Student Success: Getting girls interested in STEM fields

December 30, 2014

From left, Taylor West, Constanza Hazelwood and Karla Vega with greens grown in the vertical agriculture structure shown behind them.How do you get girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields?

Consider showing them some stems.

Real, live, green ones, that is, with leaves growing. Put the girls — young women, really — in charge, from planting the microgreens to tending them to monitoring them. Charge them with running experiments and collecting data, like whether the greens grow better under fluorescent lights or LED lights, and whether plain water or fish tank water is more nourishing. Let them harvest, and judge which kind tastes best.

That’s what intern Karla Vega and student Taylor West did this semester in a lab on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. The pair forged a research partnership that not only bridged language and cultural barriers but helps lay the groundwork for sustainable, indoor agriculture that could eventually improve the diets of millions.

“To get girls engaged in science we need to let them make decisions, give them room to make mistakes and try things out on their own,” said NMC Water Studies Institute Education and Outreach Coordinator Constanza Hazelwood, who supervised Vega and West’s research this semester.

NMC and EARTH University

Vega is a Bolivian student at EARTH University in Costa Rica, a leading institution in agricultural sciences and sustainable development. Hazelwood has cultivated connections at EARTH since 2009 and was looking to take the hydroponic vertical agriculture project she started a year ago to the next level. Enter Vega on a semester-long internship.

“Karla came with a lot of expertise in what we’re doing. She brought a lot of innovation to what we’re doing in the lab,” Hazelwood said.

The challenge of the vertical agriculture project bonded Vega, 20, who studies agronomy and natural resources management in Costa Rica, and West, 21, whose science interest was piqued in a high school agriscience program.

“People say, ‘why agriculture when you are from a city?’” said Vega, whose home city, Cochabamba, is home to almost 2 million people. “It was a challenge. This project can be used inside cities, where they don’t have space to grow crops.”

“That’s what women like, is a challenge,” said West.

The challenge will continue next semester, when West will visit Vega at EARTH, joining Hazelwood’s fifth study abroad trip to Costa Rica.

“The tables are going to be turned,” said West, who said her Spanish skills are negligible but expressed no concern about immersing herself in the language.

Hazelwood, too, has no doubts both students will continue to flourish. She notes that the pair made the greatest gains after the male student who originally supervised the vertical agriculture project left.

“They believe in themselves. They’re very self-confident,” she said. “It is about believing in them, at times it is getting out of their way, but always being available to support them.”

Success story: Breaking New Terroir

Viticulture student Kurtis BerryCollaborative Viticulture Students Reach Beyond the 45th Parallel

May 20, 2015

Kurtis Berry

Like a grapevine twining up a trellis, NMC’s collaborative viticulture program is growing tendrils of its own and is poised for a growth spurt this summer.

Two students in the five-year-old program are breaking new terroir with their summer internships. Kurtis Berry (right)(above) is the first to intern overseas, at Vignamato winery and vineyard in Marche, Italy, while Ethan Baker (below) is the first to head to the Pacific Northwest. He’ll spend his summer at Winemakers, LLC, a vineyard management company in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

Worldwide, the wine industry traces its history back hundreds of years, so those are impressive placements for students from a program that just began in 2010. Viticulture is the newest plant science certificate option offered by Michigan State University at NMC’s University Center. About 28 students are now enrolled, simultaneously pursing an associate’s degree from NMC and an MSU viticulture certificate.

Berry and Baker will complete their internships while on hiatus from their jobs in the regional wine industry, at Brys Estate and 45 North, respectively. The latter is named for the 45th parallel of latitude, which makes both northwest Michigan and Washington suited to grow wine grapes.

Viticulture student Ethan Baker“I chose Washington because, parallel-wise, it’s very similar to Michigan,” Baker said. Yet the industry there operates on a completely different scale. Winemakers LLC manages about 1,200 acres of vineyards — equivalent to almost half the wine grape acreage in the entire state of Michigan.

Ethan Baker

“It’s not an experience I could get in this area,” Baker, 22, said.

That’s exactly the point, said viticulture program coordinator Brian Matchett.

“Our industry, the grape and wine industry in Michigan, is going to be stronger if you have experiences in another part of the country, or another part of the world,” Matchett said.

Berry, 25, is equally enthusiastic, even though he doesn’t speak much Italian.

“I’m thrilled. I think it’s going to open my eyes about old world viticulture,” he said. “It’s going to open my eyes to the industry as a whole.”

Both students will return to Traverse City in August. Baker plans to graduate from the viticulture program this December and Berry in May 2016.

Learn more about the NMC-MSU viticulture and other plant science programs »

Student Success: Study Abroad Program’s Leading Edge

March 24, 2015

NMC study abroad Cuba trip studentsA contingent of NMC students, faculty and staff who depart for Cuba Friday are the leading edge of a new distinction for the college: more study abroad students and destinations than any other Michigan community college.

The Cuba experience is among seven planned study abroad experiences this year. About 80 students from a dozen programs will travel to six different countries, including Cuba, South Africa (also during spring break), Brazil (two trips), Italy, Russia and Costa Rica. According to a survey by NMC’s International Services & Service Learning office, that’s more than any other community college in the state.

