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October 21, 2016

ROSE BUTTERFLY: The fall and rise of Jaeleen Davis

By Justin Engel

‌‌‌Jaeleen Davis at first didn’t notice how her blood seemed to spill into the shape of a butterfly on the spot where she fell from the sky.

Her mother snapped photos of the curious scene days after Davis dropped nearly 30 feet onto the concrete floor of an empty outdoor amphitheater on Detroit’s riverfront. Overwhelmed with agony from a fractured vertebrae and the bone protruding from her wrist, the 21-year-old wasn’t aware of the pattern forming in red beneath her broken body in the moments after the fall. Photos provided her with that visual much later. 

Other details did not elude Davis on Saturday, July 16, 2016. She recalled plenty in her account of the day: The Hollywood Vampires concert she attended at DTE Energy Music Theater earlier that evening; the friends after the show inviting her to join them for a riverside stroll in Detroit; the way the Canadian lights sparkled against the water; how the night’s setting grew increasingly dim as the group drifted further from the cityscape’s glow; the grass crunching softly beneath her feet while she walked; the sudden, shocking absence of any surface at all beneath her feet; and the fall. That deep, frightening fall. 

“I don’t remember the impact, but I do remember laying there, seeing a light and thinking, ‘This is the light people talk about when they recall near-death experiences,’” Davis said. “I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m gone.’”

The source of that light, she eventually realized, was a distant bulb in the dark. Still, Davis wasn’t certain she was alive until a responding ambulance further illuminated the surroundings. 

Medics spent minutes stabilizing her. Surgeons spent hours resetting split bones. Davis spent weeks in hospital rooms and rehabilitation clinics before medical experts cleared her to walk again.

“The doctor said that fall should have killed me, or if I had fallen slightly different, that I would have been paralyzed,” Davis said.

The doctor also said that Davis should consider pausing all her previous plans — and there were plenty — in favor of months of rest and recovery. 

The SVSU communication and criminal justice double major was due to study abroad in Sydney, Australia from February to July 2017, and she had been on schedule to graduate that same December. She was an active advocate for a nonprofit organization benefiting sick and ailing children, with a big fundraiser set for September 2016. She placed in the top 10 during her fourth consecutive appearance at the Miss Michigan pageant five weeks before her fall, and a fifth campaign for the crown was in the planning stages. And her ambitions as an actress landed Davis a small role on an NBC primetime TV show in January 2016. She was hoping to capitalize on the exposure with more acting gigs.

Davis feared following her doctor’s advice of pausing those plans for months meant considerably delaying or outright derailing the freight train-like propulsion she spent a lifetime gathering en route to accomplishing her goals. Davis’ response to the prescription: “No, thank you,” she said. “If I have to show up in a wheelchair and a neck brace, I’ll do it. This isn’t going to stop me at all.”

Family and friends weren’t surprised by her persevering flair. Some suggested her injuries would accelerate her life’s momentum. For those people, such a prediction was not empty encouragement of a youthful naiveté they secretly doubted; such a prediction was backed by years of evidence.

The strength of Davis’ conviction, after all, was defined by the way she turned a childhood disease that robbed her of her hair — and, for a time, her spirit — into a source of empowerment and inspiration.


The first fall of Jaeleen Davis — the one that left her largely bald for life — managed to significantly interrupt the thrust of her earliest aspirations.

Born the only child of Lisa and David Davis on March 3, 1995 in Saginaw, she showed a passion for performance arts as early as the age of 3. That was the year of one of her first memories and favorite possessions: A Fisher-Price toy stage — barely taller than her — that she used as a backdrop prop for at-home renditions of songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the Christian hymn, “Jesus Loves Me.”

“I always made sure mom and dad were there, and my stuffed animals too,” Davis said. “I would open the curtain to this little stage, sing, and then go back behind the curtain when I was done. That was the first step.”

The second: Davis’ mother drove her to Saginaw’s Pit & Balcony Theatre to audition for an upcoming production of “Babes in Toyland,” directed by Ric Roberts, now an SVSU professor of theatre. The 5-year-old earned a small role singing in the chorus.

“It was such a blast,” she said. “That’s what initially hooked me on becoming a performer.”

