Visual Communications invites pro-bono project submissions

TRAVERSE CITY — NMC’s Visual Communications department invites area non-profit groups to submit graphic design, art direction and new media projects for consideration as pro bono class projects during the spring semester.

Chamber Advocacy NMC visual communications project Northwest Michigan Arts and Culture Vis Comm project

Part of the Visual Communications curriculum, the class project is free to the non-profits selected. The goal is a real-world assignment that allows students to interact with clients and exposes them to the commercial printing and production worlds, including film and new media production, creative advertising, graphic design and packaging. Projects will be completed by the end of the spring semester in April 2023.

Pet Interactive Room NMC Visual Communications Project

Potential projects could include logos, brochures, ad campaigns, packaging, graphic design, branding, posters, infographics, announcements, invitations, film, motion graphics, animations, exhibition design, TV commercials or anything relating to visual communications, commercial art, illustration and film or web design. The department is especially interested in conceptually-driven projects that will offer the students substantial opportunity for interaction with the client and process.

Leelanau Shipwreck NMC Visual Communications projectPlease include the following in your submission:

  • Description, tone and purpose of the design work requested, as well as the targeted audience you identify being associated with this work / your organization.
  • List out EACH piece (logo / brochure / short film, etc.) that make up the ideal whole of your project. Other pieces may be identified by your student team or elements may be excluded based on their contracted plan or suggested in place of ones on this list.
  • Ideal completion date between February 28 and April 25. All projects will be completed by April 26. Feel free to stagger dates individual elements might be due.
  • Ideal time for mid-way progress check meeting in March.
  • Budget: While there is no fee for the services students will provide, organizations must provide funds for printing / production expenses. NMC is happy to coordinate printing / production and get quotes under all budgets, and the students should be included in this step as it gains them experience in obtaining production quotes.

Please submit project consideration requests to instructor Caroline Schaefer-Hills at by January 6.

Release date: DECEMBER 5, 2022

For more information:

Caroline Schaefer-Hills
Visual Communications chair
(231) 995-1334


Northwestern Michigan College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, height, weight, marital status or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

Success story: NMC adds fifth water-related program

November 30, 2022

Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Executive Director Hans Van Sumeren

A new associate degree in water quality environmental technology coming next fall will expand NMC’s leadership in water-related career preparation as well as meet the needs of the new blue economy.

The new Wet Tech degree will be the only one of its kind in Michigan. It will utilize existing core and surveying and unmanned aerial systems courses, as well as create new courses in environmental site assessment, aquifer sampling, and groundwater monitoring. An internship is also required. NMC’s Board of Trustees approved it unanimously last week.

“This program will focus on training a workforce supporting the direct monitoring and cleanup of waters within the Great Lakes watershed and focusing on the direct impact to the quality of our water resources,” said Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Executive Director Hans Van Sumeren (above).

He said that nationwide, the U.S. EPA has documented 294,000 waste sites. Cleanup of those sites will generate more than $200 billion in economic activity, meaning graduates will find a strong job market.

“The water quality/environmental technician program intends to provide training for a skilled workforce that will be ready to respond to this growing need,” Van Sumeren said.

It joins four other NMC water-related degrees and programs:

NMC also partners with Western Michigan University to allow Freshwater Studies students to earn a bachelor’s degree in freshwater science and sustainability, and with Lake Superior State University for Fisheries and Wildlife Management and Conservation Biology.

Creation of the new degree is also part of NMC Next, NMC’s strategic plan. The Huckle Family Foundation will provide $100,000 over two years for equipment and other program support.

College to offer state’s first Wet Tech degree Fall ’23

TRAVERSE CITY — A new associate degree in water quality environmental technology coming next fall will further expand NMC’s leadership in water-related degrees and programs as well as serve industry demand in the new blue economy.

The new Wet Tech degree will be the only one of its kind in Michigan. It will utilize existing courses from surveying and unmanned aerial systems programs as well as create new courses in environmental site assessment, aquifer sampling, and groundwater monitoring. An internship is also required. NMC’s Board of Trustees approved it unanimously last week.

“This program will focus on training a workforce supporting the direct monitoring and cleanup of waters within the Great Lakes watershed and focusing on the direct impact to the quality of our water resources,” said Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Executive Director Hans VanSumeren. 

He said that nationwide, the U.S. EPA has documented 294,000 waste sites. Cleanup of those sites will generate more than $200 billion in economic activity, meaning graduates will find a strong job market.

“The water quality/environmental Technician program intends to provide training for a skilled workforce that will be ready to respond to this growing need,” Van Sumeren said.

It joins four other NMC water-related degrees and programs:

  • An associate’s and a bachelor’s in Marine Technology, the only one in the world, created in 2012 and 2018, respectively
  • An associate’s in Freshwater Studies, the first in the nation when it was created in 2009.
  • The Marine Center – professional development and training in marine systems, geospatial technologies and land surveying. 
  • Great Lakes Maritime Academy – Trains deck and engineering officers for the commercial shipping industry. Bachelor’s degree first granted in 2014; program founded in 1969.

