Hard work, academic dedication and opportunity earned Luke Sheppard a full-time job before he received his college degree.
The Saginaw Valley State University student was hired full-time as a math teacher at Bridgeport Middle School, weeks before earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education in May.
“I really appreciate the fact that they noticed how hard I was working,” said Sheppard, who was a student teacher at the school before district officials hired him on a full-time basis in April.
“I’m really honored that they can trust me with a class without having too much to go on. It says they noticed that I work hard and that I’m passionate about the kids.”
Not everyone is surprised by Sheppard’s rare feat. Even those who understand the challenging job market for K-12 schools in Michigan.
Jonathon Gould, SVSU associate professor of teacher education, called Sheppard “a natural teacher.”
“It didn’t surprise me,” Gould said about news of Sheppard’s job. “He is great in public speaking, and he’s a genuine, team-orientated leader.”
Gould, a member of SVSU’s faculty for eight years, said Sheppard was among the “top 5 percent” of his students. Gould said Sheppard’s natural teaching talents and his efforts to network with officials in the K-12 system likely won him the full-time position.
“He was always willing to go above and beyond,” Gould said.
Sheppard said his efforts were aimed at achieving a goal he had been pursuing since he was a child, watching his now-retired father teach special education and coach track at local schools.
“I like it when kids have that ‘ah-ha’ moment, and they understand they might not have gotten there on their own,” the 2010 Frankenmuth High School graduate said.
Through his SVSU education, Sheppard had field experience at Bay City Handy Middle School as well as Bridgeport High School.
“I was thinking I would teach higher-level classes, but it’s been interesting to work with middle school students,” he said. “They’re really fun once you get through that hard exterior and goofball-ness.”
While he’s excited for the new career, Sheppard said he will miss his experiences at SVSU.
“Everyone I came across here was extremely helpful,” he said. “I’ll miss being a student in class, instead of being the one with everyone’s eyes on you.”
An unexpected opportunity resulted in an impressive performance by students in Saginaw Valley State University's moot court program.Students Mark Babcock, a psychology major from Saginaw, and Felicia Jostock, a criminal justice major from North Branch, advanced as a team to the quarterfinals round of the American Collegiate Moot Court Association national invitational tournament in Chicago April 24-25.
The SVSU duo's deep run came as a surprise because SVSU wasn't planning to compete in the tournament just 24 hours before it began.
Julie Keil, assistant professor of political science and adviser to the SVSU moot court program, was scheduled to volunteer at the tournament. The day before the competition, one team dropped out of the tournament, and officials with the American Collegiate Moot Court Association asked Keil if SVSU students could step in.
Jostock and Babcock answered the call, driving to Chicago Friday morning.
“We have some awesome ‘mooters’ in our program,” Keil said. “Anyone who can pick up the case after five months of not looking at it, and can come close to winning the tournament on one day's notice, is an outstanding competitor.”
With little preparation, the duo won several rounds and advanced beyond the first day of competition. On the second day, the SVSU team defeated the tournament's No. 3-seeded pair before falling short in the quarterfinal round to a team from The University of Chicago.
In a moot court competition, students act as attorneys in teams of two. They make arguments to a panel of judges by drawing from constitutional law and Supreme Court cases. Judges then decide winners based on public speaking ability, knowledge of cases and of law, and the ability to answer questions.
“I had to get my shift covered at work and make arrangements at home, but I was able to go,” Jostock said. “It was extremely fun. I was super nervous.”
The successful showing for Babcock and Jostock is the latest accomplishment for the moot court program.
In January, Samantha Jackson, a political science major from Goodells, and Rachel Stocki, a business major from St. Clair, together placed 21st in the national tournament in Miami.
SVSU finished 2014 ranked No. 20 out of 75 colleges and universities competing in the American Collegiate Moot Court Association.
Earlier in April, SVSU graduate and former undergraduate moot court competitor Ashley Hanson Chrysler was part of a Michigan State University College of Law team that won the nation's largest law school-level moot court competition.
