Skip to main content Skip to footer

All News/Archive: Recent News

All News/Archive - Newsroom

November 7, 2016

SVSU International Food Festival to feature cuisines from around the world

The Saginaw Valley State University International Student Club is hosting its annual International Food Festival Tuesday, Nov. 8 in the Marketplace at Doan cafeteria on the campus of SVSU. The public is invited.

SVSU international students are expected to welcome some 2,000 attendees and invite them to taste cuisine from 14 countries on four continents, as students from those regions prepare dishes from their native cultures.

Students, faculty, and staff from across the globe will partner with SVSU Dining Services to cook for the public. Among the nations represented will be China, Costa Rica, France, India, Japan, Nepal, and Taiwan.

Featured dishes include French “Camembert,” a potato wrapped in bacon; “Okonomiyaki,” a Japanese-style pizza; Chinese ham fried rice and lotus seed soup; and Taiwanese boba milk tea as well as marbled tea eggs.

The International Food Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $8.75 per person for the public; SVSU students may use their meal card.

Based on past attendance, about 2,000 diners are expected to attend. The cafeteria will be decorated with flags and banners from the different cultures represented.

More than 700 international students attend SVSU.

For more information on the food festival, contact Zach Myers, marketing manager for SVSU Dining Services, at (989) 964-2118 or

October 28, 2016

SVSU students ‘battle’ to raise funds to help the hungry

Samantha McKenzie’s earliest memories include helping her grandmother deliver food from their Kingston church to elderly parishioners who weren’t able to attend Sunday services.

Emma Eldred, a Saginaw Valley State University student who hails from Lake Isabella, has similar childhood memories of helping her church provide food for the needy.

The two women will share another commonality soon: Both are dedicating their time to encourage contributions to an annual fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University to put  more food on the plates of needy families in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

“Battle of the Valleys is such an important event,” said McKenzie, president and chief executive officer of Saginaw-based Hidden Harvest. “It’s amazing to see what the students at SVSU are able to accomplish.”

This marks the 14th consecutive year SVSU and GVSU students have competed to raise more funds for their respective charity. Each university annually selects its own respective charity partner. In addition to supporting a community cause, the winning university earns a year’s worth of bragging rights and the right to display  a 3-foot-tall trophy affectionately known as “Victoria.” That trophy has remained on SVSU’s campus for eight consecutive years.

McKenzie hopes to help extend that streak into 2017. Her organization, a nonprofit that provides food for pantries and kitchens across the Great Lakes Bay Region, is SVSU’s charity partner for this year’s Battle of the Valleys competition, which spans the week beginning Sunday, Oct. 30.

“SVSU is definitely going to win it,” said McKenzie, a 2005 SVSU graduate. “Definitely.”

Eldred hopes McKenzie’s prediction pans out. Eldred serves as philanthropy chairperson for the upcoming contest. For nearly a year, the SVSU nursing major has planned for the 2016 Battle of the Valleys week, which involves a daily lineup of coordinated collection efforts and fun activities on campus.

“As any normal chair would be, I’m very nervous,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy week. I have high goals.”

Eldred’s predecessors have set a high standard. SVSU and GVSU have raised a combined $508,819 since the competition began in 2003. SVSU has collected $331,329 of that total, which includes last year’s $24,540 intake. The school’s largest collection was $47,278 for Bay and Saginaw county chapters of Habitat for Humanity in 2008. SVSU has eclipsed $10,000 every year except the first Battle of the Valleys.

McKenzie remembers that inaugural campaign from when she was an undergraduate.

“It was a fledgling operation at the time, but the excitement on campus for this event already was there,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how it’s grown. Not surprising, though.”

McKenzie said SVSU students are a community-minded bunch. Even outside of the Battle of the Valleys competition, students have contributed mightily to Hidden Harvest over the years. Her organization’s records show a number of SVSU student donation drives over the years have resulted in the collection of 19,000 lbs. of canned goods for Hidden Harvest. In addition, SVSU Dining Services has contributed 122,707 lbs. of food to the nonprofit since 2000.

“It’s been a great partnership,” McKenzie said. “I’m very proud to be a Cardinal.”

The winner of this year’s Battle of the Valleys contest will be announced during halftime of the football game between SVSU and GVSU, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5 at SVSU’s Harvey Randall Wickes Memorial Stadium.

