Dean’s Message: Graduate College Construction Update

In our last newsletter, I indicated that with the move of WMU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the first floor of Walwood Hall became available and that through generous support from Academic Affairs, the Graduate College will be relocating into this space. We have been very economical and sustainable and have reused just about everything we could. It has been fun to be part of the process and we are getting very close to being able to move. The photos below are of some of the progress that has been made.

a photo of the main room of the first floor of Walwood hall. All the cubicles are mostly or partially disassembled and the room is very large and open without the cubicles separating the space.
Disassembled Cubes

a photo of the lobby of the first floor of Walwood hall. The lobby is filled with the parts of cubicles, desks, and storage cabinets. In the background you can see the open doors to the main room which will house the Graduate College.
Cubicles,desks, and cabinets stored neatly in the lobby of Walwood Hall

a photo of the main room of the first floor of Walwood hall. The room has been repainted and most of the carpet has been put in.  The carpet is made up of large square tiles that are placed on the floor with adhesive. The places that aren't yet completed are where the tiles have to be cut to fit around pillars, floor vents, or electrical fixtures that can't be moved.
New carpet and paint

a photo of the main room of the first floor of Walwood hall. The room is once again filled with assembled cubicles, but these cubicles have recently been recycled from another area and look almost new.  Everything is bright and shiny, but a few pieces still need to be put in place and so there are various parts lining the halls.
Reassembly of the Cubicles

As indicated before, this relocation allows us for the first time to provide dedicated office space to the Graduate Student Association and to create the Graduate College Student Commons, a room for graduate student meetings, workshops, seminars and study space as well as a lounge area.

We would love to add your name to our donor wall to recognize those who have made financial contributions to the Graduate College in support of the creation of the Graduate College Student Commons. To donate to help us finish this project, go to the Graduate College page on or follow the link for Giving to Graduate Education on the Graduate College homepage (

We of course will be planning an open house in the Fall and hope you will be able to attend.

Susan R. Stapleton, Ph.D. Dean, Graduate College

A photo of Dr. Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Saif Alrafeek: Multicultural Citizen of the World

Saif Alrafeek is a truly multicultural citizen of the world. He was born in Iraq, moved to Italy at age four, and returned to Iraq in 1990. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at Baghdad University in 2008, he became an instructor at his alma mater. As manager of Quality Assurance and Accreditation he spent four years working with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) structuring, writing and archiving an accreditation self-assessment report to help University of Baghdad gain higher education accreditation.
a photo of Saif Alrafeek. Saif is holding a piece of engineered bone which has square metal plates attached on each end. Different bone repair materials will be attached to the bone, and then the sample will be stress tested with pulling and or crushing forces. The best repair materials may go on to be used in surgery repair with real bones. Saif is in his office in this photo, sitting in front of his computer which has mechanical engineering information about his project on the display screens.
He was selected to travel to Turkey for further education in academic accreditation and in 2012 received a scholarship from the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR) to study for his doctorate in the United States. He came to Western Michigan University in 2014 to begin his research on biomechanical solutions to assist orthopedic surgeons treating patients with arthrodesis, the surgical fusion of bones to immobilize a joint, in the foot and ankle. Saif’s research helps surgeons by providing them with computer modeling, biomechatronics simulation, and experimental work on foot and ankle samples. In conjunction with that, he has publishing his findings in journals of academic societies and organizations in America. His future goals include teaching, research, and consulting or diplomatic work in academic or cultural affairs. Since he has a keen interest in helping students, Saif enjoys student affairs work in admissions, orientations, immigration services, study abroad, and helping students find funding opportunities.
Because he is interested in higher education administration, he jumped at the chance to attend a full-day ‘Behind the W’ workshop on June 10 along with ten Graduate Ambassadors. They were the first WMU students to experience ‘Behind the W’, as they joined with faculty and staff to learn WMU’s history as well as tips for communicating with various audiences and WMU visual identity. Saif has also attended several Graduate College sponsored workshops and found “Learning to Manage Time: A Special Seminar for Graduate Students” in March 2014 to be particularly helpful. By using time management techniques he learned in the workshop, Saif has been able to achieve some of his other goals, including singing karaoke both on-campus and off, attending concerts and meeting some of his favorite musicians. Also, through his collaboration with the Iraqi Student Association he performed a traditional Iraqi dance onstage at the International Festival at WMU in March 2015.
This photo of Saif shows him in his lab seated at a lab bench. He is holding the same engineered bone sample as the first picture, but on the bench beside him are five more samples, one that is complete and four that have been broken due to the stress testing. Saif has short dark hair. He is wearing a blue and white plad patterned shirt.
One of Saif’s most memorable achievements, besides his academic and professional success, has been to meet his idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earned many bodybuilding world titles. He then became a highly successful actor in blockbuster films, such as the Terminator franchise in the 1980s, before conquering politics by becoming governor of California in 2003. Through the years Saif followed Schwarzenegger’s career, finding inspiration in the fact that an immigrant with a heavy accent could reach such heights of fame in America. When he found out that Schwarzenegger was coming to Ohio in March 2016 for a fitness festival, Saif set out in his car to achieve one of his lifetime goals: meeting and talking with Arnold Schwarzenegger. After several hours of trying to penetrate layers of security around the star, the international student met the international star. Arnold, coming out of his dressing room, saw Saif wearing a Terminator II T-shirt and commented, “It is very beneficial for you to wear such a T-shirt!” Saif introduced himself as an international Ph.D. student from Iraq studying at Western Michigan University. Schwarzenegger asked him what kind of studies he was pursuing at WMU, and congratulated Saif upon learning that he is studying for a doctorate in mechanical engineering. He agreed to pose for a selfie with Saif. Saif says that he traveled back to Kalamazoo with a fire burning in his heart to accomplish his next goal: passing his comprehensive exam. Later that same week, with Schwarzenegger’s encouraging words echoing in his head, he passed his exam and moved to the dissertation phase of his degree. His proposed dissertation title is “Development and Validation of Hybrid Continuum/Structural Finite Element Model for Evaluating Food and Ankle Biomechanics.” With the help of his mentor and chair of his dissertation committee, Dr. Peter Gustafson, along with committee members Dr. Koorosh Naghshineh, Dr. Daniel Kujawski and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. James Jastifer, Saif intends to graduate in Fall 2017.

