Damon Chambers, immediate past president of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Association elected president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students

This is a photo of Damon Chambers standing outside of Walwood Hall where the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Association offices are located at W M U. Mr. Chambers is wearing a dark brown courderoy sport coat and dress shirt.  He has short black hair and is wearing dark rimmed glasses and has a welcoming smile
As newly elected president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional School Students (NAGPS), Damon Chambers begins his term in a climate of uncertainty for higher education. NAGPS was formed in 1987 to fight efforts by Congress to tax graduate student stipends. New threats have emerged to graduate student funding and NAGPS is still the only student-run national non-profit organization representing graduate and professional students at the local, state, and national level.

In November, student leaders from across the country gathered at the 2017 NAGPS National Conference at Syracuse University. During discussions and workshops members focused on how the current political climate will affect graduate funding, interest rates for student loans, and student visas. They also voted on the 2018 governing body. Chambers’ platform was inspired by Western Michigan University’s Three Pillars; he campaigned for an advocacy-centered, leadership-engaged, research-driven, financially secure, and multi-culturally aware organization.

Chambers has been an active NAGPS leader as 2015 director of outreach and 2017 director of finance and chief financial officer. He was instrumental in bringing the 2013 national conference to WMU and has encouraged WMU Graduate Student Association executive board members to serve in leadership positions with NAGPS. He received a Masters of Art degree in blindness and low vision studies in 2014 and an MA in school counseling in 2015. He is expected to receive his doctorate in counselor education at WMU in 2019. In addition to serving as president of GSA from 2013 to 2016, Chambers currently holds the position of director of advocacy and legislative affairs for 2017-18.

From his home country Jamaica, where he earned a BS at the Mico University College, to Western Michigan University’s Board of Trustees, where he holds a graduate associateship, Chambers has made a global impact. Under his leadership the graduate student body changed its name from the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) to the Graduate Student Association. He was instrumental in expanding GSA’s executive board to include 18 members, giving more graduate students a chance to engage in participatory governance. Additionally, his administration implemented Grad Talks, giving graduate students opportunities to present their research in a public forum. For more information on GSA, please visit their webpage at www.wmich.edu/gsa/

Graduate Students in Geography Program Map a Promising Future

In November, several second year Master of Science students in the Department of Geography shared their research interests and career plans with the Graduate College. Graduate students can choose one of three concentrations: community development and planning; environmental and resource analysis, and geographic information science. Many students choose to combine these concentrations for an interdisciplinary approach.

Students in the program have widely divergent career goals but they have one thing in common: geo-spatial imaging has given them the tools to work in almost any field they choose. Geo-spatial imaging is the science of analyzing imagery from high and low-tech sources, including satellites, remotely piloted vehicles (drones), photographs, and maps, to examine issues such as water quality, health disparities, transportation decisions and business initiatives.

This photo of Trenton Benedict shows him standing in Welborn hall in front of a large sepia-toned landscape photo.  Trenton has short brown hair and is wearing glasses and a plaid shirt with a large brown and tan pattern on it.
Trenton Benedict wants to avoid a desk job and get out in the field. He found a program in environmental and resource analysis where he can literally get out into the field. His research takes him to Saginaw farm fields, where he uses high technology spectral imaging to track the life cycle of Phragmites, an invasive grass species. Phragmites threatens native cattail species, so Benedict’s research focuses on identifying the best time for eradication by disrupting the reproductive cycle of the weed.

This photo of Sam Roodbar shows him staining inside of wellborn hall in front of a wall that has a large number of geography related photos.  Sam has very short dark black hair as well as a short black beard and nicely trimmed mustache.  He is wearing a blue shirt and a friendly smile.
WMU graduate students are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) imaging and analysis to prepare for research and teaching careers once they have completed a doctoral program. Sam Roodbar’s GIS and human geography specialization led him to research the persistence of locally owned and operated food markets in Dearborn, Michigan. He found that even while global retailers such as Walmart and Costco moved in nearby, small grocery stores stayed in business because they catered to their mostly Muslim customers’ need for halal food. Roodbar won Council Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper award at the Association of American Geographers East Lakes Division Conference on October 13. He also recently placed second in the Three Minute Thesis competition at WMU, co-sponsored by the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Association.

