come to me for guidance or advice,” she said. “A lot of people need someone to listen to them and provide a caring outside perspective to help them with critical decisions they are encountering in their life.”
Micsak said her accomplishments don’t belong exclusively to her. She often is cheered on by her family, and her parents have played an important key role in her success.
“I was the first college graduate in my immediate family, so being able to attend my graduation, for them, was like attending their own graduation,” she said. “They’ve been my motivators and my role-models, without them I would not be where I am today, and for them I truly grateful.”
If you’re trying to conceal the nature of your conversation by speaking in a non-English language in front of Kate Scott, your secret might not be so safe.
The director of the English Language Program (ELP) is charged with helping international students learn English, but the extent of her handle on other languages remains a source of mystery to those on campus — and that’s the way she likes it.
“There was this one student talking to another who hadn’t bought his textbook yet,” Scott recalled. “They were going back in forth (in Arabic) about this until, finally, I told him, ‘You just need to go to the bookstore.’ They both looked at me a little surprised. ‘You know what we were saying?’”
Mostly she knew what they were saying, at least.
“I just left it at that,” she said with a smile.
Scott’s understanding of that particular language began in the Sudan, where she served as a third grade teacher shortly after graduating from SVSU as an elementary education major in 2007.
Her 3-year stint in the northeastern African nation — where they speak Arabic — helped inspire Scott to continue working in international education when she returned to the United States in 2010. That inspiration led her back to SVSU, where she began as a teacher in the ELP that same year, largely working with students from Saudi Arabia.
Scott was hired as the program’s assistant director in 2011 and became director in early 2014.
“I love my staff,” the Kalamazoo native said of the 19 people she oversees. “They’re one of the reasons why I like my job so much. They are considerate, competent and genuinely like each other.”
The team sometimes turns meetings into potlucks; other times, the group enjoys organizing outings with the program’s students. In addition to the 22 hours of intensive language instruction students receive each week, “We also want to make sure the students have an authentic experience in our community,” Scott said. For instance, her staff and students earlier this month visited Johnson’s Giant Pumpkin Farm in Saginaw.
It’s not all fun and games, however. The ELP recently earned some serious stripes. In August, the program received SVSU’s first 4-year accreditation designation from The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation.
Scott is proud of the accomplishment, and the program in general, which is celebrating its 20th year on campus.
“It’s one of the best places you could work,” she said of the program.
She might be able to inform people of that fact in more languages than one — she just won’t tell you how many.
Two weeks into her 6-week obedience class, Brook the chocolate lab puppy still doesn’t respond positively to Pamela Wegener’s commands to stay inside the house. The result sometimes leads Wegener on foot chases across her family’s 15-acre Midland County property, in pursuit of the 5-month-old dog.
“We haven’t gotten to the point where, ‘Come back,’ works,” Wegener said. “We’ll get there.”
Wegener’s faith in the power of “come back” extends to her work at SVSU, where she serves as associate director of Alumni Relations.
The office aims to keep graduates engaged with their alma mater long after graduation in part by reminding them of why they enjoyed SVSU as students. Wegener can testify to SVSU’s institutional magnetism. It’s what brought her back to the campus after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration there in 1992.
After spending the next 13 years in jobs at Dow Chemical Co., Delphi Corp. and the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, she was recruited to return to her alma mater in 2005 by Gene Hamilton, who retired recently as SVSU’s director of external affairs. He was impressed with Wegener’s Chamber of Commerce work developing programs that engaged businesses with local schools.
“Being that I loved SVSU, I was really passionate about coming back,” Wegener said.
She began as an assistant director of Alumni Relations, where she helped develop the first issues of Reflections magazine, organized alumni events and maintained records. Wegener remained in that role until 2010, when she was hired as special project coordinator for administration and business affairs.
Shortly after Don Bachand was installed as president in 2013, he placed a new emphasis on Alumni Relations. The reorganization that followed included Wegener’s return to the office, along with a slew of new programs aimed at more actively engaging graduates.
Some of her responsibilities today include overseeing communications through Alumni Relations’ Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts as well as the university’s new social media tool, SVSU Connect.
One of her favorite roles involves interacting with graduating seniors as part of the new 63 Days To Graduation program. The initiative allows her to speak 1-on-1 with students in their final weeks as undergraduates.
“It’s inspiring,” she said. “I love to hear about their experiences and how they plan to use their degrees after graduation.”
