WMU Alumna Accepts Faculty Position at University of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center

This is a photo of Dr. Rebecca Sametz. Dr. Sametz is wearing a charcoal blazer with a black top and a silver neclace with three chains that each have a rectangular bead in the center of each chain. She has long reddish brown hair that passes a couple inches past her shoulders. She is wearing dark rimmed glasses and has a welcoming smile
Dr. Rebecca Sametz, who earned two advanced degrees from WMU, completed her doctorate at Michigan State University in 2017 and has accepted an assistant professorship at University of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. Sametz received an M.A. in both vision rehabilitation therapy and rehabilitation counseling and teaching in 2014. She will teach graduate-level courses and provide clinical supervision for students in the clinical rehabilitation counseling program. Her work includes teaching, research, advising graduate students, and developing curriculum.

UTTHS serves students and their clients who live in the mostly rural areas of Texas, so Sametz will primarily teach online courses. Her dissertation, Development of a Work-Based Learning Model for Youth with Disabilities from the Perspective of Employers, addresses rehabilitation models to assist disabled youth in becoming productive workers and helps health care professionals and vocational rehabilitation counselors serve their clients.

While at WMU, Sametz served as vice-chair of the Graduate Student Advisory Committee, now Graduate Student Association, from 2012 to 2014. This role led to increased engagement with the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) where she was elected to a board position in January 2014. As director of relations, she promoted the organization by communicating with other student organizations about fundraising sources and techniques.

Throughout her career Sametz has been elected to positions in numerous professional organizations, including the Michigan Rehabilitation Association, National Rehabilitation Association, Michigan Job Placement and Development Division, Michigan Rehabilitation Counselors and Educators, and National Rehabilitation Association Job Placement and Development Division (NRAJPDD), of which she was elected president for the 2017 term.

Sametz has a manuscript in review with the Journal of Rehabilitation and has numerous credentials, including Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LLPC) in Michigan, and Employment Training Specialist (ETS). She has won two awards from the NRAJPDD. She credits her experiences at WMU with helping her to grow as a professional by providing opportunities and mentorship. According to Sametz, “WMU has a great student, faculty, and staff population who are there to support you and help you grow by opening doors… it is up to the student to step through those doors and make the most of each opportunity.”

A Valuable Degree

A PhD from Western Michigan University pays big dividends, as these recent graduates prove. Out of over 120 doctoral graduates from Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, we chose several who have exciting opportunities after graduation. Three have post-doctoral research offers at prestigious institutions around the country, several have faculty positions at universities here and abroad, and some are working in their fields. Their experiences reinforce research which shows that a doctoral degree is a worthwhile investment.

This photo is a collage of several alumni of Western Michigan University.  Featured most promenenently is Lindsay Jeffers, her photo was picked to be the background of the collage because she is wearing her graduation cap and gown.  Lindsay has blond hair and a large smile, we suspect because she just graduated.  In the middle of the photo is a big gold W, which is the brand mark for Western Michigan University.  To the left are the photos of seven other alumni members, a colum of three to the far left includes from top to bottom are Erica Taylor, Tiantian Zhang, and Neil Deochand. To their right, and sort of in the middle are four alumni in a collum, but slightly smaller photos because there are more of them.  They are: Andrew Hale, Justin Moore, Elizabeth MacQuillan, and James Atkinson.  Everyone is smiling except for James Atkinson, because this photo was taken while he was teaching, and he looks rather stern, but he's really a nice guy, it just doesn't show very well in this photo.

James Atkinson, who recently completed his doctoral degree in Chemical and Paper Engineering, has obtained a job as a pre-press operator at LTi Printing in Sturgis, Michigan. LTi Printing is a locally owned and operated printing company that employs 100 people and focuses on packaging, pressure sensitive labels, and commercial and digital printing. In a technology-driven industry, hiring employees who are experts in their field is key to meeting strategic goals. Atkinson’s dissertation analyzes the ‘Fate of Conductive Ink Pigments During Recycling and Landfill Deposition of Paper-Based Printed Electronics.” He focused on recovering metallic inks so they do not enter the water table and contaminate groundwater, with an added economic bonus of reusing the metallic inks. With his committee composed of Drs. Andro Mondala, Paul Fleming, Jan Pekarovic and Jorge Rodriguez, Atkinson has positioned himself to rise in the rapidly evolving printing industry.

