03/14/18

CAS Alumni Spotlight: Marissa Pierce

UM-Flint alumna and Flint resident Marissa Pierce graduated in 2003 with a BA in Communication Studies and a minor in Africana Studies; she later returned to earn her MA in English Language and Literature, graduating in 2009.

Currently, Pierce is the Public & Community Relations Coordinator for the Flint Institute of Arts and a part-time English Instructor at Mott Community College. She also maintains an entertainment and lifestyle website, phashionphish.com, and is in the beginning stages of starting Surprise! — a non-profit that will provide mentoring and host “parties for kids and teens that would otherwise be unable to have one.”

Marissa Pierce, UM-Flint alumna, in the FIA's under-construction glassworks studio.

Marissa Pierce, UM-Flint alumna, in the FIA’s glassworks studio.

Pierce’s decision to attend UM-Flint was an easy one. “I had always been a Michigan fan, and being able to get a Michigan degree close to home appealed to me,” she noted. “I also was drawn to the course offerings and small class sizes that made for a more ‘intimate’ educational experience.

“I chose to return for my Masters degree because I was interested in teaching and knew I would need the degree to position myself for that next step in my career,” Pierce continued. “I also consider myself a lifelong learner, and although I had vowed to not step foot in a school again until I took my child to kindergarten, I knew that continuing my education was important and would be worthwhile. It has not only helped my career, but also enriched my personal life.”

Choosing her path at UM-Flint

At UM-Flint, Pierce selected academic programs that gave her room to explore her strengths and interests, and that would allow her flexibility in her future career. “UM-Flint has great programs, committed faculty and staff, and continued growth that not only meets the needs of students, but the community,” she reflected. “Those strengths make it not just a good school, but a great one.

“What I loved about the Communication and English programs was the freedom. I was able to really tailor my college experience to my interests. I would definitely recommend these programs, because they both have a number of options career wise, and I have found that I have been able to ‘write my own ticket’ so to speak. The variety of options that have been available to me with these two degrees is astounding, and in many instances have been things I didn’t even realize I was interested in.”

Pierce found her UM-Flint faculty to not only be supportive mentors, but to be friends as well. She is still in touch with a number of them and they continue to be resources in her professional life. When considering her most influential faculty, Pierce noted Dr. Charles Apple of Communication Studies and Jan Worth-Nelson of English. “They were always available to chat and I knew they were not only committed to the success of the program, but to the students,” she reflected.

Pierce found many valuable experiences outside of the classroom as well. “I was a writer for the M-Times (UM-Flint’s student newspaper) and College Representative for Def Jam Records while in undergrad and those were some of my greatest experiences,” she said. “I began writing about entertainment in high school and continued that at the M-Times and I got to cover some great shows, including Ricky Martin during the ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ craze. And being a college representative for Def Jam was so much fun! I made some lifelong connections and one of my best friends still works there! I returned to write for the M-Times while working on my MA.”

Connecting Coursework and Community

In early 2018, the Flint Institute of Arts hosted Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence. The exhibit showcased bead art created by a community of women in South Africa and was featured as a community event by UM-Flint Africana Studies for their annual Africa Week celebration. It was also a chance for Pierce to connect her undergraduate minor and her career. “I loved learning not only about African American history, but also African history,” said Pierce as she reflected on her studies. “I think being able to make the connection and ‘bridge the gap,’ if you will, is essential to really understanding the history of African Americans in the United States.”

UM-Flint alumna Marissa Pierce at the Flint Institute of Arts

UM-Flint alumna Marissa Pierce at the Flint Institute of Arts

Pierce has found that the impact of her courses still strongly resonates in her life. “I frequently talk about how the classes were some of my favorites during my time at UM-Flint, and how what I learned has shaped me as a person. I think learning about your heritage at the collegiate level is always beneficial, and exciting. I learned things that made a light bulb go off, and had many ‘ah-ha’ moments. In my career, I am able to bring many of the things I learned into conversations as it has relates to working with different cultures and ethnicities in the community.