Jim Bensley directs that office and also teaches a World Cultures class. He chose Cuba as a destination before President Obama announced a plan to thaw relations with the Communist nation last December. With greater economic development imminent, experiences on the island isolated for half a century becomes even more valuable now.

“It’s rare U.S. residents ever get the chance to visit Cuba,” he said. “With Cuba so inextricably linked to the past, there is a genuine uniqueness that won’t always be as apparent as it is today.”

Looking forward to culture shock

Visual communications student Desiree Morgan is looking forward to that culture shock. She’s never traveled further than Canada, but had an interest in studying abroad. VisComm students are planning to film a documentary during the trip, which counts as academic credit.

Michael Meteer initially signed up by accident, selecting a course code that included the Cuba experience instead of one that did not. But the psychology student is happy with how things turned out.

“I’m most looking forward to the stories I’m going to come back with,” he said.

An increased emphasis on study abroad is part of the college’s strategic direction to ensure that NMC learners are prepared for success in a global society and economy. Next year, Bensley is planning eight student study abroad trips to several new destinations, including Guatemala, Ecuador, Greece and possibly Ethiopia.

For more information visit

Read TV 7&4’s story on the Cuba trip »

Success Story: Cherry Queen Finalist Aims For Scholarship

June 17, 2015

National Cherry Queen contestant and NMC student Hannah BeaudryWhen the National Cherry Queen is crowned next month, Hannah Beaudry will be hoping the luck of the pine tree is on her side.

The NMC student is one of four finalists vying for the 2015 crown. If she wins, Beaudry, 19, will become the fifth queen within the past decade with NMC connections.

“Being able to have a college experience in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan, is such a blessing to me. Hopefully there’s a lucky charm with NMC and cherry queen, but who knows,” said Beaudry, a 2013 Elk Rapids High School graduate who is studying elementary education.

She’ll finish her NMC classes in December and then go on to complete her bachelor’s through Central Michigan University at the University Center.

National Cherry Festival Queen's Court - 2015The Cherry Queen scholarship would cover the remainder of her tuition costs, she said.

“It would be life-changing to earn that scholarship and graduate college debt-free,” she said.

At NMC, Beaudry’s favorite instructor has been history professor Jim Press.

“He made us think in such an amazing way. He really focused on critical thinking,” she said. “The way he lectures is like he’s telling a story, and it just made history so interesting. And I did not love history before that.”

On July 10, Beaudry will hope to make National Cherry Festival history, walking away with the crown first awarded in 1925.

Success Story: Collaboration illuminates green energy solutions

December 6, 2017

Solar trailer photoCommuters hurrying home along Eighth Street these dark evenings will find a bright spot, thanks to a collaboration between NMC and Roost.

NMC’s solar power trailer is lighting up the Roost prefabricated tiny home located at 444 E. Eighth, opposite Family Video. The home is illuminated from 5–8 p.m. nightly.

The collaboration is designed to show what’s possible with solar energy, said NMC construction technology adjunct instructor Mike Schmerl.

 “It does work, in northern Michigan, in the winter,” said Schmerl.

Solar homeAnd it’s ideal for Roost, said Geoff Nelson, a co-founder of the company that created the 370-square-foot, finish-ready home that’s occupied the former vacant lot since June.

“There’s a great many people who want to live smaller, greener,” Nelson said. Roost’s other green features include renewable materials, a sustainable building process and tight building envelope to maximize energy efficiency.

Parked on the home’s west side with its solar panels tilted south, the trailer is only illuminating the home, not heating it or powering appliances. Still, it kick-starts consideration of solar, said Schmerl, whose own Traverse City home is 50 percent solar-powered.

“All things are possible,” Schmerl said. “What we demonstrate is expandability.”

NMC first developed the solar trailer in 2006. Schmerl updated it for the Roost project using equipment sold to the college at a discount.

“The technology has become more user-friendly, easier to understand, and more adaptable to people’s power requirements,” said Schmerl. “Using that trailer and our classroom skill set, we can adapt to almost any inquiries.”

As electric cars become more prevalent, Schmerl sees more opportunity for solar growth. The website Charge Hub lists 26 public charging stations in Traverse City, including at the Cambria Suites hotel, the original Meijer parking lot, and the Old Towne parking deck just down the street from Roost.

“Why wouldn’t they package the sale of an electric vehicle with the sale of the charging equipment, which would lead to the sale of the solar,” he said.

Nelson agreed that he’s seeing interest increase among all kinds of clients, from millennials to boomers.

“It’s been super encouraging to see the people responding to living smaller, greener, low-maintenance,” he said.

Success Story: UAS Alumni Lead Industry Forward

February 25, 2015

UAS pilots from NMCBack in 2012, as one of NMC’s pioneer students in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Brad Kent found himself with a job offer before he’d even finished his training, and headed overseas for six-figure work as a civilian contractor. Now, as approvals for domestic use of UAS rise by the week, Kent and fellow former NMC students are poised to help guide the industry’s development into its second, commercial phase.