Next up: University of Rochester, Ph.D. program in neuroscience
Career prospects: neuroscience researcher
Fun fact: Salois once worked aboard Bay City’s Appledore IV sailboat, which provides tours and participates in events across the Great Lakes.
For years, Garrick Salois racked his brain, searching for his niche as an undergraduate student.
Eventually, the Kawkawlin native realized the brain was his niche.
Salois this fall will attend the University of Rochester’s Ph.D. program in neuroscience, studying for a career in brain research.
“The brain is one of the most complex things I know of,” said Salois, who will graduate from Saginaw Valley State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“It’s incredible to see its workings firsthand. It’s an insanely complex system.”
Salois’ fascination with the organ began in SVSU’s Brain Research Laboratory, six years after he graduated from Bay City Western High School in 2007. His early years in college included stints as both a business and sociology major. Eventually, he settled on psychology. Then in 2013, when he heard a classmate’s presentation on the Brain Research Laboratory, he decided to investigate its opportunities.
“I have been in that lab ever since,” he said.
The Brain Research Lab specializes in how the brain changes following traumatic injury.
“It took me a while to adjust,” Salois said of his initial experience in the lab. “I started off by doing a lot of reading to see what other people were doing. I was in the lab every day.”
That dedication and passion paid off. Less than two years later, Salois’ research experience helped him gain acceptance letters from several Ph.D. programs for neuroscience.
Jeffrey Smith, SVSU’s Malcolm and Lois Field Endowed Chair of Health Sciences, called Salois “an exemplary example of what is possible at SVSU.”
“He is a hardworking, motivated learner who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but through exploration as a student at SVSU, found his passion,” said Smith, who helps oversee the SVSU laboratory. “Garrick fully embraced the life of a young scientist.”
Smith said Galois has excelled in engaging in challenging coursework across multiple departments.
His accomplishments at SVSU include earning both a Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute grant as well as a Field Neuroscience Fellowship, presenting research at national conferences, and being part of a team that published research in the leading journal for neurotrauma research.
Salois credits Smith’s tutelage for this relatively newfound love of brain science.
“He’s changed my life,” Salois said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without him.”
Salois said finding this niche was worth the wait.
“There are incredible opportunities here if you’re willing to work for them,” he said.
Next up: London theater internship
Career prospects: actress
Fun fact: Longwell’s acting career began at 4, when she played a duck in a production of “Noah’s Ark.” “I had little yellow suspenders and matching yellow shoes,” she said. “My line was, ‘Quack.’ That’s where it started.”
Lexee Longwell is about to make her dreams come true.
When she graduates from Saginaw Valley State University in May, the theatre major will move to London, England to join Ovation Limited Theatre Co. as an intern at the arts group’s venue, Upstairs At The Gatehouse.
“I woke up in the middle of the night a few months ago after having a dream of being abroad someplace,” said Longwell, who has appeared — many times as a lead actor — in 19 SVSU productions.
“I’ve always wanted to go abroad, but I never had time. After that dream, I decided I was going to make time.”
So Longwell sent an application to Global Experiences International Internship Programs, and within weeks, she was accepted. The program then placed her with the London theatre troupe, which will be staging a production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” during her stay from June to August.
David Rzeszutek, SVSU assistant professor of theatre, “was not surprised” to learn Longwell secured the internship.
“She is a driven and talented student,” said Rzeszutek, a director who has cast Longwell in a number of his SVSU productions.
Her responsibilities will include costume and stage design, public relations work and a variety of behind-the-scenes activities.
“I can’t wait,” she said of her first trip overseas. “I’m kind of nervous, but I have a lot of faith in taking chances. If things have fallen into place in such a remarkably short amount of time, I’m sure it’s going to be good.”
Longwell is accustomed to immediate results. After the 2011 Hartland High School graduate arrived at the university via the Distinguished Theatre Arts Scholarship, she scored a leading role in her first audition for an SVSU production, “Wiley and The Hairy Man.”
