Saginaw Valley State University secondary education majors Renee Okenka of Swartz Creek, and Samantha Geffert of Farmington Hills, are studying abroad at Shikoku University in Tokushima, Japan this summer, and their trip includes a special purpose: getting a newly established Writing Center off to a good start.
Both Geffert and Okenka are peer tutors at SVSU's Writing Center, a place where students can go to receive feedback or assistance on papers, speeches, résumés and more.
“The Writing Center is really an asset to the students,” Okenka said. “We try to provide as many resources for them as we can. Just having a space for writing to help cultivate their writing abilities is such an important part of going to college and becoming a professional.”
Because of their expertise within SVSU's Writing Center, Okenka and Geffert will be lending a hand at Shikoku University's newly established Writing Center. They arrived in Japan Friday, April 28.
“My hope is that working with a native English speaker at the Shikoku Writing Center will help supplement what students are learning in the English as a second language classes at the university,” Okenka said.
Shikoku University has been a sister university of SVSU for more than 20 years, beginning first as a faculty exchange program and expanding to include student exchange programs as well.
In addition to supporting Shikoku’s Writing Center, Geffert and Okenka also will be conducting research while abroad. Both students have a minor in English as a second language which will play a role in their data collection.
“We will be keeping journals in order to record reflective evaluations about our experiences,” Geffert said. “We will be working through a list of questions that consider how our training - both in the Writing Center and in the English as a second language program - plays into our ability to tutor.”
The Writing Center is designed to be a place where students can bring their work and ideas and know that they're being heard.
“I think that's the benefit of having a peer as a resource,” Geffert said. “Our Writing Center focuses on the creation of an environment where students feel like they're being validated and supported. I think that will carry over into Shikoku's new Writing Center as well.”
Theo Hoxie was 15 the first time he stole morphine from his cancer-stricken mother’s medicine cabinet. Using a syringe lifted from a friend’s father, he injected the drug into a vein and felt the weight of the world lift from his shoulders.
It was an act of desperation from a young man chasing a high he first experienced months earlier when he popped a Vicodin out of curiosity. The morphine and the Vicodin — both belonging to a category of drugs known as opioids — offered reprieve from a home he considered torn. Neither pharmaceutical sealed the breach, but each provided a temporary escape from the despair of it all.
“It was like my soul had been awakened,” Hoxie said, nearly two decades later, of those initial euphoric experiences.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is the feeling I have been missing my whole life.’”
And, for much of the rest of his life, Hoxie chased that feeling. The pursuit led him down a deadly road. He dropped out of high school and instead graduated to more potent opioids. Oxycontin. Methadone. Heroin. More heroin.
He spent much of the next decade-and-a-half living in vehicles and alleyways, serving jail time for possessing drug paraphernalia, befriending and falling in love with other opioid addicts, then watching many of them die. Hoxie, for a long time, accepted he would die from the affliction, too.
He isn’t waiting to die anymore.
His fortunes seemed to change the day he walked into The University Clinic, a Bay City-based primary care facility forged from a partnership between SVSU and the Bay County Health Department. Over the years, he sought sobriety at 16 different residential treatment centers and five community health clinics, but at those places, Hoxie always fell off the wagon within weeks. Sometimes, days.
The Jackson native will turn 33 on July 6. When that day arrives, he will mark nearly two years of independence from opioids, by far his longest stretch since swallowing that first Vicodin at age 15. While associates credit Hoxie’s determination for the accomplishment, he is quick to share the triumph with others.
“I’m alive today because of The University Clinic,” said Hoxie, now employed and living with his girlfriend in Tawas.
“I truly believe that clinic saved my life.”
While the specter of relapse always looms over individuals with drug histories, Hoxie said the clinic’s interdisciplinary approach and dedicated staff — including SVSU faculty members with clinical experience and student interns training alongside them — provided his best chance ever at a healthy and happy existence. The office’s medical staff supervised his detox from opioids, its occupational therapists helped relieve the pains of his drug-abused body, and its social workers set him up for a sustainable lifestyle, free of drugs.
His ongoing recovery is a success story for The University Clinic, but it’s a rare bright spot in an otherwise dark narrative underway in the United States.
Opioid addiction has surged nationally in recent years, prompting medical professionals and lawmakers alike to label the problem an “epidemic” — the same status applied to history’s deadliest outbreaks of smallpox, polio, typhus and the bubonic plague.
In a 2016 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced the rate of deaths related to opioids increased 200 percent between the years 2000 and 2014. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from the epidemic.
No neighborhood is safe from the problem. Its reach stretches from the streets of crime-infested communities, where Oxy is traded for unseemly acts … to doctor’s offices, where painkiller prescriptions sometimes are offered like candy. Its victims range from homeless people opting for heroin over food … to parents passed out from overdosing in idle-running vehicles, their infant children still strapped to safety seats in the back.
Bay City and its surroundings certainly aren’t safe from the opioid problem, as The University Clinic’s staff and associates discovered. And Hoxie is far from the first opioid addict — and likely far from the last — to seek help there.
“I never thought I’d see the day when more people were dying from overdoses than automobile accidents,” said Joel Strasz, who began his health care career in Bay County in the late 1990s.
“That’s what’s happened, though. It’s happening here.”
Four years ago, Strasz was promoted to health officer — the top post — at the Bay County Health Department, where The University Clinic now is housed in downtown Bay City. During his time there, he watched the opioid crisis develop both afar and near.
The CDC in March 2016 issued recommendations to the nation’s doctors, urging caution when prescribing highly-addictive painkillers. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. quadrupled. Medical professionals had lowered the threshold for deciding when patients needed painkillers and how long they needed the medicine, experts argued, and those increasingly lax standards resulted in more Americans growing dependent on — and eventually abusing — the pharmaceuticals. In many cases, those pills served as gateway drugs to cheaper alternatives with more potency and deadly potential such as heroin.