Creation of the new degree is also part of NMC Next, NMC’s strategic plan. The Huckle Family Foundation will provide $100,000 over two years for equipment and other program support. 

Release date: NOVEMBER 30, 2022

For more information:

Hans VanSumeren
NMC Great Lakes Water Studies Institute Executive Director
(231) 995-1793


Northwestern Michigan College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, height, weight, marital status or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

NMC students to attend national leadership academy

NMC student Sereta Fager Sereta Fager (Download a high-resolution photo) Kayla Wittkop Kayla Wittkop (Download a high-resolution photo) TRAVERSE CITY — NMC students Sereta Fager and Kayla Wittkop are among eight Michigan students who will travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Student Leadership Academy as a part of Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates (JMG).

They will join around 600 other students from across the country at the academy Nov. 30–Dec. 4.They will attend leadership training sessions each day and participate in other activities, such as laying a JMG wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Students applied and wrote an essay about why they should be chosen, as well as submitted letters of recommendation. In 2021, NMC became the first college in the state of Michigan to offer a Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates program and only the third college in the country.

Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates equips young people with the skills to overcome barriers and succeed in education, employment and life. It is the leading program of Youth Solutions, Inc., a youth opportunity organization delivering employability and education services to young people across the state.

The program helps set up students for initial career success. Financial assistance with job equipment such as tools or work boots, uniforms, bus passes or gas cards for transportation to work is also available. 

Release date: November 29, 2022

For more information:

Diana Fairbanks
Associate Vice President of Public Relations, Marketing and Communications
(231) 995-1019



Northwestern Michigan College is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, height, weight, marital status or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

Success Story: Restaurant Week chefs earn chops at GLCI

February 19, 2020

Restaurant week chef and GLCI grad-Fletcher J. GrossTen years ago, Traverse City started Restaurant Week with 18 restaurants offering special menus.

Fifteen years ago, NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute moved to brand-new bayfront facilities, including Lobdell’s Teaching Restaurant.

Ten years before that, in the mid-1990s, NMC’s culinary program made a distinct shift to focus on the art and craft of cooking.

Those culinary ripple effects will crest next week, when Traverse City’s tenth annual Restaurant Week takes place with more than doubled restaurant participation. Fully one-quarter of those 40 restaurants count GLCI alumni as owners or in kitchen leadership roles. At other restaurants, current GLCI students and other alumni can be found as line cooks, sous chefs and managers, all collectively contributing to Traverse City’s stellar reputation as a food and wine destination

“Just the fact that we have so many incredible restaurants, (GLCI) is one of the sources behind it,” said Colleen Paveglio, marketing director at the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA originally organized Restaurant Week to be a shot in the arm to business during the lull of midwinter. To say it worked is an understatement, said 2014 Culinary Institute graduate Fletcher Gross (above), a chef partner in HM Group. Their five restaurants — Slate, Sorellina, McGee’s 72, McGee’s 31 and Harrington’s by the Bay — all participate.

“Restaurant Week is literally like pulling a week out of the middle of July and putting it in February,” Gross said. “It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year, because we can showcase what we do best.”

Gross credits GLCI for giving him the skills not only to become a chef, but to build a career in the restaurant industry. He joined HM Group in 2011 and bought into the ownership group in 2018. 

“I learned how to be a better manager,” said Gross, 26, who handles all the purchasing for the five restaurants and trains the head chef for each kitchen. Between them, the five restaurants employ around 100 people this time of year, a figure that will double in the summer. 

 “I’m very grateful for my restaurant career,” Gross said.

He also pitches into whichever kitchen is expecting the highest volume in a given week.

Next week, that may be a tough call, as reservations pour in.

“People look forward to it,” Paveglio said.

Besides the HM Group restaurants, the others participating in Restaurant Week with GLCI alumni connections are Minervas, PepeNero, Smoke & Porter, The Good Bowl and Towne Plaza.

Success Story: NMC provides a path for student government president

September 15, 2021

NMC student Edris Fana speaks at the 2016 NMC CommencementEdris Fana speaks at the 2016 NMC CommencementLast month, 2016 NMC graduate Edris Fana expected to see his parents for the first time in eight years, when they were to travel from Kabul, Afghanistan to Traverse City for his wedding to fellow alumna Emma Smith.

Instead, their wedding date, Aug. 15, became the day that Fana’s home country officially fell back to the Taliban, the Islamic military regime that resumed control of Afghanistan amid the final withdrawal of U.S./NATO troops after a 20-year presence.

“Everything just went downhill,” Fana said, adding that his parents have visas to travel to the United States, but cannot get a flight. (Very limited air travel resumed last week.) “To see it fall like this, it’s crazy to think about it.”