As a newly appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati, Neil Deochand’s 2017 doctoral degree from WMU has paid off handsomely. His research indicates that using real-time audio and video feedback correlates with better workouts and improved athletic performance compared to a standard workout. With Dr. Wayne Fuqua of WMU’s Department of Psychology as chair of his committee, Deochand worked with Drs. Ron Van Houten, Anthony DeFulio, and Derek Reed to refine his research into a dissertation titled ‘Assessing a Punching Bag Feedback Performance Device’. Dr. Deochand and his wife, Michelle, are now living in Cincinnati, Ohio where a new baby will soon join their son Scion as heir to the family brains.

Another recent graduate of the doctoral program in Psychology, Andrew Hale, is nearing completion on his pre-doctoral clinical internship at the Veteran’s Administration Ann Arbor, MI Healthcare System. Upon completion, he will begin a two-year post-doctoral research fellowship at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research, a Health Services Research and Development Center of Innovation located in Ann Arbor. Here he will continue his work with veterans reflected in his dissertation, ‘Predictors of change in Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for veterans in a residential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment program.’ Hale’s committee chair Dr. Richard Spates joined with Drs. Scott Gaynor, Amy Damasheck and Jessica Rodriguez to mentor Hale through the process of obtaining a doctoral degree. We wish him the best as he continues through his post-doc to a career helping veterans recover from trauma.

Lindsay Jeffers has just accepted a visiting faculty position at Grand Valley State University in the Department of Writing. Her dissertation focuses on the challenges of student teachers and those who mentor them in ‘Preparing Teachers in English Language Arts: Mentor Teachers Speak.’ With Dr. Jonathan Bush as chair and Drs. Karen Vocke, Allen Webb and Leah Zuidema as members of her dissertation committee, Jeffers received her doctoral degree in the English Education program in the Department of English at Western Michigan University. Along with her work instructing future English teachers, she currently blogs on https://writerswhocare.wordpress.com/ . Here teachers of English to elementary and secondary school students share the joys and challenges of developing budding writers.

Another PhD recipient who will be working at GVSU is Elizabeth MacQuillan. She received her degree from WMU in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program under Drs. Amy Curtis, Kathleen Baker and Rajib Paul. Dr. MacQuillan was offered a faculty position in the new Masters of Science in the new Clinical Dietetics program at Grand Valley State University. MacQuillan has been busy since defending her dissertation, titled ‘Birth Record Analysis of Gestational Diabetes: Applications for Intervention Planning.” This study aims to assess Michigan-wide rates of gestational diabetes using a combination of statistical and spatial analyses. What makes her study truly interdisciplinary and groundbreaking is her use of statistical analysis and Geographic InformationSystems (GIS) to identify where services are most needed in Michigan and what type of content those services would most beneficially deliver. She recently presented her research at the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research conference in Seattle, WA and in July had an article published in the Michigan Journal of Public Health.

Justin Moore, PhD in Clinical Psychology, conducted several months of study at a local alternative high school, instructing students on mindfulness practices and assessing the effectiveness of their use. Moore used a computer-based strategy to teach the adolescents mindfulness strategies and score participants throughout the study to determine their levels of psychological distress using the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale. Moore’s research found that two interventions, breath-counting and self-compassion, had mixed results. He determined that while computer based interventions did not produce reliably positive results on overall mental health, as demonstrated by the DAS Scale, the practices did show some promise in promoting the acquisition and practice of mindfulness in teens. A successful defense of his dissertation, “Examination of the Effects of Computer Assisted Mindfulness Strategies with Adolescents in an Alternative High School Setting” took place on May 11, 2017. His committee, comprised of Drs. Scott Gaynor, Amy Naugle, C. Richard Spates and Helen Pratt, was proud to recommend Dr. Moore for his next step: a pediatric psychology post-doctoral position at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

Another WMU graduate has attained a post-doctoral position with a famous organization. Tiantian Zhang, of the Deparment of Biological Sciences/Biomedical Sciences, has begun his work in Dr. Larry Kwak’s laboratory in the City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Kwak was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010, and Dr. Zhang will join Dr. Kwak’s lab working toward a cure for cancer. His dissertation, “Oncolytic Tanapoxvirus for Melanoma Therapy” demonstrates how oncolytic viruses, which infect cancer cells with anti-tumor immune responsivity, may emerge into a potentially effective therapy against melanoma, a deadly form of human cancer. Working with Drs. Karim Essani, Bruce Bejcek, Robert Eversole, and Christopher Fisher, Dr. Zhang was also an active member of the Graduate Student Association and was one of the first Graduate Ambassadors appointed by Dean Susan Stapleton when she launched the Graduate Ambassador Program in 2013.