Alumni Spotlight: Ben Williams

The Graduate Ambassador program instituted by Dean Susan Stapleton in 2012 has given dozens of graduate students first-hand experience in leadership. Ben Williams, alumnus of the first group of Graduate Ambassadors, has put that experience to good use as the Michigan Department of Education’s Legislative Liaison in the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs, working directly for State Superintendent of K-12 Education Mike Flanagan since 2014. When Brian J. Whiston was appointed State Superintendent in 2015, Ben was retained in his position, even though many new appointees prefer to hire their own staff. Ben received his master’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences from WMU in 2014. He received his Bachelors of Science in Family Studies at WMU in 2011.
a photo of Ben Williams.  Ben is dressed in a white shirt and monochromatic brown plaid tie with a light brown vest and a light brown corduroy cap that matches the vest in color but offers a different texture.
His background in Family and Consumer Sciences focused on families and the needs of family units, which has helped him tremendously in his career. As a lobbyist for the Michigan Department of Education he sees directly a link between his studies and how he effectively lobbies for the educational success of Michigan children. He understands how children are affected by unmet needs at home and works to improve educational services to meet those needs, and also looks at how unmet needs at school can affect family life. By looking at how educational issues, legislation and departmental policies in Michigan serve children, he is able to effectively work to better address the needs of Michigan families and children.
He directs legislative activities for the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education and maintains positive relations between that department and the Michigan Legislature and Congressional Delegation. Through lobbying in Lansing and Washington D.C regarding education and appropriation issues, coordinating lobbying activities, and promoting Department of Education initiatives, he responds to education related issues that affect each district and its constituents.
His path to the House of Representatives in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. began when he worked as a Page in the Michigan House of Representatives and continued as he worked for ten years in a non-partisan role. The State Department of Education is considered a non-partisan entity since it does not fall under the umbrella of the Governor’s office. Instead of being appointed by the governor, the State Superintendent is hired by the State Board of Education. Ben has been working in government for a long time and found that his bachelors and master’s degrees from WMU have helped him as he communicates with constituents and with legislators as well as staff at the Michigan Department of Education. He especially recognizes the invaluable help of several faculty members at Western. He says Ms. Bryce Dickey, Master Faculty Specialist and Family Science Program Coordinator, made his educational experience fun. Dr. Karen Blaisure made the experience challenging. He has stayed in touch with his advisor, Ms. Linda Dove, Faculty Specialist II, from his initial enrollment as an undergraduate until he completed his Master’s. Finally, he appreciates how Dr. John McElroy challenged students to think outside the box and gain the perspective needed to understand others better.
As one of the first group of Graduate Ambassadors, Ben was an Extended University Programs ambassador working with students from WMU campuses in Lansing and Grand Rapids. He found it “challenging because it was a new program at the time” but says it was a highlight of his graduate work. He thanks Dean Stapleton and the other ambassadors, who were very supportive. When he begins to work on his doctorate next year, he plans to return to WMU, where he would also like to teach one day