Those national trends took an alarmingly local turn in recent years, Strasz observed.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services figures showed medical professionals in Bay County wrote more opioid prescriptions-per-person (1.9) than in any of the 82 other counties in the state in 2015. That figure represented a sizable spike from Bay County’s 1.2 opioids prescribed-per-person just six years earlier.
The statistical surge seemed to coincide with other trends.
Overdose deaths in Bay County jumped from five people in 2005 to 25 people in 2016. Of those 25, 23 died from opioids.
Riverhaven Substance Abuse Services, a recently-defunct office within Bay-Arenac Behavioral Health, reported 15 percent of clients receiving treatment for substance abuse at the facility were seeking help for opioid abuse in 2005. That figure soared to 48 percent in 2014.
“The numbers didn’t look good,” Strasz said. “We needed to do something.”
In May 2015, he issued a public health advisory for Bay County regarding the opioid epidemic. The advisory remains in effect today.
“I’m waiting for the problem to lessen significantly before ending the advisory,” Strasz said. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to do that anytime soon.”
Raising public awareness is one approach taken by The Bay County HOPE (Heroin Opioid Prevention and Elimination) Project, an organization Strasz assembled as part of the public health advisory.
Its members discuss the problem at community forums as well as middle and high schools where opioid abuse also is on the rise in Bay County.
HOPE members apply other strategies to curbing the epidemic, including referring addicts to treatment centers.
“That’s where The University Clinic has become so important,” Strasz said.
The clinic began as an experiment. No other county-run health department in the state housed primary care staff, which offer the sort of services patients often seek when visiting family doctors and physicians.
Funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Health and Human Services grant, SVSU and Bay County Health Department officials opened the clinic’s doors in January 2015, providing a variety of health care resources to clients who were less likely to seek primary care at traditional facilities.
“People suffering from chronic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes are who we targeted first,” said Kathleen Schachman, SVSU’s Randall Wickes Endowed Chair in Nursing and one of the clinic’s coordinators.
Clients trickled in at a slow pace for months. Early efforts at promoting public awareness for the facility attracted relatively few people, Schachman said.
Then the clinic redirected its outreach and began seeing results within its first year.
“Things really started to pick up when our social workers and student interns reached out to homeless shelters in the area,” she said. “This just happened to be a population that had nowhere else to go.”
Soon, positive word-of-mouth from clients attracted others. The office’s proximity to a bus station, the county jail and courthouse, and a park known as one where people abused drugs led growing numbers of individuals with limited resources to the clinic’s front door.
“In some cases, these are people who don’t usually get the care they need until they are in a crisis, and don’t always show up for their appointments,” Schachman said. “A lot of places don’t want these people as patients, but we are willing to take them on, and to treat them with respect.”
Serving the homeless, in particular, made Schachman acutely aware more resources were necessary.
To meet those needs, Schachman applied for — and received — a trio of grants in 2016 worth a total of $2.9 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.
The funds beefed up the clinic’s mental health resources, established a partnership with Wayne State University, secured an alliance with Bay-Arenac Behavioral Health, and expanded a three-days-a-week office schedule to five.
As the clinic evolved during its second year of existence, the increased traffic revealed a growing community problem. Clients arrived with a variety of needs outside of mental health-related issues such as high blood pressure, lung disease, and diabetes, among others. Many of these problems, though, often were accompanied by another: opioid abuse.
Dorothy Lee, an SVSU associate professor of nursing and a nurse practitioner at the clinic, estimates two-thirds of her clients suffer from opioid dependency.
“Some come in — their heart on their sleeve — and ask for help with it,” said Lee, who has 25 years of experience as a nurse in facilities across the state. “With others, they’re much more guarded, and say they’re here for something else.”
“Something else” often involves a desire for the staff to write a prescription for opioid-based painkillers. While Lee and others at the clinic are authorized to order such medicine, education and experience help them distinguish individuals in need of pain relief from those seeking a high.
The staff does not write prescriptions for those in search of the latter. Instead, the clinic offers them help in achieving sobriety. Sometimes the patient welcomes the extended hand. Sometimes not.
“There is the attitude of, ‘It’s OK, because at least you came to us for help, and we want to help,’” Lee said. “They might leave frustrated when they don’t get what they want, but sometimes those same people will come back later when they realize we can help them and that we aren’t going to judge them.”
Lee said The University Clinic staff recognize people addicted to opioids are suffering from a disease, not a weakness, as some in the public — and in medical care circles — perceive the problem.
“No one becomes an addict by going into a situation saying, ‘I’m going to make a bad decision today,’” Lee said. “They start off thinking they can control themselves, but that’s not the case. There’s so much that gets broken and hurt when you become addicted to a drug.”
The staff’s empathetic approach was what distinguished The University Clinic from all the other facilities Theo Hoxie visited while trying to kick his opioid habit.
“I thought it might be one of those community clinics you had to call for an appointment at 8 in the morning and wait in line,” he said. “That was not the case. They took me in with hugs and smiles. They listened to my story. I’ve never had that before.”
Hoxie initially was evaluated by Lee.
“I told her I was an addict, but she didn’t treat me like I was an addict,” Hoxie said. “Most doctors treat addicts like crap. The University Clinic staff wanted to understand me, and then they wanted to help me.” Lee connected Hoxie with the clinic’s social work supervisor, Sherry LaMere, an SVSU social work adjunct instructor with 34 years of clinical experience. LaMere and her master’s degree-level social work interns assisted Hoxie in securing his first phone. He was provided with ongoing therapy as well as help in crafting a résumé that landed him a job as a therapist technologist working with autistic children.
Hoxie continues to visit the clinic, nearly two years after staff there helped him get clean. Lee continues to treat him for the Hepatitis C he developed from injecting himself with an infected needle. Social work staff check in to ensure he remains connected with support systems in the community. He also visits the clinic to receive a healthy dose of something else:
“Love,” he said. “That place has shown me so much love.”