“Exhibitions like this and the programming in the Africana Studies Department are important because they allow you to see art and the world through a very different lens than many of us are used to,” continued Pierce. “It does really allow us to make connections between the African and African American experience, and see beyond what we already know. Learning, be it at the Flint Institute of Arts or through the Africana Studies Department not only benefits the student, but the people and greater community that student interacts with. It really is a win-win for everyone!”


UM-Flint students can take advantage of the many learning opportunities provided by the FIA through their College Town program that provides free membership to college students. Learn more at flintarts.org/join-and-give/college-town.

For information on Africana Studies, Communication Studies, and other programs and majors offered through UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences, visit umflint.edu/CAS.

02/26/18

UM-Flint Math class partners with DDA for survey on downtown Flint

Laura McLeman, associate professor of UM-Flint Mathematics, is taking an interactive approach to her Introduction to Statistics course (MTH 272) by incorporating a special class project: her students  are working with Flint’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to create and circulate a survey that will help them better understand users’ interactions in downtown Flint.

Laura McLeman, associate professor of UM-Flint Mathematics (front right) with some of her MTH 272 students

Laura McLeman, associate professor of UM-Flint Mathematics (front right) with some of her MTH 272 students

The statistics course is a requirement for McLeman’s secondary teacher’s certificate program (TCP) students who will go on to teach math to high schoolers. As part of UM-Flint’s education program, the course reflects the TCP’s place-based approach that regularly connects coursework and teaching practices with partners and projects in the community. The approach allows UM-Flint students opportunities to experience teaching, working with diverse groups, and finding community partners they can impact and that can be impacted by their classrooms.

Students work through a problem in MTH 272 with Laura McLeman of UM-Flint Mathematics.

McLeman considers the survey to be a unifying project for this semester’s class, nothing that the students were enthusiastic about it from day one. They’ve been the driving force behind the nature of the project, she added. The survey will help the DDA and downtown businesses learn about community member experiences; its results should be helpful in future grant writing and business planning.

Students in UM-Flint's MTH 272 class

Students in UM-Flint’s MTH 272 class

Once the survey is closed, the class will use their statistics methods to analyze the data; the results will be included in a written report and executive summary that they present to the DDA in April. The class will also participate in a reflective exercise in which they consider how well their survey worked, whether it served the needs of their community partner, and whether it provided the data they were after.

For McLeman, the project is a perfect example of place-based learning: it utilizes the content her students need to learn, while providing a meaningful service and getting her students interacting with the community. “As future secondary math teachers, and community stewards, it is important to me that my students experience how community needs and classroom curricular needs can come together in partnership,” noted McLeman. “Essentially, I want my students to see how all of the seemingly disparate topics they are learning in this statistics course come together in meaningful and impactful ways.”


For more information on UM-Flint Math, visit umflint.edu/math; to learn about the education programs at UM-Flint, visit umflint.edu/teach.

02/13/18

Soloist selected for UM-Flint Music’s winter wind symphony concert

Kimberly Stewart, a freshman majoring in Music Performance, will be the featured soloist at UM-Flint Music‘s winter Wind Symphony concert. Dr. Christopher Heidenreich, department chair, noted the difficulty of selection, her musicianship, and high level of preparation as reasons she was selected for the soloist position. “Kimberly was selected from among eight other outstanding performances,” he said. “I am very excited about [her] musical selection, and it will be a wonderful addition to our program.”

Kimberly Stewart of UM-Flint Music will be the featured soloist at the winter Wind Symphony concert

Kimberly Stewart of UM-Flint Music will be the featured soloist at the winter Wind Symphony concert

Currently, Stewart plays flute and piccolo with the UM-Flint Music Department’s Flute Ensemble, Wind Symphony, and Orchestra. As the soloist, she will be performing Poem by Charles Griffes. “I enjoy the use of colors and the abrupt changes in this piece,” she reflected. Stewart also noted that those attending can expect a fantastic concert experience from the Wind Symphony and Chamber Singers.

In general, Stewart appreciates the music selections of the department. “The pieces that are picked vary in style and are from different time periods. [Another] thing that I enjoy about being a part of the Music Department is the people. Everyone in the Music Department is very friendly and are willing to you help you if you need help.”