As the first international student to lead NMC’s Student Government Association, Fana, now 27, once aspired to apply that experience back home, and work in the government of the fledgling democratic republic.

“That was my all-time goal,” said Fana, who studied aviation. As the SGA president, he spoke at both the 2015 and 2016 commencement ceremonies.

“Coming from a place that I didn’t have the opportunity to practice leadership, or to have any experience of what I was capable of, it was NMC that presented me with opportunities to grow,” Fana told the audience in 2016.

Fana reciprocated those opportunities, contributing significantly to international understanding on campus, said Jim Bensley, NMC’s director of International Services and Service Learning.

“His interactions with fellow students helped many students gain a more intimate understanding of Afghan culture,” said Bensley, who invited Fana to speak to his World Cultures classes as well as wider campus audiences.

Fana’s 2013 departure to attend NMC was his second exodus from Afghanistan. In 1994 he was 11 days old when his parents fled with him and his brother to Pakistan as the Taliban began its first takeover of the country. The family returned to Afghanistan in 2003, when Fana was 10.

By then, the American invasion had ousted the Taliban from power and Afghanistan was heading into its first democratic elections. Despite attending an American school in Kabul and having parents who were educated and professional — his father runs a non-governmental organization called Partners in Aviation and Technology — Fana found his options for higher education limited. He wanted to study aviation.

As a young, Afghan man in a post-9/11 world, it wasn’t easy getting the acceptances and  documents he needed to study in the United States. But Fana finally succeeded, following his brother, a pre-med student, to Michigan.

“NMC provided a path to me, not just out of Afghanistan, but to study more, to study what I really love, and get involved in the community,” said Fana. In addition to the SGA, at NMC he joined the International Club, also serving as its president, was a resident assistant and worked in the library. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Ferris State University through NMC’s University Center in December 2020.

NMC Dean of Students Lisa Thomas is the adviser to the SGA and knew Fana well.

“His own life experiences and journey from across the world to NMC gave him a deep sense of appreciation for the education and opportunities at NMC,” Thomas said.

Currently working as a hotel manager, with a return to Afghanistan off the table, Fana is accruing flight hours in order to earn his flight instructor license.

Daily life in Kabul is “somewhat regular” now, as the Taliban seeks international recognition of its regime, and his parents are safe, Fana said, but they are still seeking a way to leave. It’s stunning to think the country is back where it was when he was an infant.

“I don’t think anybody expected an overnight takeover. Within two weeks, the whole country just fell in.”

Success Story: Equalizing opportunities in the cockpit

September 27, 2017

NMC aviation student Kate HauchNMC Aviation, already celebrating its 50th anniversary, notched another notable accomplishment this fall – the largest number of new female students ever.

The six women, from Michigan to Indiana to Alaska, more than double Aviation’s total female enrollment. They took various paths to the Aero Park campus – from a sight-unseen enrollment after a relative’s recommendation to a cold-hard calculation of cost to value. But after only a few weeks of class, they share a sentiment of satisfaction with the small, welcoming program that gets students into the pilot’s seat ASAP.

“It was amazing. The second week of school we were up in the air,” said Kate Hauch, 29 (above), the Alaskan who enrolled upon the recommendation of her brother-in-law, a former student. She never set foot on campus until she arrived from Juneau a couple days before classes, but has felt welcomed.

“You’re a new student, you don’t know how to fly, let’s learn,” is the attitude she found.

“Being able to fly the first week of school at NMC really made a big difference,” agreed Regan Lezotte, 18, of Howell. She had wanted to go to Western Michigan University and spent months agonizing over her choice. A cost analysis showing she’d save six figures by attending NMC tipped the scales.

“There are some smaller houses that I could buy with this money I’d be saving,” Lezotte said.

At Western she wouldn’t have been flying until summer 2018, and would have been among 800-900 students instead of 50.

“It’s more intimate. My instructor knows me, he knows my name,” said Lezotte, whose goal is to fly in corporate aviation. She’s also already found an internship for next semester, working in the Airport Operations and management offices at Cherry Capital Airport.

Hauch plans to return to Alaska and work in either the aerial survey industry or flying medical evacuation flights. Meanwhile, the Saginaw native is enjoying the warmer weather and the local scenery, like her “gorgeous” first flight up the Leelanau peninsula.

“I love the northern area,” she said.

NMC Aviation will celebrate its first half-century with a symposium and gala dinner at the Grand Traverse Resort Thursday. More details are available at

Success story: Experiential learning, diversity combined in “Voices” project

February 9, 2022

Asked to name notable Black Americans, and a few relatively contemporary figures usually come to mind: Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey.

Voices poster of Ida B. Wells-BarnettThe Voices Project, a new experiential learning project in conjunction with NMC’s Embrace the Dream Martin Luther King/Black History Month programming, aims to elevate the recognition of lesser-known individuals throughout history, like Capt. Hugh Mulzac, journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett and nurse Mary Eliza Mahoney.