For a complete schedule of Battle of the Valleys events, visit 

October 27, 2016

SVSU serves as steward to 19th century photos important to histories of Saginaw, black Americans, and photography itself

By Justin Engel

A black top hat balanced on his raised right leg, Wallace Goodridge rests his left forearm atop the same wooden easel where his brother, William Goodridge, is perched in a similar pose, inches away. Together, in the Saginaw photo studio they own, the siblings stare forward at the camera. Each awaits the telltale signs that indicate a photograph has been taken. Prop foliage surrounds them. A canvas in the background portrays a painted wooded landscape. A Dalmatian rests lazily at their feet. The easel between the brothers hoists a sign, and it bears a message:

“1879 Happy New Year To All.”

Wallace and William Goodridge are not alive now, to say the least. They died more than a century ago. Yet the nearly 140-year-old photograph that froze their moment in time together in 1879 breathes with life today.

For one, their late-19th century camerawork produced an image stunningly vivid in detail, allowing modern eyes to see its story told in past or present tense. Secondly, the story of this particular family in this particular portrait carries historical significance that endures to this day. Historians have chased this story. They still are.

John Jezierksi began his chase decades ago. The effort landed a copy of the New Year’s Eve photograph — along with dozens of other compelling pictures produced by the Goodridge brothers — in the secured archive room on the first floor of SVSU’s Zahnow Library. There, the university serves as a steward to a legacy that touches on Saginaw history, photography history, black history, and American history, all at once.


Jezierski, who retired in 2006 as an SVSU professor of history, recognized the power of the Goodridge brothers’ legacy almost immediately upon arriving in the region in 1970 to begin his career with the faculty. While teaching and researching Michigan history, he was exposed to images of Saginaw and its people, dating back to the community’s booming white pine lumber industry days. Many of those pictures were credited to the Goodridge brothers, who successfully operated as professional photographers from 1847 to 1922.

“I kept coming across these photographs linked to this one family, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information about them,” says Jezierski, who lives in Portland today. “Their photographs were so compelling. I had to know more.”

So he spent years reading through newspaper articles about the siblings while researching their photo collection. Jezierski then wrote a biography on the brothers, “Enterprising Images,” published in 2000.

The 368-page book chronicles the 75-year span of their photography businesses, which began with a third brother in their hometown of York, Pennsylvania, and continued in the Saginaw region in 1863, when Wallace and William Goodridge relocated there. “Enterprising Images” also highlights their international acclaim, which included the inclusion of their photography in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s exhibit at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris.

“Their work was significant on many levels,” Jezierski says.

For one, photography was in its infancy when the Goodridges opened up shop in 1847. The earliest known photograph to include people was produced less than a decade earlier. So the Goodridges weren’t simply creating the first photos in their communities’ history. They were creating some of the first photographs of communities in history.

What made this feat especially impressive was the color of their skin. They were a black family that began operating a successful company 18 years before the U.S. Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which freed black slaves across the country.

The Goodridges avoided enslavement. They were born to the free son of a black slave woman and a white man, and lived in northern states that abolished slavery decades before the amendment did so nationally. Regardless, racial divides remained wide and violent during the years the brothers prospered. The final Goodridge photo, after all, was produced nearly a half-century before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

“They managed to succeed in a very difficult world,” Jezierski says. “They did it without emphasizing their heritage. Many early black photographers photographed black people and culture. The Goodridge brothers succeeded by serving the white community, too.”

Still, the siblings contributed substantially to a movement meant to humanize blacks at a time when blacks often were treated as less than human, says Deborah Willis, an award-winning author considered one of the nation’s leading historians on black photography.

Willis, chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, first researched the Goodridge brothers in the 1970s. In their images of black families, she recognized an answer to a call for action from Frederick Douglass, a slave-turned-social reformer and one of the most influential black voices of the 19th century.

At the time, many photographs portrayed blacks poorly, sometimes in images where they posed while performing slave work or stealing from whites. Douglass, concerned about how such imagery was influencing the nation’s perception of blacks, called on blacks to “arm themselves in the war of images,” Willis says.
“Frederick Douglass believed photography was biography, and if you look at a photograph, you can see a person’s character,” she says.