Hoxie so far has proven to be a success story for the clinic. Other examples show why there is a need for the clinic.
“It’s heartbreaking, some of the stories you hear,” Lee said. “I asked this girl who came here once — she was 20 and had been on heroin since 11 or 12 — ‘How do you define health for you?’ She said, ‘Health, to me, is not trying to kill myself every time I try to get off this stuff.’”
Lee hasn’t heard from that particular patient in months, and fears the worst.
The best chance many addicts may have for recovery lay in the clinic’s interdisciplinary approach, staff say.
“The more we look at our patients’ lives in a comprehensive way, the more we can help them,” LaMere said. “The less often you have to refer a patient to an outside service, the more likely it is we can keep them engaged, helping them immediately and over a sustained period of time. Otherwise, people can get lost in the transition of care.”
Offering a “one-stop shop” for health care needs help staff build a rapport with patients. With rapport comes trust.
“It’s all about trust,” LaMere said. “Frequently, that means interdisciplinary staff connect with patients at the emotional, physical and mental level.” Sometimes that effort involves literally meeting them where they are. LaMere has traveled throughout the city to locate University Clinic patients who missed appointments for a variety of reasons.
Officials hope the clinic’s reach will expand soon. Schachman plans to apply for grants aimed at establishing satellite clinics north of Bay City.
In the meantime, the downtown clinic will serve as a center for healing in a community struggling against an epidemic.
“These are people who have been exposed to war,” Lee said of Hoxie and other opioid addicts. “It’s a different kind of war, but that’s what it is. That’s what we’re faced with here.”
From: Harbor Beach
High school: Harbor Beach High School
Major: Criminal Justice & Marketing double major
Future: graduate school, SVSU's Masters in Business Administration
Sloan Klaski looks to the future with excitement and a smile on his face as he describes his goals in the years to come. Many Saginaw Valley State University graduates share his positive outlook; few have faced as many obstacles.
A standout football player at small Harbor Beach High School in Michigan's Thumb, Klaski was featured on the front page of The Detroit Free Press sports section in November 2012, but not for making plays on the gridiron. "Klaski leads from the sidelines," the headline read, a reference to how he supported his teammates through an injury that denied him nearly all of his senior season.
Klaski came to SVSU to play linebacker while majoring in both criminal justice and marketing. He recorded 47 tackles in each of his first two seasons before injury struck again, forcing him to miss the 2016 season.
Life has taught Klaski a lesson or two about determination, so while he graduated in May, he is not finished in the classroom or on the football field. Due to his injury, he has two seasons of college eligibility remaining and a graduate degree in his sights.
When Klaski completes his football career, he plans to serve his country.
"I'll be getting my M.B.A. through SVSU," he said. "My goal is to end up getting into a federal law enforcement agency, whether that's the FBI or DEA, something like that."
For his senior seminar, Klaski took a class with Joseph Jaksa, SVSU associate professor of criminal justice. Having worked closely with Klaski, Jaksa has confidence that he is moving forward with a good head on his shoulders and a highly desirable skill-set.
"There are a lot of students in the United States who have good grades in the criminal justice program," Jaksa said. "Sloan has the benefit of outstanding grades in criminal justice plus the successful rigors of a student-athlete. That's going to show any federal law enforcement agency that this young man is going to be capable of taking on the stresses and rigors of their agency."
Though many students struggle to identify their field of study within their first few years of college, Klaski wasn't one of them. He described the desire to go into the field of criminal justice as a family business.
"Multiple members of my family were in the military including my dad, grandpa, two cousins and an uncle. That's part of the reason why the job I wanted to pursue was a service-related job."
The connection didn't stop there. Klaski explained that he also has a cousin who went the route of law enforcement, working as a police officer, as well as a close friend who works as a border patrol agent.
"All of these people have helped influence my journey and helped to steer me in the direction I'm headed," he said. "Ultimately, I would like to join the FBI and eventually become part of their special forces on the hostage rescue team."
Klaski has refused to let injuries stand in the way of helping others. While sidelined, he actively worked with young people through SVSU's Community Youth Days and Special Olympics.
"Sloan is one of those rare exceptions where he does everything 110 percent," Jaksa said. "A lot of people say they do it but Sloan really does. Between his grade point and knowing the amount of work he has to put into his classes to get that and being a football player: That's not an easy thing to do. There's no doubt in my mind that anything Sloan decides to do, he's going to be outstanding at it because of his mindset."
SVSU offered Klaski the chance to not only pursue his career goals and follow in the footsteps of so many of his family members before him, but it also gave him the opportunity to step out onto the field in a Cardinals uniform and play the game he loves every fall.
For this and so many other reasons, Klaski is grateful to SVSU.
"It just felt like the right place for me," he said.
Four years after arriving -- with degree in hand -- it will remain his place for a little while longer.
High school: Cesar Chavez Academy
Major: Social Work
Future: employed by Quicken Loans in Detroit
That is all it took for Iridian Juarez to leave an impression in SVSU President Don Bachand’s office so strong that it led Mary Kowaleski, the president’s executive assistant, into a figurative tug-of-war for more of Juarez's time.
A social work major from Detroit, Juarez was working in SVSU’s Academic Affairs office when she filled a shift one day in Bachand's office. Shortly thereafter, Kowaleski was inquiring on how to get her back for more. A deal was struck where Juarez would split her time between Academic Affairs and Bachand’s office, where she communicated regularly with top university officials and other guests of the president.
“She has a lot of poise,” Kowaleski said. “She is always so extremely professional. She was so excellent with our guests.”
Juarez earned placement in those offices through her work ethic and connections through SVSU’s School and University Partnerships office. Roberto Garcia, a school improvement and transition specialist there, worked closely with Juarez in a variety of functions and watched her develop a skill set that was, in some ways, beyond her years.
“She goes above and beyond in everything that she does,” Garcia said. “I have never seen her operate in mediocrity.”
