Monthly Archives: October 2019

Theatre Alumnus Stars in Broadway Tour of The Color Purple

Mon’Quez Deon Pippins, a 2003 graduate of the Department of Theatre & Dance, is appearing in the first national Broadway tour of The Color Purple, a musical revival of the 1982 novel. The production is coming to The Whiting in Flint on November 1-2. Tickets are available online.

Before he took to stages across the country, Mon’Quez honed his craft in the UM-Flint Theatre. He remembers his professors fondly for pushing him to constantly improve.

“Professors like Carolyn Gillespie and Janet Haley, all the professors, they pushed us to use our chops. They didn’t want us to sit comfortably. They wanted us to work hard to make these characters come through,” Mon’Quez says.

Mon’Quez (front center) with fellow cast members of The Color Purple.

He is not sitting comfortably with The Color Purple. Mon’Quez is playing both The Preacher and Old Mister in the production–highly contrasting characters. Where The Preacher is happy and uplifting, Old Mister is a dark role, an abusive father. “I love this kind of challenge, U of M got me doing this,” Mon’Quez says.

Preparing for any Broadway production is an intense experience, but it is particularly true for a nationwide tour. There was a three-and-a-half week rehearsal period. Some people would be tempted to “phone it in” during some of the preparations. Not Mon’Quez.

“To me, it’s always a performance, even in rehearsal. I’m in it 100 percent, that’s how you win,” Mon’Quez explains. “The stage is my safe space, that’s where I leave everything.”

What to expect from the show?

At its core, The Color Purple is a woman’s journey, from being oppressed to being self-actualized, and embracing her faith.

“It’s a breath of fresh air. The show helps you connect with yourself and it helps you to love yourself,” Mon’Quez says. “It’s so close to home that I feel like I’m just reliving a story I’ve already lived. This show is going to change hearts.”

Interesting in learning more about the Fine & Performing Arts at UM-Flint?

Current & prospective students interested in disciplines like Theatre, Dance, Music or Visual Art are invited to join us for our Fine & Performing Arts Showcase on Wednesday, Oct. 30! Join us in the first-floor University Center lobby (campus map).

If you’re a current UM-Flint student: Meet in first-floor UCEN at 6 p.m. Please RSVP here.

If you’re a prospective student considering UM-Flint. Meet in the first-floor UCEN at 5 p.m. Please RSVP here.

Join us for AstroNite on Oct. 25!

Ever wanted to look through a telescope guided by a trained astrophysicist? How about conducting experiments with an infrared camera? Or seeing if you can beat your friends and family in paper airplane competitions?

You can do all of that and more during AstroNite, a free event open to students and the community, hosted by UM-Flint Physics faculty and students.

When: Friday, Oct. 25, from 7-10 p.m.
Where: UM-Flint Murchie Science Building. A campus map is available online.
Who: Anyone! UM-Flint students, community members, kids and their families.
Cost: Free! No RSVP required.

Sneak Peeks

Want to see what you can expect at AstroNite? We made some videos!

Mars Lander

Find the perfect design for your Mars Lander and make sure your cargo (an egg) survives the fall to the Martian surface! Watch the video.

Infrared Camera

See the world in a whole new way by conducting experiments with an infrared camera. Watch the video.

“We are strong believers that science is for everyone, not just those studying or teaching it at universities,” says Associate Chair for Physics Programs Rajib Ganguly, Ph.D. “It is fascinating that we are able to understand much of why the universe behaves as it does, and we want to share that wonder with people of all ages in the community.”  

Questions? Contact Communications Specialist Logan McGrady at See you soon!

UM-Flint Students Making a Difference with Incarcerated Kids

UM-Flint students David Guster, Meredith Sheatzley, and Hannah Hawcroft work with justice-involved youth in Flint.

Genesee Valley Regional Center is a juvenile detention facility on Flint’s Pasadena Avenue. The kids housed there, aged 10-18, have a structured routine, like attending school every weekday and attending group meetings in the evening.

Youth Arts: Unlocked provides a creative outlet for kids like those living in the GVRC. With a mission of “providing arts and enrichment programming for justice-involved youth in Mid-Michigan,” the organization was co-founded by Shelley Spivack, a Genesee County family court attorney-referee and lecturer in the UM-Flint Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice.

Three UM-Flint students pay weekly visits to GVRC, facilitating classes like dance improv theatre, art and poetry, and more. Read more about their work as Youth Arts: Unlocked interns below.

David Guster

David, a sophomore Theatre Performance major, helps to lead boy’s theatre sessions like “Shakesprov,” where the kids perform guided improv scenes of Shakespeare plays.

