A Passion for Policy: MSW Student Zachary Henderson Works to Effect Change in Kalamazoo

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MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador
MSW Student Zachary Henderson surveys the view over Quito, Ecuador

For Zachary Henderson, a first-year Master’s student in the School of Social Work, the MSW program has provided a wealth of opportunities to be involved in programs and policy-making to create real change in the Kalamazoo community. After earning his BA in sociology from Western, Zachary decided to shift his focus from sociological theory to the real-world applications of social work; he also wanted to make use of his Spanish language skills gained after studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador earlier this year. Our MSW program was an ideal choice for him, giving him the chance to work with the City of Kalamazoo and the city’s new Family Engagement Program.

As part of his field experience in the MSW program, Zachary’s interest in working with Spanish-language groups led him to an internship performing data-entry for the Hispanic-American Council in Kalamazoo. After a time, he realized that he wanted to have a better view of how governmental / municipal programs can make positive change for Kalamazoo citizens, so he talked to his former professor and City Commissioner Dr. Don Cooney about the role of policy in social work. Seeing Zachary’s passion and enthusiasm, Dr. Cooney helped to connect him with the Lewis Walker Institute and, through the Institute, with a new internship for the City of Kalamazoo. As a student intern for the city, he undertakes research about various government programs, including policies to reduce gun violence, poverty, and truancy. On his first days in his new position as a student researcher, Zachary participated in a meeting of the City Council with Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Dr. Cooney, Dr. Tim Ready, City Commissioner Laura Lam, and former Commissioner Stephanie Moore, and was excited by the opportunity to engage immediately in conversation about policy, and to see how his research could have real-world effects. Currently, he is working with the city to provide employment assistance programming for impoverished individuals. As Zachary explains, “it’s not just providing clothing, or help writing resumes or letters — we want to help people make real connections with employers and CEOs in the community. We need to see real change and improvement in peoples’ lives.” His passion for this work is clear as he excitedly talks about the other programs he’s researching for the city; “I get excited by actually seeing problems being solved, by seeing the impact of policy first-hand!”

The difference between the environment of the classroom and of the internship is clear, though Zachary has found a bridge between the two in order to make his skills and experience work for him. He explains, “social work is extremely research-based. What you learn in the classroom, those critical thinking skills — you really get a chance to put them to work in the field. You see the difference between classroom applications and real-world applications. But my internships have also really taught me to open up, and to be curious… I’m getting interested in the history of these groups I’m working with — too see the roots of larger conflicts, so that we understand where we are now.”

His department is enthusiastic about his work, as well. According to SSW Field placement coordinator Jennifer Harrison, “Zachary is not only completing his field placement in an arena that will allow him to research and advance policy to decrease gun violence, reduce poverty, and effect truancy rates, but was also recently hired in the Family Engagement Project working in North Kalamazoo to engage families in early childhood education. The Family Engagement Project is a partnership between the Douglass Community Association and the Office of Institutional Equity, and is led by Dr. Linwood Cousins. Zachary is excited to have the opportunity to partner with community members to make an impact in both of these programs.” Speaking about this recent opportunity, Zachary says that even though his work with the Family Engagement Project has just begun, already he can see the dramatic and insidious impacts of poverty, and how poverty is ignored or misunderstood by the wider community. Though he has begun by taking surveys and inputting data in order to help the Project conduct research, Zachary has also participated in meetings between the Kalamazoo Mothers of Hope, the city police, teachers, doctors, and other citizens, listening as community members discussed how they interacted with police, what resources they needed in order to find employment. This kind of personal interaction with the community, Zachary says, “makes you realize what some of these families are up against.”

Zachary has also been an active leader in his own program. He was one of the co-founders of WMU’s student chapter of the Association for Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education (ABSAME) — the first student chapter of ABSAME in the nation — for which Zachary now serves as President. For other students considering enrolling in WMU’s MSW program, Zachary’s message is clear: “Go for it! You can take the MSW program in whatever direction you want… you can make the work fit within what you want for your life, whether that means working in politics, in a school, in a hospital. You just need to know to ask for what you want or need, if you think your program isn’t going in the right direction for you.”