Like many students in the Educational Leadership, Research and Technology department, Ericka Taylor came to WMU already functioning as a leader in an educational setting. By earning her doctorate, Taylor has positioned herself not only to shine in her current role as Early Childhood Coordinator for Saginaw Public Schools, but also to continue to rise in the ranks of her profession. Taylor worked with Drs. Walter Burt, Sue Poppink, and Kelley Peatross on her dissertation, titled “Are the Leadership Behaviors of K-12 Leaders in Mid-Western Urban School Districts Influenced by Their Beliefs and Attitudes Regarding Spirituality?” Dr. Taylor’s project concluded with several recommendations for improving professional development and support for individuals working in this high stress environment. These strategies include holding spiritual values, utilizing meditation or prayer, and employing practices which develop and maintain a strong sense of purpose and a collective sense of mission for all employees.

Laura Alicia Pacheco del Castillo worked with Drs. Joseph Morris, Mary Zoyer Anderson, and C. Dennis Simpson to attain her doctorate in Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. Having returned to the Dominican Republic, she is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra. Her dissertation, titled “Dominican College Students’ Experiences of Distress, Help-Seeking and Stigma” looks at how Dominican students handle feelings of psychological distress through seeking psychological help. Pacheco found that about 71% of traditional-aged undergraduate college students report moderate levels of distress and also hold neutral attitudes about help-seeking, while about 67% hold moderate help seeking intentions. Over three-quarters report they themselves feel moderate stigma for seeking help and the same number report moderate levels of social stigma about psychological services. Her study, one of the first to examine college students in the Dominican Republic, contributes valuable data on mental health and help-seeking within this population and has implications for improved practice and research.

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

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 Advocate.com, 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!”

Mark Forner

Carpe Diem means “seize the day” and Mark Forner, WMU alumni and principal of Carpe Diem Meridian Campus in Indianapolis certainly has seized his day. With a history as a business owner, classroom teacher and passionate supporter of school reform, Dr. Forner has taken the lead in a new concept school. Carpe Diem has brought higher test scores and graduation rates to the students who populate the “blended learning” concept urban educational facility. Blended learning combines two approaches, the traditional teacher-led classroom and the online school model in which students work independently on digital courses. Carpe Diem Meridian combines high quality classroom instruction with challenging digital courses in a highly personalized way. Students are not divided into age-level grades; instead, they are allowed to work to their ability level, and may climb through the levels much faster than if they were to spend a full year in each grade.

A photo of Mark Forner and two school-aged children in a school setting.

The first Carpe Diem school was established by Rick Ogston in Yuma, AZ about eight years ago. He developed the concept and Carpe Diem Yuma has had outstanding test scores and graduation rates well above the state average for Arizona. Once he had the model school up and running successfully, he expanded into Indianapolis in 2012 and now into Ohio. The Meridian Campus in Indianapolis had middle school passage rates on state standardized testing of over 85% in English and Language Arts and 88% in Math, well above the state average. Mark Forner has been instrumental in making this vision happen and he credits the education he received at Western Michigan University for helping him.

After received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Kalamazoo College and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, Mark was a small-town business owner who ended up, almost by default, on the school board. As he became more interested in school reform, he realized he needed to expand his skills in the area of educational leadership, with the goal of becoming a rural school principal. He turned to Western’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology program to pursue an Ed. Specialist degree, but later was able to enter the Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership. He began his program in 2007 and graduated in December 2010.

When Mark Forner started his program at WMU, he felt out of place as a “very non-traditional” student. His only experience in the education field was his stint as a school board member in a small rural school district. Fortunately he connected with Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer and Dr. Patricia Reeves, whom he characterizes as “purveyors of hope…at a time when others expressed skepticism. Great universities are all about life-long and life-altering relationships. I count my friendships with Pat and Louann as one of the great blessings of my life ” With the help of these professors and the resources available at WMU, Mark was able to pursue his research interests in the components of successful school reform, particularly as it pertained to rural school districts. He studied the leadership practices of six highly successful rural school superintendents in Michigan for his dissertation.