“When kids hear that they are learning Shakespeare, they tend to get nervous, and we want this to be positive, not stressful,” David explains. “So we guide them through an improv scene of Shakespeare. We’re not focused on giving them lines to memorize for next week, because the hope is that you get out of the facility and we won’t see you here again.”

David appreciates the opportunity to be a positive male role model during a difficult time in the boys’ lives.

“This program gives at-risk boys the opportunity to experience new things, to be comfortable in their voice and bodies, and play in a stressful environment. It makes me feel good to be helping them.”

Meredith Sheatzley

Meredith uses her skills as a junior Dance & Social Work double major to connect with the girls at GVRC through dance and the visual arts.

Each week, the group learns about a positive, empowered woman, and then the girls translate that new knowledge to art. Sometimes there is a choreographed dance to learn, other weeks they focus on expressive movements where the girls create their own moves representative of who they are.

“The more I get to know them, the more I realized that the girls are so under-credited for what they are capable of,” Meredith, whose internship is funded through the UM-Flint Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, says. “Their work should be shared a lot more.”

Meredith works with her UM-Flint Dance professor Emma Davis (pictured) to help girls express themselves through dance.

Hannah Hawcroft

Unlike David and Meredith, Hannah isn’t a performing arts student. A junior Criminal Justice & Sociology double major, Hannah’s role is to document the activities and interactions that take place during the creative sessions. Are the kids engaged? What kinds of questions are the kids asking the instructors? Were there any behavioral issues?

Hannah’s work is important in helping Youth Arts: Unlocked analyze and improve their programming, as well as in communicating the work of the organization to donors and other institutions who provide support. Her position is funded through the Flint Truth and Action Partnership Project.

Hannah’s career goal is to become a police officer, specifically a detective working cold cases. She values the opportunity to gain experience in the criminal justice system, and working for a worthy cause was enough for her to sign up after she learned of the opportunity while taking one of Shelley’s classes.

“This experience has definitely made me more comfortable in interactions with different kinds of people; the children and teens in the facility, administrators in the GVRC and teachers in the program,” Hannah says.

“They become more engaged as time goes on. There’s a lot of laughter and there’s a lot of just kind of being a kid, which is nice to see,” Hannah says.

M.S. Computer Science Student Samantha Lang presents research at international conference

M.S. in Computer Science student Samantha Lang presented research at the Intellisys 2019 Conference in London.

Samantha Lang is interested in human factors engineering—making sure that products and digital services work optimally for their target market. Imagine an ATM—they are simple and user-friendly so that nearly anyone can use them—which is ideal considering the product’s mass appeal.

Samantha graduated with a UM-Flint bachelor’s in psychology in 2015, but she knew additional expertise was needed to work in such a specialized field. Luckily, the M.S. in Computer Science & Information Systems at UM-Flint was there to help Samantha meet her goals. The program offered her the flexibility to take courses online, and a fast-track gave her the foundational knowledge to succeed despite not having a computer science background.

Now in her final semester, Samantha’s expertise has grown to the point where she is presenting research at international conferences. Along with professor Mike Farmer, Samantha attended the Intellisys Intelligent Systems Conference from Sept. 3-4, 2019, in London, England.

Dr. Mike Farmer speaking at Intellisys.

Their research paper is titled, “Can Human Evidence Accumulation be
Modeled using the Set-Theoretic Nature of Dempster-Shafer Theory?”
It sounds complicated, but Samantha explains it as a game of Clue. Each subject was given a set of information about a fictional crime, and then Samantha observed how the subjects categorized and subcategorized the data to solve the case.

The more we know about how people’s patterns in decision making, the better we’ll be able to design artificial intelligences,” Samantha says. “The goal is to create products that can address a variety of situations before they happen.”

Samantha began working on this research with Dr. Farmer in September 2016. As a graduate student research assistant (GSRA), Samantha earned a stipend for her contributions; as she puts it, “I was getting paid for something I already wanted to do anyway!”

Samantha’s dream job is designing training modules with NASA, and she looks forward to finding a full-time position once she earns her master’s in December. Samantha believes the expertise and experiences she gained through the M.S. in Computer Science will make her stand out in the search process.

“I think it has definitely put me outside of the box. Having research published, going and presenting it, I think it makes me stand out against people who have not had experiences like these,” Samantha says.

The M.S. in Computer Science & Information Systems offers both in-person and online coursework, as well as a fast-track program for students who do not have a computer science background. For more information, contact program manager Susie Churchill at The application is also available online.