The Goodridge brothers’ photos of blacks — including their self-portraits — showed them in the same dignified manner displayed in many photos of whites at the time.

“You found real joy in those images; a real understanding of the importance of family life, and the importance of documenting it,” Willis says.

“When they began to take pictures of themselves and put them into photo albums to show to their family members, that’s a real light bulb, ‘ah-ha’ moment where you understand a representational system in action.”


These days, Rose San Miguel oversees the Goodridge catalog in Zahnow Library. Occasionally, the SVSU archives specialist, out of curiosity, opens the emerald green cover of the photo album that protects those images of 18th century family portraits, lumberyard scenes and early Saginaw.

“It’s fascinating to see what life was like around here back then,” the SVSU archives specialist says. “With a lot of these pictures, it’s amazing what kind of detail there is.”

The daguerreotype-style photos are copies Jezierski collected during his book research. He later donated the photos and his notes to the university archives, which house mementos of the region’s rich history as well as materials and research papers from students and faculty of the past and present.

“There’s a lot of history in this room,” San Miguel says. “It’s important that we keep these items safe and secure. It’s an important role we sometimes play for the community; preserving its history.”

Sometimes that role extends to sharing the history. New York City-based filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris used the Goodridge brothers’ work stored in Zahnow Library as part of his film, “Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People.” The documentary aired on PBS in February 2015 as part of the Independent Lens film series. It remains available online and in Zahnow Library’s DVD collection.

The movie explores the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of blacks throughout history. Willis is featured in an interview, discussing the Goodridge family’s contribution to that history.

The photo of Wallace and William Goodridge on New Year’s 1879 makes an appearance in the film, too, providing imagery as Willis describes how the brothers helped open the eyes of a nation to the new world of photography and a new way of thinking about their fellow man. 

October 26, 2016

SVSU student wins first place for presentation on Kawkawlin River research

Saginaw Valley State University student Erik Breidinger recently earned top honors for presenting his community-minded research on the Kawkawlin River. A communication and geography double major from Auburn, he won first place in the undergraduate paper presentation category at the American Association of Geographers East Lakes/West Lakes conference Friday, Oct. 14 at Northern Michigan University.

Breidinger presented his paper titled “Mapping land cover changes along the Kawkawlin River using object-based classification of 1938 and 2014 aerial photography.” Marty Arford, SVSU associate professor of geography, and Rhett Mohler, SVSU assistant professor of geography, traveled with him for the conference and have provided research guidance.

To conduct the necessary research addressed in the paper, Breidinger and Mohler used eCognition Developer software that employed remote sensing to gather imagery to study Earth's surface.

“It looks at how we've used the land, and how that's changed from 1938 to 2014,” Breidinger said, “using a combination of really old paper photographs and new, really high tech satellite imagery, and how we merged those together to make a map where you can instantly tell what's changed and what hasn't.”

The 15-minute presentation was followed by a question and answer session at the conference.

“The Q and A was really helpful because I'm an undergraduate, and everybody else at these conferences are usually master’s or Ph.D. students,” Breidinger said. “They always have really good questions and they kind of suggest places for me to go with the research.”

Breidinger’s research was supported through SVSU’s Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute and the SVSU Foundation Resource Grant program. The grants allowed Breidinger and Mohler to purchase the software package, giving SVSU students unlimited access for research purposes.

Previously, the geography department only had access to tools that broke images down into pixel. From there, they would have had to compare the pixel colors to differentiate what has changed over time from what has not. Breidinger explained that this analysis method would have made the incorporation of old black and white photography very difficult.

The new software uses a program “that doesn't rely on pixels, but breaks images into objects. So now, we can say this polygon got bigger or changed in shape,” Breidinger explained.

Following his regional honor, Breidinger will present his research paper at the national level in Boston next April. There, all winning projects from the regional competitions will congregate. Breidinger and Mohler attended the national conference last year as well, which took place in San Francisco.

Mohler, the professor, said “ the end result of this project was to create land cover maps of the Kawkawlin River watershed, and to prove that eCognition software would be able to classify land cover types in older, 1930s black and white aerial photography. Both goals were accomplished.”