“I was told this was a school that allows opportunities, and there I was, as a freshman, and I had a lead,” she said.
Her favorite roles at SVSU include playing Desdemona in “Othello” this February, and Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” in April 2012. Others may remember her as Ulla in November 2014’s “The Producers.”
Rzeszutek said one of his favorite memories of Longwell happened in February 2013, when she performed with some of the nation’s best college thespians at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center during the American College Theatre Festival. The two were riding in an elevator following one of Longwell’s performances.
“She turned to me and said, ‘I now know I can do this,’” Rzeszutek recalled. “It was the moment that Lexee needed for herself; to give herself permission to succeed. I have no doubt that she will find continued success in her career.”
Born in Tennessee, Longwell describes her life in the performing arts as “an inevitable thing.” Her parents played in a band together in Ohio and encouraged Longwell and her older sister to participate in the arts from a young age.
“I have such an amazing support system with my family,” she said. “They’re all passionate about this with me. The same with my professors here, and my friends.”
When she returns from London, Longwell hopes to move near her family in Holland, Michigan and act in community theatre in the Grand Rapids region. Eventually, she wants to join Chicago’s professional theatre scene.
“I love putting energy into positive outlets,” she said, “and being able to be a part of something that’s bigger than me.”
Double major: biology, Spanish
Next up: Miami University, Ph.D. program in ecology, evolution and environmental biology
Career prospects: biology professor
Fun fact: Strasburg is the first member of her family to attend college.
Miranda Strasburg wasn’t like most children.
Instead of being repulsed — as plenty of kids are — by the slimy, slippery nature of amphibians, the Millington native wanted to bring home frogs and newts as pets.
“I was the one who would go out and catch them in the woods,” she said.
Today, Strasburg continues to distinguish herself from her peers thanks to her love of all things amphibious and alive.
After she graduates from Saginaw Valley State University in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology and Spanish, she will leap-frog the typical path of a student who graduates with a baccalaureate degree and then enters a master’s program. Instead, Strasburg in August will immediately jump to a doctoral program when she moves to Oxford, Ohio to attend Miami University’s Ph.D. program in ecology, evolution and environmental biology.
There, she will study amphibian conservation.
“The populations of amphibians — animals such as frogs and salamanders — are declining because they’re susceptible to pollutants and diseases,” the 2010 Mayville High School graduate said. “They are important to this world because they’re a keystone species. We need them to sustain other species.”
Eventually, Strasburg plans to teach in higher education while continuing research in the field of ecology.
One of her SVSU mentors, Art Martin, associate professor of biology, said Strasburg has the work ethic, intelligence and passion necessary to become a solid Ph.D. student as well as a college professor.
“She’s one of the most aggressive students I’ve ever had,” Martin said. “Once she figures out what she wants, she jumps in feet first in a way I’ve never seen another student jump in. She’s relentless, and it has led her to huge success.”
While Strasburg’s love of frogs began in childhood, several experiences at SVSU cemented her desire to seek a career centering on the animal.
After switching one of her majors from biology to criminal justice, it was a trip outside the state that inspired her to return to her biology studies.
Through the campus Alternative Breaks program, Strasburg was one of 12 students who traveled to South Padre Island, Texas to help rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles in March 2012.
“For a while, I didn’t think I could do biology, but after that trip, I thought, ‘OK, yes, I can,’” she said.
Her interest in research was inspired by another SVSU experience.
Martin last year convinced Strasburg to apply for a grant through SVSU’s Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute. Receiving the funding, Strasburg designed her own project, which analyzed the behavior of crayfish in different aquatic environments. In January, she presented her findings at the Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Strasburg is a self-described “ball of energy,” whose interest in biology led her to participate in SVSU programs such as the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute as well as the Dow Science and Sustainability Education Center. She also has kept busy at SVSU as a resident assistant, a Writing Center tutor, a member of both Alpha Mu Gamma and Sigma Delta Pi — both national collegiate foreign language honor societies — as well as a member of both the National Residence Hall Honorary and the Residence Hall Association.