The Department of Occupational Therapy at Western Michigan University

The Department of Occupational Therapy was the first non-teacher education program at Western Michigan University and it continues to break ground as one of the top 50 such programs in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. WMU offers an undergraduate professional entry program at the main campus in Kalamazoo and a professional entry graduate program offered at main campus and also at our regional location in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and two WMU professors were inducted into the roster of fellows of the American Occupational Therapy Association at its annual conference in April 2016. Dr. Diane Dirette and Dr. Amy Wagenfeld joined Dr. Debra Lindstrom, inducted in 2014, in this prestigious fellowship of professionals.
a photo of Occupational Therapy students Amber Goodeman and Alma Rosales standing on each side of their poster presentation titled Social Participation and Vocational Rehabilitation in Multiple Sclerosis.  Amber is on the left and Alma is on the right, the poster is mounted on a foam board and is displayed on an easel for eye-level viewing.
In 2015 the department attained a 100% graduation rate with 96 out of 96 admitted students in the cohort crossing the stage to receive their Master’s diploma. Since U.S. News & World Report lists occupational therapy as number 10 in the top 25 best jobs, these alumni of WMU’s OT program are sure to get placement in jobs after they take the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy exam and move into the workforce. Graduates already get plenty of experience; after 22 months of academic study in which they attain 66 credits, they do a six month fieldwork experience for six credit hours. Part of their final work includes a research project that culminates in a poster presentation as part of OT Poster Day. This year the event was held on June 21 in the lobby of the College of Health and Human Services.
Sara Clark, Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Coordinator, explained that each student pairs up with another student whose interests are similar, and together they examine a question that has been posed by clinicians in the field. The finished product is called a Critically Assessed Topic, or CAT. The team produces a poster showing the results of their findings, which explore research that has already been done on that topic. For instance, students Gabrielle Lober and Rachel Walker assessed the most effective cognitive screening tool for patients on ventilators. Brandon Lubish and Patrick Yee looked at the effectiveness of extracorporeal shock wave therapy on burns and scars. Kathleen Nickens and Ceara Fauble examined age, frequency, and precautions in relation to stimulation in the NICU. Each team must use the same format, and some produced brochures and handouts on their topic. They must capture the objective of the research question. They must list the databases and sources they used to assess the research in the field and define the research criteria as well as any exclusion criteria. Then, based on the findings, they list the main results and implications of the research on that question. Students also put their topic into context in a background section. The result is a professional effort that links them to cutting edge research in their field.
a photo of the crowd attending the Occupational Therapy Poster Day event. The posters are displayed on easels around the perimeter of the atrium area of the College of Health and Human Services at Western Michigan University. The event is well attended with visitors milling around the displays and students on hand to answer questions about their research.
Alma Rosales and Amber Goodeman addressed the research question “Does multidisciplinary rehabilitation improve social participation and vocational skills for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis?” Both women completed their Bachelor’s degrees at Western Michigan University and went on to pursue an advanced degree in the field of occupational therapy to fulfill a childhood dream and a promise to their family. Rosales was born in Mexico and migrated with her family to Michigan when she was eight. She is very thankful for their support as she became the first person in her family to go to college. Goodeman was raised by her single mother in Frankenmuth, Michigan. She overcame hardship and maintained her educational goals after the death of her mother three years ago. Both Goodeman and Rosales profess a deep desire to help others through their work, and both wish to work with children. Goodeman had an opportunity to study abroad in Ireland and in Jamaica, and there she encountered children who had no access to health care. Her dream job involves working with children in a pediatric facility where she could implement hippotherapy, in which horseback riding is used as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment. Rosales would like to use her bilingual and bicultural skills to provide services to minorities, increasing access to healthcare and improving health outcomes for underrepresented populations. Rosales is a recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Fellowship, a competitive award through the Graduate College that supports diversity among students pursuing graduate degree at WMU.

