Monthly Archives: November 2019

Alumna Kelly Coon publishes debut novel, returns to Flint Dec. 4.

Alumna Kelly Coon, ’00, returns to Flint on Dec. 4 to talk about writing and her debut novel, Gravemaidens.

The University of Michigan-Flint wasn’t the first school that author Kelly Coon (BA English ’00) considered. Kelly was expelled from her first college, a very conservative religious institution in South Carolina. She looks back on that expulsion with pride. High tuition costs at another private college prompted the Flint-area native to enroll closer to home at UM-Flint. Third time’s a charm and Kelly graduated with her bachelor’s in English (Specialization in Writing) in 2000.    

“My professors at UM-Flint really believed in me. Dr. Jacob Blumner took me aside and said, ‘I bet you’ll be published before you’re 30,’” Kelly remembers. “I held him in high esteem and kept that memory when I was getting nowhere with my first novels, not being able to get a literary agent.”

The words of her professor proved to be an important motivation for Kelly, as she experienced 106 rejections over ten years while working to get a novel published. She accomplished her goal in October 2019, as Gravemaidens was published by Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House. A sequel is forthcoming.

Kelly wrote several novels before getting a deal for Gravemaidens and its sequel.

Gravemaidens is a young adult fantasy novel set in the city-state of Alu, where beautiful young girls are chosen to go with the dying ruler into the afterlife. The story focuses on sisters Kammani and Nanaea; younger sister Nanaea is chosen to die with the ruler, while Kammani will do everything she can to save her sister by healing the ruler. It’s a tale that draws heavily on themes of sisterhood and feminism—an intentional choice by Kelly, who was raised in a heavily patriarchal environment.

“The church I was raised in was almost cultish. Whatever the pastor said was law and women were meant to stay home and raise children,” Kelly explains. “For me, feminism just means a woman being free to pursue whatever she feels inclined to pursue, whether that is staying home with her children or going out to find a career. It’s important that I reflect that in my stories—girls pursuing their dreams and attaining them.”

On Dec. 4, Kelly will return to UM-Flint for a talk and Q & A from 2:30-3:45 in 301 French Hall. Though the talk takes place during an Intro to Creative Writing class session, all students are welcome. Later that day, Kelly will conduct a reading and signing at Totem Books (620 W Court St.) from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Kelly, who now lives near Tampa with her husband and three sons, has not been to campus since graduating in 2000.

“I grew up absolutely dirt poor in Burton, Michigan. My mom didn’t graduate from high school. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I’m excited to look at these students and say, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ This is thrilling for me.”

Research and Advocacy: M.A. in English Student Bianca Ramirez

Bianca Ramirez presented research at the Michigan TESOL Conference Nov. 1-2.

Tutor. Translator. Advocate. Those are a lot of hats for anyone to wear, particularly when it’s all part of your job description. Such is this case for Bianca Ramirez, an English Language Learner (ELL) Facilitator for Genesee Intermediate School District and student in the M.A. in English program at UM-Flint.

In her role as an ELL Facilitator, Bianca attends classes with students whose English skills range from none at all to being nearly fluent. She translates what the teacher is saying, helps them with assignments, and ensures they have access to the resources they need to succeed. In the course of her work, Bianca noticed that some teachers were uncomfortable when interacting with students who had differing English abilities – if they interacted with them at all.

“With one of my mentors, Melojeane Zawilinski, we came up with the term ‘ghost racism,'” Bianca explains. “You can’t understand, you can’t hear, you can’t teach. Some teachers don’t want these kids in the classroom, and they try to push them out. It happens – it happened to me as a kid – so that’s what led me to my research.”

Bianca with faculty mentor Melojeane Zawilinski

Bianca’s research took the form of interviewing teachers. Some had English language learner students in their classrooms, some never had. When synthesizing her interview results with existing literature, Bianca was able to make several recommendations:

  • Pre-service (student) teachers need to learn from a more culturally responsive curriculum.
  • Current teachers need more direct exposure to the ELL community.
  • ELL professional development should be mandatory.

Bianca presented her year-long study at the Michigan TESOL Conference, held Nov. 1-2 at Grand Valley State University. She explains that presenting her research to educators was important for her.

“I want to put theory into practice. Let’s just start something, I want something to be done. And everyone there felt the same way, they wanted to learn from me and what I found so they can act on it because they have been through similar situations,” Bianca says.

In addition to her position as an ELL facilitator, Bianca also teaches at Delta College and Saginaw Valley while completing her master’s coursework. It’s a lot to take on, and Bianca credits her UM-Flint professors with helping her make it possible.