Juarez graduated from SVSU in May 2017 and will begin a career with Quicken Loans in Detroit. There, she will participate in a yearlong program where she will try out four different career types, including client care and mortgage banking.
“Then I’ll be placed in whatever position I like the best or did the best in,” she said.
Quicken Loans is not exactly the typical landing spot for social work majors, but Juarez pursued an internship there that her friends recommended. Her social work education proved beneficial as she listened in on customer service calls and helped ensure representatives were treating customers appropriately. She impressed her supervisors and soon found herself in charge of a team of fellow interns whom she taught what to look for during the calls.
Juarez could eventually move into a position more closely related to social work. Quicken’s human resources department, for instance, has a team dedicated to coordinating volunteer opportunities for staff members.
“I really like the company and their culture,” she said.
Juarez shares the same feelings about SVSU. She graduated from Cesar Chavez Academy High School in Detroit, which is one of SVSU’s 18 public school academies. Her involvement in activities there showed her that she wanted to be “completely immersed in the college experience,” she said. She considered attending college closer to home, but that also meant she may have missed out on extracurricular opportunities.
“I didn’t think I would have the opportunities at one of those colleges that I’ve had at SVSU,” Juarez said. “It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
Juarez’s recollection of her first days on SVSU’s campus is “just how much people cared.” The events and tours aimed at the incoming freshmen made her feel welcome, she said.
“All the schools closer to home really ever did was send an email, say orientation was mandatory, see you there. No extra effort,” Juarez said. “I could see how Saginaw Valley really cared about its students compared to other schools.”
A first-generation college student from a working-class family, Juarez received the benefit of SVSU’s Public School Academy Scholarship and the university’s Transition Program.
“It was a change coming to SVSU, being away from home,” Juarez said. “A lot of people struggle with workload; in high school, your parents might be telling you to do your homework. In college, you have friends and things going on that might distract you. You need somebody to help you stay accountable with your academic goals.”
Driven to help others, Juarez volunteered part of her time on campus with student organizations such as the Latino Awareness Association and Alternative Breaks, which sends students to volunteer across the U.S. during winter and spring breaks. She traveled with a group of students to Orlando, Florida, to assist A Gift for Teaching, an organization that gives school supplies to teachers who then distribute the supplies to their students in need.
“The teachers were really, really grateful that we were there,” Juarez said. “It made me think of my teachers in the past who used their own money for supplies and how much of a burden it was for them, but they still did it. It led me to appreciate what teachers do and the students who want to go into that profession.”
Juarez performed her fieldwork for the past two semesters through the Saginaw County Youth Protection Council’s Drug Education Center. She educated elementary students about the dangers of substance abuse.
The focus of those sessions differed based on the school. At Big Rock Elementary School in Chesaning, for example, Juarez spoke to students about tobacco use.
“After the lesson, they would say, ‘I don’t want to use this. I didn’t know it was this bad,’” Juarez said. “Now they know what the consequences are. That means something, even if they’re young.”
Excited to begin her career at Quicken, Juarez’s ultimate ambition is to utilize her social work background in a transition program to help incoming freshmen stay in school and graduate. And she hopes to do so as a Cardinal.
“I would love to come back to work for SVSU,” she said.
Juarez worked as a transition coach under Garcia, who is continually impressed by her passion for helping students overcome the same obstacles she did.
“I think the world of her and her story,” Garcia said.
The Literacy Center at Saginaw Valley State University will offer tutoring in reading to students ranging from kindergarten upward through 12th grade, and adult learners during the upcoming summer.
Participating students attend 50-minute small group or one-on-one tutoring sessions Mondays to Thursdays from Monday, June 19 to Thursday, July 13, and can choose between sessions starting at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 11 a.m. No sessions will be conducted the week of July 3. The Literacy Center is located in SVSU's Gilbertson Hall.
All students undergo a 1-hour assessment to determine their strengths and improvable areas in math, reading, or writing prior to tutoring. Assessments take place June 13 and 14, at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. A $50 non-refundable deposit is due at the time of, or before, the assessment.
Tutors then create individualized lesson plans based on the students' assessments and a research-based tutoring system to help students maximize their potential. All of the Literacy Center's tutors are certified teachers who hold master's degrees in literacy and/or certification in reading recovery, or a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field. The Literacy Center also offers resources and provides collaboration opportunities to parents and guardians who wish to be involved in the learning process.
Tuition for attending the Literacy Center is $270 per session. For more information, visit svsu.edu/literacycenter or contact Laurie Haney at 989-964-4982.
Nearly 16 years have passed since the public became aware of widespread fraud at Enron, an energy company that ultimately had one of the biggest bankruptcies in American history. Legislators have enacted stricter laws to try to prevent future such catastrophes, but just last month, banking giant Wells Fargo was outed in the latest scandal.
For her honors thesis, Saginaw Valley State University student Jessie Klisz sought to find out why high-level corporate fraud continues to happen. While each company’s story is different, there was one common theme, Klisz concluded.
“My main thesis idea was that Wall Street stock expectations are what primarily drive the need to commit this fraud,” Klisz said. “And I generally found that was true. It just differed on how it was perpetrated.”
An accounting major who graduated St. Clair High School and whose family now resides in the Detroit suburb of Beverly Hills, Klisz was one of 15 students from SVSU’s Honors Program to deliver their thesis presentations in April. She discussed and defended her findings to an audience of peers and university faculty and staff who then had the opportunity to ask her often-challenging questions. Her faculty advisor was Betsy Pierce, SVSU assistant professor of accounting.
“She got asked some really good, solid questions, which she did a really good job in answering,” Pierce said. “And it was helpful to have those questions, because she was able to bulk up her thesis a little bit more.”