Taking place in campus hallways through the end of the month, the Voices Project is part open-access history lesson, part diversity and inclusion showcase and is aligned with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion area of NMC Next, the college’s new strategic plan. The poster-size portraits of Black Americans hang in the academic buildings corresponding to their subject’s field – from the first Black registered nurse (Mahoney) to the first Black merchant marine naval officer to command an integrated crew during World War II (Mulzac) to journalist and NAACP co-founder (Wells-Barnett) who was born into slavery.

The posters were designed by Fine Arts student Gavin Bebb.

“I think there’s a strong connection between art and social issues. I felt honored to be a part of the project and helping to bring awareness to others,” said Bebb, 21, of Traverse City. “These are unsung individuals who really changed how we progress in our world today.”

Voices project instructor Glenn Wolff and student Gavin Bebb

Fine arts instructor Glenn Wolff (right, with Bebb, far right) approached Bebb about the experiential learning project at the end of 2021. From a faculty-curated list of potential subjects, Wolff obtained images in the public domain or permission to use them. Bebb then created the Voices Project logo and edited the images into portraits, cropping, magnifying and manipulating small original files into the 30 x 40 posters.

“All the things I learned over the fall semester I put into these posters,” he said.

Each also includes short biographical text researched by NMC faculty, and a QR code that a viewer can scan for the complete list of poster subjects.

“To me a desired outcome is that students, when they view the posters in their various areas at NMC, discover these Black contributors and are inspired to learn more about, and reflect on, the importance of their stories, and the reasons for their relative absence,” Wolff said.

Voices poster of Percy JulianWolff was able to obtain permission for 17 images. Other portrait subjects are research chemist Percy Julian, mathematician Gladys West and artist and illustrator Aaron Douglas. Wolff’s drawing students are now working on sketches for another five subjects for whom permission could not be obtained.

“It’s morphing into student artwork,” he said.

The Voices Project posters will be on display at least through February. Wolff envisions it becoming an annual event.

Success Story: ‘Not a normal experience, but so far, it’s been good.’

September 2, 2020

Kyle KorsonKyle Korson gets food at the Hawk Owl CaféMasked students, faculty and staff members returned to a campus transformed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as completely overhauled fall classes began last week in new instruction formats, with safety and learner success top-of-mind.

“We know some parts of the college experience will be different,” NMC President Nick Nissley said in a welcome video message to students. “Our faculty and staff are still here for you, in more new ways than ever before, to help you reach your goals.”

NMC’s fall learning plan is safety first, offering most classes remotely. It’s the reverse of 2019, when 83 percent of courses were offered in traditional face-to-face lecture format. This fall, only 13 percent are. Livestream debuts as a brand-new format. More than a third of classes are offered livestream, with an instructor teaching online at established days and times.

“Our instructors spent the summer learning how to make virtual learning even better,” Nissley said.

Classes are also offered in on-demand online format, hybrid, and in person where required for accreditation, such as nursing.

Nursing student Kendall McNitt had planned to transfer to NMC from Saginaw Valley State University pre-pandemic, but the safety and flexibility NMC is offering students in this unique semester has affirmed she made a good decision. She’s closer to her East Jordan home, in smaller classes and paying more affordable tuition. Her classes are a mix of all the formats.

“So far, everyone’s been very on top of the guidelines,” McNitt said of safety requirements like mandatory masks and social distancing in classrooms. “All of the nursing professors, they’re super willing to help.”

First-year student Kyle Korson, an East Hall resident, is taking all his classes online, but is grateful to be living on campus for the reliable wireless Internet connection. He lives in Leelanau County near Northport and said connectivity from his home is poor, and wouldn’t allow for livestreamed classes.

“It’s good to get away,” added the engineering student.

On-campus housing occupancy is at about 50 percent of capacity, to allow for social distancing. Fellow East Hall resident Lukus Herblet is glad to be living on campus and that some of his audio technology classes are in hybrid format, combining online and face-to-face instruction.

“I feel it’s part of the college experience,” he said.

New to this year’s college experience: Hand sanitizer stations in all building entrances, with complimentary face masks available to help visitors comply.

Also, the Timothy J. Nelson Innovation Center is now open after almost two years of construction. The first-floor Hawk Owl Cafe and the new second-floor library are open to students, faculty and staff, with occupancy limited to about 50 percent of capacity. Public seating areas have also been marked so that visitors maintain a minimum six feet of separation.

“It’s pretty nice to have everything in one place,” Herblet said.

McNitt, settled into one of the booths by the cafeteria, agreed.

“It’s definitely not a normal experience, but so far, it’s been good,” she said.

Success Story: Virtuosos at virtual, millions in aid and scholarships

April 21, 2021

Amid abundant challenges, bright spots and silver linings are still plentiful as NMC’s first full academic year under COVID-19 restrictions draws to a close.