Did You Know?

The School of Social Work has scheduled several information sessions in the College of Health and Human Services at which prospective students may learn more about the MSW program at WMU. The Director of Admissions and Student Services will present information about the programs, faculty research, and the unique benefits of attaining a Master of Social Work at Western Michigan University. Sign up at You will receive an email confirmation with the room number.

Available sessions follow:
Thursday, August 25 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Thursday, September 23 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Tuesday, October 4 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, October 18 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, November 15 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, December 13 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

The School of Social Work at WMU was formally established in 1969, offering both the Bachelor and Master of Social Work degrees at main campus in Kalamazoo. At our Grand Rapids campus the advance standing Master’s is offered to students who have already completed a BSW. Southwest Campus in Benton Harbor also offers the MSW program face-to-face. Employment for social workers is expected to increase by 16% by 2018, and Western Michigan University’s program ranked number 46 in a list of national universities that offer “the best bang for the buck” by Washington Monthly.

Dean’s Message

The opening of Heritage Hall, the official name for the newly renovated East Hall, brings about a sense of excitement and nostalgia on campus and provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the beginnings of WMU and how we have grown as a university. Heritage Hall is now the home to the WMU Alumni Center and WMU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

The move of WMU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations opens up the first floor of Walwood Hall and the Graduate College will be relocating into this space. This relocation allows us for the first time to provide dedicated office space to the Graduate Student Association and to create the Graduate College Student Commons, a room for graduate student meetings, workshops, seminars and study space. Within the student commons we hope to be able to highlight former graduate student leaders and past and present supporters of graduate education. If you were a former graduate student leader we would love to hear from you and how your days at WMU may have helped influence your current success.

We will also be creating a donor wall to recognize those who have made financial contributions to the Graduate College in support of the creation of the Graduate College Student Commons. To donate to help us make this a reality, go to the Graduate College page on or follow the link for Giving to Graduate Education on the Graduate College homepage (

Susan R. Stapleton, Ph.D.

Dean, Graduate College
A photo of Dr. Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Dr. Leslie Wilk Braksick

Google Leslie Wilk Braksick’s name and you’ll have to decide among thousands of results from Amazon, Bloomburg Business News, Small Business, Barnes and Noble, hundreds of references to her long-time business, Continuous Learning Group, Inc., and just as many more from her new corporation, My Next Season.
After obtaining her doctorate in psychology at WMU in 1990, thus becoming the youngest person at the time to ever receive a PhD at Western, Leslie Wilk Braksick went on to establish corporate consulting business, Continuous Learning Group, Inc. in 1993. Under her leadership, CLG became the world’s largest behaviorally based management consultancy within ten years. Her first book, “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits: Developing Leadership Behavior That Drives Profitability in your Organization” was published in 2000 and updated by popular demand in a second edition in 2007. It ranked No. 6 among business books published in 2007 and hit the Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller list.