Klisz researched nine companies and examined the evolution of their corporate cultures and how those cultures led to fraud. She read countless peer-reviewed articles from economic journals, some of which included interviews with the individuals who worked at the fraudulent companies, and filings made by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Klisz found that regardless of which employees were the ones committing the fraud, it consistently was a result of pressure from top executives. Whereas with Enron and telecommunications giant WorldCom, the fraud was committed by those high-ranking executives, in more recent examples, the pressure from top executives led lower-level employees to commit the fraud, Klisz learned.
In the Wells Fargo scandal, employees opened banking and credit card accounts in the names of individuals who did not know those accounts were being opened. At HealthSouth, a healthcare provider, employees fixed a penny on transactions, but that ultimately caused a $750,000 difference in real earnings to those reported.
“In general, they were all fudging the numbers to make them meet their earnings that they were supposed to be meeting,” Klisz said. “In some cases, it started out so much smaller. They were like, ‘I’m just doing this tiny little thing,’ and then it would grow and grow and grow. Once you convince yourself that one small thing is OK, it’s not too hard to keep doing it.”
Klisz came to SVSU after receiving the President’s Scholarship, an academic scholarship. She joined the Honors Program, which allowed her to live in the same residence hall as other honors students.
“I wanted to live with people who have the same mindset,” Klisz said. “I met a lot of my friends living in the honors dorms.”
After taking her second class with Pierce, Klisz asked her to be her faculty advisor. Pierce, who mentored two honors students the year before, was happy to do so.
“It’s been a good working relationship the whole time she’s been here,” Pierce said of Klisz.
Pierce proved to be an ideal honors mentor because she came to SVSU with a research background.
“Coming here, I was really very excited about being able to introduce a research culture to the students, because I think it’s really important for them to learn these skills,” Pierce said. “It took me going back to school and changing my career to understand that this is what my mindset was like the whole time. If we can get them to do it while they’re in school, that just puts them in a better place when they go to work, because in the world of accounting, there is so much research that you have to do. So she has the skills now that she might not have had otherwise.”
While there are new laws that have brought stricter rules and penalties and there are continually new suggestions for fraud prevention, such as personality audits for executives, fraud is still “very, very hard to catch,” Klisz said.
“It’s constantly changing, and it’s constantly different,” she said. “People are still going to do it.”
Klisz completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting and participated in Commencement exercises at SVSU Friday, May 5.
Other students who delivered their honors thesis presentations in April were:
• Katie L. Gall, an English major from Hemlock, whose presentation was titled “Is black so base a hue? A character analysis of Aaron in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Her faculty advisor was Daniel Gates, an associate professor of English.
• Stephen J. Holihan, a biology major from Saginaw, whose presentation was titled “Developmental aromatase inhibition through endocrine disruption and the effects of sexually dimorphic morphology and brain organization in the Norway rat.” His faculty advisor was Gary Lange, a professor of biology.
• Michaela M. Hoogerhyde, a marketing major from Mancelona, whose presentation was titled “Mood and luxury perception: A tale of two genders.” Her faculty advisor was Mazen Jaber, an associate professor of marketing.
• Graceson C. Kerr, an exercise science major from Grand Blanc, whose presentation was titled “Primary care students’ perceptions of using physical activity counseling as a medical intervention.” Her faculty advisor was John Lowry, an assistant professor of kinesiology.
• Tyler J. Lefevre, a biochemistry major from Bay City, whose presentation was titled “Validation of qPCR rapid bacterial quantification through viable E. Coli cell count in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.” His faculty advisor was Tami Sivy, an associate professor of chemistry.
• Haley E. Livingston, a biology major from Holt, whose presentation was titled “A comparative examination of veterinary practice and opinion between the United States and France.” Her faculty advisor was Lange.
• Bethany C. McCarry, a physics major from Auburn, whose presentation was titled “Frequency and temperature dependent magnetic susceptibility.” Her faculty advisor was Matthew Vannette, an associate professor of physics.
• Victoria R. Phelps, an English major from Rochester Hills, whose presentation was titled “Depictions of disabilities once upon a time: Analyzing disabled characters in the context of Victorian fairy tales.” Her faculty advisor was Daniel Cook, an associate professor of English.
• Emily K. Phillips, a graphic design major from Carleton, whose presentation was titled “Creating quality design for the restaurant industry: The rebranding of the White Horse Inn.” Her faculty advisor was Thomas Canale, a professor of art.
• Cameron L. Pratt, an accounting major from Howell, whose presentation was titled “The equilibrium point hypothesis: An analysis of firm performance and renewable energy development in publicly held U.S. electrical utility companies. His faculty advisor was Mark McCartney, a professor of accounting.
• Madison J. Rase, a chemistry major from Pinconning, whose presentation was titled “Anaerobic digestion of phragmites.” Her faculty advisor was David Karpovich, the Herbert H. Dow Endowed Professor of Chemistry.
• Nicholas P. Toupin, a biochemistry major from Dearborn, whose presentation was titled “Effects of alkyl chain length on gel-forming carbohydrates.” His faculty advisor was Jennifer Chaytor, an assistant professor of chemistry.
• Rachel J. Weller, an accounting major from Fenton, whose presentation was titled “Measuring up: An analysis of state CPA requirements and pass rates.” Her faculty advisor was McCartney.
• Kylie M. Wojciechowski, a professional and technical writing major from Bay City, whose presentation was titled “Advocating for student-users: Results and recommendations of a usability study of the WCONLINE platform.” Her faculty advisor was William Williamson, a professor of rhetoric and professional writing.
By Jason Wolverton
It’s mid-afternoon in early December and the Baltimore airport is abuzz with travelers as a chorus of conversations, gate announcements, and clicking suitcase wheels fill the air.
Aura sits attentively and takes it all in. Part golden retriever, part lab, she is here on assignment to carry out the same vital mission she’s been asked to carry out every day for the last two years:
A specially-trained hearing dog, Aura acts as the ears for SVSU alumna Gretchen Evans, an Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. While serving a tour in Kabul, Evans’ unit took fire and a mortar explosion just 10 yards away left her deaf and suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Just like that, a decorated 27-year military career came to an end and Evans was left trying to adjust to a silent civilian life.
