Monthly Archives: July 2014

UM-Flint Students Play Mariachi

This spring, UM-Flint Music Department Chair Brian DiBlassio, presented a unique opportunity to some of his students: to expand their repertoires by learning to play mariachi music. The offer arose out of a need for music to complement the existing dance programs of El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, a local non-profit group focused on teaching traditional Mexican culture and arts.

Their experiences so far have been much more than learning a new style of play. They have been learning new instruments, new ways to interact with their audience, and also to teach mariachi to others. They have performed in schools, at the grand opening of the Flint Farmer’s Market, and at the Flint Hispanic Tech Center. At the end of June they traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to participate in a conference workshop on mariachi for music educators.

Sue Quintanilla, Director of the group, is passionate about ensuring that Hispanic culture is represented in positive and accessible ways, “Without programs such as ours, Hispanic youth are overlooked and their vibrant, cultural heritage is ignored. When youth are taught methods for positive expression through the arts, and shown that their heritage has value, their self-esteem is elevated. The results are positive role models and active citizens of our community.”

Nathan Cross, one of the UM-Flint students, is excited about the experience. Beyond the fun of playing new music, he discussed the value of learning teaching and rehearsal skills, gaining cultural knowledge, and getting to better know his fellow musicians. When asked to discuss the experience, he said, “I learn more about mariachi music at every rehearsal. With classical music, there is a certain formality and etiquette when attending a performance. Mariachi music is much more relaxed and personal. Our audience typically sings and dances along with us. This style of music also embodies the community and that is what is wonderful about it.” He found particular value in attending the Las Vegas conference. “We learned beginning methods for playing every instrument in the typical mariachi ensemble. The instructors worked closely with each participant to ensure we were playing in the traditional style and using the proper technique. I took this opportunity to talk to other educators who attended the conference. There were teachers from all around the US, so this was an excellent chance to start building a network.”

Another of the students, Kaleigh Taylor, describes being both surprised and intrigued at the possibility of playing in a mariachi ensemble. “Never in a million years I would have expected to, but it has turned out to be a wonderful decision. Having been a classical musician for the past 13 years of my life, mariachi has added a whole new dimension to my musical world. It has taught me to come out of my ‘musical shell’ a bit.” She also found the Las Vegas trip to be “an amazing experience all around.” All participants of the conference experimented with several instruments, learning the basics of each. “I, myself, chose guitar and vihuela (a small, stringed instrument similar to guitar that’s indigenous to Mexico). I had so much fun learning the vihuela that I came home with one! There was just something about it that clicked and I decided to buy one and start learning it. The instructors were all outstanding musicians and it was evident their love for mariachi. Watching all of them perform together really inspired me and I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to become involved in all of this.” In addition to her new instrument, Kaleigh has gained lesson students and is also assisting in teaching a beginner mariachi ensemble.

Desmond Sheppard echoed his classmates’ feelings on the value of learning mariachi and the experience of the educators’ conference. He has also found great pleasure in the outreach opportunities he’s been afforded, “At present I teach guitarron, piano, and ensemble work for El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil. The ability to demonstrate not only the joy of music (which is so evident whenever the kids grab their instruments and play through a song or an exercise that they’ve really worked at) but also the culture of a people who are ever more becoming a large part of the modern face of the US is, well, amazing to me.” The lessons learned at the conference are already paying off when it comes to his teaching, “The seminar in Vegas, if nothing else… empowered me to improve my own skills for the sake of the students that I teach and for the appropriate representation of the culture that the music comes from.”

Even as the students are grateful for the experience of expanding their musical, teaching, and outreach horizons, Sue Quintanilla is equally grateful for their participation, which has allowed her programs to expand. Through their efforts and the financial support of the Ruth Mott Foundation and the Stella & Frederick Loeb Charitable Trust, El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil will continue to teach cultural awareness and enrich lives across the state.

For more information on El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, visit their website. To learn about the Music Department of UM-Flint, visit

UM-Flint Student Receives Grant for Theatre-Based Workshops with Area Youth

This spring, UM-Flint student Ella Thorp, a Criminal Justice major and Women & Gender Studies minor, received a New Leaders grant from the Michigan Council on Arts and Cultural Affairs to develop and implement gender-based theatre workshops for young women detained at Genesee County’s youth detention facility (GVRC). These workshops are part of the Buckham/GVRC Share Art Project, led by UM-Flint faculty members Shelley Spivack of CRJ and WGS, and Traci Currie from Communications. The Share Art Project also includes weekly visual arts and theatre workshops for young men at the facility.