Recapping the challenges: For safety, about 85 percent of NMC’s classes were offered remotely in both fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, a complete flip of the usual proportions. College and student events both pivoted to virtual, changing the feel of the campus community. Two brand-new state workforce investment programs, Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect, were built and unveiled, and COVID safety precautions kept Dennos volunteers at home.

Classes and student events

NMC dental assistant program students in protective gearDue to their accreditation requirements, health programs like dental assisting and nursing were among the few holding face to face classes in 2020–21.

“We had a great group of students who realized there might be a few bumps in the road, but were always grateful to be face-to-face,” said Dental Assistant Program Director Deb Kaser.

There were no cases of COVID-19 among her students, thanks to social distancing and triple precautions: masks, face shields, and eye protection. Just two students had to quarantine due to household members’ illness, but they were able to keep up thanks to online instruction and proctored testing.

Director of Advising Lindsey Dickinson said that virtual options have been a silver lining for her office, too, especially for students who are parents or have transportation issues.

“It has leveled the playing field in terms of access. Sometimes, getting people to campus was the biggest barrier,” Dickinson said. “We can still build relationships with our students.”

She is especially proud of the fact that the annual Career Fair — one of the last in-person college events in March 2020— carried on in a virtual format in March 2021.

“We had 12 students who got interviews off the back of that Career Fair,” Dickinson said.

Financial aid

2021 opened with three immediate priorities: Distributing $1 million in federal emergency student aid approved in 2020; awarding aid for the state’s Futures for Frontliners program, and aid for Michigan Reconnect. Both Frontliners and Reconnect cover in-district tuition for students who worked during the initial pandemic shutdown in spring 2020 (Frontliners) or are age 25 and lack a college degree (Reconnect.)

The two programs were the first new aid in decades, said NMC Financial Aid Director Linda Berlin. In addition, Frontliners drew a much larger response than expected— more than 1,800 students, according to admissions director Cathryn Claerhout. For spring, 529 enrolled at NMC.

“We had no system set up to handle it,” Berlin said. But NMC’s Information Technology Services stepped up.

“NMC is better positioned than a lot of schools. Our IT, they rocked,” Berlin said. Using the new systems, NMC has awarded $403,000 in Frontliners scholarships with another $83,000 pending for fall.

Awards for Michigan Reconnect start this summer. Also coming up for Berlin’s team: Awarding another $2 million in emergency student aid through the federal American Rescue Plan.

Dennos Museum

After an initial shutdown, since August 2020 the museum has remained mostly open to the public, albeit with limited hours. Events like concerts and artist workshops are still virtual, however.

“We’ve gotten really good at Zoom programs,” said Executive Director Craig Hadley, noting the Dennos has virtually presented artists from as far away as Iceland.

A silver lining has been new partnerships. The Dennos recently pooled grants funds with Manistee’s Ramsdell Center for the Arts to present Windy City Blues, a virtual concert featuring two Chicago artists neither could have afforded on their own. Offered free online, it led to about 35 new subscribers to the Dennos YouTube channel.

 “We definitely are reaching new audiences,” Hadley said. “It’s been an opportunity to expand our reach, and who we’ve been able to engage.”

Volunteers have begun to return to the museum, and Hadley looks forward to increasing their numbers, which will allow the museum to expand hours beyond the current Sunday–Thursday.

“That’s going to get us weekend coverage,” Hadley said.

Phi Theta Kappa

PTK award slide imageDespite a mostly virtual year, NMC’s chapter of the international community college honor society had its best showing ever, ranking as one of the top 10 most distinguished chapters for the first time in its history.

“It was amazing. It was a sort of out of body experience,” said chapter president Amber Marsh of the countdown at the PTK conference where the No. 7 rank was revealed.

On the heels of the rank, Marsh also learned that the NMC chapter’s honors in action project, Deconstructing the Binary Complex in Racism, was selected to be published in Civic Scholar, PTK’s journal of undergraduate research, this summer. She’s thrilled that “the work that we became so passionate about” as the nation began to reckon with racial justice last summer will now reach a wider audience.

“You have a great chance to change minds,” she said.

The classes of 2020 and 2021 will both graduate in a modified, COVID-compliant walk-through commencement ceremony on May 1.

Success Story: Fourth generation of Oleson family steps up to the plate

May 10, 2017

Samantha Oleson at the NMC Barbecue in 2007Samantha Oleson at the NMC Barbecue in 2007For many northern Michigan residents, the annual NMC Barbecue is a spring tradition. For Samantha Oleson, it goes back a lifetime.

The 22-year-old is part of the fourth generation of the Oleson family to carry on the fundraising picnic under the pines started in 1956 by her great-grandparents, Jerry and Frances Oleson.

This year she formally joined the Barbecue Board, the volunteer committee that spends several months planning the Barbecue, set for May 21 on NMC’s main campus. But the Sunday before Memorial weekend has long been a dedicated date on her calendar.