NMC was on the forefront of unmanned aircraft training, offering its first classes in the fall of 2010. Students like Kent (front row, second from right) and Darrell Trueblood (back row, far right) found getting in on the ground floor paid off, literally

“Before I even finished my degree I had placement in industry,” said Kent, 24, of Traverse City. He and Trueblood, 35, are among four NMC pilots now deployed in Afghanistan as civilian contractors with an Arizona-based manufacturer of UAS.

They provide force protection services to military, a job both see as worthy and important. Lengthy deployments and life on a military installation create a trade-off, however. “Balancing the benefits of income vs. the moments you miss with your friends and family becomes the tough part,” said Trueblood, who is married and a father to three. His wife and three children live in Tennessee.

“It puts a strain on relationships, it puts a strain on a social life,” said Kent, who still says it’s an “amazing experience” to work overseas.

UAS industry gets go-ahead to expand

Now, however, the strains and trade-offs are easing as the UAS industry gets the go-ahead to expand domestically.

Until 2014, the FAA strictly limited use of UAS vehicles in U.S. airspace. The first commercial exemption was granted in June 2014, allowing surveillance of oil fields in Alaska. Since December 2014, the FAA has approved more than 20 other exemptions for uses ranging from photography to agriculture.

Kent anticipates returning stateside later this year, to corporate headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. He’ll work on UAS research and development and train other pilots to fill the vast number of openings the industry expects as commercial permissions expand. “With pending FAA regulations for Unmanned Aerial Systems on the very near horizon, growth in this industry will be immense. Activities like movie production, agriculture monitoring, and infrastructure inspection will become an everyday occurrence, requiring trained professionals,” said Tony Sauerbrey, UAS program manager.

“This career field will grow exponentially in the coming years, both with pilots and support staff,” Trueblood agreed. His advice to prospective students is to be open to change.

“What you know today may be different from what you learn tomorrow. Be willing to continuously learn and continue your education,” he said.

It was that kind of attitude that led Kent to enroll in the first UAS classes.

“At the time it was a couple classes that you could add on if you were going through the manned aviation program,” Kent said. “NMC was very cool in the fact that they were willing to offer classes like that, new technologies.”

Sauerbrey said NMC will continue to grow with the industry and plans to offer full UAS pilot certification once the FAA finalizes regulations. NMC will also continue to work with leading UAS companies to provide a conduit for students seeking to enter the industry.

Student Success: From Dropout to Dean’s List

February 24, 2015

Lindsey GriceHow do you transform a two-time college dropout into a Dean’s List student?

Give her a bridge and a foundation. Walk her over and shore it up.

In 1998 Lindsey Grice enrolled at NMC, fresh out of Traverse City Central High School and mother to a newborn daughter. It didn’t go well.

“I just failed miserably. It wasn’t something I knew about. I had a full course load and a little baby and it was too much,” Grice said.

She tried again a decade later. By 2008 she was a mother to three, including a son with intensive mental health needs. Grice had to take six credits and earn a 2.0 in order to keep her financial aid. Her attendance was spotty due to her son’s care giving demands, and she did well in one class but not the other. She lost her financial aid and dropped out a second time.

Fast-forward to 2014. A friend told Grice, now 34, about NMC’s Bridge program. Created for nontraditional students attending college for the first time or returning after past attempts, Bridge endeavors to lay a foundation for student success. Just last year, the program was redesigned so that what were formerly preparatory classes are now for-credit. Significantly, that makes Bridge students eligible for financial aid.

Coordinating Student Success

NMC Student Success Coordinator Ashley Darga walked Grice through the process of petitioning to reinstate her financial aid. Regulations have changed to favor students like Grice, Darga said.

“I was able to get my Pell grant to be able to take classes this fall,” Grice said. Her foundation steadied.

Almost simultaneously her son Brandon, now 15, entered a residential school, further firming her foundation.

“I’ve taken care of him completely. Now he’s receiving help out of the home (and) he’s doing really well,” Grice said. “I’m able to focus on my studies instead of spending every waking moment worrying about him.”

Finally, her daughter Ashley—the newborn during Grice’s first college stint—now 16 and a high school junior, threw down the gauntlet.

“She kind of challenged me,” Grice said. “My oldest daughter is getting ready to graduate, and she had mentioned to me that I should go back and get back my classes before she does.”

That challenge completed the foundation underpinning Grice’s turnaround. Bridge students take nine credits (five classes) their first semester. Grice earned a 4.0 and made the dean’s list.

“I think I was really determined this time,” she said, citing one class, Academic Study Methods, as a key.

“I’ve learned what things I can utilize through the school. I know there’s tutoring, I know there’s all that stuff, but actually using it I feel more confident.”

Transforming students to active participants

Instructor Shannon Owen said transforming students from passive to active participants in their education is another crucial piece of college success.

“They have to advocate for their own needs. We don’t know they’re struggling or that they don’t understand concepts,” Owen said.

Grice started out strong and only improved over the semester, turning in assignments early, Owen said.

“She’s got such motivation and heart. It’s great to see students succeed and watch that happen throughout the semester.”