Breidinger has a few more semesters to complete at SVSU. During that time, he plans to remain actively involved in research within the geography department as well as competing for SVSU’s forensics team, which he credits for much of his love for public speaking. The forensics team, advised by Amy Pierce, associate professor of communications at SVSU, competes in both state and national tournaments. Breidinger has been successful in that competition circuit too, earning several first-place finishes.

October 26, 2016

Recess is over: Michigan's teaching job openings are on the rise — and SVSU is supplying the talent

By Jason Wolverton

They say everyone loves a good comeback story.

And right now there’s a comeback tale playing out across the state that Craig Douglas is excited about.

Douglas, the dean of SVSU’s College of Education, said the demand for teaching jobs in Michigan is experiencing a stark rebound after years of decline. As a result, aspiring teachers who once faced an uncertain job market upon graduation now have plenty of options.

“Teaching graduates are a hot commodity right now,” Douglas said. “The market is very aggressive in Michigan and it’s happened quickly.”

Recent data supports Douglas’ claim. According to Tom Barnikow, assistant director of Career Services at SVSU, 546 teaching openings were posted in 2012 to the Cardinal Career Network, an SVSU service that tracks job openings for students and alumni. Last year, that number swelled to 849 — a 35.6 percent increase — and there is reason to believe openings will continue to grow as seasoned teachers retire or take buyouts. Some estimate nearly one-third of the teaching jobs in the state will turn over in the next few years.

“SVSU has a very good reputation of producing high-level teachers,” Barnikow said. “But with this influx of jobs in the state of Michigan, when districts come to us, we just don’t have enough people to fill them all.”

December 2015 grad receives eight job offers

William McDonald is familiar with this demand. The Saginaw High School graduate arrived at SVSU in 2010, when demand for teachers was at its lowest. After the elementary education major graduated with a bachelor’s degree in December 2015, he had eight job offers waiting for him. Those offers came without him ever putting in a single application.

“I’m so thankful to all the faculty and staff who were so supportive of me,” said McDonald, who accepted a job this year at the Saginaw-based K-8 charter school, Francis Reh Public School Academy.

“Having all those offers when I graduated was phenomenal and it just shows what an awesome program SVSU has. Hard work and dedication pay off.”

Perfect storm leads to teaching job resurgence

The resurgence of teaching jobs in Michigan was, in some ways, the result of a perfect storm, experts say.

In the early 2000s, as manufacturing jobs dried up and the state’s economy slowed, the population started to decline as people left the state. According to U.S. Census Bureau counts, Michigan lost nearly 55,000 citizens between 2000 and 2010, making it the only state in the nation to decline in size during that time.

With the decline in population came a lower demand for teaching jobs, as school enrollments dropped, districts downsized and many teachers were laid off to cut costs. “You can’t find a teaching job in Michigan” became an infamous warning cry and students elected to pursue fields outside of education.

Hiring outlook much different in early 2000

Jennifer Moeller remembered that dry spell for prospective teachers although, ultimately, she “was blessed” with a job offer within one year of earning a bachelor’s degree in education from SVSU in 2002.

“I was one of 100 applicants for some of these jobs,” she said. “In some cases, I was hand-delivering my résumés to try to get an interview. A lot of the students I graduated with, meanwhile, were leaving the state.”

Moeller was able to pay bills with the help of her husband’s salary while she waited for an opportunity locally. That opportunity arrived in 2003 when Saginaw Township Community Schools hired her. She remains there today, working as a kindergarten teacher at Hemmeter Elementary School.

SVSU grads sought after

“It’s very different now,” she said of the state’s K-12 job prospects. “We’re also seeing a huge need for qualified substitute teachers. When I was in school, it was hard to even find a job as a sub.”

A shift in the job market happened in the last 12 to 18 months when a stabilizing population coupled with veteran teachers stepping aside drove in-state demand to a level unmatched since the late 1990s, Douglas said. That demand is even greater given the aggressive ways other states recruit Michigan’s teaching graduates. Douglas and Barnikow said states such as Texas, Arizona and Alaska frequently recruit in Michigan, particularly at SVSU. Recent surveys indicated more than 95 percent of SVSU education graduates found full-time work or enrolled in graduate schools.

“If there is a candidate from SVSU, they do get a second look because school administrators know how much experience our graduates have,” Douglas said.