A photo of Dr. Leslie Wilk Braksick

As a WMU Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2010, Dr. Braksick last visited campus in September 2010 to kick off Haworth College of Business Distinguished Speaker Series with a talk on “Leadership in a Changing World.” In an interview with Dr. Braksick, she spoke fondly of Western Michigan University and the faculty with whom she worked in the Industrial and Organizational Psychology program for her master’s and doctoral degrees. Though she considered both Rutgers and Purdue, and they both offered her funding, she chose WMU because after much research she determined that WMU had the best program in Industrial and Organization Psychology and offered the most opportunity to move forward in her field.
She had an assistantship on campus, but within a few months, she noticed that employee morale in her division was low, and absenteeism was high. In an effort to address these issues, she read ahead in her textbooks and developed a program for supervisors to set goals and provide feedback for their employees. When it was implemented, productivity increased and absenteeism decreased, so much so that she was offered a full-time position as a Training and Development Specialist at WMU while still a graduate student. As a result, her 40 hour a week job competed with her educational endeavors and she had little time for anything else. She lived off campus and spent her minimal free time enjoying the outdoor environment around Kalamazoo, living an active lifestyle that included cross-country skiing and biking as well as attending festivals in the area.
Her decision to come to Western was influenced most by the presence of Dr. Dale Brethower, whom she characterizes as “a genius who redefined the field” of I/O Psychology. In his Psych 644 class focusing on training and development, she learned concepts she still uses to this day. She appreciated the way faculty and mentors, such as Bill Redmond, Stan Henderson, and Pam Liberacki gave her the space to try new things. She characterizes herself as very young and very new to the program when she began developing her program to transform the work environment in her graduate assistantship placement. They could have said no, but they took coaching from her and put the program in place. As an executive coach now, she says young people have to earn the right to be taken seriously, but if they do, they should be given “stretch” assignments and good mentoring. In her experience, these help high-potential people move up much faster. She spent her career counseling CEOs to watch for those who are “leaning in” because this indicates a high probability that they will be successful.
When she first began to present her findings at conferences around the country, other universities, including University of Michigan, took notice and requested that she replicate her experiment at their campuses. She quickly responded by developing a consulting firm, which really took off when she met Dr. Julie Smith from West Virginia University at a conference where they happened to room together. The two joined together in a non-profit agency and in two years brought in 80% of the revenue, threatening the non-profit status of the firm. They decided to leave and form CGL to teach corporate leaders how to use behavioral learning strategies to improve management and bring up employee productivity. Soon CLG was serving Fortune 500 companies and grew at a phenomenal pace. Within ten years it became the world’s largest behaviorally based management consultancy firm and Leslie Braksick was regularly called upon by corporate boards and CEOs to consult on such issues as CEO transition and succession and the challenges of cultural and performance transformation within a corporation. In 2002 she was named one of Pennsylvania’s top 50 women business leaders.
Now Dr. Braksick has left GLG to establish herself in a new venture, My Next Season. She is still consulting, but this time helping executives transition from career to their retirement phase of life. She found that many CEOs and high level executives had their whole identities tied up in their professional lives, and making the change to retirement often brought a crisis relating to that new identity. By providing a bridge from productivity to a purposeful lifestyle, she helps executives find new outlets for their expertise outside their work life. She coaches them on finding interesting, fulfilling and socially responsible work they can do while still enjoying more time with family and attaining long deferred goals. Such work often takes the form of teaching, sitting on Boards of Trustees, working with non-profit organizations, or volunteering.
Leslie herself is moving into a new phase with My Next Season in terms of balancing work and family. Her children are now in college and high school. Her husband of 24 years, Larry, whom she met at Western where he was a graduate student in the English department, stopped teaching to stay home with the children. She considers this a real gift that established a great deal of stability in her home life which allowed her to succeed in the corporate world. She now wants to spend more time with her children as they are growing up, and she intends to become more involved with the field of public health.
When asked how she participates as an alumna of WMU, Dr. Braksick explained that she provides mentorship to students in the I/O Psychology graduate program, helps place interns and provides internships with her company, and has steadily recruited WMU graduates to her company for over 20 years. Congratulations to Dr. Leslie Wilk Braksick for a long and successful career.

Courtney Dunsmore “Shining a Light on Women Leaders in Social Work”

In April 2015, Courtney Dunsmore walked across the stage to receive her Master’s degree in Social Work from WMU. After two years’ of work in the Policy, Planning, and Administration concentration of the MSW, Courtney’s experiences in that program include a co-authored article with her mentors, a professional conference presentation to a packed house in Las Vegas, various committee appointments, and a field placement that has confirmed her belief that this degree was the right choice for her.
A former Bronco undergraduate with degrees in sociology and psychology, Courtney knew she wanted to work in the human service field but dreamed of travel and moving far away from Michigan. Soon after her first graduation from WMU, she joined AmeriCorps, moving to South Carolina and working chiefly in administrative program planning for Georgetown County United Way AmeriCorps*VISTA Collaborative. After this, Courtney looked briefly at graduate programs across the country, but eventually her vision shifted back to Michigan. She knew the MSW program here and it became clear that returning to WMU for graduate study was the correct path.