While on the way to completion, Dr. Forner often felt he was doing his career “completely backwards,” as he started out as a school board member who aspired to be a superintendent. Once he encountered the bright, forward-thinking teachers and school leaders in WMU’s College of Education, it became clear to him that he would need to spend some time in the classroom in order to become a great school leader. He applied to Teach for America and taught middle-school mathematics in Indianapolis Public Schools for three years. When asked what skills he took from his educational experience at Western into his career as a school principal, he answered, “That’s easy …humility. My first year at WMU I was a fish out of water and I had to get ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Similarly, I watched superintendents of large, successful school districts really struggle with the rigor of certain courses. That’s what impressed me most about my graduate experience at WMU: the level of academic rigor was high and my most successful classmates were generally individuals of great humility.”
The Graduate College at Western Michigan University is proud to acknowledge Dr. Mark Forner as one of our graduates. His path has been long and winding, culminating in the leadership of a new type of learning environment, the blended-learning academy. Though small, with fewer than 200 students currently enrolled, Carpe Diem Meridian is well on its way to proving Dr. Forner right in his belief that school reform can create a new type of learning environment that serves today’s students better than the traditional models.

Marcus Johnson

When it comes to the path of his academic career, recent graduate Marcus Johnson (M.F.A., Creative Writing, and M.A., Educational Leadership) considers himself a “wanderer.” In addition to his military service in the Army National Guard, Marcus has pursued graduate study in the seminary, in secondary education, creative writing, and most recently, higher education and student affairs. His decision to attend WMU provided even further opportunities, as Marcus has worked as an Assistant Director of the Writing Center, as a Student Services Coordinator for WMU Financial Aid, and has participated in the Prague Summer Program. Reflecting on his winding path, Marcus observes, “I think it still all plays into who I am right now… it shaped the professional I’ve become; it shaped the academic I think I’m becoming.” His patience and curiosity about a variety of career paths has certainly benefited him, for shortly after Marcus graduated in April 2013 with his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, he was hired as an admissions counselor at Kalamazoo College.

a photo of Marcus Johnson
Marcus Johnson

In 2007, in the midst of completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at WMU, Marcus found his graduate program delayed when he was deployed to Camp Liberty in Iraq. Upon returning, Marcus contacted WMU’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (OMVA) and found a great level of support from the office’s new director, Tracey Quada. Marcus is effusive in his praise for the advocacy and resources of the office, stating that Quada and the OMVA itself made “Western a much more veteran-friendly campus, instituting policies and connecting veterans with resources that were meant to help them during their college experience. With the OMVA, I see in that office a much stronger initiative to engage with student vets and to help them.”
And he isn’t alone in his praise for the office; just last year, Military Times’ EDGE magazine named Western as one of the “Best for Vets” schools in the nation (one of only two schools from Michigan to make the list). The skills, determination, and experience that student veterans bring to college campuses make them an invaluable addition to university communities, and WMU is making a notable effort to smooth these students’ transitions back to academic life. Marcus says, “I’m starting to see that some of the services that we’re offering, they indicate and show that we are trying to become more aware of [their] needs, and we are trying to understand those different experiences, and how those experiences can impact the individual education of student veterans as well as how it impacts the overall university community.”
As a teacher and a writer in that university community, Marcus finds his military experience re-framing the ways he thinks about and approaches his academic work. Speaking about how his military training influenced his teaching preparation, Marcus recalls that “I approached tasks like teaching or writing or studying from a really practical, pragmatic approach, so I would sit down and read a piece of literature, and I would think, what’s the purpose? What’s it going to serve? How am I going to be able to use this tool? How can I use this resource? It’s also something that carries over into the way [...] I get students to think about writing, to think about research. I want them to start thinking about writing and research in very pragmatic terms, in very practical terms, so that it’s something they actually do for a purpose. Because I think that activity– any activity you do in life– there has to be a significant purpose to it, but especially for the time you invest in writing, just like the time I invested in the military, there has to be a significant purpose, there has to be a significant meaning.”
Part of that search for meaning has also unfolded in the pages of Marcus’s memoir. His experience in Iraq is the basis for his creative non-fiction work, Pogue, a book about the intersections of war, training, gender, and relationships from the perspective of a soldier who does not leave the military base. Planning to finish the book soon, Marcus will no doubt have a full and promising future as he moves forward with his new job, new writing projects, and hopefully, a continuing urge to wander and explore.