That adjustment has come in the form of helping other veterans like herself. On this day, Evans is travelling to New York to speak on behalf of America’s VetDogs. The non-profit organization, which provides wounded veterans with service dogs, teamed Aura with Evans in January 2015. Now Evans sits on its board and travels the country with Aura, championing their cause and fulfilling a passion to help America’s wounded warriors.
It’s a passion that, in many ways, began at SVSU.
Of all the reasons to choose a university, it was a t-shirt that sold Evans on SVSU.
Her husband, Robert Evans, became chief chaplain of the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw and when they moved to the area she began looking for a place to continue her education. As a wounded veteran, the military would pay 100 percent of her tuition and she considered a number of area institutions. When she came to campus for a tour, the Admissions representative promptly gave both her and her husband some Cardinal swag. It was a personal touch that made Gretchen Evans feel at home. A life of military service provides many rewards, but one thing it does not offer is geographical stability. So when she ultimately decided to enroll at SVSU, it was the eighth university she’d attended.
“I could have gone anywhere I wanted to,” she said, “but when they gave my husband a shirt, too, I just felt like this was the place for me. That simple act of caring and kindness sealed the deal.”
Soon Evans connected with Career Services Director Mike Major — who recently formed the Cardinal Military Association for Veterans — as well as now-retired Dean of Students Merry Jo Brandimore. Together, they discussed navigating university life as a veteran, and Evans expressed interest in helping provide more and better services to fellow military-affiliated students. When Brandimore received approval from the Veterans Administration to employ two veteran work studies in her office, Evans got one of the jobs.
The work by Evans and Brandimore laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Military Student Affairs Office, founded in part by Denise Berry, who stepped down as director in 2016. SVSU was recognized by Military Times as part of its Best for Vets: Colleges 2017 Rankings. SVSU was ranked No. 34 among 130 four-year institutions across the country.
“Individuals who have spent time in military service have different issues in transitioning to college life compared to other students,” Brandimore said.
“I hope that the Office of Military Student Affairs is the one place our military students can go where someone understands the perspective of a student who has come from a military framework. Gretchen understands that and she always gave her all for these students because she felt every one of them was deserving of our best.”
Evans helped military students navigate everything from financial aid to classroom life, and in doing so, discovered a passion for serving her country in a new way: by helping its veterans.
“Working with military students was part of my healing process, too,” Evans said. “My whole adult life, I was in the military and I didn’t know anything else. It was healing for me to be able to give back and navigate a new life that I had been dealt.”
Evans was dealt another curveball when her husband was offered a job transfer as she was preparing to finish her degree. Determined to graduate, she stayed in Saginaw while her husband relocated. When their house sold, Evans moved on campus so she could finish her bachelor’s degree in sociology. At 54 years of age, she was the newest University Village resident. Evans graduated in May 2013.
“I can’t even articulate what it meant to graduate from SVSU,” Evans said. “I really felt like it was meant to be. My experience at SVSU was so phenomenal as both an adult student and also a wounded warrior. After 35 years and 40 countries, I finally had that diploma.”
And it almost never came to be.
Evans’ military career began, in some ways, because of college. In 1978, she enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and later at Austin College in Austin. She was paying for school all by herself and so she decided to enlist in the military. Her plan was to serve four years and leave with the G.I. Bill to pay for school. Instead, she fell in love with being in the Army and made a 28-year career of it.
“Every time I stood before my fellow soldiers I felt humbled and honored to be among them,” Evans said. “They inspired me to be the best leader, soldier and person I could be.”
Throughout her time in the military, Evans earned every rank from private E1 to E9, the highest rank for an enlisted member. Her last duty assignment was in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she served as the Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
On Feb. 27, 2006, her unit began taking mortar fire at the forward operating base. She was standing out, yelling for everyone to get into the bunkers when the mortar that took her hearing hit to her right and blew her off her feet.
“I looked down to see if I had arms and legs,” she said. “I had an incredible headache and I couldn’t hear, but I didn’t realize I was permanently deaf until the doctors told me. You don’t realize how devastating it is to be able to hear your whole life and then suddenly not be able to anymore.”
She returned stateside, finished her rehabilitation and retired from the Army. An avid runner, Evans was jogging one day when a bicyclist ran into her trying to pass. He yelled to her that he was passing, but she couldn’t hear him coming up. Concerned for her safety, her doctors determined getting a safety dog would be in her best interest.
That’s when she met Aura.
Aura helps Evans by responding to sounds, alerting her with a poke in the leg if she hears anything from a ringing phone to a knock on the door. Aura can also tell the difference between noises like an oven timer or fire alarm so Evans knows if there’s an emergency. Aura even alerts her to potential dangers while driving and will turn her head quickly if she hears a car horn.
Evans said Aura also helps by alerting others she is deaf. Since Evans has what is known as an invisible injury, people she meets for the first time don’t realize she can’t hear them. She has grown adept at reading lips; but, if she can’t see the person who is talking, she doesn’t realize they are speaking to her. Having Aura by her side helps people recognize something is different. Aura also serves as a conversation starter, as people will focus more on Aura than Evans’ injury.
“She keeps me safe and serves as an ambassador to the world for me,” Evans said. “She’s my family.”
The TODAY Show featured Evans and Aura recently during a segment as part of their Puppies with a Purpose series that focuses on its partnership with America’s VetDogs. The segment highlights several veterans who, like Evans, have benefited from the companionship and assistance of a service dog.
“I knew my country was going to take care of me,” Evans said. “And Aura has given back so much of what was
It was just after midnight on a warm fall Saturday morning. The light rainfall had suddenly switched to a downpour during the 100-mile Hallucination trail race on Sept. 9, 2016. As the morning hours ticked on, the dusty dirt paths transformed to deep pockets of mashed mud. Visibility was becoming a problem for runners on that dark and challenging trail race in Pinckney, Michigan.