“It has been life changing,” Strasburg said of her SVSU experience.
“I came here not knowing what I wanted to do, and SVSU has helped me discover my passion and find my path. I love everything about this place. I am truly going to miss it.”
Next up: accountant, The Rehmann Group
Fun fact: Skidmore has competed nationally in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments. AJGA’s alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia.
On Saginaw Valley State University’s golf team, Micah Skidmore’s precision and hard work paid off, earning the Saginaw native numerous accolades including First Team All-GLIAC honors in 2014.
In his SVSU studies, a different kind of precision and hard work helped Skidmore hit the college student equivalent of winning a tournament: A full-time job waiting for him after graduation.
Once Skidmore receives his bachelor’s degree in accounting in May, he will join the financial firm Rehmann as a full-time accountant in the tax division, known as Rehmann Robson. He was connected to his future employer during an SVSU Career Services jobs fair.
“I am excited to have a job that I can start my career with,” he said. “Rehmann is an amazing company, and I was so blessed to have received an offer from them.”
Those who worked with Skidmore academically weren’t surprised by the news.
“In my opinion, (Rehmann) got the better part of the deal,” said Anthony Bowrin, SVSU associate dean of the College of Business and Management. “They couldn’t pay him enough money.”
Skidmore already has experience working among professional accountants. In the summers of 2013 and 2014, he worked as an intern in the tax department of the Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle.
Bowrin, who has worked at SVSU for six years, counted Skidmore among his top students ever.
“From day one, he was excellent,” Bowrin recalled of the first of several classes he taught with Skidmore as a student. “He sat in the front row of a class in Science West, totally engaged, asking questions, breaking the ice and being very interactive with the class.”
When other students struggled in class, Bowrin sometimes turned to Skidmore to help them with tutoring.
Skidmore’s generosity extends beyond the classroom. He is a regular volunteer at SVSU golf clinics, working with youths interested in the sport.
“This was a rewarding experience: helping younger kids that sincerely enjoyed and appreciated the experience,” he said.
Those youths learned from an exceptional golfer. Skidmore's accomplishments continued right up until days before his graduation.
In his final game as an SVSU golfer, Skidmore and his teammates in May played in the 2015 NCAA Division II Midwest/Central Super Regionals at the Cog Hill Dubsdread Course, a Chicago site where the PGA sometimes plays. Skidmore’s individual performance tied him for ninth place among the competition, his sixth top 10 performance of the season.
Skidmore said he values the lessons learned at SVSU — both on the golf course and in the classroom. He credits his SVSU experience in part for his success in finding full-time employment so quickly.
He said mentors such as Bowrin and Mark McCartney, professor of accounting, helped in preparing for a career.
“Having put in five full years to attain my professional accountancy degree, I am well prepared to handle the stress of the workplace while thriving under pressure,” Skidmore said. “I think my ability to handle stressful and busy times can be attributed to my time here at SVSU.”
He said his experience on the golf team strengthened his work ethic and also taught him to succeed under pressure.
“None of this could have been possible without SVSU,” Skidmore said of his career opportunities.
Next up: University of Michigan, Ph.D. program in chemical biology
Career prospects: research or higher education teaching
Fun fact: Lukowski is a jazz piano player.
April Lukowski is the epitome of the homegrown college student who found a calling and an exemplary education at Saginaw Valley State University, all while helping the community where she was raised.
Now that experience has opened new doors. Lukowski this fall will begin postgraduate studies at the University of Michigan, where she is enrolled in the Ph.D. program for chemical biology.
“It’s a very competitive program, and I was lucky to get into it,” said Lukowski, set to graduate from SVSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. “It was my top choice.”
Lukowski isn’t a stranger to challenges. Facing them at SVSU has included taking on some of the university’s top research opportunities, first with her Honors Program thesis and later via the campus-based Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute, where she studied bodies of water that have supported her community for generations.