“Coming to UM-Flint has been a good experience for me because I have been given opportunities to perform and I have been able to connect with other talented musicians,” concluded Stewart.

To learn more about UM-Flint Music and their performances throughout the year, visit umflint.edu/music.

02/7/18

UM-Flint Computer Science students win SpartaHack IV at MSU

Team SonicPlayers, including UM-Flint Computer Science students Cole Rauh and Alex Latunski, at SpartaHack IV.

Team SonicPlayers, including UM-Flint Computer Science students Cole Rauh and Alex Latunski, at SpartaHack IV.

In January 2018 UM-Flint Computer Science and Mathematics student Cole Rauh led a team of coders to victory at SpartaHack: an annual student-run event hosted by Michigan State University that brings together “500 students of all skill levels and disciplines to get creative with tech, connect with peers and professionals.” His teammates included Alex Latunski, a fellow UM-Flint Computer Science major; Karl Zhu, a high schooler from Canada; and Michael Lin, an MSU Computer Science freshman.

The team won first place overall in the competition for their application that allows a user to play video games by producing notes on a musical instrument.

Read on as Rauh describes the competition in his own words.

About the Competition

Spartahack is a weekend-long coding competition. You are given 36 hours, from midnight Friday to noon Sunday, to build a piece of software. You aren’t given a topic, the only real stipulation is that your entire project must be coded that weekend, no bringing in a partially finished project to work on. At the end of the 36 hours, all projects are presented science-fair style, with each team getting a table to set up your project. Judges and other attendees walk around during this time and your team demonstrates your project to them. After the expo, judges choose a top 10, as well as winners for several side prizes, such as most creative, best android app, and so on. The top 10 then give a short 2 minute presentation in an auditorium in front of everyone in attendance. After the top 10 presents, the winners of the side prizes are announced, followed by the winners of 3rd, then 2nd, then 1st place.

Leading up to the event, we had no idea what we were going to make. While I was packing for the weekend, I saw a couple recorders that I had from elementary school. I thought maybe we could do something with them, so I tossed them in my backpack. During the drive there I thought about how we could use them. The first thing we’d have to do is read in the note being played into the microphone. Then we would have to process that to figure out which note is being played. From there I realized the number of notes you can play is pretty similar to the number of buttons on a classic video game controller, so I thought we could try using the recorders as controllers for old video games. I figured it had a pretty good shot at the most creative award, although I didn’t think it could get any more than that.

Making Music and the App

When I got to the event I met up with Alex, who was the other student from UM-Flint, and shared my idea. He was a little hesitant about it but decided to go along with it. We had room for 2 more people on our team so we took on Karl Zhu, a highschooler from Canada, and Michael Lin, an MSU freshman. We set up in one of the work rooms, which quickly cleared out after we started squeaking the controllers. After a few hours we had it working well enough to play single player games such as Kirby or Pokemon. We decided that the next step should be multiplayer. If you plug headphones into a microphone port, they will function as a microphone (although not a very good one). We found that we could play one recorder into the left headphone and another into the right microphone and process the two ears separately. We taped a headphone to each recorder, using plastic fork tines to get them positioned just right. With this set up we were able to get multiplayer games like Bomberman working.

Around this time, the constant recorder noises in the hallway were starting to attract several curious people. One of those people was Whitney, an employee of one of the event’s sponsors, Auto Owners Insurance. After speaking with her for a while, she offered to bring in her violin, so we could show that our technology can work with any instrument. Early Sunday morning she came in and worked with Alex to get the pitches set up and to teach him the basics of holding and getting a sound out of it. I came in about a half hour later and spent the entire morning just practicing the violin and just working on getting good enough at it to get enough of a sound out of it to move a character in a slow game.

Winning SpartaHack

When it came time for the expo, we were given our own room to demo in, since our project was sound based and needed a relatively quiet space. We set up two tables, one with the recorders to show off single and multiplayer games there, and one with the violin to show our project can work with any instrument. Our project turned out to be pretty popular, with a near constant stream of people stopping in to check out the source of the squeaks.