The soaking wet conditions took a toll on the 203 race entrants. Of them, 132 runners would eventually quit before finishing in the 30-hour time limit. Yet one runner, Brian Thomas, made a promise to himself that no foul weather would dampen his determination to finish this race. For him, this race was more significant than any other in his lifetime.
Brian had five 100-mile race entries under his belt. He discovered over a decade earlier that distance running helped him cope with stress, like when he and his college sweetheart-turned-wife, Holli Wallace, dealt with tuition debt while completing graduate and law school, respectively.
The couple grew together, from their 20s to their 30s, seeking out careers that fit their passions. He became a faculty member with SVSU’s sociology department as well as acting director of strategic partnerships and Study Abroad. She worked as an attorney helping underprivileged groups. They started a family with two sons, Elliott and Oliver.
Then tragedy struck the family Oct. 16, 2013, when Holli unexpectedly died. She was 37.
Three years later, the difficult conditions of this 100-mile race were no match to the despair Brian endured following his wife’s death. Still, both challenges collided along this dark trail. After all, it was his grief that propelled him forward into the night — and toward the hope that his example might help others dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Oct. 16, 2013, started out a regular day for Brian Thomas and his family. After finishing teaching his statistics course at SVSU, he hurried to pick up his son, Elliott, to take the then-7-year-old boy to karate lessons.
“I remember wondering if Holli would have Elliott in his karate uniform,” Brian said. “The last couple of months had been a little different in our hurried lives of young professionals. Holli had left her 9-to-5 job as an attorney to focus her energy on politics, pro-bono legal work for the community, and, of course, our boys.”
When Brian arrived home, Elliott called up from the basement. He couldn’t wake up his mother.
“I quickly went over to her, remember shaking her right knee to wake her and knowing that something was seriously wrong,” Brian said. “I realized she wasn’t breathing.”
He called 911 and began CPR. The paramedics arrived quickly and could not resuscitate Holli. Later, doctors discovered she died from mitral valve prolapse, an undiagnosed heart condition.
Brian and his boys were lost in the weeks following her death. During that period, he often thought to himself, “Others have been through this — so shouldn’t we make it through OK?”
He hoped at first, with a little patience and perseverance, the ache of losing his wife of 11 years would get easier. The words of others, support from friends, and sympathy cards filled him with hope he would be OK with “moving on” or “letting go” and would eventually find “acceptance” of living without her.
What he discovered was that grief wasn’t a race to finish, and he would need a different sort of stamina to endure
Brian was at the 84-mile mark, with only 16 more miles to go. The course included six 16.6-mile loops. There was an inevitability to the sixth and final circuit. Yet the closer he came to the finish line, the farther away it seemed.
As the sun began to set once again and runners neared the end of the race, the darkness took over for a second time during this 30-hour challenge. The physical toll of the effort began to weigh on Brian mentally. Trees along the side of the pathway seemed like lurking bears, waiting to pounce in the darkness. The trail beneath his feet appeared to wind and move like a threatening snake. He felt a little unsure, but he knew there was nothing to fear. He would finish this. He had to finish this.
Thoughts of seeing Oliver and Elliot at the finish line — thoughts of Holli — helped him move forward.
About a year and a half after Holli died, the challenges of loss and grief remained with the family of three. At the request of eldest son Elliott, Brian sought out a support group. He found the recently formed Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region. While the Midland-based institution specialized in helping children deal with loss, the therapy extended to Brian, too.
Together, they faithfully attended meetings, even to this day. They healed together as they grieved through expression, using art, dance, theatre, storytelling and writing to share their feelings.
The experience helped Brian discover how to cope and move forward — doing what needs to be done in everyday life while still honoring the legacy of Holli.
“That’s the challenge that I woke up to the day after Holli died,” Brian said. “Memories are sometimes a double-edge sword for me. Part of me wants nothing more than to freeze everything in place and linger in the past. It took me several months to take her clothes from our closet. I wish Elliott and Oliver could forever wear the pants she sewed for them.”
Oliver was reaching a toddler’s developmental milestones that would require Brian to help him wean from his pacifier … learn to use the bathroom … transitioning from a crib to a “big-boy bed” and, eventually, start school. Both children needed Brian to remain strong and lead the family through everything to come.
“It can be dangerous lingering too much in the past as the world moves forward,” he said. “Holli is so much a part of who I am in my heart and soul. I think about her every day to draw my strength. At the same time, I know that I have to keep moving forward without her by my side.”
Work provided one coping mechanism. Brian earned accolades over the years for his approach to teaching sociology as well as his efforts in assisting SVSU’s Study Abroad program. His accomplishments included founding the Green Cardinal Initiative, which featured SVSU students, faculty and staff promoting environmental friendliness. His exceptional work continued after Holli’s death. Later that same year, he was one of 11 recipients of the Ruby Award, given annually to the Great Lakes Bay Region’s most remarkable professionals under the age of 40.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Brian in retrospect realized his running strategies also helped him approach each new day after his wife’s death. He moved forward in small increments, with what he calls “The 10 Percent Rule.” In running, this applies to increasing week-by-week mileage in increments of 10 percent. It’s applied to prevent injuries that would result from over use of a muscle.
“Early on, I began envisioning being without her at small moments, like dinner in the evening or for the upcoming weekend, before trying to think about major events like holidays,” he said. “I practiced retelling the events of the day that she died in my mind, and then to people close to me so that I could move myself closer to a stage where I could talk openly about her to strangers.”
Having a good support system of friends and family to make decisions and carry the load is important, he realized. Life can offer heavy burdens.
“In truth, I have a very independent personality,” he said. “That’s a problem sometimes and I have had to learn to reach out for help. With the help of grandparents, friends, neighbors and teachers, the boys and I made our way.”
Brian made a point to never ignore his pain. He recognized it and tried to learn when to talk about it or ask for help.