But her first challenge at SVSU involved finding a niche academically. The 2011 Bay City Central High School graduate enrolled at the university, unsure at first which academic program best suited her.
Lukowski was a recipient of the Bay Area Community Foundation’s Bay Commitment Scholarship — an initiative supporting high-achieving, first-generation students in Bay County who attend SVSU or Delta College — and her interests largely centered on the arts.
“I was more into art and music and things like that,” she said, “but I also knew I always liked my science classes in high school.” Lukowski took both Advanced Placement biology and chemistry classes at Bay City Central, and performed well.
“I was being exposed to college-level science classes there, and I decided to explore those more (in college),” she said.
Lukowski initially declared her major as biology.
“Then I met Dr. Sivy,” Lukowski said, referring to Tami Sivy, the associate professor of chemistry who advised Lukowski to explore biochemistry.
“I liked it because it challenged me in ways I can handle,” she said. “There’s more math, and numbers make more sense to me.”
Sivy said the match made sense, and soon Lukowski found her footing academically.
“April has blossomed into a conscientious researcher and an excellent student,” Sivy said. “At first, she was unsure as to what she wanted to do, but she took advantage of every opportunity that was offered her, and became more confident in her abilities and increasingly more clear in her goals for her future. She is extremely well-prepared for her continuation to graduate school, not only because of her work in the classroom, but probably more so because of the variety of research projects with which she has been involved.”
Lukowski said she discovered a love for research as a sophomore when she studied isoprene enzymes and fir trees as part of her Honors Program thesis. That passion continued with her undergraduate research with the Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute. There, she studied the Saginaw Bay watershed, testing bacteria content in the water.
She credits SVSU’s faculty in part for helping her discover her passion and take on academic challenges.
“The faculty here are really supportive, especially in the science departments,” Lukowski said. “It’s been a great experience here.”
Major: physical education
Next up: full-time teaching position, Swan Valley Middle School
Career prospects: middle school teacher, high school athletic director
Fun fact: Emily’s sister, Megan, also attends SVSU. She is a mechanical engineering major and is involved in many of the same campus organizations as her sister.
Star student. Prospective teacher. Active volunteer. Homecoming queen. Red Pride incarnate.
All of those titles could apply to Emily VanFleteren, one of Saginaw Valley State University’s more active students in recent years. In May, the Troy native will add the title “graduate” to that list. Those familiar with her expect VanFleteren will continue building a fine reputation — and stellar résumé — for herself once she begins her professional career as a teacher.
“Emily is one of the most dynamic students I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Bryan Crainer, SVSU’s associate dean for Student Life and Leadership Programs.
“Her passion for SVSU cannot go unnoticed. It's all over her. It's what she talks about. It's how she lives her life. It's what she wears.”
And she wears it proudly.
“My big thing is Red Pride,” VanFleteren said of the moniker for SVSU’s school spirit. “I’ve had that instilled in me by my two biggest mentors, Bryan and Merry Jo Brandimore (associate provost for Student Affairs and dean of students), and I try to encourage that in newer students.”
VanFleteren’s love of SVSU began almost at first sight. While she was still a junior at Bishop Foley Catholic High School, she — along with her mother, aunt and sister — embarked on a 2-day, 7-college tour in search of the best fit for VanFleteren.
When she arrived at SVSU, she was greeted with an energy and campus community that seemed close-knit and comfortable.
“Afterward, it was the only school I could remember in detail, and the only school I was interested in,” she said.
VanFleteren returned for five more campus visits before attending her first class. She didn’t apply to another institution.
Her outstanding involvement at SVSU began right from the start and will continue after graduation. She was a member of the Foundation Scholars Program, which brings together exceptional incoming freshmen. And, today, she remains part of the Roberts Fellowship program, a student leadership development initiative that will send her to Asia in May.
She is an avid sports fan with the distinction of claiming victory in consecutive years on the SVSU football field, with neither honor requiring her to wear gear or a helmet.
