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September 4, 2020
SVSU faculty trains Midland educators on use of online teaching tool
A connection between personal friends kick-started a professional network between Saginaw Valley State University and Midland Public Schools that organizers say will benefit education at all levels in the region.
SVSU faculty in early August began training Midland educators on how to use Canvas, a learning management software program. Utilized by SVSU for years, 14 members of the university faculty hosted group training sessions for nearly 80 middle school and high school educators.
“Our teachers were able to ask professionals who use it in their teaching daily what the best practical uses of Canvas would be to them,” said Steven Poole, curriculum specialist for auxiliary education at Midland Public Schools.
“The value to Midland Public Schools teachers is their knowledge growth in Canvas and gaining a network for future questions that they could ask the professors. Our teachers will be using this knowledge with their Canvas development this school year.”
Both Midland Public Schools and SVSU returned to in-classroom teaching this week for the first time since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Michigan. The experience in the months since then underlined a need to strengthen educators’ knowledge of online teaching tools such as Canvas, say organizers of the collaboration.
The origins of that collaboration began with a friendship between Matthew Vannette, an SVSU professor of physics, and Ana Geib, a Spanish teacher at Midland High School. Geib asked Vannette to help her better understand Canvas. The request began a series of events that led to a collaborative learning experience involving nearly 100 educators from both institutions.
“That is how society functions, or at least it is how I would like society to function: do what you can, when you can,” Vannette said. “Education across all levels is a social good, and it only works if we support it.”
The participating faculty from SVSU hosted a series of seven training sessions for Midland educators teaching in subjects related to business, engineering, English, kinesiology, math and science, music, and social studies. Up to 24 Midland teachers attended each session.
While those sessions took place in early August, organizers say educators formed a network they will maintain moving forward, including when questions arise throughout the school year.
Participating SVSU faculty members enjoyed empowering fellow educators in navigating a new learning system, which strengthened their own curriculum-building skills.
“Throughout the pandemic, scholars and musicians have come together like never before, sharing ideas and trying to solve problems so that we could all move forward in our teaching and music making,” said Norman Wika, an SVSU associate professor of music who provided Canvas training.
“I personally benefited from knowledge and ideas that I collected throughout the summer. Without that open interaction, I'm not sure I would have as good a plan as I do for this fall.”
September 3, 2020
SVSU, STARS collaboration inspires bus mural featuring Saginaw poet Theodore Roethke
A mural celebrating Saginaw and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke will be painted on a local bus, thanks to a partnership with Saginaw Valley State University’s Community Writing Center and the Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services (STARS).
Pauly Everett, a professional muralist and Flint native, plans to paint a mural which covers an entire STARS bus on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 2-3. Everett expects the painting session to extend from about 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. both days in the parking lot of the Saginaw Art Museum, 1126 N. Michigan. There, community members can watch the creation of the mural from start to finish, he said.
This mural – funded by STARS, the Michigan Humanities Council and Eastern Michigan Council of Governments – is part of the Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival, tentatively scheduled for March 19-22, 2021.
“STARS Executive Director Glenn Steffens had the idea to bring art to our riders through a bus mural a year or two ago, and we are thrilled to see this project take shape,” said Jamie Forbes, STARS director of external affairs.
“This week also marks the return of bus routes since closing due to COVID concerns in March, so this is an exciting week for us.”
The mural will feature a quote from one of Roethke’s poems along with an image of the Saginaw-born poet, who lived from 1908 to 1963. Other images will include wildlife and iconic locations of the city of Saginaw.
“Theodore Roethke was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who grew up in Saginaw, right on Gratiot Avenue,” said Helen Raica-Klotz, SVSU Community Writing Center co-director and chair of the Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival. “Much of his early work centers on this city and his life here.”
Everett said he was fascinated by the concept of creating a mobile mural.
“I’m excited to bring the Roethke lines to visual fruition here in the City of Saginaw,” Everett said. “I’m beyond thrilled to bring my talents to create something in memory of the great American poet for the people of Saginaw to experience on a daily basis.”
When completed, the bus will be put back on its regular route and can be viewed driving throughout the city.
In addition, the bus will be on display at the “Poetry in the Garden” event taking place Thursday, Sept. 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Saginaw Art Museum.
For more information about this mural project or the Theodore Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival, please contact Helen Raica-Klotz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (989) 964-6062.