Grice’s long-term aim is a business management degree. More immediately, she’s focused on next semester’s classes, especially English 111. It will be the fourth time she’s attempted the class. This time she’ll have a study partner: daughter Ashley, registered in the same course as a dual-enrolled student.

“It’s hard for me (but) I am ready for it,” Grice said.

Success Story: Costa Rica Study Abroad Experience Marks Fifth Year

June 3, 2015

Costa Rica study abroad studentsAt five years old, NMC’s Costa Rica study abroad program has many age-appropriate traits: it’s thriving, energetic, and ready to explore.

It’s also something most five-year-olds are not: The Central American nation from which a dozen NMC students returned this week is the most mature of NMC’s study abroad experiences.

Started in 2011 by Constanza Hazelwood of NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, the heart of the experience is a partnership with EARTH University, an internationally renowned agronomy school near the Costa Rican port of Limón. This year, students in Freshwater Studies, Aviation and Plant Science all took part in the two-week sojourn on the tropical isthmus connecting North and South America.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the 2015 trip is one of the key signs of maturity. Another is reciprocity. Last fall, the GLWSI hosted EARTH researcher and faculty member Alex Pacheco as a guest lecturer. Pacheco then invited another colleague to propose a project for this year’s trip that combined the skills and experience of NMC students in both Watershed Science and Unmanned Aerial Systems: an examination of the spread of Sigatoka negra, a fungus that threatens banana production around the world.

NMC study abroad students working at a banana plantaion in Costa Rica“I have been to Costa Rica before, but this time I am not just a tourist, I am there to make a contribution. We are helping maintain a healthy watershed surrounding a banana plantation,” said Water Studies student Eoghan O’Connor.

To that end, students wielded both machetes and eBee, a professional mapping unmanned aerial system (UAS), on a banana plantation. Under Hazelwood’s guidance, they evaluated the effects of a buffer zone along the shorelines of the river running across the plantation.

“Our partnership with EARTH has grown into a solid network of professionals working together to solve relevant environmental problems impacting the globe’s water resources,” Hazelwood said.

They also practiced their Spanish in a home stay experience and soaked up as much culture and local lifestyle as possible.

“Beautifully overwhelming”

Costa Rica study abroad student Taylor West wields a machete“This whole experience has been beyond incredible. All of us students have described it as sensory overload. Touch, smell, sight, taste has all been so beautifully overwhelming,” Water Studies student Taylor West wrote on her blog.

Now back home, trip participants are preparing to debrief and discuss how their internship in Costa Rica can serve as a template as NMC’s Office of International Services and Service Learning seeks to offer more study abroad experiences in service of the college’s strategic goal to ensure that NMC learners are prepared for success in a global society and economy.

“Successful foundations like those with EARTH University allow us to think creatively when building future opportunities for multi-disciplinary study abroad,” said director Jim Bensley.

Success Story: Great Lakes Culinary Institute Grad Finds Sweet Home in Chicago

April 8, 2015

Culinary grad Leslie FarrarEvery industry offers pinnacles. Entertainers aspire to Oscars and Grammys, doctors and diplomats to Nobels, and chefs to Michelin stars.

Great Lakes Culinary Institute graduate Leslie Farrer has barely begun her career and has already helped collect one of those coveted stars. The Traverse City native, 27, is a pastry sous chef at Trump Hotel in Chicago. One of its restaurants, Sixteen, just earned its second Michelin star.

“It’s excellent. You don’t get that just by being good,” said one her NMC mentors, Chef Mike Skarupinski. “That’s something to be very, very proud of. It’s a great reward.”

Farrer discovered her interest in pastry while working at a restaurant as a student at Traverse City West High School, and toured Chicago’s renown French Pastry School. But she didn’t want to move at age 18. Enter the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.

She found the culinary curriculum, from knife skills to purchasing to menu planning, second to none. She also took her first pastry classes with Skarupinski, who remembers her as an excellent student. In contrast to savory cooking, pastry is technical.

“Pastry attracts more people who are good at math. Our recipes are very specific, they have to be very precise to get the result you want,” Farrer said.

Culinary grad Leslie FarrarAfter graduating in 2008, it was on to Chicago where she first attended and then interned at the French Pastry School. Next, she moved to Vanille, a small patisserie owned by an instructor, where she worked for four years, the last two as executive pastry chef.

She took an entry-level pastry chef position at Trump in 2013 and has already been promoted to one of two pastry sous chefs. The position offers a variety she enjoys. She might spend her work day baking bricks for a holiday gingerbread house, dipping strawberries for Sunday brunch, or planning the dessert menu for Sixteen, now one of only three restaurants in Chicago to boast two Michelin stars.

Farrer’s married to her high school sweetheart, Brian Farrer, who also attended NMC for a year and a half before transferring to DePaul University. He’s a mergers and acquisitions consultant in Chicago.

While the couple is comfortably settled in the Windy City now, Farrer remembers NMC fondly.

“It gave me a couple years to grow up,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself and how I handle situations and stress and work with other people in stressful situations.”

Skarupinski said Farrer’s success should inspire future culinary students, too.