Davis continued to audition and nab roles in theatre productions across Saginaw, Bay City and Midland until her parents felt she was ready for a new outlet. While browsing a magazine, her mother discovered a casting call for a child role in a 2002 Broadway production of “Oliver!” She didn’t hesitate to sign up her daughter for auditions. The 7-year-old spent weeks preparing. Roberts, impressed with the young protégé’s ambition for the arts, coached her for the opportunity.

“She sought out criticism of her work in ways that were well beyond her years,” Roberts said. “She constantly was working on improving her work on every level.”

When Davis arrived in New York, she was more than ready for the spotlight.

“I remember they wanted me to sing a few verses from ‘Consider Yourself,’” Davis said of the bouncy ditty from the first act of “Oliver!”

“I started to sing the whole song.”

She won a role as a chorus boy. Rehearsals were scheduled to begin in a few months. Davis returned to Michigan to prepare for the temporary move to the Big Apple with her mother.

“While I was waiting to go back to New York, I started to lose my hair,” she said. “It’s like I saw this dream starting to come to life, and then I felt it slipping away.”

The slip started on what began as an idyllic Christmas Day in 2002. Davis awoke to her parents gifting her a black Chihuahua puppy. She played merrily with the newest addition to the Saginaw Township household. She spent the morning with her family, basking in the warm holiday glow of the moment and the prospects of her theatrical future.

Her expanding world collapsed later in the aftermath of a bath as her mother brushed Davis’ hair. It was their daily routine, but on that day, something was different.

“The first thing I noticed was the hair pooling against the drain,” Davis said. “Then I remember turning around, and there was more hair on the brush than on my head.”

A few strokes of the comb dislodged large clumps of hair, and before daughter or mother realized it, Davis was nearly bald. What remained on her scalp fell out on its own before her 8th birthday. By then, doctors identified the culprit of her condition: alopecia universalis, a rare and severe form of a disease that convinced her immune system to attack and extract every strand of hair on her body.

The diagnosis was no death sentence. Medical experts told her she would suffer no physical consequences except for a lifetime without hair, although small patches grew back during puberty. 

Her spirit sustained a deep damage, though. The wound festered for years.

Depression set in immediately. Upset by her changing appearance, the once-cheery extrovert grew introverted and withdrawn, leading her family to cancel her Broadway role.

“I don’t think I cared at that point about the play,” Davis said. “Even though I would have been healthy enough, my mental health was not well.”

Social rejection became an issue early on. Davis, at the time of her diagnosis, was a third grade student at Saginaw’s Handley Elementary School, where she once enjoyed learning and socializing. Before the end of the school year, she was completely bald, hiding her exposed scalp beneath bandanas and cheap wigs. Friends turned on her.

“They called me all sorts of names,” she said.

Davis transferred between multiple schools, stopped auditioning for theatre roles and quit Girl Scouts, isolating herself from her peers during those formative years. She spent much of her time after school at home. Her parents later divorced, splitting that home in two. 

“I didn’t feel like I deserved to be here anymore,” she said. “I didn’t want to be me. I wasn’t OK. There were a lot of wasted years in there.”

Then she found inspiration.


“When I met her, she was not a happy kid,” Maggie Varney, founder and CEO of Wigs 4 Kids, recalled of the first time Davis walked into the nonprofit’s office in 2006. “She wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.”

Davis, then 11, was skeptical of the St. Clair Shores-based organization, which provided pricey wigs for free to children suffering from medical conditions that caused hair loss.

Her attitude upon arriving at Wigs 4 Kids wasn’t unusual, Varney said. Few organizations specializing in wig production were prepared for young clientele, let alone children ailing psychologically. As a result, fitting a head for a hairpiece — a process wig producers often asked clients to perform using self-help kits — sometimes proved humiliating for children. Davis experienced such embarrassment during earlier attempts to find a suitable hairpiece.

Wigs 4 Kids, on the other hand, attempted to create a comforting experience by also providing educational and professional guidance, a facility featuring a home-like atmosphere, children’s events and a network for families sharing similar circumstances.