August 18, 2020
SVSU launches contact tracer program on eve of fall semester; local health care agencies provide support
When Moregan LaMarr recently began her role as a contact tracer searching for potential cases of COVID-19 at Saginaw Valley State University, she was motivated by her determination to provide a strong support system and sympathetic ear to a community she knows well. LaMarr, after all, is a two-time SVSU graduate, having earned her master’s degree in social work only last year.
“I know how they must feel,” LaMarr said. “These are students who are trying to have a normal college experience and yet still figure out how to be safe and take care of their mental health as well. We are going to help them with that.”
“We” refers to the freshly-established SVSU contact tracing team. It’s a group tasked in part with identifying and supporting confirmed or probable positive COVID-19 cases among the students, faculty and staff that will return for in-classroom instruction Aug. 31 at SVSU. Their work also involves contacting and supporting others on campus who may have been exposed to those individuals.
LaMarr serves as one of the group’s leaders who was hired through a partnership with regional health care organizations. She works as a case manager and social worker with Saginaw Community Mental Health, although much of her work supporting ailing individuals happens at the Covenant HealthCare Emergency Care Center. In addition to earning her master’s degree at SVSU in 2019, she received her bachelor’s degree in social work from the university two years earlier.
She leads the group alongside Julie Newton, an infection control practitioner with MidMichigan Health and a member of the Michigan Society of Infected Prevention and Control. The two are supported by SVSU staff and faculty as well as a team of 36 students chosen to serve as NEST ambassadors for the university’s comprehensive program (known as the Cardinal NEST Plan
, an acronym for "New Expectations for a Safer Tomorrow") aimed at promoting a safe return to college for the SVSU campus community. SVSU secured private donations from alumni, local foundations, and others to support the student positions.
Students largely begin moving into residential halls Monday, Aug. 24. Seven days later, in-classroom instruction resumes on campus for the first time since SVSU transitioned to online and remote learning in March.
Although her experience at SVSU marks the first time LaMarr has served as a contact tracer, she is utilizing years of experience in crisis management while working as a case manager and social worker.
Newton has worked as a contact tracer for MidMichigan Health since before COVID-19 arrived in America. Over the course of a decade, her job in part involved tracing the spread of illnesses such as influenza and Hepatitis A among patients as well as health care staff exposed to those patients in the region.
“SVSU is a community in itself, and that community impacts the surrounding area,” Newton said. “By keeping the campus safe, it’s helping the whole community stay safe. Also, you want students to have the experience of being on a college campus, and keeping them healthy is very important.”
The students working with LaMarr and Newton eventually will serve as contact tracers. A number of those students recently received training in the work through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; the rest of the group will complete the training, as well.
During the first weeks of the upcoming fall semester, those students will be tasked with engaging with their peers on campus in an effort to “change the culture” of how individuals view dealing with illness. Andrea Frederick, SVSU associate professor of nursing and one of the faculty members assisting the newly-established group, said changing that culture will be key to the contact tracing program’s success.
“The American ethic is that, ‘If I’m sick, I’m strong enough and can push through it to go to school,’ but we need to change that when it comes to this virus,” Frederick said. “It has to be OK to stay home if you are sick and it has to be OK to admit if you made a mistake and may have exposed others. We have to be OK with being honest about that.”
Also key to the contact tracing is the technological infrastructure built to support it.
The contact tracing process begins with an app, CampusClear; SVSU students, staff and faculty must self-report their health status prior to entering campus, using the app. When the report indicates an individual experienced an unexplained symptom associated with COVID-19 or experienced close contact with a confirmed or probable case, that individual will be prompted to call a Covenant HealthCare-operated hotline. Based on an assessment made during that phone call, suspected cases would be forwarded to SVSU’s contact tracing team.
The campus community member then would be contacted by a member of the contact tracing group for support and direction. If the individual tested positive for COVID-19, contact tracers would initiate the identification of others who were potentially exposed to the virus.
“There’s a nuance to contact tracing,” Frederick said. “If you discover that you have the virus and you went to your history class yesterday, the contact tracer would want to determine if everyone was wearing a mask and maintaining 6 feet of social distance. When people are following the proper safety protocols, the risk of transmission is quite low.”
Contact tracers also will be empowered to provide their contacts with resources, ranging from health care-related phone numbers to much-needed supplies.
“For instance, we want to make sure that someone in quarantine or isolation has enough food in the refrigerator,” Frederick said.
LaMarr said she and her team will also provide emotional support for those in need.
“We understand how scary those situations can be, and we want to let every student know we’re in this together,” she said. “I will want them to know they’re not alone. I know I would want that.”