Team SonicPlayers demonstrates their app at SpartaHack IV.

Team SonicPlayers demonstrates their app at SpartaHack IV.

After the expo, top 10 was announced, which included us! We were psyched, as we never expected to do that well. We really only saw our project as a small toy, especially compared to the other brilliant projects being shown off. Each team in the top 10 is given 2 minutes to present and demo their projects. I started our presentation by saying that our project was to play video games using music. I then apologized for all the squeaking we made with the recorders throughout the event, before handing the mic to Alex. Alex briefly detailed what our project was and what it did, while Michael and Karl played the recorders to show off Kirby and single round of Bomberman. The audience got a kick out of watching them die to their own bombs in Bomberman. I then took the mic back and explained that our project works with any instrument, and thanked Whitney for providing us with a violin. We were closing in on two minutes, so I ended our presentation there.

After all of the presentations finished, The organizers started awarding the side prizes. The only prize we felt we had a chance at was Most Creative, so we got our hopes up when the organizers got to that prize. They were quickly dashed, however, when the prize was awarded to a team called Fidget Skirmish, who made a game involving fidget spinners. At that point we believed we wouldn’t win anything, but were still proud to make top 10. Imagine our surprise when it got to first place and the announcer said “And first place goes to, drum roll please… SonicPlayers!” We were all in disbelief, with Karl even asking if it was a mistake. When it finally sunk in that we had won we were on top of the world!


Congratulations to Cole Rauh, Alex Latunski, and their teammates!

For more information on UM-Flint Computer Science, and the ways in which it prepares its students to make their mark in the world, visit umflint.edu/computer-science.

 

02/5/18

Alumni Spotlight: Brandon Taylor of UM-Flint Psychology

Brandon Taylor, 2017 UM-Flint Psychology alumnus

Brandon Taylor, 2017 UM-Flint Psychology alumnus

Brandon Taylor graduated from UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences in April 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Research Psychology and a minor in Substance Abuse Treatment. He was co-president of the Psychology Club, a member of the psychology honors society, a work study in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Criminal Justice, and served as his class commencement speaker. After graduation he became a research assistant for the MSU College of Human Medicine in downtown Flint.

Brandon is fondly remembered by both his department faculty and those who were involved on his journey through UM-Flint.

Professor of Psychology, Terrence Horgan, PhD, reflected that Brandon, “was committed to excelling in school in a number of ways. He displayed a very positive attitude toward his education, and he always did his level best in class. His seriousness in class benefited his peers tremendously because it motivated them to demonstrate the same. Brandon was a role model in this regard because he elevated the quality of education that other students got in class.”

Jennifer Alvey, associate professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies (WGS) and director of the UM-Flint WGS Program added, “When I think of Brandon, I think of a very hard working and dedicated person – someone who gives his all to everything he does. He is kind, funny, and light-hearted, but he also has a serious side, is very committed, and truly patient. Brandon had to cultivate these qualities or perhaps confidence in them, but somehow he found the courage and even desire to do so, which inspires those around him to give it a try, too. He’s the kind of person who makes us and the work we do – whether in the classroom or in an office – better. I miss seeing him every day, but am so happy to know that he is pursuing his Master’s degree and enjoying his research-based work.”

Brandon Taylor (left) joins fellow UM-Flint Psychology alums at a career panel for current students

Brandon Taylor (left) joins fellow UM-Flint Psychology alums at a career panel for current students

Read on as Taylor reflects on his time at UM-Flint, gives an update on life after graduation, and shares advice for current students.

What are you doing now and/or where are you heading next?
I’m a full-time research assistant for MSU at The College of Human Medicine in downtown Flint. I’m part of the SPIRIT Study, which stands for Suicide Prevention Intervention for at-Risk Individuals in Transition. Essentially, we’re investigating whether or not a suicide prevention program is clinically effective and cost effective. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, we’re tracking suicidal ideation and behavior of people reentering the community from jail in Michigan and Rhode Island.