“Our program provides students with three times the amount of field experience other programs would provide, and when it comes to teaching, nothing beats experience.”

Douglas and Barnikow have now turned their attention to recruiting for the College of Education, where enrollment declined 55 percent in the last five years in part because of the earlier K-12 jobs dry spell. They’ve organized informational sessions, talked to parents at orientation and used social media to try to get the word out about the dire need for good teachers.

“The majority think the jobs aren’t there so parents tell students to go in different directions, away from teaching,” Barnikow said. “We’re trying to change the mindset from the last 10 years. There are teaching jobs in the state.”  

Interested in a career in teaching?

Whether you are seeking teacher certification for the first time, renewing your certification or pursuing graduate work to take you to the next level, discover why over 11,600 teachers have chosen the nationally accredited programs at SVSU.


October 25, 2016

Writer Samrat Upadhyay to speak at SVSU

Saginaw Valley State University is hosting award-winning author Samrat Upadhyay for this year's Visiting Scholars and Artists Series. His lecture titled “Celebrating Gratitude: An Ode to the Forces that Make a Writer,” will be presented Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Upadhyay has written six novels and short story collections dealing with social, political and religious issues pertaining to Nepali culture. His novels include “Arresting God in Kathmandu,” which explores desire and spirituality in the face of a swiftly modernizing Nepal; “The Guru of Love”, centered on a love triangle connected to an arranged marriage; “Buddha’s Orphans,” a Nepali love story that illustrates how history haunts the present, and “The City Son,” which pursues themes of family struggle, desire, and betrayal.

Currently a professor of humanities at Indiana University, Upadhyay completed a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Hawaii. He is the recipient of a large number of distinguished awards, including San Francisco Chronicle Best Book, Washington Post Best of Fiction, the Asian American Literary Award, and the Whiting Writers’ Award, among others.

During his visit, Upadhyay will also participate in a joint presentation with the 2015 recipient of SVSU’s Gross Award for Literature, Sally Howell, coordinated by the South Asian Student Association. Howell is the author of “Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past,” which looks at the development of Muslim communities in Detroit since the first mosque was established in 1893.

Their lecture to area high school and college students will be Friday, Oct. 28. Upadhyay will also attend an international book fair and a South Asian food fair on that date.

The Dow Visiting Scholars & Artists program at SVSU was established through an endowment from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to enrich our region’s cultural and intellectual opportunities. 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.

For more information on the lectures, please contact the SVSU box office at (989) 964-4348.

October 25, 2016

SVSU Board approves easement for Saginaw water project

The Saginaw Valley State University Board of Control approved granting an easement and right of way to the City of Saginaw during the Board’s regular meeting Monday, Oct. 24 to allow an important water project to move forward. The City of Saginaw will be replacing primary water pipelines in the area of SVSU’s campus in conjunction with anticipated road construction on Davis Road.

In other action, the Board:
•    Granted emeritus status to Napoleon Lewis Sr. Lewis worked for SVSU from 1971 to 1989 in the departments of Public Safety and Athletics.
•    Granted emeritus status to Shiv Arora, a recently retired professor of management and marketing.
•    Appointed Heather Duggan to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum board of directors.
•    Appointed Victor Aviles to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum board of directors.
•    Passed a resolution to receive and accept the annual financial audit and federal awards audit for the 2016 fiscal year.
•    Approved SVSU’s capital outlay request for the fiscal year 2018.

October 24, 2016

SVSU’s Cardinal Singers share vocal talents in concert

Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal Singers will perform in concert Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall. The concert will feature selections from composers Scott Tuttle, Ivor Davies, Arthur Sullivan, and Henry Purcell.

The Cardinal Singers are the chamber vocal ensemble at SVSU. The group sings a wide array of selections, from Josquin to contemporary jazz. Founded in 2008, Cardinal Singers is directed by
Kevin Simons, SVSU assistant professor of music. The group has been invited to sing at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and has performed with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra.

An active musician, Simons serves as the director of music and organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Saginaw, and as a board member for the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

The concert is free and open to the public. Amanda Stamper will serve as the pianist and organist alongside 13 SVSU vocalists. For more information on this concert or the many other events hosted by SVSU's music department, visit

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.

Go to page: