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.

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.

Meet Angie Phelps and Jodi Ward

The Graduate College is excited to welcome two new employees this spring semester. Jodi Ward worked most recently as associate director of operations in the Office of Admissions before starting at the Graduate College as our systems analyst. Jodi got her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in psychology and obtained a Master of Arts degree in human resources development at WMU. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership with a concentration in organizational analysis here at Western.

Photos of Angie Phelps and Jodi Ward placed side-by-side.  These are official university photos with a grey background.

Jodi started out at WMU as a college recruiter whose territory was the east side of Michigan, including Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lower Wayne and Monroe counties. She also coordinated the Medallion competition. After five years she was promoted to transfer coordinator, where she managed recruitment efforts at the 28 Michigan community colleges. Most recently, she directed the processes, policies and procedures for application processing in the Office of Admissions. She has especially enjoyed the diversity of staff, faculty and students with whom she has had the privilege to work.
In her new position Jodi is excited about leading the implementation of the new Apply Yourself tool for graduate applications. There is a lot of work to be done to convert to this new system but the process should be much smoother for both prospective students and functional users at WMU.
Jodi spends her spare time cheering at Bronco sporting events with her husband and eight-year-old son. She attends most practices and games her son plays in, which keeps her busy, as he is involved in football, basketball, and baseball. She also likes to kayak when the weather cooperates.
Angie, our new finance analyst, attended Lake Superior State University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in general university studies. Angie began her career at Western Michigan University as an office assistant in the math department in 1999, and then transferred into the history department as an office associate in 2001. In 2002 she moved into the dean’s office of the College of Arts and Sciences to become a finance analyst. She appreciates the opportunity to form lasting relationships through working with people from across campus.
As for time away from campus, Angie loves to be by the water. Lake Huron is her favorite Great Lake. She and her husband of almost 15 years, Jerry, frequently travel to Lake Michigan to enjoy sunsets and the incredible ice formations in winter. She likes to entertain her friends and family with bonfires in the backyard, and camping is on her list of favorite activities. She has three daughters, ages 22, 20 and 18, and a beautiful baby grandson.
Angie’s new position as finance analyst involves working closely with Virginia Bowlby, coordinator of graduate appointments. As she adjusts to life in a new environment she looks forward to working with the staff and students of the Graduate College. It is a team-oriented office where she can use her talents and help where she is needed.

We are all glad to welcome both Angie and Jodi to our staff, where they are much appreciated for their expertise and hard work as well as their fun personalities.

Dr. Julie Apker – Graduate Faculty Fellow

The Graduate College is proud to announce the addition of Dr. Julie Apker, Associate Professor in the School of Communication, to our team as a Graduate Faculty Fellow for 2014. Dr. Apker joined the faculty of WMU in 2001 after receiving her M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. Her book, Communication in Health Organizations, explores the communication processes, issues, and concepts that comprise the organization of health care, focusing on the interactions that influence the lives of patients, health professionals, and other members of health institutions. Dr. Apker’s research work appears in publications such as Journal of Applied Communication Research, Health Communication, Qualitative Health Research, Journal of Nursing Administration, Nursing Economic$, Annals of Emergency Medicine, and Academic Emergency Medicine. She serves on the editorial board of Health Communication, a noteworthy journal that seeks to improve practical communication between caregivers and patients and between institutions and the public.

A photo of Dr. Julie Apker

Along with teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Organizational Communication, Dr. Apker conducts research in organizational and health communication. She looks as physician communication patterns and strategies that affect patient safety and the development and negotiation of caregiver roles, particularly communicative behaviors that affect bedside care delivery and caregiver identity. She also investigates communicative and organizational stressors that contribute to outcomes such as quality of work life, job satisfaction, and retention for health care professionals. For that same audience, she examines supportive communication that can help minimize or prevent job-related stressors and enhance team dynamics. She uses qualitative research methods including focus groups, interviews, and observations.

As a faculty fellow, Dr. Apker will focus on creating online training modules for new graduate students as well as graduate assistants who are doing research, service, or teaching. She will also facilitate the once-yearly face-to-face Graduate Assistant Training, usually held in Brown Hall at the beginning of fall semester. Her duties also include supporting the Graduate College Ambassadors as they interact with current and prospective students and serve on numerous committees. In addition to Julie Apker, Dr. Louann Bierlein-Palmer, Professor in Educational Leadership, will continue her duties as Graduate Faculty Fellow for the 2014 year. She has already made great progress in recruiting efforts through the creation of the “one-page” handouts from every department outlining key information on each graduate program. Dr. Bierlein-Palmer also helped redesign the Graduate College website and the Graduate College brochure. Please join us in welcoming these outstanding faculty members to the Graduate College team.

News from the Graduate Student Advisory Committee

  • This Spring Break a group of graduate students from the Graduate Student Advisory Committee traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS). They joined forces to lobby for issues of concern to graduate students, mainly the high levels of debt many graduate students accumulate while pursuing their degrees. They met with representatives and senators to express their concerns during the NAGPS Spring 2014 Advocacy Summit and Legislative Action Days, March 1 through 4.

  • In other news, GSAC has put to a vote of the full membership a name change for the organization. In order to better reflect its constituency, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee will change its name to Graduate Student Association. All graduate students are automatically members of GSAC, or GSA. The name change will become effective July 1, 2014. Each student pays fees to the University that go toward the operation and funding of a number of initiatives to benefit graduate students. These initiatives include programs, events, operational funding, development workshops or seminars, and bringing speakers to campus. Funding decisions are made through GSAC, so if any graduate students want to be involved in how their money is being spent, they are encouraged to come to the meetings. All graduate students are urged to become active members by attending meetings which are usually held once a month on the third Friday from 2:30-5 p.m. These hours are subject to change.

  • Another initiative led by Damon Chambers, Chair, and The E-Board, is the establishment of Grad Talks, a presentation hosted by the Lee Honors College based on the popular TED Talks. The first Grad Talks were held on February 21 and March 21. These are ten minute talks given by graduate students on any subject they may be passionate about. It could be a study abroad experience, a brief introduction to their research, the contents of a recent paper for a class or a chapter of their dissertation. This experience provides practice in giving presentations, a skill all graduate students must develop to meet their academic, professional or personal goals.

    an image of the W M U Grad Talks logo, The background is dark brown with a yellow square, the words are placed evenly on the square with W M U being in light brown, Grad is displayed in dark brown, and Talks is displayed in white text.  These colors are used in the official Western Michigan University color guidelines.

  • April 6 through 12 was Graduate Appreciation Week in the United States. The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students held its Midwest Regional Conference at Grand Valley State University this spring during Graduate Appreciation Week. This annual conference brings together graduate-professional student leaders from the Midwest region to network, share best practices, discuss common issues, and brainstorm possible solutions. Representatives from WMU attended this conference and reported a good turnout and useful workshops.