I’m also a part-time graduate student at MSU, pursing a master’s degree in clinical social work. Conveniently, my courses are held in the evening at Mott Community College, so I have the easiest work-to-school commute that I could hope for. After graduate school, my hope is to go wherever I feel I’m needed in the realm of social welfare, though I’d prefer to find initial employment doing clinical work in Flint.

How did your UM-Flint education prepare you for what you are doing?
UM-Flint was instrumental in giving me a space to explore my interests. Though I have love and appreciation for psychology, my heart resides in social work. Funny enough, my First-Year Experience course, Intergroup Dialogue, heavily influenced the trajectory of my interests. My professors always provided constant encouragement, support, and guidance that truly boosted my once-low self-esteem. This, in conjunction with the numerous opportunities they provided, empowered me to reach beyond my perceived limits.

Who made the biggest impact on your time at UM-Flint?
I can’t pick just one. Drs. Alvey and Laube [of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice] always provided praise and encouragement. Drs. Heinze and Stein [of Psychology] always gave positive feedback and introduced me to working with groups via peer facilitation. Dr. Horgan provided innumerable research opportunities, both in-class and in his lab. Dr. Kassel [of the Student Success Center] constantly challenged me to leave my comfort zone. Wendy Carpenter [of the Student Success Center] helped me find courage when I doubted myself. Lynne McTiernan [of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice] was always so kind, generous, and considerate when I was her work-study… I am forever indebted to the faculty and staff at UM-Flint for going above and beyond to help me academically and personally.

Brandon Taylor serving as UM-Flint commencement speaker in April 2017

Brandon Taylor serving as UM-Flint commencement speaker in April 2017

What value did you find in UM-Flint’s approach of including hands-on learning and applying lessons to real world situations?
I found this priceless. Both my clinical internship and my research involvement prepared me for this current job, which I consider to be the beginning of my professional career. I wouldn’t be where I am without these keystone experiences.

Describe a firsthand example of an engaged learning experience you had at UM-Flint:
My clinical psychology internship involved observing the therapeutic process for highly depressed and highly anxious individuals. Though this was extremely challenging at first, I walked away with finally knowing what I wanted to do as a career.

For more information on UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences and its many departments and programs, visit umflint.edu/CAS.

11/10/17

UM-Flint Computer Science students demonstrate apps at Ann Arbor celebration

The University of Michigan celebrated the finale of its bicentennial celebration with the Third Century Expo—a public fair with a focus technology, innovation, and what’s to come in the university’s next 100 years.

UM-Flint’s Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) student group, and their faculty advisor Mark Allison, PhD, assistant professor of computer science, attended and demonstrated some of their student-created digital and web applications to the crowd.

UM-Flint students at the University of Michigan's Third Century Expo in Ann Arbor

UM-Flint students at the Third Century Expo in Ann Arbor

The UM-Flint students were especially proud to feature the MyWater-Flint app, which allows users to access reported lead levels in Flint neighborhoods, connect with resources, and track updates on service-line replacement. Their work accounted for a good portion of the offerings at the event’s tech/app bar inside the “Creating and Inventing” tent.

Their second app, noted Allison, was also a big hit. Still unnamed, the app helps pinpoint a user’s location indoors. “You may have noticed your phone’s GPS is useless inside buildings,” explained Allison. “This graduate research project addresses this problem. When completed, we envision students being able to navigate indoors as floormaps automatically pop up onscreen as they enter buildings and move from floor to floor.

“Users also will be able to access  the schedule of their classrooms and professors by  swiping their phone by the respective doors. This concept was a big hit in Ann Arbor as students thought it would be helpful on their large campus.

“I am still amazed that our students rise so quickly when challenged to solve the unsolved problems,” Allison concluded.

For more information on the Department of Computer Science, Engineering, and Physics at UM-Flint, and the engaged learning opportunities it offers students, visit umflint.edu/CSEP.

11/10/17

UM-Flint Students Attend 2017 Michigan TESOL Conference

Thanks to funding from UM-Flint’s University Outreach, Emily Feuerherm, assistant professor of linguistics in the Department of English, was able to bring her TEL 313 class to the 2017 Michigan TESOL conference.