“Having her start at NMC is another very good accomplishment for our future students as well,” he said.

Success Story: Movie, panel discussion aims to illuminate impact of war

November 8, 2017

Since 2012, NMC has prioritized the success of student veterans on campus with a host of initiatives led by the office of Military and Veterans Services — from customized orientation to a veterans lounge to efforts to convert service into credits.

Almost Sunrise documentary imageTonight, some NMC veterans will take a step toward connecting the broader community with the experience of contemporary military service by taking part in a panel discussion following the 7 p.m. free screening of Almost Sunrise at Milliken Auditorium. The documentary tells the story of two veterans who embark on a cross-country hike in an effort to heal the psychological wounds left by their military service.

Construction technology student Fernando Cruz is familiar with that restless urge. An Army reservist between 1997 and 2010 who was deployed to Iraq for a year, he too crisscrossed the U.S. for work after his discharge.

“It’s not coincidental,” said Cruz, now of Kingsley, of his nomadic work transporting vehicles, and later for a drill rig company. “I was getting away. I had to get away.”

The father of twin 18-month-old sons, Cruz, 37, thinks there’s a “big disconnect” between civilians and military members. Tonight, he’ll try to help make that connection.

Veterans Day commemoration

Presented by NMC’s chapter of Student Veterans of America and 22 to None, an organization dedicated to stopping veteran suicide, the film comes as NMC prepares to commemorate Veterans Day on campus. The following events are scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13:

  • 8:30 a.m. – Free breakfast for all veterans and active duty military in the Hawk Owl Cafe in West Hall.
  • 9:20 a.m. – Walk of Honor. The campus community is invited to line up along the sidewalks from West Hall to the flagpoles west of the Tanis Building. Led by the Traverse City Central High School drum line, veterans will walk from West Hall to the flagpoles.
  • 9:30 a.m. – Flag-raising ceremony conducted by the VFW with the Traverse City Central High School band.
  • 10 a.m.–noon – Coffee and cake served in West Hall for the entire campus community in honor of veterans.

About five percent of NMC students are veterans. For the third consecutive year NMC has been certified as a Gold-Level Veteran-Friendly School by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. NMC was also named the fifth-best “Best for Vets” community college nationwide by Military Times in 2016.

NMC will also focus on the student veteran transition in the January 2018 issue of Nexus, which will be published as the nation marks the ten-year anniversary of the post-9/11 GI Bill, which granted educational benefits to veterans serving after Sept. 11, 2001.

Success Story: Students take on Civil War memorials restoration

October 11, 2017

Civil war marker restorersNMC welding students Andrew DuBois and Michael StolarczykSome NMC welding students are getting a dose of American history on top of this semester’s classes.

They’re helping to restore Civil War markers placed on the graves of Union Army veterans in northern Michigan cemeteries. Thanks to an instructor’s idea, the extracurricular project is increasing their skills and their citizenship, one cast iron star at a time.

Adjunct electrical instructor Jeff Morse is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a national group that works to honor the memory of the soldiers killed between 1861-65. A feature of the Union graves the group charges itself with maintaining is a cast iron star flagholder, inserted into the ground with double spikes.

A repaired Civil War markerA Civil War marker repaired by NMC welding students“Over the years they became no match to power lawn mowers and brutal northern Michigan winters. Many markers became rusty and either one or both of the spikes had been broken off,” Morse said.

He mentioned it to welding instructor Devan DePauw, who agreed to take on repair as an extracurricular project with student volunteers. Students cut off the double legs, grind and prepare the stars for welding, and then weld one spike in a new, center position.

It’s an opportunity to learn new techniques from the typical steel-to-steel welding they do in class.

“Cast iron is notoriously difficult to weld,” DePauw said. Students are learning a “brazing” technique that uses a bronze filler to weld the spike back on.

It’s also an opportunity to apply their knowledge for a greater good.

“I like doing stuff that matters. This epitomizes that,” said Michael Stolarczyk, 18, of Traverse City.

“I just think it’s a good cause,” said Andrew DuBois, 28, of Flint.

Group member Scott Schwander, who has been cleaning the headstones as well, returns the repaired star flagholders to the graves. He started with Oakwood Cemetery near main campus, where about 300 Union veterans are buried. The Robert Finch Camp of which both Schwander and Morse are members serves 16 northern Michigan counties and estimates that more than 1,000 Union veterans are buried in the five-county Grand Traverse region.

Camp commander Ted Matti, sees the project as a win–win.

“Being they’re in a welding program, they have to work with various kinds of metal,” he said. “Any time you can get involved with anything in the community of historic significance, or helping others, that’s all part of being a citizen in the community, and that’s a good lesson, too.”

Success Story: Debt-Free Degrees

April 22, 2015

Nick and Kaitlyn AlpersAt just 21 years old, Traverse City native Nick Alpers has checked off a lot of life’s milestones already. He’s earned his bachelor’s degree, married, and is working full-time in his chosen field of mechanical engineering.

The 2012 NMC graduate is unique in another way, too: Alpers, who graduated summa cum laude from Saginaw Valley State University last year, has zero student loan debt.