“It’s not just about hair,” Varney said. “It’s all about social acceptance. That’s what we try to create for our kids. They don’t really know this is therapy. They’re just busy having a great time, being a kid, being creative and relating to others.”

Wigs 4 Kids helped heal Davis psychologically, but it wasn’t an immediate fix. A rare smile appeared the first time she fastened a hairpiece to her head there. She later attended one of the nonprofit’s social gatherings. Then another, and another. She eventually made regular eye contact with Varney. Hello and goodbye hugs became routine for the pair. 

Varney gradually chipped away at the walls Davis built around herself following her hair loss. A public breakthrough — away from the Wigs 4 Kids center — came years later when the 13-year-old decided to enter the Bay City Mall-hosted 2009 Sunburst Beauty Pageant.

“I just wanted to see how I would do,” said Davis, who hid from judges the fact her hair was a wig.

She won the contest. Davis, though, was most satisfied with the victory claimed in one of the competition’s sub-categories: Best hair.

“That was a defining moment for me,” she said. “That was my real hair to them. I realized, a hairpiece can fix a child who is aching to feel normal again. I felt normal — I am normal — because of a hairpiece.”

After that, she began competing in more pageants, no longer withholding that she wore a hairpiece. Instead, she embraced her Wigs 4 Kids experience as part of her platform campaign. That tradition continued during her Miss Michigan appearances.

She championed the nonprofit in other ways, too. Davis became a mentor to the children who were aided by Wigs 4 Kids. She supported fundraisers that paid for the expensive hairpieces.
She attended Lansing press conferences outside the State Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass a Wigs 4 Kids-endorsed bill requiring private insurance companies to cover costs for hairpieces of Michigan children in need.

Her rediscovered confidence influenced success in other aspects of life, renewing her passion for education as well as the arts.

Excelling academically, she enrolled in SVSU’s Great Lakes Bay Early College program at 16 while still attending Standish-Sterling High School. Later, she performed research with advisor James Bowers, SVSU assistant professor of criminal justice, on crime in colleges. In September 2015, she presented her paper at the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association Conference, where she was approached by graduate school recruiters.

Davis was unsure if she would take one of them up on their offer after graduation. If she followed that route, her plan would involve pursuing a career as an FBI analyst.

Or she could play one on TV. Davis in recent years returned to acting. Represented by Bravo Talent Agency, she nabbed a role in a Dell computer TV advertisement in 2014. She was also cast in a small part in NBC’s primetime police drama, “Chicago PD.” 

In the episode titled “Now I’m God,” which aired in January 2016, Davis portrayed a cancer patient defrauded by a doctor. She wore no wig for the role. The barely-there hair on her head was her own. She also played a cancer patient in the Dell ad. Davis said she likely nabbed both roles because of her condition. She embraced the idea that alopecia universalis could play a significant role in her acting career.

“What I thought was a curse was actually a blessing,” she said. “It’s opened the door for me to do things I’ve always wanted to do.”


‌Maggie Varney cried the Sunday she learned of Davis’ near-fatal fall. Then Davis’ mother, who delivered the news to Varney, quickly conveyed the day’s second message: “Jaeleen wants you to know she will have to reschedule her Monday appointment at Wigs 4 Kids.”

Tears turned to laughter.

“Jaeleen didn’t even know if she would be able to walk again at that point, and here she is, staying on top of her calendar,” Varney said.

“Can you understand the tenacity and the chutzpah it takes to do something like that, to be that way. She is a real person and she has her struggles, but she turns getting knocked down into getting back up like no one you’ve seen.”

Varney counted herself among those who believed Davis would make good on her goal of bouncing back strong from her injuries.

“Knowing Jaeleen, she will find a way to take this and turn it into something that will benefit herself and others,” Varney said. “She has a very different way of looking at things than most people.”

That way of looking at things extended to her view of the bloodied imprint she left behind on a cold concrete floor in Detroit. Others might have seen such a scene and recognized it as some random-shaped splotch of rose-red gore. In the Rorschach test of her life, though, Jaeleen Davis saw something quite different down there. She saw a butterfly, its wings spread, symbolic for her of the strength needed to lift her up from where she had fallen.