This photo of Alyson Mabie shows her standing in Welborn hall in front of a very large map.  She has long light brown hair and is wearing a black and white striped sweater over a mostly black shirt with a thin white plaid pattern.
Alyson Mabie, whose degree concentration is community development and planning, also has her sights on a Ph.D. so she can obtain a university teaching and research position. One of her research project analyzes how the 2013 designation of “Beer City, USA” expanded the cultural boundaries of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She used mapping and GIS to analyze how breweries outside the central city were affected by the designation. Mabie won the Best Graduate Level Presentation at the Association of American Geographers East Lakes Division Conference. Before she graduates in Spring 2018 she will complete a master’s thesis using GIS to analyze the geospatial distribution of graffiti within the city.

This photo of Alex LaPorte shows him standing outside of wellborn hall infront of a green pine tree and a red bush.  Alex has short light brown hair and is wearing a blue and sliver Detroit zip-up jacket over a lighter blue t-shirt.
Many students will focus on city or county government planning, like Alex LaPorte, whose concentration is environmental resource and analysis and GIS. Alex is a member of the Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority, a nine-member Board that works to plan, promote, finance and operate public transportation in Kalamazoo County. He plans to work with the state in transportation planning and has focused his research on car-deer collisions in Kalamazoo County. By examining the data on how these collisions correlate with location, land cover, land use, weather, road and traffic information, he is working on reducing car-deer crashes.

This photo of Rowan Cole shows him standing in Wellborn hall in front of a large sepia-toned landscape photo. Rowan has short brown hair and is clean shaven, he is wearing a blue plaid shirt and a welcoming smile.
Rowan Cole’s career goals involve international travel. His undergraduate major in Russian Studies and experience as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, along with his specialties in Geographic Environmental Analysis, human geography, and economic geography have served him as he assesses the effectiveness of Russian environmental policies. His research looks at changes in deforestation in the Russian Far East through high resolution imagery, then correlates these changes with climate, precipitation and economic data. He then compares his findings with data from a study published in 2000 to see if forest management policies were effective in bringing positive environmental change.

This photo of Danielle Molenaar shows her standing inside of Wellborn hall in front of a wall that has two framed maps displayed.  Danielle has long wavy light brown hair and is wearing a maroon shirt and a silver necklace with a coin-shaped pendant.
Environmental concerns are foremost for Danielle Molenaar as well; her Environmental Analysis concentration focuses on water use patterns in the City of Kalamazoo over the past ten years. She has used census data for household income and educational levels cross-referenced with weather and climate data to analyze spatial patterns of water use by homes in the city. Her expertise in analyzing local water use patterns will help her move into a career in urban water management, flood risk management or local governmental water authority.

Students with advanced degrees in geography have excellent employment prospects. Jobs are particularly plentiful in the western United States, where governmental and commercial operations have headquarters and the infrastructure is well-developed. Many obtain private sector employment as consultants. About thirty percent of graduates go on to doctoral programs.

Most graduate students in the geography department have the opportunity to work as teaching assistants because the department houses so many undergraduate level courses. Majors in aviation, anthropology, biological sciences, chemistry, economics, history, political science, public administration, health sciences, engineering, statistics, and business, among others, find that knowledge of GIS gives them a definite edge on the job market. Business is booming and Western Michigan University’s Department of Geography is meeting the needs of today’s graduates and their employers.

Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate Program

In response to a need expressed by students and faculty, Western Michigan University created a new university-wide Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate in which students combine research and coursework from two or more disciplines. This program is housed in the Graduate College, and allows for cross-disciplinary work that spans every college. The Interdisciplinary Studies Doctoral degree offers flexibility to students with interests outside existing academic boundaries and established programs. Since 2000, national reports calling for increasing interdisciplinary graduate education and encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to research and education have risen sharply, as reported by the Council of Graduate Schools, the national organization dedicated to advancement of graduate education [Council of Graduate Schools (2012) Interdisciplinary Graduate Education: Role of the Graduate School. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools]. At the eighth annual Global Summit on Graduate Education in 2014, leaders of graduate institutions from 14 countries supported interdisciplinary learning in graduate education and challenged graduate institutions to prepare students to collaborate across academic disciplines.