Zero as in zip. Zilch. None. As in, a stark contrast to his peers. Statewide, 63 percent of Michigan’s 2013 bachelor’s graduates took on student debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. On average, each owes more than $29,000.

What’s the difference? Simply put, motivation and NMC dual enrollment.

Dual enrolled in 2010

Alpers dual-enrolled in NMC as a senior at Traverse City Central, back in 2010. He took 28 credits that year, more than half of what he needed for his engineering certificate, all paid for by his high school. He attended NMC for another year and worked in the math lab before transferring to SVSU in 2012. There he completed the last two years of his bachelor’s in a year and a half. Now, his paycheck from Nexteer Automotive, a Saginaw manufacturer of steering columns and gears, belongs to just him and his wife Kaitlyn (Green) Alpers, a pre-physician’s assistant student at SVSU.

“I know that some people are in their 30s and still paying off debts. Now I can allocate that money to something else,” said Alpers.

Financial and academic advantages

Besides the financial advantage, Alpers speaks highly of NMC’s academic rigor, noting that his GPA at Saginaw Valley was higher than at NMC.

“It was definitely worth it. It helps you to prepare,” said Alpers, whose two older brothers also attended NMC. “I came down here and I thought (SVSU) was a breeze.”

Not too far down the road, the “something else” might be getting home. Kaitlyn, who also dual-enrolled at NMC for her senior year in 2011-12, has her eye on a master’s PA program that Grand Valley recently started at NMC’s University Center.

Success Story: Alumna doubles day care this fall

November 22, 2017

Emily SpicaIn this season of gratitude, quality child care is near the top of the list for the young families fortunate enough to have found it.

This fall, one NMC alumna took a step toward filling that crucial community need by doubling her home child care capacity, including more desperately-needed infant care. Alison Burns’ Healthy Start Child Care in Traverse City also now employs two NMC child development students, (including Emily Spica, above) providing them valuable work experience.

Alison Burns and infantA licensed provider in Michigan since 1996, Burns (right) originally chose child care as a way to stay home with her own three children. Until this year, her license limited her to six children in care simultaneously, only two of whom could be under a year old. However, Burns self-limited infant enrollment to one. She frequently had a waiting list, and felt badly for the families she had to turn away.

“There’s such a demand for infant care,” she said.

Then this fall, timing and preparation coincided, allowing Burns to help meet that demand.

Back in 2011, inspired to learn more about children with special needs after one came into her care, Burns enrolled in an Exceptional Child psychology class at NMC. Child development program coordinator and instructor Cheryl Bloomquist then persuaded her to complete the entire Child Development certificate course sequence — 32 credit hours. Even after practicing child care for 15 years, Burns found herself invigorated in the classroom.

“It reinforced what I already knew, (and) I learned so much,” she said. An Infant and Toddler Development class was especially beneficial, she said, bolstering her knowledge of best practices for that age group and confidence working with them.

She completed her certificate in 2013 and returned to running her six-child daycare home. She also made time to serve on Bloomquist’s Early Childhood Advisory Committee.

“Her input is so valuable, because I don’t always have a family home provider there,” Bloomquist said.

Fast-forward to this fall, when Burns’ youngest daughter left for college, creating more physical space for child care in their home. Simultaneously Burns was up for relicensing, and the lack of child care regionally had become an acknowledged obstacle to continued economic growth.

“Babies need care, and they need good care,” said Bloomquist. “They take up a lot of space and they take up a lot of employees.”

Burns decided to expand her license to allow her to care for 12 children, up to four of whom can be younger than 18 months. All those slots are filled, and in fact she cares for 19 different children over the course of a week, since some attend part-time.

She also turned to NMC to find staff. Both Kalee Lown, lead infant and toddler teacher, and Spica, lead preschool teacher, are NMC students. On a recent brisk morning, Spica played with preschoolers in Burns’ backyard while Lown and Burns each held an infant, and another napped.

“I get to apply the things we’re learning in class,” said Spica, who will graduate next spring. “A lot of (the work) coincides with the assignments we’re given.”

Burns empowers them to use their education on the job.

“These teachers are teachers. They’re not just waiting for me to tell them what to do,” she said.

“Now she is the mentor,” Bloomquist said. “It’s just been a really good fit.”

For information on Healthy Start Child Care, call (231) 933-7002.

Success Story: Stephen Siciliano Embarks On Fourth Decade At NMC

August 19, 2015

Stephen Siciliano, NMC's Cice President for Educational ServicesSchool and Scouts.

Back in fifth grade, Stephen Siciliano found two things he liked and decided to stick with them.

Since then, he’s climbed to the pinnacle of both worlds. He’s vice president of educational services at NMC, and not only an Eagle Scout himself but a father of three more — all of whom also attended NMC.

Yet as he embarks on his fourth decade on campus, Siciliano, who wears a Scout uniform in his campus profile picture, shows no sign of boredom or restlessness. He’s excited to continue work on the challenges the college faces, like developmental education, learning outcomes and internal communication. Viewed through the lens of history, his chosen academic field, he is confident those challenges will be met. (More on those in a moment.)