It wouldn’t be the first time she achieved such flight.

October 20, 2016

SVSU partners with CMU College of Medicine

A new cooperative agreement will grant Saginaw Valley State University premedical students early assurance of admission to the Central Michigan University College of Medicine through the Early Assurance Program.

"We're very excited about this partnership, which will strengthen our relationship with a recognized and respected university. It will provide an enhanced opportunity for SVSU's premedical students who demonstrate a desire to practice medicine in Michigan with an emphasis on rural and underserved regions," said CMU College of Medicine Dean Dr. George E. Kikano.

The agreement — signed Oct. 19 — will enhance opportunities for SVSU premed students to navigate more easily through the highly competitive CMU College of Medicine admissions process by:

•    Waiving supplemental application fees;
•    Processing endorsed students on an earlier admissions timeline;
•    Facilitating engagement opportunities between SVSU premed students and existing CMU College of Medicine students; and
•    Reserving up to three positions for endorsed SVSU students to be admitted.

This is the same agreement the College of Medicine has in place with CMU, giving both Saginaw Valley State University and CMU premed students the same opportunity to compete for admission.

"It's just one more way we will be achieving our mission to produce physicians with a passion for serving the people of Michigan who need them most," Kikano said.

Students will be required to meet the College of Medicine's academic standards to participate in the EAP, which is designed as a three-year pilot.

"We're proud to offer outstanding undergraduate preparation in our curriculum and in our advising to empower students to gain admission to medical school," said SVSU President Donald J. Bachand. "We look forward to partnering with CMU's new College of Medicine to identify our students who align with their core values and mission. Those values may be displayed by virtue of being a first-generation college student, graduating from a low-income high school, graduating from a medically underserved urban or rural area, or demonstrating an interest in a high-need medical specialty area."

The CMU College of Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of students in 2013, which will graduate in May 2017. The college now has a full complement of students among all four years of study, with 80 percent of students coming from the state of Michigan.

October 19, 2016

SVSU to host Advocates for Latino Student Advancement Conference

Saginaw Valley State University will host some 500 high school students from across Michigan for the 14th annual Advocates for Latino Student Advancement in Michigan Education (ALSAME) Conference Friday, Oct. 21. The event will be held in SVSU’s Ryder Center and Curtiss Hall; it runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event will feature keynote speaker Carlos Ojeda Jr., founder of CoolSpeak: The Youth Engagement Company, at around 2:40 p.m. A former college administrator, Ojeda focuses on teaching students across the country that their voices can be powerful through events meant to both educate and empower them.

ALSAME is a non-profit organization that works to aid Latino students in their college endeavors. In bringing high school students to different universities across the state of Michigan, the organization gives them the opportunity to be introduced to a collegiate setting and equips them with information and training regarding college and career readiness. The theme of the conference is “Embracing Our Heritage and Achieving Success for ME.” Workshop presenters will include SVSU faculty members, staff, students, and community members, as well as ALSAME members.

The organization advocates for the involvement of parents, teachers, advisors and counselors in preparing Latino students for academic success. The conference will provide information regarding student admission, financial aid, career and housing information as well as special interest opportunities for Latino students.

The conference will give visiting students the chance to tour the SVSU campus and participate in several workshops throughout the day. Lunch and transportation will be provided.

Sponsors of the ALSAME conference include SVSU, Eastern Michigan University GEAR UP, Grand Valley State University GEAR UP, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the Saginaw Community Foundation and the Imlay City School District. For registration information, please contact Patricia Young at

October 19, 2016

Reflections exclusive: Gene Hamilton muses on 47-year SVSU career

By Jan Poppe

The following profile appears in the fall 2016 edition of Reflections magazine. Following the profile is online exclusive material featuring a timeline of Gene Hamilton's career and his thoughts on aspects of his professional life.

There are two kinds of people who say “yes” to a challenge. One reluctantly says “yes” out of obligation. The other enthusiastically says “yes” out of faith.

In his 47 years at SVSU, Gene Hamilton showcased his faith in the institution as he answered “yes” to multiple challenges, charges and positions given to him, knowing that the request was always intended to be in the best interest of the university, for the good of its students and the good of the community. That faith and his success in executing it were recognized in June 2016, when Hamilton — surrounded by family, cohorts and supporters — witnessed the renaming of Cardinal Gym to Hamilton Gymnasium, days before his retirement.