In 2014, as the campaign’s coordinator, she accepted the Battle Of The Valleys trophy for spearheading a 1-week fundraiser that collected $32,294 in charity for the Cory Rivard Jr. Promise Foundation. Battle Of The Valleys is an annual fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University that concludes with the top campaign receiving a trophy during the rivals’ football game.
A year earlier, she was crowned SVSU Homecoming Queen during a football halftime ceremony.
“It was very rewarding as well as extremely humbling,” said VanFleteren, who also has been involved in campus organizations such as the National Residence Hall Honorary, the Residential Housing Association and Orientation Programs.
VanFleteren said other rewarding experiences include serving as a peer academic adviser to the student-athletes on SVSU’s football team — a role she hopes to continue as a graduate — and her work as president of Forever Red, a student-alumni networking organization that raises funds for student scholarships.
“Emily did just about everything a student could do at SVSU,” said Crainer, VanFleteren’s advisor for Forever Red.
“When talking about her SVSU legacy, there may not be anything more significant and long-lasting than her contributions to Forever Red. Emily served as president of the organization for its first four years, and took the group from an idea to an organization of prominence.”
So, what’s next? VanFleteren has been hired for a full-time teaching position at Swan Valley Middle School in rural Saginaw County.
Eventually, she hopes to also become a high school athletic director.
After graduation, VanFleteren doesn’t anticipate she will miss SVSU much, as she doesn’t exactly plan on leaving.
“I don’t expect to miss a football game this fall,” she said. “I hope to participate as an active alum and I’m really excited to come back and help Forever Red from the alumni side of everything. I have had an awesome experience as a student and I can't wait to stay involved.”
Major: political science
Next up: The University of Michigan Law School
Career prospects: attorney
Fun fact: At SVSU, Jackson has lived with roommates from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Tunisia.
Samantha R. Jackson arrived at Saginaw Valley State University unsure of her place or what to expect. She departs having earned admission and a scholarship to a leading law school.
“I came to SVSU undecided on what I wanted to do, but eventually my goals became clear,” said Jackson, a first-generation college student from the small town of Goodells, near Port Huron. “I’m going to law school the same way: with an open mind to see what path best fits me.”
Jackson’s list of SVSU accomplishments is lengthy, and it impressed admission officials at the University of Michigan Law School where she will attend in the fall.
That speaks volumes about Jackson’s academic ability and pedigree, said Julie Keil, SVSU assistant professor of political science, adviser to SVSU’s moot court program and a mentor to Jackson.“It’s one of the top 10 law schools in the country,” Keil said. “She was competing against students from U of M’s undergrad programs, students from Yale and Harvard, to get in there. That she was accepted is a good sign of her ability. She will excel there.”
Jackson, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in political science, didn’t begin her SVSU life knowing what subject she wanted to study. One of the experiences that inspired her to follow a path leading to law was her participation in SVSU’s moot court team, where students act as attorneys in teams of two and make arguments to a panel of judges by drawing from constitutional law and Supreme Court cases.
Jackson joined moot court during her sophomore year, winning a coveted Orator Award during her first regional competition. It was the first of many honors, which included twice qualifying for the American Collegiate Moot Court Association national championships in 2014 and 2015 in Phoenix and Miami, respectively. In January, she placed in the top 6 percent nationally with her moot court partner and fellow SVSU senior Rachel Stocki.
“One shining moment happened in a moot court regional (competition) during my junior year, when a judge told me I would be an excellent advocate,” said Jackson, a 2011 Memphis High School graduate.
“Hearing that from people in the field gave me the confidence that I could succeed in a difficult career.”
Jackson also was a member of SVSU’s forensics team, which tests students’ public speaking and debate abilities, as well as the university’s Model United Nations group.
Her campus involvement reached beyond competitive groups. She was the recipient of two Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute grants that supported research projects. One of those projects analyzed politics in religion, while the second project explored tutor training at SVSU’s Writing Center, which assists students in writing.