Siciliano’s own history is colored by a community college — Nassau Community College on Long Island, NY, where he grew up. A first-generation college student, he had an “absolutely wonderful experience” and chose to pursue his master’s and PhD degrees in the hope of teaching at the community college level himself. So when Walt Beardslee, one of NMC’s founding faculty members, came to recruit at a National History Conference which Siciliano also happened to attend, he found an eager candidate.

“I’m thinking, ‘You don’t have to sell me. I’d love to teach at a community college,’” Siciliano, 59, recalled of that interview.

NMC Vice President Stephen Siciliano gives a faculty excellence award to astronomy instructor Jerry Dobek at NMC's 2015 Commencement.He spent 11 years teaching at NMC, including six as director of the Humanities division, his first taste of administration. In 1996 he moved into his current role as the college’s top academic officer. One of the best changes he’s seen during that time is NMC’s shift from once-a-decade accreditation to a continuous academic quality improvement process, known as AQIP.

“They focus our attention,” he said of the AQIP action projects, including, not coincidentally, those three challenges of developmental education, learning outcomes and communication.

“People say, ‘we want to get this done,’” he said, citing developmental education, the project closest to completion. “I come away from that meeting so energized.”

And that history is why he thinks that the more recently tackled projects like learning outcomes and communications, will indeed be solved.

Siciliano’s parallel world of Scouting has been transformed by quality improvement, too. While he no longer leads an active troop, like he did for a dozen years with just-retired engineering instructor Jim Coughlin, Siciliano is still involved as a liaison between two local units and the broader Boy Scout organization.

“They’ve clearly moved to quality metrics, just like our college. How can we improve the experience for the boys?” Siciliano said.

Even after 30 years as an educator, that question still animates Siciliano, who plans to keep pursuing the answer for a little while yet.

“I hope I’m here,” he says of his plans for five years down the road.

Success Story: Textbook heroes save students six figures in a single semester

October 28, 2015

NMC Osterlin Library Director Tina UlrichNMC students pocketed an extra $137,000 this semester thanks to instructors using free and low-cost textbooks.

Led by Osterlin Library director Tina Ulrich, NMC is piloting an experiment in Open Educational Resources this semester. Ten instructors were selected to receive a stipend of either $500 or an iPad — provided by an NMC Foundation innovation grant — as an incentive to redesign their courses using free textbooks and other resources, often found online.

In the process, Ulrich discovered other instructors already using OERs or low-cost textbooks. In total, NMC has 17 instructors she calls “textbook heroes” teaching 880 students in subjects ranging from math to English to history to social work.

The hero label is no exaggeration for students in Brian Sweeney’s physics class, who each saved $198 thanks to his choice of an OER.

Free The Textbook illustration

“I wouldn’t have bought it,” physics student Eli Seal, 31, said of the $198 textbook.

Pre-med student Alyson Bunker of Gaylord calls textbook prices “ridiculous.” One online book cost her $110, she said.

“It’s extortion,” said student Tripp Coleman, 25, of Traverse City. He’s attending school on the GI bill and has a book allowance of only $509 per semester. That’s barely two-thirds of the $750 NMC recommends students budget, which amounts to 15 percent of tuition costs, Ulrich said.

Students said prices for online books and book rentals are still inflated and rigged with late fees, and end-of-semester book buy backs don’t offer enough return. Many said they like the online nature of OERs like the one Sweeney chose, which can easily be searched for specific content and linked to supplementary material.

“My course is organized better than ever and the students like the extra videos and interactive supplements for the class,” said math instructor Deb Menchaca.

Students who prefer printed materials can download and print OER materials, Ulrich noted.

Besides the cost savings, instructors said going off-book allowed them to reinvigorate their courses with newer material.

“Our computers are outdated as soon as we buy them. Our textbooks are, too,” said social work instructor Lisa Blackford. Now she’s consciously choosing materials as varied as TED talks and podcasts and believes students are more engaged.

Sociology instructor Brandon Everest agreed. He uses a $30 textbook published through OpenStax College, a nonprofit initiative of Rice University. The book’s content is not as thorough as the one he previously used, but that creates an opportunity to customize the course.

“It is more skeletal, so we were allowed to hang the flesh wherever we saw fit,” he said.

In terms of student performance, most instructors said students did as well or better on tests as they did with traditional textbooks. Sweeney said every test and lab score is better this fall.

The pilot project also aligns NMC with national trends. Earlier this month two U.S. senators introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would expand the use of OERs.

Learn more about the Open Textbooks movement »

Read more from NMC’s textbook heroes »

Success Story: Alumna, Parent, Volunteer Says All Facets Of NMC Shine

May 6, 2015

Barb and Greg MortFirst comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes a baby carriage, satisfying careers, buffalo burgers, saving money through dual enrollment, and supervising the beanbag toss.

That’s Barb Mort’s story, anyway. The alumna and Traverse City resident has a bird’s eye view of NMC, having seen the college as a student, parent, volunteer and colleague. Whatever lens she’s looking through, Mort says the view is always the same: Impressive.