Many who know Hamilton know the story of how he arrived at SVSU in 1969 via a chance encounter at Owosso St. Paul High School with Paul Gill, an admissions representative who later retired from his position in the SVSU financial aid office. Gill talked to Hamilton — then a coach, teacher and guidance counselor at St. Paul — and saw a hard-working, multiple hat-wearing guy who would be a perfect fit for a fledgling college headed toward its imagined future. 

When Hamilton and Mary Pat, Gene’s wife, met with the college’s president at the time, Sam Marble, Hamilton sensed the palpable sincerity of Marble’s vision of a great university. The Hamiltons decided a leap of faith was in order, and in 1969, he joined the admissions staff.

Over the course of nearly a half-century, Hamilton worked in cooperative education, economic development, international programs, conference bureau, advancement, community affairs and government relations. And, along the way, he coached a few basketball games, helped identify the “Cardinal” as SVSU’s mascot, and secured his Ph.D.

Now that he is a retired Cardinal, Hamilton looks back — not so much at his many titles and positions — but at the life lessons that came from the challenges he accepted. 

“I learned from every president I worked for and a lot from colleagues,” Hamilton said. “That group taught me how to view both the academic as well as business side of a university.”

He said “the greatest lessons” he learned from those colleagues were perseverance and the value of forming friendships.

“It’s really always been about people; whether working with legislators or students, it’s been about forming relationships,” he said. “That’s my life at SVSU and that’s the way my life will go on. I’ll continually look to see if there’s something I can do to help. And I’ll be out in the community doing the same.”


The following is a Reflections magazine online exclusive, featuring a deeper dive into Hamilton’s history at SVSU and his thoughts on his 47-year career there, starting with a timeline of his professional career:

  • A native of Flint, Hamilton graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 1957 and then received his associate’s degree from Flint Junior College (later Mott Community College);
  • Hamilton transferred to Western Michigan and received his bachelor’s degree in 1961 (education; English major) and met the love of his life, Mary Pat;
  • After graduating from Western, the Hamiltons returned to Flint where Gene accepted a position with St. Mary’s  in Mt. Morris. In 1962, he was head basketball coach and teaching English and history;
  • From 1964-69, Hamilton was teacher, head basketball coach and guidance counselor at St. Paul’s in Owosso. During the summers, he worked on his advance degree and completed his master’s in guidance counseling in 1969;
  • In 1969, Gene accepted a position in “Admissions” at then-Saginaw Valley College (now SVSU);
  • In less than a year, he was asked to serve as director of scholarships and financial aid — a job he admits to not being his favorite. But before he could consider a career change, he was told about a federal grant for cooperative education, and suddenly Hamilton was the director of cooperative education, followed by a position as director of cooperative education and placement.
  • His responsibilities increased when he was asked to recruit more students in off-campus settings that included the Thumb and Wurthsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. Hamilton helped set up the courses for these sites and his title increased to included director of cooperative education, placement and continuing education. During this period, he was part of a search group that hired then-criminal justice professor Don Bachand, now SVSU’s president.
  • In 1979, Hamilton completed his doctorate and became dean of continuing education, placement and international programs.
  • By the early 1980s, he added oversight of the conference bureau, as part of the “continuing education” aspect of his title.
  • In the early 1980s — and at the request of then-president Jack Ryder — Hamilton worked with Saginaw resident Yoko Mossner on a small “English as a second language” program for six students headed to Tokushima, Japan. President Ryder asked Hamilton to accompany the students to Japan.
  • In 1988, the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce was intent on creating an economic study about regional economic development. The chamber approached the university to discuss its involvement and Ryder offered to “loan” a dean in a full-time role to organize the study of economic development via agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, retail and education. That “loan” was Hamilton, and the outcome was the formation of what was to become Saginaw Future Inc. 
  • Hamilton returned to campus in 1990 and became the associate vice president for advancement.  This work included community affairs and government relations.
  • Then-president Eric Gilbertson determined Hamilton could best serve the university by focusing on Lansing and named him special assistant to the president for government relations. While his title changed in the years since, Hamilton’s role as a community ambassador largely remained the same through the remaining years of his career.
  • In 2001, Hamilton considered retirement but instead said “yes” to cutting back to half time and staying highly engaged in and focused on government relations.
  • In 2016, he fully retired from SVSU.