Given the emerging interest crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, we created the Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate at WMU. In addition, there are several other interdisciplinary degrees on campus: the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD, the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation, and interdisciplinary PhDs in Education and Human Development and Engineering and Applied Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate is designed to span all disciplines at the university and allow additional flexibility in meeting the needs of students whose research interests are not currently met in a traditional program. WMU is now better positioned to more effectively serve future students as interdisciplinary approaches in research continue to expand.

Currently there are eight students in the program, with two applications under review for fall 2017. These students have established creative combinations of disciplines, including anthropology/sociology, economics/philosophy, social work/psychology, computer science/English/library sciences, and special education/educational leadership. Some of the projects are groundbreaking in their scope or focus, including a social history of the mobilization of the gay community in Tijuana, Mexico since the early 1980s in the context of human rights activism. Another project focusing on the Latino community analyzes healthcare construction and stresses the development of culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare policy. Another student has devised a collaboration between special education and educational leadership to create a Special Education support center in Saudi Arabia.

The individually designed interdisciplinary degree relies heavily on its unique combination of specific disciplines and the particular expertise of each faculty member involved. Students in the WMU program craft a distinctive experience that supports the learner-centered, discovery-driven, and globally engaged mission of WMU. It meets individual student needs, promotes academic collaboration across the university, and produces scholars with a global approach to solving problems.

Cynda Harris – Doctoral student in Audiology

Every student knows the first question to ask when starting a writing project is “Who is my audience?” When Cynda Harris, Doctor of Audiology student in Western Michigan University’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, set out to write an essay, she knew the audience was not academic. In fact, it was radio station WIRX, a rock station her family listens to daily from their home near Western’s Southwest Campus. The purpose of the essay? To win a contest sponsored by WIRX, “Get Lit This Christmas” that would bring a professional light installation crew to her parents’ home to decorate for the holidays. Harris knew the radio station was not looking for an academic essay, so she wrote the following heart-felt letter, sent it off and thought no more about it.

A photo of doctoral student Cynda Harris with her family and representatives of WIRX infront of Cynda's newly lighted home.

“This is actually my parents’ home. They absolutely love Christmas, especially my mom. They work so hard every day. My father alternates between 14-hr night shifts immediately into day shifts. His days off vary every week. Sometimes, we don’t get to see him. Then, on his days off, he’s nonstop working around the house. Cleaning, fixing things up, taking care of the pet, doing laundry, mowing the lawn – you name it. It’s very stressful, and I can see him wearing down. But, he is always in a good mood. He smiles and jokes, and will get little to no sleep just to spend time with his family when he can. My mom is the same way. Her job is stressful, but she takes the criticism from her boss when she needs to be at work late or leave early to take care of my youngest brother (only 6 and in 1st grade). She will wake up at 3am with my Dad sometimes just to spend time with him. She cooks, cleans, drives all around for errands or my brother’s activities, and is always willing to do whatever she can for her family, despite her lack of sleep. My middle brother is in the Army and currently stationed in Korea. This has been hard on my parents, but they are always loving and supportive. Now that I (the oldest) am joining the Navy, I can see the sadness in their eyes, but they are so proud of us. After all they continue to go through, Christmas has always been a holiday of love and togetherness. For all they do and how much they love this holiday, I believe they deserve a house of light to reflect all the goodness within their hearts.”