When asked about doing this kind of work as an undergrad, Ella said, “[It] has been incredibly life changing. I’m working harder in school and in everyday life to make sure the kids I have the opportunity to work with have the best me possible. I want to take the opportunities I have been given throughout my life and give back to my community in every single way possible, and this is the capacity that fits me and my personality. I don’t know that I would’ve been given the chance to participate in the Buckham/GVRC Share Art project if I hadn’t been a student at UM-Flint.”

Ella’s workshops take place every other week, alternating with another for Spoken Word. Through traditional theatre exercises that help actors develop elocution, posture, and projection, Ella is helping her charges find much more than a way to be heard from stage. With these games the girls are building self-esteem, finding their voices, and learning how to positively represent themselves to others.

Says Ella, “While designing the class, I wanted to make sure each activity, exercise, and story told would teach a number of things, the most important thing being confidence in themselves.”

On Monday, July 14th, Ella, joined by fellow CRJ undergrad Cakhilah Durden, graduate student Colette Legault-Fields, and UM-Flint Theatre alum Sarah Jarrett, arrived at GVRC to teach that week’s workshop. The building, which houses juveniles from 10-17 years old, is reminiscent of a middle school in spite of its security doors and cameras. After being buzzed in, and then signing in, they began setting up for that evening’s activities: putting out an easel with a dry-erase board, setting out large sheets of paper, a giant box of markers, and pushing back tables to create an open space in the center of the room. The theme of the week was “Happiness.”

Nine girls arrived just after 5:30p.m. They shuffled in and took seats at the tables, a few eager to be there and others seemingly reluctant.

The exercises for the evening began with a “circle of encouragement” where the girls each gave a little inspiration to everyone else in the room:
“I encourage you to step out of your shell… because no one here is going to judge you.”
“I encourage you to have an open mind.”
“I encourage everyone to do good… to have fun… to keep smiling… to be happy.”

Still standing in the circle, the girls started warm up games. When one sat down before the last exercise, the rest automatically adjusted the circle to still include her. And they made sure she participated. The games had them laughing, but they were also speaking up, enunciating, and making eye contact.

Next the girls moved on to more individually focused games. They played charades, and more lessons on eye contact, posture, and body language were intertwined with acting out driving a car, making a sandwich, or playing a sport. Again, they moved from reluctance to vying to be the next to go, or to have a third or fourth turn.

“I want the hardest one.”
“I think I’m good.”
“Oh yeah, I got this.”
For the last activity of the night, the girls were given large sheets of paper and markers. They were directed to write down a story about something that made them happy and then stand in front of the group to talk about it, leaving their papers with Ella in case they needed a prompt.

As each girl took her place at the front of the room she was asked to plant her feet, puff out her chest, and articulate clearly. They were proud of their stories; many wanted to have their illustrations displayed after they talked. The happy memories poured forth:

A surprise movie with mom…
Getting a puppy for Christmas…
A hopeful letter from family…

They spoke of cell phones and candy, favorite foods and being with their friends. They spoke of feeling safe, and having a second chance. They spoke about freedom.

Once all the papers were collected and all the stories told, and after some got up to tell additional stories, it was time to wrap up the evening.

When asked what they had learned that day, they recounted the importance of how you look at people, how you stand when you talk. One girl answered, “the way you present yourself tells people how you feel about what you’re saying.”

As they lined up to leave the room, the girls were standing straighter than when they entered, and as they exited, waving goodbye, there were smiles on their faces.

Ella and her fellow leaders were smiling, too.

To learn more about the Share Art Project, listen to an interview of Shelley Spivack by Michigan Radio.

A book by Jill Rosenbaum and Shelley Spivack, Implementing a Gender-Based Arts Program for Juvenile Offenders, is available through Anderson Publishing.

UM-Flint’s STEM-Focused Community Club for Girls NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS

The University of Michigan-Flint, in partnership with Longway Planetarium and Kettering University, is excited to announce the Curiosity Academy: a STEM-focused community club for girls.

The program will begin its first year in fall of 2014 and will be open to 7th and 8th grade girls living in Genesee County. Space is available for 20-30 girls and the program will run from October 20th to June 8th. Meetings will be held weekly on Mondays from 4-5:30pm. Applicants will be accepted from public, private, and charter schools, as well as from homeschool families. Acceptance to the program is based solely on interest and is open to students of all abilities and aptitudes. There is a program fee, although limited need-based scholarship funds are available.

The program aims to provide an opportunity to explore STEM concepts without the pressure of grades or standardized tests, and to encourage further studies in STEM fields. Curiosity Academy will promote a positive image of chemists and other scientists and demonstrate the strong role women play in advancing science by engaging the girls in exciting and meaningful activities.

The project’s first-year scenario will have the girls working as employees of a personal care company who must create a new product. They will take different roles in research and development as they move from conception to production of their chosen product. Their activities will be grounded in biology, chemistry, computer science, and engineering as they work to achieve the perfect formulation and packaging. Towards the end of the project, they will learn about business, promotion, and design principles as they consider how they would market what they’ve made.