Emily Feuerherm, PhD, (front row, right) and her TEL 313 students at the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference

Emily Feuerherm, PhD, (front row, right) and her TEL 313 students at the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference

TEL 313: Second Language Acquisition, is recommended coursework in UM-Flint’s 15-credit TESOL program. (TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The program, which culminates in a certificate that shows on one’s transcripts, allows graduates to teach English abroad without additional teaching credentials or special training.

“Students were so excited for this event; for many of them, it was their first experience at a professional conference,” said Feuerherm. “Following the conference, students wrote reflections about the experience and connected what they learned at the conference to the theories in our course readings. Next year, the goal is that they will all present at the conference.”

Feuerherm and her students spell out M-I-T-E-S-O-L while attending the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference.

Feuerherm and her students spell out M-I-T-E-S-O-L while attending the 2017 MI-TESOL Conference.

Attending the Michigan TESOL conference also allowed the students to interact with professionals and educators, and make important network connections. “Thanks to University Outreach’s Civic Engagement Grant for making it all possible,” concluded Feuerherm.

For more information on the UM-Flint TESOL program, and the opportunities it presents to students wishing to work and live abroad, visit umflint.edu/english.

 

11/9/17

UM-Flint alumni return to discuss life as pharmacy students

Five College of Arts and Sciences alumni returned to the UM-Flint campus on November 7th to talk to current students about their lives in the University of Michigan pharmacy program—also known as PharmD.

Jessica Tischler, PhD, Chair of UM-Flint's Chemistry and Biochemistry Department (standing, far right), introduces her former students.

Jessica Tischler, PhD, Chair of UM-Flint’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department (standing, far right), introduces her former students.

The returning alums were Lena Gayar (’16, biology), Devon Stonerock (’17, biochemistry), Derek Linskey (’17, biochemistry), Noah Leja (’14, chemistry), and Lauren Williams (’15, biochemistry). They range from year 1 to year 4 in the Ann Arbor program.

The current UM-Flint students who attended the event all see pharmacy as a possible future career, and were able to ask the alums about their preparation, the application process, and their current studies and schedules.

Devon Stonerock, a first year pharmacy student, discusses his experiences in applying for pharmacy school and the workload of his first semester

Devon Stonerock, a first year pharmacy student, discusses his experience of applying for pharmacy school and the workload of his first semester

Each of the five alums agreed that they had excellent preparation at UM-Flint, and often find themselves to be better prepared than peers from larger institutions. They cited close relationships with faculty, hands-on experiences in labs and in conducting research, and the rigorous academic standards of UM-Flint as being beneficial.

Williams noted that she had almost not applied to the University of Michigan program, as she was intimidated by it being a top school in the country. Happily, her fears were quickly calmed as she found herself walking PharmD classmates through lab procedures and material that were second nature from her time at UM-Flint.

Dr. Tischler and her alumni answer questions about the process of becoming a pharmacy school student.

Dr. Tischler and her alumni answer questions about the process of becoming a pharmacy school student

The alumni also credited “soft skills” such as excellent written and verbal communication, problem solving, and working with with diverse groups as being equal to or more important than course content. The need for such skills in scientists and artists alike lies at the foundation of UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences as a liberal education institution, and is part of what sets its students and alumni apart.

For more information on the College of Arts and Sciences, and its 18 departments, visit umflint.edu/CAS. For information about being a pre-pharmacy student at UM-Flint, visit umflint.edu/prepharm.

 

03/22/17

Pursuing Passion: Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre & Dance

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working in the university's Costume Shop

Every UM-Flint Theatre & Dance production is a chance to teach something new. Adam Dill, lecturer and Costume Shop Supervisor for the department, specializes in connecting his students to each project while creating pieces that build their skill sets and portfolios.

The final theatrical production of the 2016-17 season is The Importance of Being Earnest—a classic satire set in Victorian England. Said Dill, “This production is set in the 1890’s, so we are constructing silhouettes we have not made in this shop before.” He also noted that special considerations have to be made in fabric choice and construction—so the costumes function for the actor while looking the part—and in adapting older styles to modern bodies.

