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August 5, 2020

Since childhood, Gabrielle Gittens felt drawn to nature. Now the SVSU alumna is one step closer to a career spent protecting it.

Gabrielle Gittens remembers summers spent laying on a trampoline in her family’s backyard, her eyes pointed skyward and her dreams aimed there too. These memories stretch deep into her childhood, when a 4-year-old girl first soaked in the surrounding sounds of nature, including animals that populated both her suburban neighborhood and her imagination. Sometimes she fantasized her favorite creature – the bald eagle – soared there above her.

Even in those youngest of summers, Gittens recalled a persistent thought occuring to her. At first, it surfaced as a question: "How can we make the planet a better place to live for us all? For people. For animals." Over time, the thought transformed into an answer:

"I will make the planet a better place to live."

Two decades later, that answer remains the driving force of the aspiring environmental conservationist's professional ambitions.

In May, Gittens graduated from Saginaw Valley State University, where affordability and opportunity merged to move her closer than ever to fulfilling that lifelong ambition. Her undergraduate experience empowered Gittens to operate – literally – at heights enjoyed by the bald eagles so beloved by her. Her environmental survey research work at SVSU involved piloting drone aircraft up to 200 feet in the air. The resulting credentials were one of many factors that helped secure her a full-ride scholarship to the postgraduate program she begins this fall.

“I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities elsewhere as I had at SVSU,” said Gittens, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from the university in May. “So many people from SVSU helped me get to where I am.”

For the next two years, Gittens will study for a master’s degree in geography with a focus on environmental analysis and resource management at Western Michigan University. Once graduated, she hopes to work as a steward of the environment – perhaps as a park ranger or environmental scientist –with an agency such as the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service.

“My heart has been set on this for about as long as I can remember,” said the Columbus Township native.

Along with sky-gazing on her childhood trampoline, Gittens’ formative experiences as a conservationist involved family, friends and teachers introducing her to the environment. She was instilled with a passion for the outdoors by her mother, an avid gardener who tasked her daughter with picking strawberries and peppers from their yard. As a kid, Gittens and two of her cousins shared an affinity for animals, and the trio often talked about growing older and occupying jobs that supported living creatures. Gittens regularly visited Peck, where property and a pole barn owned by the family of her best friend exposed her to a rural environment and its animal inhabitants. And, at school, she learned about climate change and its devastating consequences.

“I remember seeing videos of polar bears dying because they couldn’t find ice to travel on,” Gittens said. “That horrified me. As a kid, whenever I made a wish, I wished for climate change to end.”

She attended Merritt Academy, a New Haven-based charter school authorized by SVSU. While Gittens graduated as the salutatorian in her class, she said she under-performed on her ACT test, which limited her ability to secure scholarships. Her family also was struggling financially at the time, endangering her chances to attend college.

“My parents didn’t have money for me to go to college and I didn’t have money for me to go to college,” she said.

Gittens was determined to pursue her professional ambitions, though. Her higher education dreams were rescued by SVSU, a state university with the most affordable tuition rate in Michigan as well as home to more than 1,000 private and university-funded scholarship opportunities. Gittens was able to benefit from one of those opportunities: the Public School Academy Scholarship, which SVSU provides to qualifying students who attended an SVSU-authorized charter school. More than 11,000 students currently attend SVSU-authorized charter academies.

“Honestly, that scholarship made college possible for me,” said Gittens, who graduated with little debt. “I wouldn’t be where I am without it and without the professors at SVSU.”

After beginning as a biology major, Gittens switched to geography studies when she earned a student research opportunity at SVSU with Julie Commerford. The assistant professor of geography led a study of pollen in Avery Lake in Illinois, where environmental analysis helped determine how human activity shaped the environment there. The experience left Gittens enamored with geography and introduced her to the professor she still considers her mentor.

“She’s really pushed me forward, toward where I want to be,” Gittens said of Commerford. “She’s incredible.”

In November 2019, Gittens presented the study at The East Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers conference. Her poster presentation for the project, titled “Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes: Pollen as the Key to the Past,” won second place in a competition there.

Gittens later joined another environmental study led by an SVSU educator. Rhett Mohler, associate professor of geography, tasked Gittens with providing geographical surveys of phragmites – non-native wetland grass that outcompetes native plants and can displace native animals – in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw.

The work meant programming the flight of a quadcopter drone over the refuge and processing the images captured to determine the impact of the phragmites. To perform those duties, Gittens became certified to fly drones.

Other experiences available at the campus enriched her abilities. Along with her academic degree, Gittens received her GIS certification, which is earned by students seeking advanced skills in the application of geographic information systems.

While attending SVSU, she also spent a summer with a study abroad program in Montana. There, she earned college credits while learning how to track bears, wolves and other wildlife populating the Seeley-Swan Valley. She worked with the community to shape policy relating to endangered species and the humans living near them in that region.

The accumulation of experiences and awards led to her receiving a full-ride scholarship at Western Michigan University, she said. Her first day of class is Sept. 2. She plans to work as a student teaching assistant there, providing the same sort of guidance that led her closer than ever to realizing ambitions she first felt as a child in her backyard, where the blue sky above and the surrounding nature seemed to call her to step forward.

“I’m looking forward to what comes next,” Gittens said.

July 30, 2020

SVSU NEST Ambassador profile: Lauren Steen

Over the next few days, 100 enthusiastic students will begin orientation training in their roles as NEST Ambassadors. These individuals will assist with keeping the community healthy and safe, serving in one of three specialty areas: Student Experience, Information Technology, and Health and Wellness.

 
For the next few weeks, NEST Bulletin will spotlight members of this outstanding group, introducing them to the campus community they soon will engage as Ambassadors.

 
Today, that spotlight shines upon Lauren Steen, a fourth-year occupational therapy major from Peck. An enthusiast and participant in SVSU intramural volleyball, Steen joins the Health and Wellness division of the Ambassador program. Her orientation session is planned for later this week, but she was able to share some details about her role and motivations in the following Q&A session.

 

Q: As an Ambassador, you will be focusing on strengthening the mental health of your fellow students. Before accepting this job, you served as a behavior technician, working with elementary school-age children with autism. Also, you are an occupational therapy major. So, you seem to possess a passion for helping others. Where does that passion come from?

 

A: I’m in the occupational therapy program because I want to work with military veterans and wounded soldiers. My dad was in the Army and I have a lot of family in the military.
 

When I was a senior in high school, I helped my mom when she had thyroid cancer. I helped her go through recovery and survive that. It was a scary experience, but I learned I want to continue helping others. 
 

Q: What about being an Ambassador are you looking forward to?
 

A: I’m looking forward to helping others; especially helping freshmen so they feel adjusted and comfortable during uncertain times.
 

Q: What are your thoughts on the upcoming fall semester?

 

A: I’m excited to get the year started and get back on campus. I want to see the changes that are happening there, and I look forward to seeing students come back. I know people will support each other and come together.

July 28, 2020

SVSU establishes phone line to answer student, parent questions about return to classes in fall

Saginaw Valley State University officials continue to add services aimed at strengthening a safe campus environment ahead of students’ return to campus next month. 
 
The university recently opened a telephone information line that will provide students, prospective students and family members with information related to SVSU’s plans for the fall semester scheduled to start in August. 
 
While an SVSU webpage at www.svsu.edu/nestplan can answer many general questions about the fall plans, a phone line provides a valuable resource for a university committed to establishing strong interpersonal relationships between students and the campus community, officials say. 
 
“We have been providing regular notifications to our campus community about our return to the classrooms, but a phone line gives students and their families access to a human element,” said Susan Brasseur, SVSU’s director of continuing education and external project management. 
 
“They have been calling different offices within the university, and we have been helping them, but this gives them a central place where they can call and talk to a person dedicated to answering their questions.” 
 
The SVSU NEST Info Line is available at (989) 964-2110. 
 
The phone line hours span 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. 
 
NEST is SVSU’s comprehensive program dedicated to returning students to campus after the pandemic led U.S. universities to suspend in-classroom instruction in March. NEST is an acronym for “New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow.” 
 
Brasseur said the phone lines will be managed by staff from SVSU’s The Conference Center, typically in charge of organizing events on campus including guest speakers and weddings. The staff is particularly equipped to manage the phone line because of their skill in hospitality and their knowledge of the campus and its offerings. 
 
“People are asking about a lot of things, and we want to be there to help answer all their questions and be of assistance in any way possible,” Brasseur said.

July 16, 2020

As fall semester approaches, SVSU reimagines campus spaces to address safety during pandemic

Since in-person classes were suspended in March, Ron Portwine has remained one of the few members of Saginaw Valley State University’s staff working at the campus. There – like so many higher education institutions in the nation that shifted the college experience to online and virtual environments in response to the pandemic – the vibrancy of student life at SVSU’s admired facilities was replaced by empty hallways and vacant classrooms. 
 
This week, that vibrancy seemed to stir back to life in the eyes of Portwine, who has spent months working with colleagues preparing the campus for students’ return in August. On Tuesday, freshmen participated in orientation sessions that placed them in classrooms and campus spaces re-configured with features designed specifically to keep students safe from the COVID-19 virus. 
 
“We have been working on this plan for a long time, and now we’re seeing how it looks with students here on campus,” Portwine said. “It’s exciting and provides an opportunity to receive student feedback on the changes we’ve made.” 
 
As SVSU’s associate vice president for Administration and Business Affairs and its chief business officer, Portwine has taken a leading role in adapting SVSU to the pandemic. While the university announced masks were required to enter campus, ensuring a safe fall semester also meant reimagining the physical makeup of classrooms, cafeterias and other spaces while also providing resources and signage that encourages other safety-based practices. It has been a massive undertaking involving consultation with local health experts, modified ventilation practices, an emphasis on frequent sanitation, lots of stored furniture, and plexiglass. 
 
Plenty of plexiglass. 
 
“Students will notice the changes when they come back in the fall,” he said. “Safety is our priority. We also want them to enjoy the college student experience.” 
 
Compared to many university settings, SVSU was uniquely suited to maintain a safe environment that defends against the spread of COVID-19. Historically, SVSU has maintained a reputation as an institution where students enjoy cozy classrooms. While other universities sometimes sit hundreds of students in a single room, many of SVSU’s classrooms traditionally hosted less than 30 people. That population-per-room this fall will be reduced further – by about 50 percent in most cases – to allow for even more room to safely practice social distancing, Portwine said. 
 
“Preparing for this involved a lot of spreading-out of tables and removing chairs so that no one is sitting closer than 6 feet apart,” he said. 
 
There will be exceptions to that 50 percent reduction rule. SVSU will utilize some of its larger spaces – typically reserved for events and conference gatherings – to host courses with larger numbers of students. The size of the venue, however, will allow for social distancing. 
 
Next week, the university plans to begin installation of plexiglass shields positioned at classroom podiums and transaction counters, adding another layer of security that reduces the likelihood of disease transmission when adequate social distance can’t be maintained. Portwine said the setup will resemble the use of plexiglass material utilized by grocery and retail stores during the pandemic. 
 
Hand sanitizer and environmentally-friendly cleaning agents also will be available in classrooms.  Students will be expected to clean their classroom work surface as part of a shared responsibility to maintain a safe campus. 
 
Other campus spaces that will be noticeably changed are SVSU’s dining locations. Using largely the same approach as the classroom changes, the removal of chairs and the spreading of tables will encourage social distancing, Portwine said. Students can eat in privacy or at a table for up to four people. 
 
“We’ll have plenty of residential students who live together in groups of four and we want them to be able to dine together as part of their college experience,” Portwine said. 
 
The cafeterias also will follow the practices of many restaurants. While the menu will remain largely the same, the way students gather food will change. Staff will serve food and beverages to students, with some plexiglass separating customers from cooks. The elimination of self-serve salad bars and beverage dispensaries reduces the number of touchable surfaces on which people can transmit diseases. 
 
Plexiglass will be installed in other transactional spaces including where students pick up and drop off documents from the Registrar’s and Campus Financial Services offices. Plexiglass also will protect people visiting offices for counseling or tutoring services, although staff will encourage most of those appointments take place online or at locations on campus where 1-on-1 interactions can be most safely practiced. The same approach will be encouraged when students visit their professors. In the past, those visits happened within the professor’s office, where social distancing practices will be challenging. 
 
Not all changes to the campus will involve rearranged furniture or installed plexiglass. 
 
Portwine said few physical changes were planned for the residential halls. Instead, the room capacity will be reduced in common spaces to encourage social distancing. Shared bedrooms that traditionally utilized a bunk bed to house two students have been converted to single occupancy.  The amount of space available to residential students already was a treasured feature that led to SVSU’s No. 1 ranking among public universities in the student survey-driven “Best Dorms” list from the website Niche. Now that space-per-residential student will widen for the 2020-21 academic year. 
 
Signage across campus will limit the number of people that can enter smaller spaces such as laundry rooms and elevators. 
 
Custodial staff will be deployed regularly to clean surfaces people often touch, including door handles and hand railings. 
 
Portwine said the university also will employ a 2-pronged ventilation strategy designed to address the circulation of shared air that could potentially transmit diseases. 
 
“We will increase the amount of outside air brought into the buildings and exhaust conditioned air outdoors to the extent possible, based on weather conditions and occupant comfort,” he said. 
 
“When we are unable to bring outdoor air into a building, we have to rely on filtration.  We will run air handlers for longer periods of time when buildings are occupied for increased air circulation and filtration.” 
 
Portwine said he expects the changes to the physical setup of the campus as well as the implementation of smart practices will encourage a culture of safety that students will accept and champion. 
 
“We’re creatures of habit, but we’re constantly learning how to adapt to the pandemic,” he said. “We’re going to continue to adapt, but this is still going to feel like SVSU." 

June 26, 2020

Navigating substantial obstacles, SVSU students move forward with annual fundraiser; beneficiary announced

For the second year in a row, Saginaw Valley State University students demonstrated determination to support their community and will organize a long-standing fundraiser to benefit others, despite major hurdles.
 
SVSU’s student government – known as Student Association – today announced it selected the Bay Area Women’s Center as the community benefactor of Battle of the Valley, an annual student-run fundraiser that has raised $652,385 for nonprofits across the state since 2003. 
 
“With everything going on in the world, people can feel hopeless,” said Olivia Nelson, the Student Association philanthropy chair and lead organizer of this year’s event. “With Battle of the Valley, we want to empower and uplift people by giving them a chance to make a positive difference.” 
 
Plenty of obstacles could have derailed this year’s fundraiser, but students were resolved to keep the community-engaging SVSU tradition alive, she said. While dates and other details remain unknown, Nelson and her peers are committed to organizing the event during the 2020-21 academic year. 
 
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that ended in-person classes at SVSU and other universities in March, the Student Association organized its exhaustive search for a beneficiary largely without meeting in person. More than 40 nonprofits applied to benefit from the fundraiser this year. 
 
“The Bay Area Women’s Center stood out right off the bat in their application,” said Nelson, a psychology major from Highland. “I could see the passion coming through in their words.” 
 
The Bay City-based nonprofit offers crisis intervention, advocacy services and safe haven to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. 
 
“They deal with issues that are relevant today,” Nelson said. “So many people end up in situations where they could use the kind of services offered there. We want to support that.” 
 
For much of the SVSU fundraiser’s history, there was a competitive element. SVSU and Grand Valley State University annually raised money for each institution’s selected beneficiary, with the winning student population earning temporary possession of a trophy. The competition was scheduled during the week leading up to the football game between the two universities. 
 
But after GVSU students pulled out of the competitionlast year, SVSU students last year re-imagined the event in fall 2019 as a fundraiser without a competitive element. SVSU raised $20,302 for The Rock Center for Youth Development in Midland last year.
 
Nelson said she hopes her peers are able to raise a similar amount for the upcoming Battle of the Valley. Doing so will involve navigating new hurdles because of the pandemic. 
 
SVSU plans to resume in-class teaching in August. Many aspects of student life will look different, making it more challenging to raise funds, Nelson said. Student leaders still hope to center the week-long fundraiser around an SVSU sporting event. Student Association is remaining flexible on the dates because decisions regarding NCAA sports at the Division II level have yet to be made. 
 
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the football season, but if that doesn’t happen, we may hold it in the basketball season during the winter,” Nelson said. 
 
“And, if that doesn’t happen, we will still figure something out. Our goal is to have the fundraiser involve face-to-face interactions, but we are going to do everything possible to keep people safe. We are going to follow the university’s guidelines on safety in a way that we can still make connections.” 
 
As in years past, there will be some elements of the fundraiser hosted online, she said. Nelson hopes Battle of the Valley will retain many of its traditions including a date auction and an event that allows participants to pay money to smash a junk vehicle. 
 
In total, SVSU has raised $445,959 for nonprofits as part of the annual event since 2003. GVSU from 2003-18 raised $226,728. 
 
A complete list of the year-by-year funds raised and nonprofit beneficiaries is available at www.svsu.edu/battleofthevalley/benefactors.

June 23, 2020

SVSU police officer earns national award for response to 2019 shooting of Saginaw Township officer

A Saginaw Valley State University police officer’s quick response to a fellow law enforcer’s need for help earned him national recognition this week. 
 
Ryan Persails, of SVSU's University Police, received the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Award for Valor during a virtual awards ceremony Tuesday, June 23. The Philadelphia-based association's award annually recognizes members of college campus-based police forces who risk their lives in the line of duty. 
 
Persails’ act of heroism happened during the early morning hours of Jan. 22, 2019. He was the first person to respond to a call for help from Saginaw Township Police Officer Jeff Koenig, who was shot in the jaw and shoulder during a traffic stop in nearby Saginaw Township. 
 
Koenig survived the shooting, the gunman was apprehended hours later and then eventually sentenced to 75 years in prison. But, at time of the emergency call at 2 a.m. on that Tuesday morning, uncertainty and a determination to help a fellow officer meant “all bets were off” for Persails, he said. 
 
“In my mind, as I’m driving there, I’m thinking, ‘Is this going to be an ambush?,’” Persails said. “I was expecting the worst at first, but by the time I got there, I forgot all that. I was focused on helping Officer Koenig.” 
 
Within moments of Persails’ arrival, Saginaw Township Det. Greg Remer pulled up to the scene, Persails said. They helped their injured colleague into the back of Remer’s vehicle before it sped toward Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw. 
 
“You could tell Jeff was in pain, but it was a good sign that he was talking,” Persails said of Koenig, who had called in his own shooting to Central Dispatch earlier. “We just wanted to make sure he was calm while we were getting him to the hospital.” 
 
When they arrived at Covenant, Koenig was listed in critical condition at first. He was upgraded to stable condition and released to recover at home over the course of the next few weeks. 
 
The experience was humbling for Persails, a 10-year veteran of SVSU’s University Police force who enjoys a tight-knit relationship with his university colleagues as well as peers in the law enforcement agencies patrolling the region surrounding the campus. The agencies often collaborate and network resources, and Persails knew Koenig long before Jan. 22. 
 
Persails’ close relationship with his peers as well as his close proximity to the dangerous incident — he was patrolling the area less than five miles at the time of the shooting — put things into perspective for him. 
 
“It really opens your eyes to the kind of danger you can find yourself in as a police officer,” Persails said. “99 percent of the people we run into are good people, but there’s always that danger.” 
 
The experience was eye-opening in other ways, he said. 
 
“Everyone really came together to help, from the doctor and nurses who helped Jeff to all the businesses and people who have put together fundraisers to help him with expenses,” he said. 
 
“It’s been great, the way the community has responded to this. It’s good to know police have that kind of support here.” 

June 22, 2020

SVSU fall semester to finish through online/remote instruction

Donald Bachand PortraitThe final two weeks of the fall semester at Saginaw Valley State University will be conducted through online and remote instruction, so that students do not need to return to campus after Thanksgiving break.
 
“We want our students, faculty and staff to be safe, and this is one prudent measure we can take to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 in the event of a late fall resurgence,” said Donald Bachand, SVSU president.
 
“Most on-campus operations will continue, and we plan for academic and student support services, such as Zahnow Library, to be open after Thanksgiving, following appropriate health and safety protocols.”
 
SVSU will begin its fall semester on Monday, Aug. 31. Students living on campus will move into their residence halls on a more staggered schedule, in the interest of health and safety.
 
More information on move-in plans will be shared in early July.
 
For more information on plans for the upcoming year, including New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow (NEST) at SVSU, visit https://svsu.edu/nestplan/.
 

June 19, 2020

SVSU initiative for registered nurses ranked among state's elite academic programs

A Saginaw Valley State University online academic program that empowers working nurses with a bachelor’s degree education was recognized as one of the best of its kind in the state. 
 
SVSU’s RN to BSN (shorthand for “registered nurses” and “Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” respectively) online program recently was ranked No. 2 in the state by RegisteredNursing.org in the category of Best Online RN to BSN Programs.
 
RegisteredNursing.org is a Carlsbad, California-based organization that provides resources for prospective nurses. To determine SVSU’s ranking, RegisteredNursing.org used data from multiple sources – including the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics – as part of its methodology. 
 
Karen Brown-Fackler, the chair of SVSU’s Department of Nursing and an associate professor of nursing, said she was honored to learn about the distinction ... even though she did not entirely agree with the placement. 
 
“We think we should be ranked No. 1,” Brown-Fackler said. “We offer some great advantages. We have online classes but accessible faculty teaching the classes. Students can start the program whatever semester is best for them and take classes at their own pace.” 
 
She said other highlights of the online RN to BSN program include an adviser that helps students with admission, scheduling and academic progression. 
 
Another element she said elevates the program: Its standout faculty. For instance, Sally Decker, a professor of nursing that helped design and establish the program, recently was honored with a lifetime achievement award from American Nurses Association-Michigan in part for her contributions to helping registered nurses earn bachelor's degrees in their professional field.
 
Brown-Fackler said the RN to BSN program offers empowering coursework. 
 
“There are only five core classes and the other courses are electives they choose from, which could be graduate courses toward future programs or interesting continuing education courses relevant to working nurses,” she said. 
 
SVSU President Donald Bachand said he was proud of the university's faculty and staff for building the program and developing some of the region’s top health care professionals.
 
“Especially in times such as these, this program’s excellence is critical to the public health of our region, state, nation and world," Bachand said.
 
For more information about SVSU's RN to BSN program, go to the following URL link: www.svsu.edu/nursing/programs/rntobsn/.

June 18, 2020

SVSU professor earns lifetime achievement award after decades-long dedication to nursing education

With a deep sense of the history of modern nursing and an understanding of the profession’s importance during this critical moment, Sally Decker’s recent recognition as a statewide lifetime achievement award recipient was especially meaningful to the well-decorated Saginaw Valley State University educator. 
 
“This is both the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale and the time of a pandemic,” Decker said. “The world is recognizing the knowledge and compassion of nurses and all other members of the healthcare team, and all of them deserve this award. I am especially honored to receive the award at this point in history.” 
 
The SVSU professor of nursing received the lifetime achievement honor from the American Nurses Association-Michigan
 
“We all recognize the need to nurture and educate the next generation to be able to care for and protect the vulnerable,” she said. “I appreciate all of the support and encouragement I have received from professors, colleagues, and healthcare team members over the years.” 
 
The award is a well-deserved honor for Decker, her colleagues say. 
 
“She has been unwavering in her lifelong commitment and dedication to the nursing profession and to nursing education,” said Karen Brown-Fackler, an SVSU associate professor of nursing. 
 