A photo of Courtney Dunsmore on the Campus of Western Michigan University

During the second year of her program, Courtney had the opportunity to work with two faculty mentors to research trends in women’s roles in social work. Having previously established good professional relationships with Drs. Barbara Barton and Dee Sherwood, Courtney was invited to help them dig further into Dr. Sherwood’s dissertation research: a study of women in leadership positions in social work, the challenges they experienced and the progress they made.
They analyzed a group of interviews of female social workers that Dr. Sherwood had recorded, picking out ten as representative and then read through and coding the interviewees’ responses. In this process, they narrowed in on different types of gender biases and micro-aggressions that the women experienced during their time in the field, especially as they attempted to enter leadership roles. Courtney and her mentors discovered that when these women attempted to pursue administrative roles or positions with greater responsibilities, they were often marginalized in various ways or told “maybe you should pursue a different direction.” Courtney says she finds this eye-opening, as she intends to pursue leadership and administration in social work and may be faced with similar challenges as she forges ahead. She observed that the research process and analysis demonstrates that these aren’t just individual stories or anecdotes about peoples’ job experiences; when taken collectively, the data show quantifiable trends in the ways women are treated and what influences them in the workplace.
Once Courtney and Drs. Barton and Sherwood had compiled their information, they were accepted to present as part of a panel at the 27th Annual Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference, held February 2015 in Las Vegas. Courtney spoke about past and present trends in women’s leadership in the SW profession to a full house. Following her talk, Courtney was able to check out posters and to speak to a number of graduate students about their dissertations. Spurred on by these conversations, Courtney looked at PhD programs, but for now plans to go straight into employment in the field. Regardless of whether she plans to undertake a doctorate in the future, she is building her credentials right now, as she works on an article (co-authored with Drs. Barton and Sherwood) that they will submit to the Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research. As she wrote the literature review for the manuscript, “Falling Silent?: Analyzing the Voices of Women Leaders in Social Work,” Courtney gave credit to her mentors for a great opportunity to view professors collaborating and see their research through the final stage of publication.
She completed a field placement as part of her MSW program, working at Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health in Kalamazoo, and found it invaluable to be able to apply lessons learned in class to situations in her internship. This placement gave her hands-on experience in administrative and organizational tasks: she performed gap analysis of current policies and crosswalked those policies with requirements for National Committee for Quality Assurance Health Plan accreditation.
Courtney’s service to the WMU community extended beyond her academic and research work. In her second year of the MSW, she served as a graduate assistant in the Dean’s Office at the College of Health and Human Services, working directly with the communications coordinator of CHHS. Also that year, she served on two committees within the School of Social Work: the Field Education Subcommittee and the Admissions Policy Committee, working with faculty and students to understand and improve policies behind field placement and admission in the School of Social Work. She joined the Bernhard Center Advisory Board as an alumna representative, voting on new vendors contracts at the Bronco Mall and reviewing and approving the Bernhard Center budget for the upcoming academic year.
Courtney’s hard work and dedication to her MSW, the College of Health and Human Services and Western Michigan University paid off as Courtney was one of five recipients of the Graduate Student “Make a Difference Award” at the Graduate Student Association banquet on April 17, 2015. In the words of her nominator,
“Courtney is always the first person to jump on volunteer activities within the university as well as the Kalamazoo Community. We were given the opportunity to participate in the bi-annual Point In Time Count at a local homeless shelter through one of our classes and Courtney was eager to help out. She also dedicated her day off on Martin Luther King day to the MLK Day of Service and volunteered with The Land Bank helping to restore some apartments in Washington Square. There is no doubt in my mind that Courtney is a true Bronco through and through.”
When asked what advice she might have for future graduate students in the MSW program (or beyond), she advises students to advocate for themselves: “It’s important to reach out, find connections, and network. Not all experiences are going to be handed to you.” She has the highest praise for her professors and mentors, whom have been advocates for her and helped her along with her career. In the end, she says, it comes down to you. “What you put in is what you get out of the program. If you want to succeed, you have to put the work in!”

Graduate Student Association: Evening of Excellence and Make a Difference Award Ceremony

On April 17, 2015, the Graduate Student Association held its annual Evening of Excellence and Make a Difference Award Ceremony at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. Guests were offered an assortment of Mardi Gras-style masks to accent the theme and posed on a red carpet for formal photographs. Strains of classical music from the WMU Brass Quintet created an elegant atmosphere along with the sky-high centerpieces at the round tables, each seating 10 for a festive buffet dinner.

A photo of the many attendees of the Graduate Student Association's Evening of Excellence and Make a Difference Awards.  The Students are all dressed very well, with the men in suits and the women in dresses.