Video Feature: Marcus Johnson Interview

Amanda Shuman

Math teachers…rebellious? Those words don’t often go together in our minds, but Amanda Shuman remembers her math teachers as rebels who kept the class engaged with their lively teaching style. Since she took to math naturally and found herself two or three grade levels ahead of her classmates, she decided to pursue math as a career. After receiving a master’s degree in mathematics at WMU, she is living in Washington D.C. as a Math for America DC (MƒA DC) fellow. She will be following a five-year program in which college graduates and working professionals commit to teaching math in public secondary schools. All fellows are mathematically talented individuals who are new to teaching.

a photo of Amanda Shuman
Amanda Shuman

During the first year of the fellowship, MƒA DC fellows receive a full scholarship to the American University in Washington D.C. Tuition and fees for the degree, a Master’s in Teaching in Secondary Education: Mathematics, are completely covered. Fellows receive a living stipend for the training year. Fellows will have pre-service professional development and mentoring as well as extensive student teaching experience during the training year. Development and training continue through the training year.
During years two through five, MƒA DC fellows will teach in a Washington D.C. public or public charter school at the secondary level. Fellows will receive a stipend in addition to a regular full-time teacher’s salary in the city. Besides the stipend and salary, mentoring, coaching and support services are available for fellows. They are expected to participate in ongoing, interactive, professional development activities as well.
Amanda hails from Montrose, Michigan and completed her undergraduate work at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She always found herself drawn to mathematics and she gathered experience in teaching math by tutoring at her high school during her junior and senior years. She was a teaching assistant for the Department of Mathematics at WMU and part of her duties there included tutoring in the math lab. As a TA, she taught math to non-math majors. Finite and Pre-Calculus were also within the scope of her teaching experience. One thing she wants to do in her career is encourage young women and girls to a love of math. She found the lack of women in math classes and in university settings disheartening, and she wants to increase visibility for women in mathematics.
Studying at WMU, a large, diverse university, was very different from her undergraduate work at Aquinas. Here at Western in a male dominated profession, she felt somewhat isolated. She knew that if she wanted to advance her position in life she would have to do it on her own, and she did so by working out her problems in “self-study.” Diving into something she enjoyed, mathematics, provided an antidote to the inevitable difficult issues that came up during her graduate study at WMU. She was unable to participate much in campus life, as she lived in Grand Rapids and commuted to school in Kalamazoo. She notes that public transportation in Washington, D.C. is more comprehensive than anything available in this area of Michigan, though the cost of living in the city is much higher.
Amanda counts several professors and graduate assistants as major influences on her. She notes that Dr. Steven Culver, then chair of the math department, and Dan Sievewright and Shelley Speiss, both now holding the Ph.D., were greatly encouraging. She also singled out for praise two “amazing teachers who kept me going.” The first was Dr. Jay Wood. “He is an extraordinary professor who was willing to work with me to catch up with the other students and was always patient with me. He answered even the most mundane questions and constantly encouraged me to continue working hard.” The second teacher who bolstered Amanda’s confidence was Dr. Melinda Koelling, with whom she worked on complex analysis. Amanda had not had much success in complex analysis in her previous classes, but Dr. Keolling gave her the guidance to understand concepts she had not previously grasped. Dr. Koelling’s presence at math club and other departmental events was motivating, as well.
Amanda earned no less than 18 scholarships and just as many non-cash awards during her undergraduate work at Aquinas, and at Western was involved as a member of the Teaching Assistants Union and of Pi Mu Epsilon, an honorary national mathematics society promoting scholarly activity in mathematics. Now, as a Math for America Fellow, she will be using her talents to further mathematics education in K-12 settings. The Graduate College at Western Michigan University is proud to call her one of our own, and wishes her great success in her future endeavors.