Total Health for Graduate Students

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On Wed. Nov. 12 from 4:30-6 pm, the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Association will co-sponsor “Total Health for Graduate Students” a free wellness forum to promote well-balanced lifestyles. The forum will be held in Room 208, Bernhard Center. Experts will present effective strategies in four important areas of graduate student wellness:

Achieving Financial Fitness, Susan Huff, PNC Bank

  • Living on a graduate student income can challenge even the most frugal individuals. Discover proven money management strategies to stretch your paycheck.

Managing Work-Life Stress, Jenna Gehl Jones, Sindecuse Health Center

  • Stress remains one of the greatest barriers to making progress on graduate degrees. Learn techniques to effectively manage stress and improve resiliency.

Revitalizing Your Nutrition, Gretchen Kauth Morin, Sindecuse Health Center

  • Finding it difficult to maintain healthy, convenient nutrition on a graduate student budget? Gain new ways of eating smart to sustain your busy lifestyle.

Re-energizing with Exercise, Jen Baily, University Recreation

  • The demands of graduate education can wear you down. Learn how to recapture your energy through physical fitness.

Light refreshments and give-aways will be provided. Register at http://www.wmich.edu/grad/events. Call Julie Apker, Faculty Fellow, Graduate College, 269-352-8156 for more information

Stronger Teachers, Stronger Ties Across the University: The Graduate Student Teaching Institute

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GSTI Participants
Graduate College Dean Susan Stapleton and the GSTI Participants

This past July, the WMU Graduate College and the Office of Faculty Development offered an exciting new opportunity for new and returning graduate teaching assistants — the “Graduate Student Teaching Institute,” a week-long, intensive training course designed to improve and expand students’ pedagogical skills. Over the course of the week, graduate teaching assistants from various disciplines and programs participated in group workshops on topics such as how to motivate students to learn, how to master active learning strategies, metacognition for student engagement, improving communication for diverse learners, and techniques for using technology in the classroom.

Professor Suzan Ayers (HPHE), one of the co-directors and facilitators of the Institute, argues that this kind of training is invaluable to our TAs. “We expect graduate students to magically be able to teach, and give them classes with hundreds of undergrads. Our graduate students have specialized knowledge about their fields, but they might not know much about how to teach when they first arrive here,” she says.

Another challenge faced by graduate student instructors is the isolation they may feel within their own programs, and a need to speak to other teachers from diverse backgrounds. As participant and co-facilitator MaryKate Bodnar points out, “as a graduate student, it is easy to get stuck in our own departments, feeling isolated from the rest of WMU. I really enjoyed learning from these instructors and meeting other GTAs from around the university. There is power in diversity of experience, and GSTI offered us a venue to exchange ideas and experiences.”

Several other graduate students who participated in the GSTI remarked on the diversity of participants and backgrounds, noting this as one of the most valuable aspects of the institute. Shelby May, a new MA student in HPHE, found an immediate support group with her fellow grad students: “because I’m so new here, being with other students who’ve been in my shoes before, hearing people share their experiences… that was all very valuable. The students were very encouraging even though everyone came from different majors, backgrounds, and cultures. Despite all this, we were all were interested in the same things about teaching, and we made each other think and challenged each other.” Cody Williams, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Mallinson Institute’s program for science education, agrees, saying that one of the most memorable parts of the GSTI was “the diversity of people I met…. Coming from different disciplines, they have such different ideas and approaches, some coming to teaching from a purely practical standpoint, and others from a more creative or theoretical perspective. It was also great to meet different grad students from all over the world, and hear about different international approaches to teaching.” Despite the variety of experiences and backgrounds, Shelby observed that all participants (both faculty and grads) were regarded as being on an equal footing — “we were all colleagues, and everyone was in the same boat (including the facilitators!).” And it appears that the relationships forged during the GSTI will be long-lasting ones; as MaryKate reflects, “we built relationships with each other. It is wonderful to have contacts around the university that I can collaborate with to improve my teaching.”