‌Hamilton also shared his thoughts on certain aspects of his career, beginning with his origins with SVSU's sports programs in the late 1960s and early '70s:

“You have to remember, Athletics had no facilities (at the time). The administration wanted Athletics, and wanted to start with golf and basketball. They had someone else in mind as basketball coach, but asked if I would be the assistant. In the middle of the planning, that coach decided not to come to SVC and so I was asked, ‘will you coach?’ I said, ‘yes.’

In the third year, the school hired an athletic director who was also to be coach. He was here about a month and wanted to focus on the bigger picture and I was asked if I would take over as coach. I said ‘yes.’ That’s when Cardinal Gym was built, 1971.”

On his government relations role:

“I loved the early days. Legislators were friends. I remember the days when I’d pick up Jon Cisky (then a Republican state senator) and Jim O’Neill (then a Democrat in the state House), and we’d stop, get coffee and donuts, and drive to Lansing together. Over the years, that camaraderie has been replaced by partisanship. Partisanship has become so intense. Bi-partisanship and teamwork is challenging, but it is so much better.”

October 14, 2016

Popular physicist Michio Kaku to visit SVSU Oct. 24

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku — world-famous for bringing science to popular culture — will speak at Saginaw Valley State University Monday, Oct. 24.

His presentation, titled “The Next 20 Years, How Science Will Revolutionize Medicine, the Economy and Our Way of Life,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

As the co-founder of string field theory and a professor of physics at the City University of New York, Kaku has written several New York Times Bestselling books about the future of physics including "Hyperspace" and "Physics of the Impossible." He also has contributed science-related essays for publications including Newsweek, Popular Mechanics, and Variety. Kaku is a regular guest on TV talk shows on networks such as ABC, BBC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, and Fox News. Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and Jon Stewart are among the hosts who have booked Kaku as a guest.

Kaku’s appearances on shows appealing to a wide range of audiences helped propel Kaku as a popularizer of science in the same vein as Carl Sagan, said Matthew Vannette, an SVSU associate professor of physics.

“He presents science in a very engaging way that the general population can understand,” Vannette said. “He takes these complicated ideas and expresses them in terms that someone who is not a specialist can understand.”

Vannette said Kaku’s appearance is generating excitement on campus, particularly among his physics students. Kaku’s value, though, extends to his ability to present ideas not exclusive to science.

“In particular, when he discusses the topic of futurism, it has a lot of potential to spark conversations across the disciplines, from science to psychology to history,” Vannette said. “For me, personally, that’s one of the hallmarks of a university: cross-discipline conversation.”

Kaku is among several thought-provoking speakers scheduled to appear as part of this year's SVSU Visiting Scholars and Artists Series. The series will run during both the fall and winter semesters and is part of SVSU’s community-minded mission to bring leading scholars to campus and share their insights with residents of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

All lectures are open to the public and admission is free of charge.

Kaku’s visit also is part of SVSU’s William and Julia Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion. The William and Julia Edwards Lecture in Philosophy and Religion was established through a gift from the couple in 1993. It annually brings distinguished scholars to SVSU to discuss timely and relevant religious and philosophical topics.

October 13, 2016

SVSU to host third annual Alumni Authors Showcase

Saginaw Valley State University will host its third annual Alumni Authors Showcase Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 4 p.m. The event, scheduled in Curtiss Hall Banquet Room A, will feature a panel of four SVSU alumni authors followed by a book signing at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Featured panelists include Jill Bellestri, Dennis Hensley, Joe Hickey and Roberta Morey.

The books cover a range of topics and genres including young adult fantasy, mystery and suspense, historical nonfiction and inspirational fiction. They will be available for purchase at the event, as well as in the SVSU Bookstore preceding the event and afterward, while supplies last. Authors will also be available for a meet and greet before and after the panel session.