Imagine her surprise when, a few weeks later, the phone rang while she was taking a well-deserved nap between studying for finals, working her internship, volunteering with ROTC, and taking classes. The radio shock-jock’s voice blared in her ear, causing the type of damage her audiology program is educating her to treat (for audio of this conversation, click here: http://www.wirx.com/get-lit-this-christmas/).Harris got her wish; her parents’ home was covered in lights, and the radio station came out for a big lighting ceremony. But nothing made up for the fact that her brother wasn’t home for Christmas because he’s serving in the US military in South Korea. After she finishes her program, Harris plans to enter the military as well and serve as an audiologist. Only two of all graduating audiologists in the entire United States will be chosen for a Navy externship each year. The externship, which is the last thing she will need to complete her Au.D., would last from summer 2017 to summer 2018 and takes place at a Navy base either in the US or around the world, working in a Navy clinic or hospital. After graduation from WMU and getting her license to practice audiology, Ms. Harris has her sights set on a military training school which would lead to a career practicing as a military audiologist. Her commitment is palpable. In her own words, “The men and women who fight would willingly give up life and limb to protect their loved ones. I will only be happy if they are safe.” While audiologists are expected to be competent in every aspect of the hearing field, according to Harris, military audiologists differ from audiology specialist practices in the United States. These typically focus on one type of audiology, military audiologists must be proficient in every category of audiology: hearing loss from trauma, infection, or medical condition, and adult or pediatric audiology. If and when she decides to establish or join a practice back home, she knows she can handle any patient situation she encounters. While an undergraduate, she tutored Japanese students and traveled to Japan. Her love for all things Japanese has fostered her hopes to eventually be stationed on a military base in Japan. She double majored in Japanese Language and Culture and Pre-Audiology at Ball State University. A recipient of the Whitinger Scholarship, Ball State most prestigious scholarship, Harris was able to double major and received her bachelor’s degree in four years. As an audiologist entering the military she would be a commissioned officer, so she needs to know about each branch of the military. To that end, Harris volunteered for ROTC here on Western’s campus during fall 2016. Her busy schedule also includes working as Graduate Ambassador in the Graduate College at Western Michigan University for fall 2016 and spring 2017, where she acts as a liaison between students, faculty and staff in the College of Health and Human Services and the Graduate College. Harris is as determined now as she was while an undergraduate at Ball State. The Doctor of Audiology degree is a four-year post baccalaureate professional degree which prepares its graduates to provide high quality services and leadership in the field of audiology. Audiologists are health-care professionals who specialize in identifying, diagnosing, treating and monitoring disorders of the auditory system, which involves both the inner and outer ear. The degree program is rigorous. Currently 23 students are enrolled in some stage of the program, which involves completing all requirements of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Certificate of Clinical Competence and/or state licensure. This means a four-year schedule packed with coursework, clinical practice, professional field experience, outcomes-based formative assessment and independent scholarly research.

While pursuing this rigorous schedule, Harris also performs as a Graduate Ambassador, works at PetSmart, volunteers with ROTC, and sometimes babysits for her six-year old brother. On top of all that, she takes time to write and submit winning essays designed to cheer up her parents. We’d say that’s pretty impressive.

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.

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.

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 www.nagps.org.
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 www.mich.edu/gsa/ for more information.

The New Graduate Student Association

Through a vote of the membership, The Graduate Student Advisory Committee has now officially changed its name to the Graduate Student Association. The change reflects more truly the makeup of the GSA: an association, not a committee, which implies that membership is limited and exclusive. Since all graduate students are automatically members of this campus wide student organization, we wanted a name that reflects the inclusive nature of the group. Damon Chambers, previously the chair, and Marcial Amaury Pineda, previously the vice-chair, have had their titles change to reflect the new order. Damon is now president, and Amaury is now vice-president. Membership includes all graduate students, no matter where they take classes.

a photo of six graduate student representatives of the Graduate Student Association attending a National Convention.  Three women and three men are sitting aroud a small round table in professional atire with matching notebooks in front of them.

A University-sanctioned fee assessed from each graduate student at the beginning of each semester funds activities and initiatives. These include informational and social events for new and returning graduate students, monthly GSA meetings with refreshments, travel to various graduate student conferences throughout the country, and a new series of graduate student presentations called Grad Talks. These are modeled on TED Talks, which feature experts on any subject giving informational talks to an audience of interested listeners. Grad Talks are an excellent way for graduate students to get practice presenting their thesis, dissertation, research ideas, book reviews, journal articles, posters or paper ideas. It is also a good way to prepare for conference presentation. Student contributions will be filmed and published on the GSA website for reference or for future viewing. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to submit by sending an email to gsa@wmich.edu. Grad Talks are open to the public; some seats are reserved for graduate students and their guests who pre-register to attend. For more information on the new GSA, including bylaws, executive board members and directions for applying for funding, please visit their updated website at http://www.wmich.edu/gsa and follow them on Facebook. Call the Graduate College at (269)387-8212 or GSA leadership at (269)387-8207 for information on visiting GSA offices in Walwood Hall on East Campus. A meeting schedule can be found on the GSA website at http://www.wmich.edu/gsa/calendar-activities.