“We used historical patterns that are actually from the 1890’s on this production,” added Theatre Design & Technology student Alli Switalski, “so it was definitely a learning experience to adapt the pattern of a teeny tiny garment from the turn of the century into garments that our actors could wear.”

A dress for the production is Switalski’s first large-scale project: she completed the garment’s entire drape, pattern, and construction process. And, she admits, it’s this start-to-finish project that she’s most excited to see on stage.

Dill is the production’s Costume Shop Manager and Lead Draper, and also charged with being the faculty advisor for the Wardrobe Crew. “As the shop manager,” said Dill, “it is my responsibility to budget and price out the show, to make sure all of the clothes are produced in a timely fashion, and the clothes are properly fit to each actor. Acting as the lead draper, I have taken on the creation of Miss Prism and Lady Bracknell.”

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working with a student in the university's Costume Shop

Adam Dill works on a bodice with UM-Flint Theatre Design & Technology student Alli Switalski.

Teaching in UM-Flint Theatre

Switalski transferred to UM-Flint to study with Dill—her previous institution didn’t provide a supportive teaching environment like the one she found on a visit to UM-Flint Theatre. “It’s like a little family in the theatre department,” she noted. “Collaboration makes our world go round, so I really love that we are all so close.”

When asked about Dill as a teacher, she said, “Adam has taught me to laugh. To ‘just do it’ and have fun in the process. He challenges me to push my limits as a designer and technician and to trust my instincts in the process.”

Lydia Parker VanTol, a senior Theatre Design & Technology student, echoed her sentiments, adding, “Not only have I learned how to pattern, drape, and sew, but I’ve also learned a lot of life lessons like how to handle working under a deadline and learning about a balance between perfection and time management. I love our sense of teamwork and community. It’s great to work with people who understand and respect your craft and who are also learning at the same time as you.”

Taylor Boes works on a boa for "The Importance of Being Earnest." She's also an actress in the production.

Taylor Boes works on a boa for “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She’s also an actress in the production.

 

Switalski and Parker VanTol are just the kind of students Dill enjoys teaching at UM-Flint. “I really appreciate that the average student has an open mind and a willingness to learn,” he said. “Regardless of background, upbringing, or circumstance—our students are constantly committed to pursuing their best self.”

Currently, Dill teaches Introduction to Stage Costuming, Patterning, and Draping, Textiles and Costuming, and a Stage Costuming Lab. His students often get a chance to assist on production costumes, adding finishing touches like hems and closures.

Bringing Experts to Campus

Part of Dill’s teaching philosophy involves bringing experts to campus. “I’ve previously hosted a tailoring workshop, a lighting technology workshop, and most recently a wig workshop,” said Dill. “For the future, I have workshops planned specifically for working with thermoplastics in theatrical costumes, a workshop on creating/recreating parasols, and hopefully a two-day workshop on working with theatrical millinery.”

The wig workshop, held on a Saturday in late February, brought Heather Fleming from the Custom Wig Company to campus. Seven UM-Flint Theatre students and one alum attended.

“In the workshop, we discussed how to properly style wigs using different roller sets, how to properly prepare the actor for wearing a wig, how to make/take a wig wrap, and how to ventilate and create our own custom wig products,” recalled Dill.

Participants in UM-Flint Theatre's recent wig workshop.

Participants in UM-Flint Theatre’s recent wig workshop.

 

“We decided to host this workshop so students could actively learn the art of wig styling on a practical application for one of our productions,” he continued. “Several of the students from the workshop are on the wardrobe crew for Importance of Being Earnest, so having direct access to the wig stylist benefits the wig work you will see in this very exciting production!”

Alli Switalski at the UM-Flint Theatre wig workshop.

Alli Switalski at the UM-Flint Theatre wig workshop.

 

Switalski was one of the student participants. When asked what she enjoyed most, she responded, “It’s a fascinating art form that most people don’t even know exists. I enjoyed diving right in and playing with wigs to get a hands-on experience of styling and maintenance techniques.”