Dr. Amy Gullickson, Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Evaluation

Dr. Amy Gullickson received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Evaluation (IDPE) in December, 2010. Following her graduation she worked in the College of Education and Human Development as the Senior Research Associate to the Dean and served as a graduate faculty member for the college’s Educational Leadership, Research and Technology department. In November 2012 she moved to Australia to take a tenure track position as Senior Lecturer at the Center for Program Evaluation at the University of Melbourne.

A photo of Dr. Amy Gullickson

As a professional evaluator, Amy’s job is to help organizations understand the effects of their actions. She serves as independent observer, reviewing context, activities, and results. She then gives reports on what they are doing right or wrong and recommendations on how they might improve. She gained experience doing evaluation in a variety of settings throughout her PhD program, including four months in Southeast Asia over four years as a team member on the Heifer International Impact evaluation. Through Heifer International, people in developing countries receive gifts of animals, from ducks to pigs to bees, learn how to raise and care for them, and then pass on the gift of animals and training to another family. As she talked to farmers, government officials, and non-governmental organizations, she learned valuable lessons about working with people from different cultures and languages on an evaluation project.
Also during her PhD work, Amy was fortunate to study at The Evaluation Center with several of the field’s foundational thinkers: Dr. Daniel Stufflebeam, Dr. Michael Scriven, and Dr. James Sanders (who served on her dissertation committee). Her dissertation, “Mainstreaming Evaluation: Four Case Studies of Systematic Evaluation Integrated into Organizational Culture and Practices,” explored evaluative practices in National Science Foundation-funded Advanced Technological Education centers. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the IDPE, she found one of her biggest challenges was to put together a dissertation committee. Dr. Nick Andreadis, Dean of Lee Honors College served as her committee chair, with committee members Dr. Sanders, and Dr. Chris Coryn, Assistant Professor in Education, Measurement and Research and Director of the IDPE program.
As Senior Research Associate to the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Amy interviewed all faculty and staff to understand the culture and practice of the various departments with regard to evaluation. She then debriefed the various departments with her findings in order to help them move forward with creating systems to collect evaluative data for strategic planning, continuous improvement, and to provide evidence of their impact. Her data analysis has also been used to inform college level strategic planning.
When asked what she had gained from the Graduate College, Amy stated that she was grateful to receive two travel grants, which she used to attend the American Evaluation Association Annual Conference. In addition, she participated in a dissertation writing workshop sponsored by the Graduate College. She encourages all graduate students to take advantage of the dissertation formatting workshops sponsored by the Graduate College and run by Jennifer Holm, Coordinator of Theses and Dissertations. Amy states that she did not attend one of the formatting workshops, usually offered several times in the Fall and Spring semesters, and wishes she had!

Louise Schuster 91 – Awarded Second Master’s Degree

Louise Schuster got the surprise of her long life when Dean Susan Stapleton of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University showed up at her door to deliver Mrs. Schuster’s third diploma. At 91 years of age, Mrs. Schuster had already earned a Bachelor of Science in 1968 and a Master of Arts in 1969 from Western. She had also completed coursework toward a Master’s degree in Literacy Studies through 1980, but had never gotten that degree. With only imaged transcripts from 1962 through 1980 to work with, some detective work was needed.

A photo of Louise Schuster being presented her diploma by Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Enter Mallory Bourdo, Academic Auditor in the Registrar’s Office and Lauren Freedman, Professor in the Department of Special Education and Literary Studies, College of Education and Human Development. They combed through Mrs. Schuster’s records, evaluated her credits, and found she had enough credits to receive a Master of Arts in Literacy Studies. With the help of Carrie Cumming, Senior Associate Registrar, and Stacey Doxtater, Graduation Auditing Supervisor, a decision was made to issue a diploma for June 2012. Mallory worked with the family, especially Mrs. Schuster’s granddaughter, Darcy Kelly, to make sure Mrs. Schuster would receive her diploma, and between all parties they agreed to have the diploma hand-delivered to Mrs. Schuster in her Sturgis home by Dean Susan Stapleton. Mrs. Schuster knew she would be receiving a diploma, but did not know it would be delivered to her home with pomp and circumstance. With her family surrounding her, Louise Schuster finally received her second Master of Arts and her third diploma, in its ceremonial cover, made possible by her hard work and the efforts of Western Michigan University faculty, staff, and administrators.