“I’ve been volunteering since I was seven years old,” Oleson said. She’s never missed a single Barbecue, even during her college years at Western Michigan University. “I would bring my friends and volunteer. It wasn’t something that I felt obligated to do, but I wanted to do.”

Mark, Frankie, Don and D.J. OlesonMark, Frankie, Don and D.J. Oleson: Four generations enjoy the 2015 BarbecueA former dual-enrolled NMC student, Oleson is among a group of four cousins in the fourth generation of the family who now work in the Oleson’s stores. They continue to donate all the food for the Barbecue, which drew 7,678 people in 2016. On May 21, they’ll fan out for different day-of duties. Even fifth-generation Frankie Oleson, age 2 and a half, gets a job.

“He carried buckets,” said dad Mark Oleson, Samantha’s cousin. “He’s excited.”

They’ll still squeeze in time to enjoy the meal themselves.

“We eat on the steps, right past the serving lines,” Samantha Oleson said. “It’s great to see people come, year and year again, and see how dedicated they are to the college and the Barbecue.”

Besides the meal, the Barbecue includes classroom and program displays, free live music, a veteran’s tent and an alumni tent. Separate ticketed activities include children’s games and a cake walk.

Tickets are $6 in advance ($8 on Barbecue Day) and on sale now online and at Oleson’s Food Stores. Visit for more information.

Success Story: Early adopters of UAS celebrate first decade

NMC Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) fleet photo

September 16, 2020

This fall NMC celebrates the ten-year anniversary of its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program, a foresighted curricular addition that has helped diversify northern Michigan’s economy.

Tony Sauerbrey photoIn 2010, UAS, also known as drones, were chiefly a military tool. But Tony Sauerbrey, left, then NMC’s chief flight instructor, and others in the college’s traditional manned Aviation program spied opportunity ahead.

“We started looking at the future of aviation, all this drone technology coming along,” said Sauerbrey, now NMC UAS program manager (far right, above.) “It was a little ahead of its time.”

Years ahead, in fact. Three classes in 2010 grew into a degree with a UAS specialty by 2013. The FAA established its commercial license in 2016. Today, drones are used to inspect crop health and infrastructure integrity, photograph and sell real estate, conduct land surveys and monitor everything from shoreline erosion to invasive species. In the future, Amazon promises drone delivery to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes.

With that significant lead in training time and experience, NMC UAS students have a decided edge in the industry with nearly 200,000 license holders nationwide. (In fact, Amazon employs several.) In northwest Michigan, the industry is growing to occupy a larger niche.

Justin-Bentsen-and-Pierce-Thomas.jpgJustin Bentsen, left and Pierce Thomas, right, during the filming of an Interactive Aerial product video. Both 2016 NMC grads, they are two of the company’s four founders.“NMC is the epicenter of all of the robotic and drone companies in the area, with an emphasis on aerial applications,” said Christian Smith, president of Interactive Aerial, a Traverse City company founded by four NMC alumni.

Interactive Aerial is also the 2020 winner of the Emerging Business award sponsored by Traverse Connect, the region’s economic development organization. President and CEO Warren Call said the company exemplifies the organization’s desire to diversify the economy away from traditional employers like tourism/hospitality and agriculture.

“Our mission is to grow family-sustaining careers,” Call said. “The best way to do that is to develop and grow sectors that are technical, high-skill, scientific.”

A year like 2020, where both hospitality and health care, another established regional employer, suffered shows the risk of not diversifying, he said.

“We could be a leader in industries and sectors that deal with remote environments. I would love to see us be known for that,” Call said.

Fittingly, NMC launched the UAS program by partnering with one of the region’s oldest industries. Fruit growers and college supporters Dorance and Julia Amos offered their land in Yuba as a training facility back in 2010.

“For us to have access to airspace that close, that really allowed for the program to develop,” Sauerbrey said.

NMC will continue to play a pivotal role as the industry matures. Locating the program in Engineering Technology, where students learn to build and repair the units, as well as to process and analyze the many different kinds of data generated, is key. In addition, students are taught safe operating practices, airspace, weather, regulations, aerodynamics, and even aeronautical decision making.

“Industry demands more now than simple piloting skills,” Smith said, who credits Sauerbrey for guiding the program to meet industry demands. He left NMC for the private sector in 2014 but returned in 2018.

“I was very passionate about the school and what had been started,” Sauerbrey said. He sees a “second coming” of the industry ahead, as drones begin to fly beyond line of sight and over people.

“The next ten years will be very interesting,” Sauerbrey said. “Drones are not a novelty anymore and have cemented themselves as an invaluable tool in many industries and will continue to do so.”

Specialization, like Interactive Aerial’s concentration in GPS-denied environments, like tanks and boilers, will continue. Another NMC-incubated drone company, Hybrid Robotics, is about five years behind Interactive Aerial. Smith looks to NMC for the new hires he needs, and eventually for entrepreneurial colleagues.

“I hope we can be an inspiration to the next group of kids sitting in that classroom,” Smith said. “I hope that can be a snowball that doesn’t stop.”