“Sally is a continuous learner. She not only stays current in the content of her own courses; she sends other faculty articles related to courses that they teach as well. Although she is the most senior faculty member in the department, she often accepts the biggest work load with the most course preparations.” 
 
The lifetime achievement award is the latest validation of Decker’s decades-long dedication to providing nursing education to others. Decker received SVSU's highest faculty honors, winning the Landee Award for Teaching Excellence in 2002 and the Warrick Award for Excellence in Research in 1991. In 2018, she was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholar award, which provided her the opportunity to instruct faculty members at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland on how best to utilize simulation technology in nursing education. 
 
Decker began her professional life practicing nursing while serving her country. As a captain in the U.S. Army, she served first as a staff nurse and later as head nurse at the U.S. Army Womack Hospital at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1972. 
 
She joined the ranks of higher education in 1978 as a research assistant and nurse clinician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Decker earned a master’s degree in nursing from the institution. She also received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1990. 
 
She joined SVSU’s faculty in 1980. 
 
Her four decades at the campus have been defined in part by her passion for bringing a global perspective of nursing to her students. She has led SVSU students on study abroad experiences in England, Australia and Nepal. Those experiences focused on the differences in health care in different nations and cultures. 
 
Her academic interests extend to providing education to her peers overseas. One month before the pandemic reached Michigan, Decker in February 2020 traveled to Trinity and St. James Hospital in Dublin to participate in a research project relating to interprofessional learning. 
 
One of her current research interests was inspired by knowledge gained during her experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Dublin. Decker is researching how changes in the levels of moisture beneath the skin can indicate the need for medical intervention to prevent pressure ulcers. 
 
Another focus of interest in Decker’s professional life involves the simulation technology-based education she introduced to her peers in Dublin. She was the first member of SVSU’s faculty to earn certification in simulation-based education. 
 
Decker over the years has played a leading role in developing SVSU curriculum for nursing education courses, colleagues say. Those academic programs include both a bachelor’s and master’s degree-level nursing program, a doctor of nursing practice program as well as an initiative tailored specifically for providing working registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. 

 

June 16, 2020

Toy-lending program to aid childhood development in Midland, say SVSU organizers

Saginaw Valley State University and the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library will team up to support the development of children, including those with special needs. 
 
With help from a $5,626 grant from the Midland Area Community Foundation, two SVSU educators plan to establish a toy-lending initiative at the Midland-based library as early as fall 2020. However, organizers say the community’s recovery from a May flood could delay the implementation. 
 
The program would make available toys for all children up to 5 years old including toys designed specifically for children with special needs. Each family will be able to “check out” two toys at a time from the library for a period of 21 days. 
 
Lisa Brewer and Aricka Schweitzer, assistant professors of occupational therapy at SVSU, will organize the program. 
 
“So many toys are played with and then abandoned, so this program will offer the ability for families to ‘try before they buy,’ as some adaptable toys can be very costly,” Schweitzer said. 
 
“Especially with the challenges presented with the pandemic and now flooding to Midland County, this program can assist families that may have lost toys or cannot afford toys to play with their children. Hopefully, this program will not only enhance play and development of the children in Midland County, but also continue to show the importance of family relationships that can be built around play.” 
 
The SVSU educators plan to provide manuals with each toy that show families the unique ways they can be utilized. 
 
"Increasing play opportunities for young children can strengthen developmental foundations in a variety of domains, including social and emotional skills, cognitive skills, and physical skills,” Brewer said. 
 
“Play is beneficial for all children, but it is especially important for children with special needs who often have limited access to engaging and appropriate toys that they can operate and manipulate independently. I believe this collaboration will help families to support the development of their child or children by matching toys to specific needs and, ultimately, providing opportunities for engagement and fun." 
 
Schweitzer said the program hits home – literally – for her. 
 
"Growing up and now raising my children in Midland County, we often frequent the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library for all of the great resources they have, but now that they will offer a toy program as well, I plan on recommending it to everyone I know,” she said. 
 
The grant provides funds to cover the cost of a variety of accessible toys, thereby increasing opportunities for play and learning, organizers say. 

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