After a welcome from GSA Vice-President Amaury Pineda, PhD student in Political Science, Dr. Diane Anderson, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, greeted the crowd of about 150. She was followed by GSA President Damon Chambers, PhD student in Counseling Education and Counseling Psychology, who addressed the gathered audience with a reminder that GSA serves all graduate students. Membership is automatic, and funding for activities like the Evening of Excellence comes from student-paid fees. Shealyn Blanchard, PhD student in CECP and GSA Standards Chair introduced Keynote Speaker Britne Amos. Ms. Amos, past chair of GSAC, is a doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology. She spoke on establishing a positive reputation with your conduct and accomplishments and reminded listeners that your reputation precedes you in all areas of life: scholarly, personal, and professional.
Following Britne Amos’s speech, awards were given out in several categories. Three GSA President’s Awards were presented: Stephanie Goodman, PhD student in CECP, received the E-Board Member of the Year Award. Outstanding Service Awards for Long Service were presented to Denisha Griffey, PhD student in Geosciences and Shealyn Blanchard, PhD student in CECP. The Graduate Dean’s Awards for Graduate Ambassador of the Year were presented by Dr. Julie Apker, Graduate College Faculty Fellow and Professor in the School of Communication. She bestowed engraved glass plaques on Chartanay Bonner, PhD student in Chemistry, and Felicia Dotson, Master’s student in Blindness and Low Vision Rehabilitation.
Certificates to mark a “Successful Year in Office” were given to Marcial Amaury Pineda, PhD student in Political Science and Vice-President of GSA; Hilltop Review Editor Rebecca Straple, PhD student in English; GSA Legislative Chair Denisha Griffey; GSA Standards Chair Shealyn Blanchard; GSA Events Chair and Co-Chair Michael Bobbitt and Stephanie Goodman, both PhD students in CECP; GSA Communication Chairs Alex Houser, PhD student in Economics and Chartanay Bonner; GSA Outreach Chairs Justin Moore, PhD student in Psychology and Danielle Smith, MA student in CECP. Several graduate ambassadors who served as graduate student representatives on Faculty Senate Councils also received “Successful Year in Office” certificates: Research Policy Council Representative Michael Lindquist, MA student in Philosophy; Campus Planning and Finance Representative Carol Adams-Shearer, MA student in Higher Education and Student Affairs; Graduate Studies Council Representative Jesus Romero, MA student in HESA; Student Media Representatives Michael Saldana, MA student in Engineering and Felicia Dotson. Ambassadors Gregory Wallace, PhD student in Biological Sciences and Paola Maria Paniagua, MA student in Communication, also received certificates for their successful year in office.
The Graduate Student Make a Difference Award is given annually to graduate students who have distinguished themselves by assisting and mentoring other graduate students on campus. Winners included Codie Stone, PhD student in Sociology, Yngvi Einarsson, PhD student in PSYC, Princilla Ursery, MA student in CECP/SPADA, Danielle Smith, MA student in CECP, Courtney Dunsmore, Master’s student in Social Work, and Joel Sanford, MA student in Comparative Religion. Saleem Hussein, MS student in Electrical Engineering, Qiong Wu, PhD student in Sociology, Alberta Stover, PhD student in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, Derricka Caldwell, MA student in CECP, and James Busuito, Master of Music, Conducting, all received certificates to recognize their service to the graduate student body at WMU. Graduate Students of Comparative Religion, led by Joel Sanford, MA student in Comparative Religion, won the Graduate Registered Student Organization of the Year for 2014-2015.
Last year’s graduate ambassadors Carol Adams-Shearer, Michael Bobbitt, Chartanay Bonner, Felicia Dotson, Stephanie Goodman, Alexander Houser, Michael Lundquist, Justin Moore, Paola Maria Paniagia, Jesus Romero, Michael Saldana, Danielle Smith and Gregory Wallace were saluted and thanked by GSA, Dean Stapleton, and the gathered students, faculty and staff. The new graduate ambassadors for 2015-16 were introduced, along with new executive board members of GSA, Rebecca Straple, George Lluberes, PhD student in PSCI; Stephanie Goodman; Michelle Deochand, PhD student in BIOS; Neil Deochand, PhD student in PSYC; Bob Agiro, MA student in HESA; and Michael Bobbitt. The 2015-16 ambassadors are Carol Adams-Shearer; Bilge Altay, PhD student in Paper and Chemical Engineering; Gary Atkins, MA student in CECP; Kaitlyn Cichocki-Goss, MA student in OT; Christina Collins, MA student in CECP; Felicia Dotson, Yu Du, PhD student in Evaluation, Measurement and Research; Joshua Greenman, MA student in PSCI; Kate Hibbard-Gibbon, PhD student in CECP; Olivia McLaughlin, MA student in SOC; Muhammad Mollah, MBA student; Princilla Ursery; and Mark Webster, PhD student in BIOS.
After the ceremonies, guests crowded the dance floor to show off their dance moves. The evening was a huge success and a wonderful send-off to those graduating in Spring 2015. The Graduate College congratulates all the award winners and members of the Graduate Student Association who help the Graduate College in advancing careers through advanced degrees.