Although the program is less than a year old, those initial interactions already have resulted in continuing relationships with the students-turned-alumni. The increasing traffic in her Wickes Hall office offered proof recent graduates are obliging her invitation to “come back home,” Wegener said.
It’s the sort of response she soon hopes to receive from Brook the chocolate lab puppy.
Every smile has a purpose for Heidi Chernich.
After her 16-year-old son, VJ, ended his life in September 2008, Chernich’s approach to connecting with people has changed. It’s an approach that she brings to her work as administrative secretary at the Office of Academic Affairs.
“The way you treat people and the way you smile at someone can make a difference,” she said. “Sometimes just saying ‘hi’ can make that difference, especially if someone seems sad.”
Chernich’s own struggles with despair following her son’s death led her to step away from a 25-year career as a legal assistant with the UAW. She spent four years in that state of mind before deciding to re-enter the work force by answering an advertisement seeking candidates for SVSU’s clerical pool.
She was hired, spending weeks at a time in various offices before landing a full-time position in the Office of Diversity Programs. She was hired at Academic Affairs in April 2015.
The move to SVSU helped Chernich reengage with the world, exposing her to supportive and friendly co-workers. The network she built on campus also was supportive of Chernich when she joined Walk For Hope, a Saginaw-based nonprofit organization that raises awareness about depression and suicide. A number of Chernich’s colleagues have joined in her efforts with the group.
“It’s a passion of mine,” she said of Walk For Hope’s mission. “Very close to my heart.”
The nonprofit hosts an annual fundraiser that supports educational programs aimed at training people how to approach those suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide.
“My son was the most normal 16-year-old, and I didn’t even realize he was suffering from depression,” she said. “Talking about these sort of things can be difficult, and I just want to make it easier for people to talk about these things.”
The lessons she has learned, meanwhile, have made her daily interactions more rich and meaningful, she said.
“I try to get to know everyone, including the student workers,” Chernich said.
She considers her Academic Affair co-workers “like a family.”
“They’re just a great group of people to work with,” she said.
Meanwhile, her at-home family also keeps Chernich smiling. With her husband of 30 years, Vince, Chernich raised five children, including two who still live at home. Chernich said a new addition to that family tree — a 4-year-old grandson — has given her another purpose for smiling.
“He and I share a really special bond,” Chernich said. “We had a connection right from the beginning, and he makes everything worthwhile. He makes me smile every time.”
Once — not too long ago — Dan Strasz tried to count the number of offices he has occupied while working at SVSU.
“I lost count at 17,” said the Academic Advisement Center director. “I’ve been all over the campus.”
The office he has occupied for nearly two years, on the first floor of Wickes Hall, was a library when Strasz first became part of the SVSU family as a teenage undergraduate in 1982.
Since then, he has worn a number of hats on campus, as both a student and a professional.
He was a player on the 1983 national championship men’s indoor track team — an accomplishment that in 2013 resulted in the team’s induction into the SVSU Cardinal Athletics Hall of Fame. He served as the student government’s president in 1985. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1986.
Shortly after that, he nearly nabbed a position in the state government, but an election season fallout kept him from such a career. Instead, he applied for a position in the SVSU Admissions office. Since then, he’s taken on new roles in Career Services, First Year Programs, Orientation, and Academic Advisement.
“It’s gone by really quick,” Strasz said of his career as a Cardinal. “It’s been a great experience here. I’ve been fortunate to have had a variety of job opportunities.”
Strasz membership to the SVSU family runs as deep as DNA. His daughter, Sarah, expects to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology within two years. His son, Bill, already earned a bachelor’s degree in health science and is engaged to another member of SVSU’s alumni.
His wife, Tracy, who also graduated from SVSU, died of cancer in 2009. Since then, Strasz has been a regular at charities and fundraisers benefiting cancer research and cancer awareness.
“That’s a very important cause to me, so I try to stay connected to events like that,” he said.
He also keeps busy as a coach with the 7th and 8th grade football team at Nouvel Catholic Central Elementary School.
“I’m very committed to the learning process,” Strasz said.
That commitment remains part of the reason he advanced his career at SVSU.
Strasz has remained a member of the Academic Advisement Center since 1998, his longest tenure with any of SVSU’s offices.
“What I enjoy most about this job are the challenges,” he said. “Whether it’s making processes easier, helping students who are registering, improving university processes, anytime I get an opportunity to make things better, that’s rewarding for me.”
He said his colleagues motivate him and bolster him professionally.
“It’s gone by really quick,” Strasz said of his career as a Cardinal. “I’m fortunate to have a very dedicated and hard-working staff. It’s been a great experience here.”
By Bruce Zimmerman’s calculation, SVSU extended his coaching career by a decade.
“Sixty years old,” he said. “That’s when I told my wife I would be ready to retire. Then I heard about this opportunity.”
“This opportunity” was a chance for the now-62-year-old to become the first coach of both SVSU’s inaugural women’s swimming and diving team in 2014 and first men’s swimming and diving team in 2015.
“It seemed like all of the pieces of the puzzle were here to create something special,” said Zimmerman, whose new target retirement age is 70.
Even while he was an active competitor, though, Zimmerman’s ambitions were to become a coach one day.
“I was very heavily influenced by my elementary school physical education teacher,” Zimmerman said. “By the time I graduated from elementary school, I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Zimmerman can mark the beginning of his coaching career to the day: Nov. 7, 1975.
“That was a scary date,” he said. “I remember walking out to the pool deck. I started to go through the new team policies, and one of the older guys didn’t like what he was hearing, so he left.”
He began by coaching both the boys team in Peoria High School and the Peoria Park District USS Age Group Swim Team in Illinois. His career included jobs at various K-12 schools, clubs and colleges across the Midwest and east coast.
His first college coaching stint came in 1988 with a women’s team affiliated with the University of South Carolina. When the men’s team’s coach departed for the storied men’s swimming program at Indiana University — which produced Olympic champions such as Mark Spitz — Zimmerman followed to become an assistant coach in 1990. In 1999, he accepted a head coach position at the College of Charleston, where he remained until he decided to postpone his retirement and join SVSU.
“Our teams have exceeded my expectations substantially,” he said of SVSU’s programs. For instance, four student-athletes from SVSU’s women’s team qualified for the NCAA Championships during the program’s first two years. Two student-athletes from the men’s team qualified for the championships during the program’s first and only year of competition.
Zimmerman relishes the opportunity to impact players’ lives inside and outside of the pool.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than when a former swimmer calls me up to tell me how something I taught them paid off in life,” he said. “That’s what keeps me motivated.”
Saginaw Valley State University joined elite company when it was named one of the “Great Colleges to Work For” for the second consecutive year by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities.
The distinction was announced earlier this week when The Chronicle published its tenth annual report on The Academic Workplace. SVSU was among 79 higher education institutions — out of 232 institutions that applied — to achieve the honor this year. SVSU has applied for the recognition twice, earning the distinction both times. SVSU joins the University of Michigan as the state’s only universities to earn the distinction both years.
Don Bachand, SVSU’s president and a 39-year employee of the university, said SVSU’s continued recognition as an outstanding workplace was well-deserved.
“Throughout my time, our faculty and staff are committed to being approachable and empowering, and embrace a student-first philosophy,” Bachand said.
“Colleagues support one another in myriad ways, and the university supports them with resources. We listen to faculty and staff and improve our work environment based on their input; we invest in our people and their professional growth.”
SVSU was honored in four categories included in the survey: compensation and benefits; facilities, workspace and security; teaching environment; and tenure clarity and process. Last year, SVSU was recognized for the first three categories.
The survey featured components including a questionnaire about institutional characteristics and a faculty/staff questionnaire about individuals’ evaluations of their institutions. The selection process also included an analysis of demographic data and workplace policies at each institution.
The questionnaires were administered online in March and April across SVSU, which employs more than 750 full-time faculty and staff members.
To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide.
This year’s project represented the tenth “Great Colleges to Work For” survey for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner, ModernThink LLC, said the surveys over the span of that decade indicated institutions are continuing to break down barriers that once prevented them from building stronger ties internally and with local communities.
“There’s simply no going back to the days when strict hierarchies, traditional top-down leadership, and ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ thinking were the norms,” Boyer wrote in a report accompanying today’s survey announcement.
“If an institution wants to remain competitive in the competition for talent and be successful in its efforts to transform and innovate to ensure future success, now more than ever we must continue to break down barriers and build bridges to the futures we want.”
Great Colleges to Work For is one of the largest and most respected workplace-recognition programs in the nation. For more information and to view all the results of the survey, visit The Chronicle’s website at www.chronicle.com/interactives/greatcolleges17.
Saginaw Valley State University will host Camp Infinity this July to introduce girls in middle school to computer and Internet technologies through hands-on activities.
SVSU is partnering with The Dow Chemical Company, the Michigan Council of Women in Technology Foundation, IBM and Microsoft to bring the camp to the Great Lakes Bay Region.
Campers will be split into two groups based on grade level. Participants in 5th and 6th grades will explore video game design concepts and build their own web page, while participants in 7th and 8th grades will delve into robotics and HTML web design.
In addition, all campers will attend mini-sessions highlighting programming skills and real-world uses of technology. Campers will also have the opportunity to meet professional women from the Great Lakes Bay Region, who currently work in technological fields, and explore IT career pathways.
Deborah Huntley, SVSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said the initiative aligns with the university’s goal of boosting STEM education in the region.
“We are very pleased to add Camp Infinity to our suite of programs that engage young people with STEM experiences and introduce them to STEM careers,” Huntley said.
“Camp Infinity, focused on middle school girls, addresses an important need for our region. We are grateful to the program sponsors for making this possible at SVSU.”
The camp will be held at SVSU Monday, July 24 through Friday, July 28. The sessions will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. The cost to attend the camp is $75; there are a limited number of scholarships available which will reduce the cost to $25.
For more information, visit www.mcwt.org.
SVSU analysis shows Saginaw has seen major gains in safety
Research and analysis by a pair of Saginaw Valley State University professors shows that the City of Saginaw has seen a startling reduction in major crimes in recent years, and that neighboring communities also are safer.
Working with the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Initiative, Andrew Miller, SVSU associate professor of geography, and Evelyn Ravuri, SVSU professor of geography, studied crime data for the City of Saginaw, and Bridgeport, Buena Vista and Saginaw townships. For research purposes, the east and west sides of Saginaw were examined separately, because of their demographic differences according to U.S. census data.
Over a five-year period, the number of part one crimes in the east side of Saginaw fell by 86 percent, and the west side of Saginaw saw crime reduced by 71 percent. Overall, major crimes in the city dropped by 80 percent.
In 2010, a total of 3,189 part one crimes were reported for Saginaw’s east side, compared to 431 in 2015. The west side saw the number of part one crimes fall from 2,347 in 2010 to 676 in 2015.
“Safety is a primary concern for the city and our residents,” said Tim Morales, city manager for the City of Saginaw. “Everyone should feel safe in their home, in their neighborhood, and throughout the city. The Saginaw Police Department, City Council and Administration, the community, and our partners in the county, state, and federal government are dedicated to making Saginaw a safer city.”
Morales added that Saginaw leaders embrace the work that remains to done.
“We are pleased with the results we've seen so far, and hope to continue these trends. A safe city is also vital to attracting new businesses and residential development, which is also essential as we seek to bring jobs to the city.”
While the drop in crime was most pronounced within city limits, Bridgeport Township saw major crimes drop by 42 percent (613 to 353) over the same five-year period. Crime in Buena Vista Township fell by nearly 19 percent (363 to 295), and Saginaw Township saw a crime reduction of nearly 15 percent (837 to 714).
The FBI categorizes part one crimes, which include the most serious offenses, such as homicides, assaults, burglaries and robberies.
Miller and Ravuri began studying crime data to evaluate the effectiveness of blight removal in Saginaw. Their research shows the 884 federally-funded housing demolitions that occurred from 2013 to 2015 are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the overall crime reduction. (See SVSU study shows blight removal a significant factor in Saginaw’s drop in crime)
“The demolitions were focused in certain areas for a reason: because the crime was there,” Ravuri said.
Numerous other factors also contributed to improved safety levels. An increase of Michigan State Police troopers in the city, starting in 2012, undoubtedly played a part.
The professors also believe increased involvement by neighborhood associations had an impact.
“It shows the fact that people don't want to live like this,” Miller said. “We're now statistically able to show this, even though before, we were just able to map it and notice a connection. Now, we're proving it. We're showing that this community is fighting back.”
The professors’ latest findings are the culmination of four years of studying crime in the city and the region. Miller and multiple students first determined where crime “hot spots” were, and he then brought on Ravuri, an expert in urban redistribution and population dynamics, among other topics.
“This entire project has really been about understanding what Saginaw is, who it is,” Miller said.