Dr. Clara Adams

For Dr. Clara P. Adams, GEP scholar, current recipient of a Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship, and recipient of the Graduate Research (2013) and Graduate Teaching Effectiveness (2012) Awards from the Chemistry department, the decision to pursue research in chemistry at WMU has yielded fantastic success, but she gives credit to those who helped and inspired her in her chemistry lab and at the Graduate College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Charlotte, North Carolina, she might have attended pharmacy school if not for the opportunity and encouragement she received from WMU’s Dr. Sherine Obare, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Clara’s eventual advisor. Dr. Obare gave Clara the chance to work on a project in her lab in Charlotte — a project evaluating stilbene-based molecular sensors for the detection of organophosphorous pesticides — the first “real world” academic experience Clara had outside of her undergraduate chemistry labs. Later, Dr. Obare encouraged her to apply to WMU’s master’s program in chemistry, after which Clara was quickly promoted to begin the Ph.D. program. As a doctoral student, Clara continued her work, developing metallic nanoparticles that could detect hydrogen peroxide and pathogens like Escherichia coli.

A photo of Dr. Clara Adams.

When she had an opportunity to take on teaching responsibilities, Clara worked as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a new laboratory unit that would better demonstrate immediate and real-world applications for chemistry and biology. Working under a fellowship awarded by the GAANN program (Graduate Assistants in Areas of National Need), Clara collaborated with Dr. Donald Schreiber to develop a “food science” lab that would allow students to determine macromolecules present in food items. Using chemical reagents, students determined the amount of macromolecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, and sodium chloride in foods like chips, cheese, nuts, and turkey. While Dr. Schreiber laid the ground-work for the lab, Clara grew the idea, working out procedures for the tests and expanding their scope to go beyond their initial idea of testing for amounts of protein in tortilla chips. Thanks to the efforts of Clara and Dr. Schreiber, that innovative lab has been implemented into WMU’s undergraduate chemistry program.

Beyond this, Clara’s research in shape control of metallic (ruthenium and palladium) nanoparticles took her to national conferences, including her first oral presentation at the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia in 2012 (a conference that annually draws 30,000 professors, students, and practitioners), to international venues, such as the 2013 IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) conference in Istanbul, Turkey, where she presented her research in a poster session. She sees her future research going into the uses of shape-control for other metallic nanoparticles not extensively studied right now; she wants to do further research into using electrochemical sensors for detecting other bacteria, waste contaminants, and environmental pollutants. As Dr. Adams observes, “this area of research is crucial because nanotechnology is still relatively new, so there’s not much research into how nanoparticles affect the environment.” Clara is currently looking at post-doctoral positions where she can continue her work, and has even considered broadening her experience by starting research in cosmetic chemistry in the future.

Through all her success in research, teaching, and publication at WMU (she has four articles to her name, plus one in the works, as well as a book chapter), Clara is effusive in her praise of Dr. Obare, for encouraging her to apply first to WMU, and then for numerous awards and funding opportunities. She thanks Mr. Tony Dennis and the GEP program, for providing countless opportunities for professional and academic development, as well as Linda Comrie of the Graduate College, for helping her through a labyrinth of funding rules and policies, and Dr. Marianne Di Pierro and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention, for their workshops on applying for grants and post-docs, which Clara says “are definitely needed and wanted!” Finally, Clara is every day thankful to God for giving her the strength to begin and continue this journey, and the blessings that have come to her along the way. We’re sure that her success has only begun, and wish her the best as she graduates with a Ph.D. from WMU this spring.