Beyond having a chance to bond with students and faculty that they might not have otherwise met on campus, participants found the institute’s practical advice and open, honest discussions of teaching to be invaluable. Both Cody and Shelby praised the “nuts and bolts, realistic discussions of teaching,” while Emma Powell, a Ph.D. student in Public Administration, found inspiration in “the facilitators’ passion, energy, experience, and ‘war stories.’” Emma also noted that “the technology sessions and e-learning training were so applicable and the breakout and small-group sessions were most beneficial to process big concepts into usable nuggets of action and take-aways.” Shelby adds, “your brain was exhausted at the end of the week, but you really had the chance to ask real questions, and find out what you’re getting yourself into as a teacher.”

Both Shelby and Cody had high praise for two particular presentations: a workshop on metacognition and student engagement, offered by Andrea Beach (Director, Office of Faculty Development) and a presentation on the historical impact of Paul Robeson, by Paul Solomon (Professor, Frostic School of Art). Dr. Beach’s discussion made instructors think about how we coach and instruct our own students to study, to learn, and to apply — skills that instructors often take for granted. Mr. Solomon’s presentation focused attention on the importance of timing, structure, and order when you are planning to present information, as this can make the difference between a dry lecture and a moving narrative. Participants also had high praise for workshops on constructing handouts and syllabi, including a discussion of “first day of class practices,” in which facilitators suggested that instructors involve students in creating the syllabus, asking for class input in deciding the ground rules of the class. They also enjoyed Dr. Julie Apker’s (School of Communication and Graduate College Fellow) presentation, “Beyond the Classroom: Applying Teaching Skills to Broader Professional Goals,” a session particularly applicable for participants looking at the job market. All told, these kinds of workshops and small group discussions encouraged everyone to speak up and have an active, dynamic role in the Institute.

Creating a learning environment of this kind required collaboration among a number of experts on campus. Dr. Ayers, Dr. Beach, Mr. Solomon, Sarah Cox (OFD Doctoral Associate), Dr. Emily Walter (Post-doctoral Researcher in the CEHD), and Graduate College Dean Dr. Susan Stapleton worked together to conceptualize and build the schedule for the Institute. Says Dr. Ayers, “this institute was Sarah Cox’s brainchild — Sarah developed the curriculum for the institute, basing a lot on a one-year ‘learning community’ she had with several GTAs last year. Sarah developed the curriculum and she, Paul Solomon, and I all brainstormed about how to create this kind of learning opportunity.”

While the Institute seems to have been a rousing success all around, Dr. Ayers adds that this is a kind of “beta test year” for the event. The Graduate College and OFD plan to make the GSTI an annual opportunity for graduate students across the university, with participants receiving a certificate of completion. Beyond this, the GSTI is only the first component in a new Graduate Student Teaching Credential program (co-facilitated by Drs. Ayers, Walter, and Paul Solomon). Plans for this credentialing opportunity include requiring completion of the five day Teaching Institute, consistent participation in a learning community across the academic year 2014-2015, and production of a professional portfolio synthesizing their experiences, not to mention a significantly broadened “toolkit” of pedagogical knowledge, experience, and a support network that they will take with them into future roles as teachers and faculty members.

All participants we spoke to heartily recommended this experience for their fellow teachers. As MaryKate sums up, “It’s the workshop we all crave when we start teaching. It’s the best balance of theory, practical tips, and team building with other educators.”


**The Office of Faculty Development continues to offer workshops, advising, and “Cool Tools” sessions intended to help graduate teaching assistants (and faculty) improve their teaching skills. Have a look at their website to see what’s coming up!

Meet a Graduate Ambassador: Michael Saldama

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Graduate Ambassador Michael Saldama, College of Engineering
Graduate Ambassador Michael Saldama, College of Engineering

My name is Michael Saldama and I am from the Dominican Republic. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Management and Technology from WMU and I am currently doing a Master’s in Engineering Management as well. During my free time I like to watch all kind of sports, however, I follow baseball and basketball more than any other. During my undergraduate studies I was part of the Western Student Association Allocations Committee. The experience I obtained there led me to enjoy being around students more and to be a resource in any way I can for them. I will be serving as the Ambassador for the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and my main goal is to let all of our graduate students know that there is an entire organization looking out for them and trying to do whatever it takes to make their time at WMU one of their most memorable experiences.

GradTalks: A New Venue for Grads to Present Their Research

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Welcome to GradTalks at the Lee Honors College!
Welcome to GradTalks at the Lee Honors College!