That improved understanding benefits law enforcement in the fight against crime. The SVSU researchers share data analysis with Saginaw County’s police chiefs, showing where crime is moving, among other things.
Saginaw Township Police Chief Don Pussehl leads the county chiefs association.
“It's very informational to me so that I can take a look at that area and determine what my patrol officers can do to be able to prevent further crime from occurring in that area and address the issues that are happening there,” he said. “It’s been very helpful for us to address those findings, keep an eye on things and prevent further spread of criminal activity.”
Editor’s note: The graph illustrates how major crimes fell by 80 percent in the City of Saginaw from 2010 to 2015; neighboring communities of Bridgeport, Buena Vista and Saginaw Townships also saw crime reductions during the same five-year period.
Armed with federal funds, crews demolished 884 vacant homes in the city of Saginaw from 2013 to 2015. Two Saginaw Valley State University professors say those demolitions are directly linked to a significant reduction of serious crime in the city.
Andrew Miller, associate professor of geography at SVSU, Evelyn Ravuri, professor of geography, and multiple SVSU students studied the factors involved in the dramatic drop in crime in the Saginaw area. From 2010 to 2015, major crimes in the City of Saginaw dropped by 80 percent, and neighboring communities also saw crime go down. (See: SVSU analysis shows Saginaw has seen major gains in safety)
The demolitions were among the variables that had a “massive” effect, Miller said.
“Our research shows that the demolitions are responsible for 20 percent of the decrease in crime,” he said. “That’s a highly significant finding.”
While Miller’s previous work had shown a correlation between blight removal and crime reduction in Saginaw, quantifying how much of the reduction can be explained by the blight removal is a new finding. Crime rates dropped in the city, and in neighboring Bridgeport, Buena Vista, and Saginaw townships.
“I was not expecting the demolitions to have such a significant impact on crime rates,” Ravuri said.
Miller and Ravuri worked with the City of Saginaw, the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Initiative and other partners to collect data and conduct the research.
Tim Morales, Saginaw city manager, is grateful to have evidence that the demolitions were effective.
“Through our work with SVSU, the City has statistical evidence of the impact of blight removal and proactive policing in Saginaw,” he said. “Blight removal has improved our neighborhoods through reduction of abandoned and decaying structures, which has also produced a safer city. Without the reduction of the blighted and abandoned buildings, I don’t think Saginaw would have experienced such a sharp decline in violent crime.”
Morales also credited effective working relationships with the Saginaw County Land Bank, and state and federal agencies.
As part of their community-based research, Miller and Ravuri also worked with local law enforcement to identify crime “hot spots” and “cold spots,” so that police can target their resources more effectively.
The SVSU research team used Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) standards for analysis in accordance with Michigan State Police policies, to map the “hot spots” for crime for the 3 years prior to the demolitions (2010-2012), the demolition period (2013-early 2015) and the post-demolition period (early 2015-2016) to determine the effects the demolitions had upon the diffusion of crime in the greater Saginaw region from 2010-2016.
In 2010, the most serious crimes were highly concentrated within Saginaw city limits. Following demolitions funded through $11.2 million to Saginaw from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, primarily via the federal Troubled Asset Relief Plan, criminal activity is more widely distributed.
“The demolitions drove crime out of Saginaw, and it dispersed evenly, for the most part,” Miller said, “That’s kind of what we’re looking for. If you’re in policing, you want a more even playing field that everyone can then play on and that every police agency, if working together, can all work together to deal with. Because then, it becomes a much more manageable problem.”
Miller and Ravuri plan to continue their research; they are currently examining whether the housing demolitions affected home prices in the Saginaw area. For them, a critical element of their work is sharing the findings with community leaders with the goal that recent safety gains persist.
“To redevelop urban areas,” Miller said, “you don’t want to just displace the crime and move it somewhere else and deal with the same problems in a different place. The idea is to create a better community, a better region, that works cohesively together. Based on what we’re seeing, Saginaw is making meaningful progress in this direction.”
In the photo, Andrew Miller, SVSU associate professor of geography, presents research showing blight removal in Saginaw has contributed a drop in crime in the city and its neighbors. Miller spoke at the Reinventing Saginaw symposium at the Bancroft building in downtown Saginaw May 26, 2015; new research shows the housing demolitions conducted from 2013 to 2015 are responsible for 20 percent of the overall drop in crime seen in the Saginaw community.