Call agrees, adding the remote/robotic industry can help the region attract more than retirees.

“We’ve been losing that core working age demographic. Part of the reason is they have career challenges,” he said. “Developing this industry, we see as a great way to address that goal.”

Read more about the program, courses, instructors and career opportunities at

Success story: Hawk Owl heads to Harvard

August 28, 2019

Alex WalshAdd up an NMC associate degree, a thin credit history, a stint in the Navy and a love of travel and you get Harvard University sophomore Alex Walsh (NMC 2012), who will start classes in Cambridge, Mass. next week.

He’s one of just a dozen transfer students admitted among 1,600 applicants to the most venerable of the Ivy League institutions. But long odds didn’t daunt Walsh, preternaturally disposed to optimism.

“Shoot for the stars, see what happens. The worst they could say is no,” said Walsh, 27, who was also admitted to the University of Michigan and Michigan State. “Being able to find ways to push myself at NMC, challenge myself, helped put me on this path.”

Pine Palooza 2019 Poster“This path” started with participating in a wide range of activities and clubs at NMC, including NMC magazine, the White Pine Press, Anime Club, International Club and the NMC Policy Council. (NMC yesterday hosted Pine Palooza, an annual fair that introduces students to dozens of campus groups and organizations.) Walsh was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international community college honor society. He credits PTK adviser Kari Kahler and instructors Jim Bensley, Amjad Khan and John Zachman as among his NMC mentors.

Yet when he graduated, Walsh didn’t have enough credit history to get the student loans he needed to continue his education. So he joined the military, both for the GI benefits down the road and the opportunity to travel in the short term, a love kindled in the NMC International Club. He chose the Navy specifically because it offered more opportunity to travel than other branches, and lived in Spain for more than three years and visited 25 different countries.

In 2017 he took the SAT and scored higher than he expected. Though Ivy League schools are notoriously picky about transfer students, he decided to add Harvard, Princeton and Yale to his list when his Navy contract was up. A veteran transition program, Service to School, also matched him with a mentor whom Walsh said was vital in the decision process.

He’ll enter Harvard as a sophomore and plans to major in economics and minor in government, likely international relations. An MBA or law school could follow. Walsh hopes to work in a capacity that grows the global economy, staying in touch with his love of international relations.

“I would like to be on some kind of a career path where I can provide opportunities to those who would not otherwise have opportunities,” he said. Options he wants to explore through internships include working with infrastructure and business development in central America or Asia, working with refugees of war or conflict, and serving in the Foreign Service as an economic or political adviser.

Between the GI Bill®, Harvard scholarships and grants, Walsh said his entire tuition bill will be covered.

“That’s pretty exciting too,” he said.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

Success Story: BBQ supports West Hall, Commitment scholarships

May 15, 2019

NMC Barbecue patronsPatrons enjoying the traditional buffalo burger and kids games might also notice a giant crane and the steel beamed-frame of a rising second story on the Timothy J. Nelson Innovation Center at the annual NMC Barbecue this Sunday.

Begun last fall, the West Hall renovation and the Commitment scholarship for promising, mostly first-generation college students are the beneficiaries of funds from this year’s 64th annual picnic under the pines, set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on main campus.

“The NMC Barbecue has a long and proud history of investing in the future of our region, whether it’s through the students themselves, or by creating the learning spaces they need to succeed,” said Barbecue Board President Heather Jewell. “It’s exciting to know a $6 picnic meal can have such an incredible impact when we all join together to support our college.”

Originally a residence hall, the Timothy J. Nelson Innovation Center is set to reopen next spring as a 54,000-square-foot, multi-story library and flexible learning space accommodating a range of learning styles and needs, including experiential and simulation. Since 1993, the Commitment scholarship has offered full-tuition scholarships to 1,500 students from all around the region, positioning them to transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree.

Laura Jaquish helps an NMC Barbecue attendeeThe Barbecue traditions of free live entertainment, classroom displays and program exhibits, and free admission to the Dennos Museum Center will all return. New at the Barbecue is the first annual printmaking sale, set for 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building. Patrons can take home a student print for as little as $3. See the complete list of activities and events.

In addition to supporting college programs and equipment — to the tune of $1.8 million since the late Gerald W. Oleson and his wife Frances, founders of Oleson’s Food Stores, started it in 1956 — the Barbecue is a place where community connections flourish. More than 500 volunteers put on the Barbecue. Additional volunteers are still welcome, especially in the following areas. Sign up online.

  • Kids Games – 3–5 p.m.
  • Recycling Champions – 2–5 p.m.
  • Hot Dog Cookers – 2–4 p.m.
  • Buffalo Wranglers – 3–5 p.m.
  • Serving line (this job is for community groups) – 2–5 p.m.