In Spring 2014, the WMU Graduate Student Association (GSA) developed GradTalks, our own version of TEDtalks, an opportunity for WMU grad students to talk about their innovative research, travel to conferences, and other exciting scholarly experiences. TEDtalks grew out of a conference dedicated to tech, education, and design, and now the 10-minute, interactive presentation style used at that conference has spread world-wide and encompasses topics ranging from life-hacks, science and engineering, business practices, arts and humanities, social media and new technology. Thus far, our GradTalks have also embraced this inclusive scope, featuring students speaking about research in areas as diverse as dental anthropology, LGBT identity-creation in online forums, technology and disability studies, bacterial applications for curing cancers, education among Central American communities, and the transitional experiences of international students. The talks have been recorded and will be available online in the near future.

Recently, we talked to graduate alumna and former GradTalks participant Jamie Losee about her experience presenting in this forum. Jamie completed her MA in Anthropology last year, and her research focuses on dental anthropology.


Can you tell us a little about the topic of your GradTalks presentation and your research in general? 

Jamie: My GradTalks presentation was on the preliminary results of my thesis, focused on secular trends in dental health in the US during the 1900s. I am interested in inequalities and differences in rates of dental disease in relation to SES, race, sex/gender, and time. My sample of human skulls was taken from the Hamann-Todd Collection housed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. This sample is a low SES population from the early 1900s, who all died in Cleveland. I am comparing my results to published literature on dental health from the mid to late 1900s. I have found racial secular changes in dental health, that could be related to changing cultural consumption patterns (sugar consumption, smoking, drinking, etc.).

How did you prepare for the presentation format?

Jamie Losee, M.A. in Anthropology
Jamie Losee, M.A. in Anthropology

A 10 minutes presentation seems long (or at least it did when I was an undergraduate), but when you are doing a presentation on your thesis research 10 minutes is nothing. I had to make sure that my presentation had a quick general introduction to my topic, so that everyone in the audience (non-anthropologists) would be able to understand and follow my research. Then, I also had to have time to present my results. It was definitely a task to try to fit everything into the 10 minute presentation, but it is really necessary to be able to condense your research into a shorter presentation for a general population.

How did the presentation help you? Was the practice talking about your research helpful?

It was great to start giving presentations about my results way before my thesis defense, because people have been able to ask me questions that helped focus and clarify my research and results. I, also, went to our international conference about two months after my GradTalks presentation in Calgary, Canada, and had already had a good place to start from, and a presentation under my belt. It is really important for a graduate student (any person in general) to be able to give a presentation and talk about their research in various formats to various audiences, and this experience was helpful to prepare me for future presentations (including my thesis defense). I really enjoyed being a part of GradTalks because I improved my presentation skills, but also improved my thesis as a result of discussion with other graduate students.

What is the greatest benefit of the Grad College offering this kind of event for students?

I think this event is a great benefit to the Graduate College because it allows for presentations to a cross disciplinary audience, which creates more well rounded research, these/dissertations, and graduate students. Explaining your research to someone from a different academic background can be very difficult, but often allows for discussion that would have never taken place between two people with similar backgrounds. I never could have imagined that other graduate students (may who I had never met) could help improve my research so much. I also think this is a great benefit because it gives graduate students the ability to present their research, which can sometimes be difficult. Academic conferences can sometimes be hard to get accepted to and are frequently far away and costly, so having this medium on campus is amazing!


GradTalks will start again in Fall 2014, and GSA will begin accepting applications for presentations in September. Any student wishing to share an exciting research idea or scholarly experience to a supportive, audience from a variety of disciplines should consider presenting. For more information, contact the GSA at gsa@wmich.edu.

Welcome new grads!