“I’m just so proud that such a small community has a world-class college in it,” said Mort, whose story began with a fairy-tale start when she moved into the NMC apartments in 1979. Across the hall lived another student named Greg, from Charlevoix.

“It was truly love at first sight,” she said. “The very first time I met him, I knew I was going to marry him.”

They tied the knot in 1982, and then bride and groom enrolled in what was called Ferris State University’s “off campus program,” a predecessor to the University Center located in the old Maritime building (now site of the Great Lakes campus.)

“Neither one of us would have the careers we have without NMC and the off-campus program,” said Mort, who is now donor relations specialist at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Husband Greg is the business manager of a tool and die company. “It literally saved us tens of thousands of dollars in tuition.”

Jackson Mort with his parents, Barb and GregFast-forward a few decades. The couple’s youngest son, Jackson, a senior at Traverse City West, is now dual-enrolled at NMC. He’s even had one of the same professors his parents did: Math instructor Ernie East.

“It’s been the best thing for him,” said Mort.  “He loves the independence, how the professors teach. The one-on-one help he’s been getting is amazing.”

Mort also sees evidence of NMC’s value when she goes to work. The Conservancy hired an intern through NMC’s business department. He went on to earn a staff position, due to his strong performance which NMC supported, she said.

Mort’s latest role at NMC came about thanks to another quirk of proximity. The Conservancy’s office adjoins Oleson’s, the grocery store chain whose founders started the NMC Barbecue in 1956. The third generation of the family now continues that tradition, led by Brad Oleson, who recruited Mort for the Barbecue Board.

“I saw serving on the BBQ board as an avenue to give back to the college that has made such a difference to my family and community. I am also inspired by the Oleson family, who quietly contribute to so many worthwhile organizations in our region,” Mort said.

Set for May 17 this year, Barbecue Day is the culmination of nine months of work by the Board, and Mort will be busy co-supervising kids’ games. She’ll make sure to find time to squeeze in her own buffalo burger, though.

“I’m a really picky eater but I love the buffalo burgers,” she said.

Success Story: Alumnus now NMC’s first male nursing instructor

October 14, 2015

Nursing instructor Mac BeekerIf it seems like there’s a lot of new faces in classrooms this semester, you’re right.

Eight new full-time faculty members began teaching at NMC this fall, more than double the number of new faculty who started in 2014 and 2013.

Among those eight, Mac Beeker stands out for another reason: He’s the first full-time male nursing instructor in department history. And with NMC’s male nursing enrollment well ahead of national averages, he’s a fitting addition to the faculty.

“It’s a female-dominated profession, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” said Beeker, a 2010 alumnus himself. “(But) it’s not necessarily a female field they’re entering. It’s the nursing field.”

NMC’s associate degree nursing program enrollment is 21 percent male and male enrollment has climbed for the last two years, both in terms of actual students and percentages. National averages for male student nurse enrollment stand at around 15 percent. Among practicing nurses, only about 10 percent are men.

Director of Nursing Laura Schmidt said NMC has had male adjuncts, but Beeker, a medical-surgical instructor, is a pioneer in terms of full-time status.

Nursing instructor Mac Beeker and students“I think it’s very positive that there’s a male instructor,” said Brandon Thompson, a Traverse City nursing student. Graduating next spring, Beeker is the first male instructor he’s had.

Beeker, 50, entered nursing after careers in radio and non-profit management. He came to the field at 40, “half-accidentally, half intentionally” after his parents got sick. In terms of their hands-on care, Beeker discovered that nurses were the providers who truly made a difference.

“My own involvement with my parents’ health, it was pretty clear to me,” he said.

As Beeker did, many men find their way into nursing at older ages and after caregiving experiences, often as a parent or for a parent.

“Those barriers really get broken down for men as they get a bit older,” Beeker said. “There’s no way I could have done this at 18.”

Beeker said he’s particularly interested in infusing a human connection to the practice of nursing. When teaching a procedure, for instance, he seeks for students to learn not only how and when to perform it, but to conduct it with care and compassion for the patient. Skill grounded in academic knowledge delivered in a compassionate bedside manner equates to “phenomenal” nursing, he said.

“I felt that was very present in the NMC program, and I want to continue to try and develop that,” he said.

Since graduating, Beeker has earned a master’s in nursing and worked as a medical-surgical nurse providing primarily post-trauma care at Munson Medical Center. He plans to maintain that connection, working a few on-call shifts a month, to keep up his skills. He said Munson’s status as a magnet hospital for nursing, a designation of excellence by the American Nurse Credentialing Center, reflects positively on the quality of NMC’s program.

“That trickles back and is fueled by the NMC program,” he said.

Congratulations to the winner of the 2017 Ugly Holiday Sweater Contest!

Congratulations to the NMC Foundation, which won the 2017 Ugly Holiday Sweater Contest and the coveted contest trophy with a two-minute video to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (see the winning video here).

The winner was announced at the NMC Holiday Party December 15. Thanks to all the other groups that also submitted entries — Dennos Museum Center, Educational Media Technologies, Enrollment Services, Extended Education, and Student Life. Start shopping for your ugly sweaters now; we’re looking forward to next year’s contest!