“I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else, to be honest. I’ve gotten a lot of attention here from my mentors and I think you wouldn’t be able to get that in a lot of places.”

Interested in learning more about the M.A. in English Language & Literature at UM-Flint? The program director, Dr. Fred Svoboda, can be reached at The application is also available online.

Donors helped Genevieve Rainey Participate in an Archaeological Dig

What’s Giving Blueday? It’s the University of Michigan’s special day of giving: a one-time-a-year opportunity for you to team-up with the global U-M family and share your love for all things maize and blue. Giving Blueday takes place on Dec. 3, 2019.

Generous donations to the CAS Opportunity Fund allows UM-Flint students like Genevieve Rainey to have impactful experiences that will resonate for years after graduation.

An Anthropology major, Genevieve received assistance from the CAS Opportunity Fund to attend archaeological field school in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Genevieve worked to excavate the Doane Family Homestead, a family of original settlers who separated from Plymouth Colony in 1644.

“Taking part in an archaeological field school was a great experience; it helped me to decide the particular field of archaeology I want to pursue, gave me hands-on training, and allowed me to meet some amazing new friends,” Genevieve says.

To help students like Genevieve take their learning outside of the classroom, consider giving to the CAS Opportunity Fund on December 3.

International Place-Based Education Conference Comes to UM-Flint

Community members like Pastor Robert Sherman McCathern (left) and UM-Flint faculty Jori Reigle (Nursing), Kazuko Hiramatsu (English), and Todd Womack (Social Work) work together to educate students and transform Flint.

Isn’t it easier to learn something when you can relate that subject to your own life? Placing learning in the context of a student’s experience not only makes the content more accessible; it also creates the opportunity for partnerships that prove transformational for both students and their community. This is the foundation of place-based education, an educational philosophy that acknowledges a student’s community as a central resource for learning.

On November 7-9, 340 educators from 77 organizations, 15 states, and 4 countries explored this powerful philosophy at the University of Michigan-Flint during the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative’s Place-Based Education Conference. GLSI promotes place-based education across the Great Lakes region through a network of hubs—UM-Flint’s Discovering PLACE is the Flint-area partner.

UM-Flint has embraced place-based education both in its teacher preparation programs (which range from early childhood to secondary offerings) and as a tool in teaching students of all majors. This cross-disciplinary commitment was on display during a presentation by community member Pastor Robert Sherman McCathern of Joy Tabernacle Church and faculty from the UM-Flint English, Nursing, and Social Work programs.

UM-Flint nursing faculty and students work with Civic Park Residents on health-related issues. Click to watch a video!

The partnership centers around the Urban Renaissance Center (URC), based in Flint’s Civic Park neighborhood. As the social service component of Joy Tabernacle, the URC works with Civic Park residents to address their needs. In a 15-block radius around Joy Tabernacle Church exists The Ubuntu Village, which includes buildings that provide Civic Park residents the resources they need to be happy and healthy. “Ubuntu” is a Zulu philosophy meaning “I am because we are.”

It is in the context of this Ubuntu Village that UM-Flint faculty and students work alongside Civic Park residents. Three faculty members presented on the partnership.

Social Work professor Todd Womack teaches his class SWR 304: Urban Context, on-site in the URC, helping his social work students to create a foundational understanding of issues within the practice of social work in urban environments requiring intervention.

Nursing faculty member Jori Reigle, her students, and Civic Park residents focus on wellness together; they organize family-friendly events like a Costume Walk for Halloween. They also focus on mental health through mindfulness and yoga sessions.

English professor Kazuko Hiramatsu and her students engage with URC through a First-Year Experience course titled “I am UM-Flint.” Students support URC programming and reflect on how their experiences have impacted their lives and informed their understanding of community.

Students in the “I am UM-Flint” First-Year Experience Course create research posters to aid in their reflection of the experiences gained through their work with the URC.

UM-Flint and Civic Park collaborate in many other ways; The Department of History works frequently with residents to preserve the story of the historic Flint neighborhood.

“We asked, ‘What if a university worked alongside one of the most abandoned, underserved areas?’ What if all the resources, skills, and mindsets at that university walked with the community? Today that reality is here,” Pastor McCathern says.  

Interested in learning more about The Ubuntu Village? Visit the Urban Renaissance Center online. If you’d like to explore how UM-Flint can prepare you as an educator in place-based education, see the early childhood & elementary degree programs and secondary teacher’s certificate programs offered by UM-Flint.