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DCF 1.0Hello all and welcome to a new year of graduate study at WMU! We’re so excited to get to know our new students and to say “welcome back” to familiar, friendly faces! To get the latest in news about graduate education, opportunities for funding, workshops and other activities, and WMU programs, check out our various online news venues. The Graduate College website provides the most detailed information about our programs, our funding and fellowships, graduate policies, and support for research, writing, and professional development. For daily updates on grad news, articles of interest, events, and alumni news, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@WMUGradCollege), and have a look at our e-newsletter, The Grad Standard. You can see what’s already been scheduled in terms of workshops on our Fall 2014 events calendar. You can also watch our students talk about their experiences and have a look at our virtual social media symposium on our YouTube channel. The GSA (Graduate Student Association) website provides info about our grad student governing body and their activities (also, check out their blogFacebook, and Twitter feed). And visit us again here at The Grad Word to read articles and essays penned by our own students about their experiences here and abroad, and to hear about the latest opportunities offered at WMU! Have a fantastic start to fall 2014, everyone!

Meet an Ambassador: Jesus Romero

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Jesus Romero, Master's candidate in Higher Education and Student Affairs
Jesus Romero, Master’s candidate in Higher Education and Student Affairs

Hello all! My name is Jesus and I am originally from Whittier, CA. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies from UC San Diego and I am in the Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) Masters Program. I am also the graduate assistant for leadership and volunteer programs in the Student Activities & Leadership Programs (SALP) office. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, going to the movies, and keeping up with the many TV shows I watch. I will be serving as the Graduate Ambassador in the area of Diversity & Inclusion with the goal of making all graduate students feel welcomed on campus and celebrating the myriad of social identities we represent.

Meet an Ambassador: Mohamed Gibril

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Mohamed Gibril, M.A. Candidate, Public Adminstration; Haenicke Institute for Global Education
Mohamed Gibril, M.A. Candidate, Public Adminstration; Haenicke Institute for Global Education

Hello! My name is Mohamed Gibril I am a Graduate Student Ambassador for the Haenicke Institute for Global Education, and I am a Masters student at the School of Public Affairs and Administration. I am completing a Master’s degree in Public Administration, specializing in Human Resources and nonprofit leadership. I started my program in Spring 2014 and I hope I will graduate in the summer of 2015 (if everything goes according to plan!). I have a B.S in Political Science and an M.A. in Global Politics and Intercultural Studies; prior to joining the MPA program I worked for the United Nations (UN). My experience in the UN made me realize that I needed further education and experience to advance my career. My first approach to enhancing my knowledge was through training programs (I did a lot of them) then I went through the MPA curriculum and I realized that no training can beat the amount of knowledge and experience I could gain from such program. I have to be honest — since I have been in college my aim has been to get my degree and join the workforce; however, once I started working, I realized how competitive it is out there… the people around me were highly qualified, but I believe that my current program will give me an advantage over the competition. I look forward to representing the Haenicke Institute’s students at the graduate level!

Meet an Ambassador: Michael Bobbitt

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Michael Bobbitt, Ph.D. Candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision
Michael Bobbitt, Ph.D. Candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision

Hello to all! My name is Michael Bobbitt, and I am a PhD student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program here at Western Michigan University. I currently teach the counseling techniques course here at WMU. Before coming to WMU, I was working as a provisional licensed professional counselor at a not-for-profit agency in Springfield, MO. During my time at this agency, I worked with individuals and couples dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and other difficulties. When I complete my program at WMU, I hope to teach at a counseling program and conduct research that focuses on counselor-in-training self-efficacy and natural disaster trauma.

When I am not at school, you can typically find me with a cup of coffee in my hand watching sports. I am originally from St. Louis, MO which means that I am a lifelong fan of the Cardinals, Blues, and Rams. My second home in Michigan is Lawson Arena, as I often cheer on the hockey team here at WMU. I also like to unwind by listening to music. My taste is music is pretty eclectic, as I can be found listening to anything from folk to metal.

Meet an Ambassador: Alex Houser

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This week we’re introducing one of our new Graduate College Ambassadors, Alex Houser!

Alex will be starting his 5th year as a PhD student in the fall, in the discipline of Economics. He describes himself as a business geek, and is currently interning with the Consumer Analytics function of PNC, where he will remain until August 27th. Academically, much of his research focuses on statistics, and specifically producing new statistical procedures which are well suited towards economic data.

Business remains one of his main hobbies, and he has enjoyed coordinating with a group of students to run and maintain the Campus Beet weekly vegetarian lunch in the Wesley foundation, a small but profitable organization lunch (check out a WMU News article about this student-led initiative here). Alex serves as one of two bread bakers for the organization.