A Successful Year for the Graduate Student Association

Last year GSA hosted the 27th Annual NAGPS conference at WMU, while this year they had the opportunity to network and share best practices as well as present at the 28th Annual National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) National Conference at the University of Missouri November 6-9. 12 members of the GSA attended the along with hundreds of other graduate students from around the nation. WMU has built their presence on the national level with four GSA members elected to the regional and national board of directors Executive Committee. Damon Chambers, President of GSA, was elected as the Director of Outreach; Marlies Hagge, GSA member, was elected Director of Administration and CIO; while Denisha Griffey, GSA Legislative Affairs Chair, was elected Midwest Regional Chair for NAGPS; and Danielle Smith, WMU GSA Outreach Chair and Graduate Ambassador, was elected Midwest Regional Director of Outreach. In addition to these prestigious elections, the WMU chapter of NAGPS was named Midwest Regional Member of the Year and Overall NAGPS Member of the Year for 2015!

A photo of a student recieving an award at the annual GSA Make a Difference Awards.  The people are all smiling and standing in front of a wall with the W M U seal on it.  The participants include members of the Graduate Student Association, the Vice President of Student Affairs and the Dean of the Graduate College.

NAGPS is a nationally and internationally recognized association of graduate students that advocates for institutional and structural changes to improve graduate and professional education in the United States. Their mission is to develop, sustain, and expand their member network to connect graduate and professional students and facilitate sharing information, resources and best practices. One of their major concerns is to empower and amplify student voices to campus, local, state and federal policymakers especially as regards to student debt issues. For more information on NAGPS, please visit their website at
Through their presentation “Building a Presence: Intertwining Successful Leadership through New and Innovative Programs,” Denisha Griffey and Chartanay Bonner, GSA Communications Chair, shared programs and strategies that have been implemented on Western’s campus. Some notable events have been the Graduate Ambassador program, which came into being through the auspices of the Graduate College under the direction of Dean Susan Stapleton, the Grad Talks Series, the name change from Graduate Student Advisory Committee to the Graduate Student Association, hosting the 27th NAGPS convention, and winning the 2014 Regional Member of the Year award.
On November 19, the leadership of GSA participated in the “National Call Congress Day.” This is one of many advocacy efforts that take place yearly through partnership with NAGPS and their “Grads Have Debt2” campaign. WMU students joined graduate and professional school students from across the country to phone their representatives in the nation’s capital to advocate for attention to graduate student debt. The main focus is to reinstate subsidized Stafford loans and reduce student loan interest rates.
Other activities which have kept GSA busy and served graduate students across campus this past year included a free wellness forum to promote well-balanced lifestyles through workshops focusing on physical, emotional and financial health for graduate students. In October members met with President Dunn to discuss issues of concern to WMU graduate students, including housing on campus, improving disability access, and funding for research. During finals week GSA sponsored relaxing free chair massages for graduate students. All graduate students were invited to a free holiday social at Monaco Bay nightclub in festive downtown Kalamazoo to celebrate the winter holiday season.
Other activities sponsored by GSA include an annual trip to Michigan’s Adventure Theme Park, bowling nights, and a trip to Washington D.C. in March to represent the WMU chapter of NAGPS during their spring legislative action days.
The end-of- year Make A Difference Award Ceremony and banquet at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo took place in April. A Mardi Gras theme gave attendees a chance to dress up and wear flamboyant masks with feathers, sequins and red-hot flames! Over 200 students enjoyed dinner, dancing, a “red carpet” photo opportunity, and listening to speaker Britne Amos, past chair of GSAC and Ph.D. candidate in Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology, give an inspirational speech. The new ambassadors for 2015-2016 were introduced, and numerous awards were bestowed. All graduate students are invited to all GSA sponsored events, and are encouraged to participate for networking, fellowship and fun! Please visit their website at for more information.