August 17, 2020
Thrust into the fire: Fresh from graduation, SVSU alumna felt prepared for nursing career that began in pandemic ‘hot zone’
Haley Ludviksen was unsure about her professional aspirations after high school, but she was certain that continuing her education without pause was necessary to discover her calling and achieve her goals. She found her passion at Saginaw Valley State University, which led her to saving lives on the frontline of a global pandemic immediately after graduation.
“It was important for me to go to college because I knew getting a higher education would allow me to reach the professional goals I’d like to,” said the Cadillac native. “When I first started, I didn’t know what I wanted to go into and spent a lot of time developing my interests and myself as a whole through extracurricular involvements SVSU had to offer.”
Ludviksen recognized that SVSU was the university where opportunity met affordability. She joined the ranks of the 90% of students at SVSU who receive a scholarship or financial assistance other than loans.
Her drive earned her SVSU’s most prestigious scholarship. She quickly learned that her education was a worthwhile investment in her overall growth.
“I chose SVSU initially because I got the President’s Scholarship,” Ludviksen said. “However, the small class sizes and feeling like a name – not a number – made me fall in love with the place that helped me become the person I am today.”
Ludviksen immersed herself in all the opportunities that college had to offer, engaging in many registered student organizations. Her involvement in these programs unleashed her potential both professionally and personally, as well as helped her discover her passion for nursing.
“Once I joined more clubs and groups and started working on campus, I was able to start figuring out what I really wanted, which led me to nursing,” the 2019 SVSU alumna said.
“I will always credit the ability for me to get involved with special interest recreational and academic groups at SVSU— because of campus recreation and student life— as the biggest impact on me developing into the person I am today. It took me awhile to find my passion, but being able to become a leader and critical thinker outside of the classroom made it so much easier to do so in my profession.”
Ludviksen graduated from SVSU in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and shortly after, began her career as a registered nurse on a medical progressive care unit at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak in southeast Michigan. Some of her first experiences there came when that region was considered a “hot zone” during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan.
She was immediately faced with the immense challenge of combating a worldwide health crisis, but Ludviksen felt prepared to overcome obstacles because of the skills she learned both in and out of the classroom.
“I started my career in April, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was truly just thrust into the fire of frontline healthcare work,” she said. “However, I have learned so very much and have been very grateful for the experiences and patients I have had so far.”
Ludviksen’s college journey was not always easy, but it placed her on the path to success and empowered her to continue her education even further. She is dedicated to helping and inspiring others, and she plans to one day become either a holistic nurse practitioner or a professor.
The support she received at SVSU pushed her to pursue her goals and overcome obstacles, as well as advance to the next level of her life and career.
“If something is standing in the way of you attending college, my advice is to talk to someone who went. See what their struggles and obstacles were, because we all had them in our own shape or form,” she said.
“There are so many people I know who paid for college on their own with grants and scholarships, had children in college and still finished, worked full-time in college and still finished. The support you get at the university level is truly unmatched, and everyone — professors, faculty, and even fellow students — do whatever it takes to help you succeed. It’s such a community.”
As Ludviksen looks forward to her future, she also takes a moment to reflect on the experiences that brought her to where she is today and the university opportunities that made her success possible.
“College was the most impactful and life-changing experience of my life, and I think most of that is attributed to SVSU,” she said.
“It’s a special place, and a sacred place in my heart; a place I want everyone to be able to experience.
August 12, 2020
Partnership expands Covenant HealthCare’s support for SVSU as fall semester nears
Saginaw Valley State University’s commitment to providing students a safe return to campus next month is bolstered by the institution’s strengthened partnership with Covenant HealthCare.
The partnership predates the pandemic that led the university — and others across the nation — to suspend in-classroom learning in March, but the emergence of COVID-19 provided impetus for SVSU to seek additional services and consultation from the Saginaw-based health care provider. As SVSU prepares to return students to in-classroom learning for the fall semester, university leaders credit Covenant HealthCare for providing support that will allow the campus to safely reopen, including the guidance of health experts and a health-related telephone hotline for students.
“We were looking for direction from a medical perspective that would help us navigate through these challenging circumstances,” said Sue Brasseur, one of the SVSU leaders critical to establishing the renewed partnership. “Really, our underlying concern is the safety and well-being of every member of the SVSU community, and with this partnership, I’m confident we will do the best we can. Covenant has really been here for us.”
Before the pandemic, the SVSU and Covenant HealthCare partnership included the establishment of a Covenant MedExpress site located on the university’s campus. The stand-alone medical facility resides on the west corner of SVSU’s property, near the intersection of Bay and Pierce roads. It remains open for both members of the campus community as well as the general public.