“I look for pain that may be leading me to make bad decisions or unable to function well for extended periods,” he said. “I’d like to say that the distinction is easy to make, but it isn’t. Through trial and sometimes error, I like to think that I am better at it than when I started this journey.”
Brian raised more than $7,700 in pledges for the Children’s Grief Center as part of his participation in the Hallucination race in September. Even though Holli was not there in body, he was determined to run with her in spirit. He wore her name on his chest — “RUN FOR HOLLI,” his shirt read — as a celebration of all that she represented.
“She was one of those people who seemed like she was everywhere at once,” Brian said.
“She could not be summed up in single words or even short phrases. She was, at best, a long list. She was a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, an attorney, an activist, a caretaker, a community volunteer, a political leader, an idealist, a seamstress, a cook, and a lifelong fan of The Bold and The Beautiful. The list goes on.”
That list is a legacy that remains strong for her family.
It was near the end of the Hallucination race when Brian first spotted the faint green glow near the finish line. As he approached, he recognized the source of the light as a sight he spent much of the last 100 miles thinking about: Elliott and Oliver, both wearing glow bracelets.
Brian’s sons shrieked in excitement when they recognized their dad. The boys ran toward him. A few steps from the end of the race, they embraced as a family — minus one.
In struggling with the loss of Holli these last few years, Brian realized there was no finish line for grief. There was no medal to collect and no accomplishment to celebrate. The road for that race remained unendingly ahead for him and his sons.
Still, they moved forward — stepping over the Hallucination’s finish line together — in this run for Holli; in this tribute to the life she left for them all.
The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved a new graduate program, a master’s degree in computer science and information systems, during the Board’s regular meeting Friday, May 5.
In developing the program, SVSU faculty solicited feedback from auto companies such as Ford and Nexteer, as well a number of other firms from Auto-Owners Insurance to Yeo and Yeo. Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, also evaluated the proposal. All of the reviewers indicated a growing demand for informational technology professionals with advanced degrees and supported SVSU’s proposed program.
“We have done our homework and we anticipate strong interest in this program right away,” said Frank Hall, dean of SVSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology. “Our computer science and information systems faculty have done an outstanding job designing a curriculum that is flexible enough to meet students’ interests while also emphasizing the technical needs expressed by employers.”
SVSU will begin enrolling students for the new master’s degree program immediately. The first courses will be offered this coming fall.
In other action ,the Board:
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU women's basketball team, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate the 2016-2017 SVSU women's tennis team, which finished with an overall record of 15-5, its best season in more than 15 years.
• Passed a resolution to thank Cody McKay, president, and elected representatives of the SVSU Student Association for their service during the 2016-17 academic year.
• Passed a resolution to congratulate Lauren Kreiss, president, and representatives of the Student Association elected to serve during the 2017-18 academic year.
• Passed a resolution to elect Board officers for 2017-18. Jenee Velasquez will continue to serve as chair; John Kunitzer will serve as vice chair. Dennis Durco will perform the duties of secretary, and Vicki Rupp will serve as treasurer.
• Passed a resolution to grant undergraduate and graduate degrees. More than 1,000 students will participate in Commencement exercises Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6.
• Passed a resolution to approve the appointment of Samuel Tilmon to the board of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.
• Passed a resolution codifying how contractual authority is delegated. The Board retains authority over all contracts in excess of $250,000.
• Passed a resolution to update the SVSU Purchasing Policy, which was last amended in 2004.
• Passed a resolution to establish the Board’s meeting schedule for the 2017-18 academic year.
The hard-working, motivated members of the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinal Formula Racing team are hoping for a top 10 finish this year at the at the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) Collegiate Design Series on May 10-13 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Brooks Byam, SVSU professor of mechanical engineering and the team's faculty advisor since 1998, said he has high hopes for the group.
“I’m proud to say we have talented, motivated, and innovative students on this year's team,” he said.
This year's team members have devoted long hours to careful testing as they seek to combine performance and stability and meet a team goal of winning the acceleration event, and be the fastest car to drive a 75-meter straight track at the competition. SVSU twice has built the fastest race car in the world, winning the acceleration category in 2008 and 2014.
Alex Ginn, a mechanical engineering major from Trenton, is one of those Cardinal Formula Racing team members who has spent countless hours in the race shop preparing for competition.
“We are trying for another top 10 performance this year,” Ginn said.
The annual FSAE Collegiate Design Series competition features about 120 teams, from world-renowned colleges and universities with esteemed mechanical engineering programs. Teams from higher education institutions across the globe design and build Indy-style race cars to compete at the series, which features multiple competition categories such as endurance, acceleration, autocross, cost, presentation, and skid pad.
Each of the past two years, SVSU posted the top score among schools without a graduate program in engineering.
“We are the most successful fully undergraduate team in the history of the FSAE,” Ginn said.
In 2016, SVSU finished 30th overall, ahead of teams such as the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (No. 46), Northwestern (No. 53) and Georgia Tech (No. 54).
“Our students have put in the time. I am hopeful they and the race car will perform up to their capabilities,” said Byam, who in 2013 won the Carroll Smith Mentor’s Cup, given annually to one outstanding Society of Automotive Engineers faculty advisor.
Cardinal Formula Racing has placed in the top 20 four times overall: 6th place in 2002, 8th in 2005, 14th in 2008 and 18th in 2010.
Graduates of SVSU’s program are highly desired by automotive companies and other manufacturers, though some have chosen other paths.
Nevin Steinbrink started his own engineering firm in Old Town Saginaw. (http://www.svsu.edu/newsroom/news/2017/firstroboticscardinalformularacing/firstroboticscardinalformularacingprovidefoundationforbusinessstarted.html)
Midland native Allen Hart is an engineer for J.R. Motorsports on the NASCAR Xfinity Series; his team finished runner- up at the Dash 4 Cash event at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia last weekend.
For more information on SVSU’s Cardinal Formula Racing program, visit http://www.svsu.edu/cardinalformularacing/.