Curiosity Academy participants will be using university labs and equipment, working with professors and undergraduate students, and engaging with industry and community members throughout the project. Regular weekly meetings will be held in order for the girls to develop the necessary thought processes, safety, and hands-on skills required to accomplish their goals.

By promoting a positive image of chemists and other scientists, as well as demonstrating the strong role women play in advancing science and society, the Curiosity Academy hopes to make an impact on the lives and futures of all participants.

The Curiosity Academy is NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS! Complete this FORM and mail to the Longway Planetarium (1310 E. Kearsley St., Flint, MI 48503) by October 8, 2014. Questions? Contact Monique Wilhelm of the UM-Flint Chemistry Department at or 810-762-3275.

Flint Mayor to Teach Political Science Course

walling2The Political Science department of UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce that a new, but very familiar, face will be seen around campus starting with the fall semester. Flint’s Mayor, Dayne Walling, will be the instructor for POL 324: Seminar in Applied Politics – Institutional & Leadership Practices.

Mayor Walling comes to the university as a fourth-generation Flint native, the son of public school educators, a Rhodes scholar, a dedicated community activist, and a successful politician whose arenas range from Washington D.C. to our own city hall. His experiences allow him to approach universal political themes while focusing on his unique experiences in Flint’s government.

The course will explore the practical challenges facing those in positions of governance. Although taught by Mayor Walling, it will be broadly applicable to issues confronting legislators, chief executives, and other government officials.

Students from all majors across campus are encouraged to enroll in this course, as it will benefit any career involving political or public administration, business, social work, or community engagement. Enrollment will also be beneficial to those interested in learning how the Flint city government works! Topics of discussion will include elections, leadership, communication, current policy, and specifically the process for creating Flint’s Master Plan. Classes will be held on Thursdays from 5:30-8:15p.m.

For more information, contact the Political Science department by calling 810.762.3470 or visiting their website.

UM-Flint Students Travel to California for Biology Conference

This spring, students from the Molecular Biology Club traveled to California for a conference. Here they tell about the trip in their own words:

Rebecca Farr
Nine Molecular Biology Club members (all students, no faculty) flew to San Diego, California to attend the Experimental Biology Conference (April 26-30), during which the top researchers in the fields of Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, and Nutrition Sciences presented their research. We went in order to learn the latest findings, network, and meet our peers. Aside from attending the conference meetings, we also visited and toured Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and went surfing on Mission Beach in San Diego. All trip expenses (minus recreational activities) were sponsored by Student Government and the Frances Ann Frazier Student Travel Scholarship. It was an incredible experience and we’re all extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in such an important event!

Dale Flanagin II
The trip to San Diego, CA, is one I will never forget. A first for flying and the farthest I’ve ever been away from home. Overall, the Experimental Biology Conference was an astonishing event that surpassed my expectations. In addition to all of the posters highlighting the different pathways in the body, there were many companies there with innovative technologies and discounts for researchers on items such as antibodies. This conference aided myself by giving me the opportunity to make scientific connections from around the world. Currently, I am working on the metastasis of cancer cells and my research group is now performing Western Blots and Activity Assays on MMPs excreted from the cell lines. Because of the connections I had made at the conference, we now have a cheaper way of obtaining kits for our research. As treasurer of the Molecular Biology Club at the University of Michigan-Flint, I made sure the funding for the conference was covered for the Club’s participants. With a great group of people, I was able to see new places, meet new people, and have incredible experiences that most people only dream of and I couldn’t have wished for any greater of an opportunity.

Kara Laird
The trip to San Diego for the Experimental Biology conference was a trip that I doubt any of us will forget. Not only did it satisfy our need for sun after the Michigan weather, but it was a great opportunity to learn about new companies and research going on from many different places. Some of the companies while we were there gave us coupons for lab supplies. Using some of these companies is actually making prices cheaper for professors at our college. My favorite part of the conference was looking at the poster presentations and talking with the representatives at different company booths. This conference was important for my academic career because I learned about a lot of different companies and new technology they have been creating. I also was able to discuss my research experiences with different people at the conference. Overall this was an awesome trip and I am very happy that I was able to attend.

Rachel McCauley
The Experimental Biology Conference along with the opportunity to visit San Diego is a trip that I will never forget.  To be able to attend such a large-scale conference was extremely enriching as a student.  My favorite part of the conference was the huge number of posters being presented.  It was amazing to be able to find any topic in which you were interested.  In addition, San Diego was such a great place to visit.  I can’t wait to visit San Diego again and hopefully attend more EB conferences in the future.