Bellestri was one of several authors to contribute to “The Thinking Mom’s Revolution: Autism Beyond The Spectrum,” a true story about a group of people connected through their parenting of children with disabilities. Bellestri earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from SVSU in 1994.

Hensley was the co-author with Diana Savage of “Pseudonym,” a mystery about a prospective author’s attempts at becoming published, and the twists and turns she experienced along the way. Hensley earned a bachelor's degree from SVSU in 1969.

Hickey is the author of the “Secret Seekers Society” series, which follows the fictional account of two orphans who become monster hunters. Hickey earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing from SVSU in 2004.

Morey was the author of “Saginaw: Labor and Leisure,” which examines real-life businesses and personalities from Saginaw’s early history. Morey graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1981.

The Alumni Authors Showcase is part of SVSU's celebration of the National Day of Writing. The event is sponsored by SVSU's Forever Red, Alumni Relations and University Writing Committee groups.

For more information about the event, contact Bryan Crainer at (989) 964-4091 or Ashley Youngstrom at (989) 964-4196.

October 13, 2016

Former SVSU president, constitutional scholar to discuss U.S. Supreme Court, politics at Oct. 19 lecture

“The Empty Ninth Chair: Politics and the Supreme Court” will be the subject of Saginaw Valley State University’s 2016 James E. O’Neill Jr. Lecture.

Eric R. Gilbertson, SVSU’s retired president and current executive-in-residence, will discuss the topic Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

Gilbertson will discuss the closely divided court, the conflicting judicial philosophies and political backgrounds of the justices that create the divisions. The presentation will examine key issues that illustrate those divisions such as abortion, campaign financing, same-sex marriage and gun control. Gilbertson also will focus on the backgrounds of the judges, the nomination and confirmation process over time, and the court’s period of transition.

Currently teaching SVSU courses in administrative science and constitutional law, Gilbertson formerly served as legal counsel to the Ohio Board of Regents. He completed a bachelor's degree at Blufton College, a master’s degree in economics at Ohio University and a law degree from Cleveland State University; he also has received honorary degrees from the University of Mysore in India and Ming Chuan University in Taiwan.

The James E. O’Neill Jr. Memorial Lecture Series was established in 2003 to honor the late Saginaw educator, legislator and community servant. Co-sponsored by SVSU and the Field Neurosciences Institute of Saginaw, the series is intended to dynamically reflect O’Neill’s passion for excellence in government, education and the neurosciences, and to provide opportunities for people to learn about public service from individuals who have unselfishly contributed to the betterment of the human condition.

Gilbertson’s appearance also is part of SVSU’s 2016-17 Visiting Scholars and Artists Series. The series will run during both the fall and winter semesters and is part of SVSU’s community-minded mission to bring leading scholars to campus and share their insights with residents of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

October 13, 2016

SVSU faculty and students recognized for empowering research

Saginaw Valley State University students and faculty showcased community-based health-related research projects to representatives from private foundations at the University of Michigan’s “Big House.”

The Council of Michigan Foundations held their 44th annual conference in Ypsilanti for approximately 450 trustees and staff of Michigan foundations September 18-20.

SVSU was among eight universities across Michigan invited to present. The group from SVSU presented information regarding four projects: community needs assessments given to the Midland and Saginaw communities, an intervention focusing on physical activity and dietary behaviors among older adults, a physical activity and dietary intervention focusing on healthy weight gain in pregnant women, as well as an Exercise is Medicine on Campus project at SVSU.

SVSU faculty members provided support and guidance, and students gained valuable experience with key components to the studies.

“The students play a critical role in all of the projects,” said Meghan Baruth, SVSU assistant professor of health science. “They recruit participants, conduct measurements, help run the interventions. They are very involved in all aspects.”

The group from SVSU attended one of the breakout sessions from the conference, a showcase on the evening of Monday, Sept. 19. The event was located in the Roth Clubhouse of the University of Michigan football stadium.