This new addition to the partnership brings consultation from Covenant HealthCare staff, including an SVSU alumnus. Dr. Matthew Deibel, medical director of the Covenant HealthCare Regional Emergency Care Center, received a master’s degree in health administration and leadership from SVSU in 2018.
“He’s been really valuable whenever we have a health-related question,” Brasseur said.
Consultation from Deibel and colleagues at Covenant HealthCare helped SVSU leaders determine specific policy decisions for the fall, including advice on university decisions relating to re-organizing furniture in campus spaces to create more room to practice social distancing. The consultation helped SVSU interpret regulations from state and federal government health agencies.
The SVSU and Covenant HealthCare partnership also has provided campus leaders with access to other health care-savvy personnel. Officials from both organizations talk regularly about ways in which the university can further strengthen campus safety.
Such discussions led to SVSU providing its staff and faculty with access to Covenant HealthCare services focusing specifically on health-related workplace issues. Covenant HealthCare helped SVSU as the university developed a self-screening process for faculty and staff. Soon, SVSU will finalize a self-screening process for students as well.
While faculty, staff and students will have access to an SVSU-based information phone line tasked with answering questions about the fall semester plans, any health-related questions will be forwarded to a Covenant HealthCare-based hotline staffed by medical experts.
An SVSU task force dedicated to health and safety issues for the fall semester also benefited from access to Covenant HealthCare experts.
Brasseur said SVSU leaders have relied heavily on Covenant HealthCare and general guidance provided by other agencies, both local and national. University officials regularly consult with staff at the Saginaw County Health Department on COVID-19-related matters in the region. And SVSU planners have utilized guidelines from both the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when applying modifications to campus policies.
“The bottom line is, we’re prepared for the fall semester,” Brasseur said, “and we owe a lot to Covenant HealthCare and other organizations for helping us prepare for it.”
August 5, 2020
Once determined to continue his education without pause, SVSU alumnus now thrives at Dow
Kevin Finley, a 2017 alumnus of Saginaw Valley State University, is proof that challenges can be overcome with drive and opportunity.
The Flint native was determined to create a better future for himself and his community, despite facing adversity at a young age.
"I was beaten up really badly in high school," Finley said. "I was really, really frustrated but then I realized, it's not about who does what to you. It's about your response. I can say, 'I don't want to see that happen to someone else so let me show people that there's more to life than negativity.' I don't want to let stuff like that hinder me. I just want to stay positive."
A first-generation college student, Finley defied limits to overcome obstacles and forge his own path to success. After high school, he was determined to continue his education without pause, enrolling at SVSU to pursue a career in accounting.
“Growing up in the inner city you can get distracted by other things, but going to college was always important to me. I saw people in my community grow up without opportunities to do what they wanted to do,” he said.
Going to college opened new doors for Finley, and the opportunities he had at SVSU helped him to push his limits and better prepare for a successful career.
Finley took every opportunity to get involved with student organizations, on-campus jobs, and programs of distinction at SVSU, including studying abroad to Asia with the university’s Roberts Fellowship Program, which annually provides year-long leadership development opportunities for a select group of students. The program helped him expand his worldview and open his mind to new possibilities.
He also took advantage of networking opportunities and practice interviews through SVSU’s Office of Career Services, which helped him make connections and secure an internship at Dow, a Midland-based global corporation and one of the region’s largest employers. His perseverance and hard work paid off with a full-time job immediately after he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting.
He recalls how the leadership and communication skills that he developed at SVSU helped to grow his confidence and prepare him for his professional duties, including leadings events at Dow.
“These resources were really impactful from a professional standpoint. I really appreciate SVSU and I’ll always be grateful for them helping me learn who I am and how to lead,” he said.
Finley began his career at Dow as a financial accountant, and through his dedication and determination, was recently promoted to the corporate audit department of the organization.
He hopes to continue the trajectory of his career success and is diligently working toward his next professional milestone— becoming a certified public accountant. Finley has already passed his first exam and is studying for the following three in order to complete his certification.
Finley became a mentor to other students during his time at SVSU, and he has continued this tradition of mentorship into his professional life as well. He hopes to encourage and inspire others to pursue their passions and go after what they want to achieve. As he learned first-hand from his own pursuits, following a high school diploma immediately with a college education at SVSU provided him with the momentum needed to earn him a full-time job that fulfills him.
“If you really want to do something, take a chance on yourself and believe in yourself,” Finley said. “It’s a learning opportunity, whatever you go through.”
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."
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