Tickets are $6 in advance and can be purchased at Oleson’s Food Stores, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, the NMC Foundation, and many financial institutions. Tickets are available for $6 plus a $1.25 service charge on MyNorth Tickets. Tickets are $8 on Sunday.

Success Story: Coaching leads to better grades, winning academic records

January 22, 2018

NMC success coach Leeann Fountain and student Taylor ByersNMC success coach Leeann Fountain and student Taylor ByersWhen Taylor Byers returned to NMC last fall, four years after she last attended, she knew she had to be a different kind of student.

But she didn’t seek help from an academic adviser, or a tutor, or even an instructor. Instead, Byers beelined for a student success coach.

Success coaching is booming at NMC. Already this year, coaching visits to the Student Success Center are double the 2016-17 total. Rather than being subject matter experts in math or English or science, like instructors or tutors, coaches guide students to academic success by providing tools to improve study habits, time management and task prioritization.

“It’s going so much better,” said Byers, 22, who is studying visual communications. “It helps you stay accountable. They teach you how to organize your life.”

Not just on campus, either. Byers’ coach, Leeann Fountain, had her fill in a 24-hour time chart, breaking the entire day into half-hour increments. Something stood out right away.

“Taylor wasn’t going to bed,” Fountain recalls. Without a standing bedtime, she was tired and couldn’t focus on studying. She napped erratically, which threw her time management off further.

But Fountain didn’t tell Byers what her bedtime should be, or even to set one. Rather, after Byers filled out the whole, 24-hour chart, Fountain said, “I asked her, ‘what would you change first?’ “

It was Byers who decided that first thing was to establish a bedtime, picked 10 p.m., and now sticks to it. Between her four days of classes, her job as a manager at the Arby’s in Kalkaska, where she also lives, and her commute time, that now leaves her evenings to study, alert and focused.

Posing the question for Byers to answer herself is a fundamental concept of the empowerment coaching style that NMC employs.

NMC instructor Steve Rice“So many of us have experienced education as something that’s being shoved into us,” said Steve Rice, an accounting instructor at NMC and the author of an innovation grant that allowed a seven-member team to be trained in the style in 2015. The goal is to empower students to solve their own problems, as Byers did.

Even with this year’s jump, only a small fraction of students receive coaching — 280 so far this year.

“It’s very much in the germinal stage,” Rice said.

Ashley Darga, NMC’s coordinator for Student Success and one of the team trained back in 2015, wants to accelerate it. In addition to the face-to-face coaching that Byers received, her office is piloting required phone coaching in three online classes: Rice’s accounting, a math class, and a history class. While there are variables in the data, results so far are encouraging: Across all three classes, students who got coaching received failing grades 8 percent less often and passing grades (defined as a 2.0 or higher) almost 11 percent more. Withdrawal rates for coached students were 5 percent lower as well.

“It’s giving us a really preliminary look at is this worth pursuing, and so far we feel encouraged,” Darga said. “I’m maxing out my personnel budget for (coaches).”

Coaching also establishes the kind of personal relationship that research has found is critical for students to complete their degree.

“This is designed in that spirit, hooking a student up with a person so they are engaged on campus and feel committed to NMC,” Darga said.

“Without persistence we’re not using our time wisely,” Rice said.

Success story: Celebrating centenarian students

March 17, 2021

Dick GroutFor more than three decades, Traverse City resident Dick Grout (right) has pushed NMC’s mission to provide lifelong learning opportunities to its outer limits.

The 100-year-old World War II veteran’s Extended Education class records go back to 1988. He’s currently enrolled in a class on the history of U.S. presidents. It’s one of several Grout has taken from Jack Segal, who at 75 was born the year the war ended, in part thanks to Grout’s service.

“I just think it’s important to keep challenged mentally,” said Grout, a widower who lives at the Cordia senior living residential community in Traverse City. “I don’t want to sit here by myself and vegetate. I want to be involved with other people.”

Since COVID hit, Extended Education classes have been virtual, but Grout’s taken the videoconferencing technology in stride.

“We certainly would rather be in person, (but) there’s all kinds of ways to get together,” he said.

celebrating-centenarian-students-subjects--jeanne-poos-and-ken-pickering.jpgKen Pickering and Jeane PoosGrout’s not the only centenarian student at Extended Education, either. Jeane Poos turns 100 this month. She and her devoted partner Ken Pickering, 95, have a lengthy transcript of EES classes between them. They too have taken Segal’s classes, as well as culinary courses, art and music and getting the most from your iPhone. They’ve been on the instructor side, too, presenting on their travels including a trip to Norway and Russia at Extended Ed’s twice-annual Campus Days.

“We had two rooms full of 50 people,” Pickering recalls.

Poos in fact has created a planned gift for Extended Education so that others may take advantage of the opportunities it offers to all learners, from age 4 to 100, at least.

Visit for information on current classes. Visit to find out about planned and other giving opportunities.

Listen to an interview Grout did with the International Affairs Forum at NMC, which he formerly chaired, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War II.