Jackson served as a tutor in the Writing Center. She also was a global resident assistant in SVSU’s Pine Grove apartments, where she was responsible for building community among 72 international and domestic students.
Jackson also was selected as one of 12 members of the Roberts Fellowship Program, a year-long student leadership development opportunity that includes a trip to Asia.
“It was life-changing,” she said of the program. “I thought it would train me to be a better leader and that I would have an awesome trip in Asia, but it was so much more personally challenging. They encouraged me to think independently and push myself farther than I was comfortable.”
Jackson said now she’s ready to transplant that leadership into law school studies.
“I’m excited for this,” she said.
Saginaw Valley State University alumnus Joshua Fleming will attend the University of Michigan's prestigious Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy this fall on a full scholarship.
“I've always been driven by public service,” said Fleming, who graduated from SVSU in May 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science and public administration. “Everything I've ever listed on a résumé is somewhat related to the idea of public service and giving back to the community.”
The Gerald R. Ford School, named after the former U.S. president who attended the University of Michigan, is a consensus top 10 public policy program.
“I'm looking forward to challenging myself intellectually,” Fleming said. “I will be going to class with some of the best students in the world, who already have a lot of real world experience. I'm looking forward to working with them.”
The Bay City native hopes to turn the experience into a career, shaping public policy related to health care. Fleming became interested in the subject during the national debate that preceded President Barack Obama signing into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - often called “Obamacare” - in 2010.
Fleming will pursue his graduate degree having earned the University of Michigan’s Rackham Fellowship, which provides for Fleming's full tuition, health insurance and a $38,000 living stipend. He credited his experience at SVSU in part for preparing him for success with the program.
“Attending SVSU allowed me to work intimately with members of the administration, faculty and my fellow students,” he said. “Not only did those working relationships create many opportunities for professional training and advancement, but the mentorships and friendships that culminated from those experiences constantly provided me advice and clarity when I applied to the Ford School and, I’m sure, will continue to do so during my graduate career and throughout the rest of my life.”
Fleming said he was accepted at several notable public policy schools but chose the University of Michigan based on a number of factors. Those include an alumni base with contacts in local and state government; a 10-week internship program that tasks students with seeking solutions to social issues for nonprofit organizations, municipalities and private practices; and an academic program that focuses on practical experience.
“They bring in policy experts to talk about different issues,” he said. “The fact that I'll be working with people in the field was a major draw.”
The 2009 John Glenn High School graduate has practical experience of his own when it comes to both public policy and service. Some of his initial experience happened at SVSU, where he served on the Student Association (SVSU's student government) during his entire 4-year undergraduate stay.
Upon graduating, Fleming served in the Peace Corps, which sent him to Swaziland, a nation near the horn of Africa that is comparable in size to Connecticut.
Beginning in June 2013, he lived there for 18 months in a 2-bedroom hut with no plumbing and, initially, no electricity. He was sent to teach residents about HIV and AIDS, but after realizing they already had access to helpful resources relating to such subjects, Fleming instead focused on helping citizens with financial planning.
"I worked with them to help them keep records,” he said. “Everything was on paper, and there was no office, so we met under a tree and I taught my lessons using a flipchart.”
Fleming said the experience allowed for plenty of time for introspection. It was in Swaziland where he decided to apply for public policy colleges upon his return home.
Since last February, Fleming has worked as an outreach and enrollment specialist at Saginaw's Health Delivery Inc., a nonprofit organization providing medical and dental care to underserved individuals across the Great Lakes Bay Region. He also has served as a field organizer with the Michigan Democratic Party and as an intern with the 2010 campaign that helped current Rep. Charles Brunner's election to office in the Michigan House of Representatives 96th District, which covers a large portion of Bay County.
With his mid-August Ann Arbor move-in date approaching, Fleming said he is anxious to begin the next chapter in his life.
“I have a countdown calendar on my laptop, for the days left until classes start,” he said. “I'm very much excited.”