Along with Baruth, four undergraduate students and two faculty members involved with the research presentations:

•    Ashley Boggs, an exercise science major from Linden
•    Brenna Dressler, a health sciences major from Saginaw
•    Holly Simon, an exercise science major from Lyons
•    Jessica Walker, a biology major from Freeland
•    Samantha Deere, assistant professor of kinesiology
•    Becca Schlaff, assistant professor of kinesiology

Not only does the practical research provide students with invaluable experience that will help prepare them for graduate school and their careers, but they help induce real-life change in the communities where the research is conducted, Baruth said.

“The projects are allowing the students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to a real-life setting, and also teaching them how to work with communities and people,” she said. “It’s allowing them to learn many new skills that will benefit them not only in their graduate studies and careers, but as a person as well.”

The Council of Michigan Foundations is an organization comprised of dedicated philanthropists that advocate for the communities they serve, provide learning opportunities for members, and connect local, global and governmental leaders for the collection of resources to support the region.

“SVSU looks forward to opportunities like this to present our student and faculty research to the public,” said Andy Bethune, executive director of the SVSU Foundation. “We were honored to participate and it was even more rewarding to see our students and faculty interact with representatives of private foundations from throughout the state of Michigan.”

The conference is the largest statewide philanthropic conference in the nation and features over 35 breakout sessions focusing on pressing philanthropic issues such as Michigan’s public school system and the Flint water crisis. The theme for the conference, “Think Boldly, Act Urgently,” aligned with SVSU’s health-based projects as students and faculty engaged in critical thinking and then took action in their communities.

For more information regarding the council and its conference, please visit

October 7, 2016

SVSU to host presentation of “Reaching for Opportunity” report

SVSU to host presentation of “Reaching for Opportunity” report
Monday, Oct. 10
Curtiss Hall, Saginaw Valley State University

Saginaw Valley State University will host presentations by John Austin, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, and Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, Monday, Oct. 10.

Austin will share key findings of the Reaching for Opportunity report, which details that Michigan will need 779,000 more citizens with education beyond high school by 2025 to meet the needs of state employers. This will require increasing the proportion of the population with degrees and credentials from its current 46 percent to 60 percent. Current projections call for an additional 232,000 individuals with bachelor’s degrees and an additional 45,000 with graduate degrees over the next decade.

Johnson will share data specific to the Michigan’s Prosperity Region Five, which includes Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties.  The full report can be found at

Following Austin and Johnson, several individuals will also share information on what initiatives are in place in the region to meet the region’s education and workforce needs.

The event is by invitation only; some 70 school leaders, business leaders and others have registered to attend. The presentations are open to news media.

October 6, 2016

Dark comedy ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ kicks off SVSU theatre season

The Saginaw Valley State University Theatre Department will stage its production of Martin McDonagh’s classic “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” beginning Wednesday, Oct. 12 in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts.

The play is set in 1934, when the people of Inishmaan learn Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is coming to the neighboring island to film his documentary “Man of Aran.” No one is more excited than Cripple Billy, an unloved boy whose chief occupation had been gazing at cows and yearning for a girl who wants no part of him. For Billy is determined to cross the sea and audition for the Yank. And as news of his audacity ripples through his rumor-starved community, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” becomes a merciless portrayal of a world so comically cramped and mean-spirited that hope is an affront to its order.

“It’s a very dark comedy; it pokes fun at certain things we wouldn’t normally laugh at,” said David Rzeszutek, SVSU associate professor of theatre and the production’s director.

The audience can expect to relate to the characters in unexpected ways.

“Often times, it’s the darker side of us that we don’t want to share with everybody else,” Rzeszutek said.

Rzeszutek said he is very excited about the challenges that the students have been embracing.

“The greatest challenge for the actors is the use of the Irish dialect,” he said. “For the first time in our department, we have a dialect coach to assist the students.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 through Saturday, Oct. 15; on Sunday, Oct. 16, there will be a matinee performance at 3 p.m. Tickets are $13 for general admission, and $10 for students and seniors. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” features mature language. For more information please contact the SVSU box office at (989) 964-4261.

The production is the first of three plays planned for the fall semester at SVSU. “A Raisin In The Sun” is scheduled for November and “Christmas of Yesteryear: 1940’s Radio Variety Show” is planned for November and December.

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