A Life of Creativity

Dill is an excellent example for students who are unsure about pursuing a career in theatre. “I previously started my education in Pre-Dentistry,” said Dill. “One day while sitting in a molecular biology class, I realized how much I missed being in the theatre. I eventually withdrew from school, moved back home, and prepared myself for a life in the arts. After a few months at home, I enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington as an Acting major. I was assigned to the costume shop as part of my practicum. I was given the task of decorating hats. Once I realized that working in theatrical costumes was a viable career path, I changed my major again and have never looked back.”

Adam Dill of UM-Flint Theatre working in the university's Costume Shop

 

Switalski is ready to follow in his footsteps. “I have two semesters left before completing my degree,” she noted. “This involves my capstone project which will probably be a draping project, so keep an eye out for my name in next season’s programs. After graduation, I plan on moving to where the work is to get some experience before graduate school. I’ve also started my own business that I’d like to expand, taking more costume commissions for Halloween, Cosplay, and Renaissance Festivals.”

Dill hopes all of his students “leave here with a renewed sense of self confidence, and understanding of how to overcome challenges, and an open mind to potential that life presents to us!”

As for his future? Dill replied, “Right now, I am in the process of designing one of the dance pieces in our dance concert—A Midsummer Night’s Dream—choreographed by Adesola Akinleye. At the same time, I am remounting a previously designed production of Cat in the Hat for the Flint Youth Theatre. Because I don’t have enough going on, I am also managing the Colorado Shakespeare Festival costume shop this summer.”

After graduation, Parker VanTol will also be working at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where she’ll no doubt continue learning from Dill.


Learn about creative opportunities for all majors, both on and off stage. Visit umflint.edu/theatredance.

03/22/17

Shakespeare Inspires CAS Students to Connect with Flint, World

Dr. Mary Jo Kietzman of UM-Flint English with "Lear Reassembled" students

At first glance, the study of Shakespeare can seem outdated in today’s world and university curriculum. But associate professor of English Mary Jo Kietzman, Ph.D., has been successful in teaching Shakespeare as a means for UM-Flint students to think deeply about and connect to their world.

Why Shakespeare?

Kietzman believes in the connection students—not just those majoring in English—make with the language of Shakespeare, and in the connections that exist between his time and ours. “We still have a primal need for a language that will move us–whether to laughter or to tears,” said Kietzman. “[It’s] the language of the imagination, of telling stories, of wrestling with ideas and feelings—the language of real communication, of people wanting to talk about issues that concern them and their community, issues of conscience, ideas, and dreams. Texting cannot fulfill this deeper need, and, as another Renaissance playwright famously wrote, ‘where words prevail not, violence prevails.'”

“The people of Shakespeare’s world lived with a lot less padding between themselves and harsh realities,” she continued. “It can be easy to forget that all the heat in Shakespeare’s language, the coarseness, the violence, the passion, the sorrow, came out of a very basic sense of survival. I believe students in Flint can connect with the immediacy of its impact.”

Projects for UM-Flint Students

In the past, Kietzman had a class “reassemble” Shakespeare’s King Lear to get UM-Flint students out in the community and asking questions about Flint. Noted an article about the project, “students had to overcome their stereotype-bred fears of Flint and venture forth, doing highly unconventional research. They tramped around Chevy-in-the-Hole. They volunteered at soup kitchens. They scanned the Flint Journal, visited the Genesee County Historical Collection, and read books like Gordon Young’s Tear Down to learn about Flint.”

Sarah Swartz, a student who participated in Lear Reassembled, said, “What has impressed me the most about our project is the way we have taken something as classic as Shakespeare and given it a modern purpose. No longer are we studying the themes of the play in the classroom. We have taken it further and found meaning for it in Flint.  That is something I think Shakespeare would be proud of.”

The "cast" of the Lear Reassembled project.

The “cast” of the Lear Reassembled project.

More recently, Kietzman taught a cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays for the first time. “I thought it would be interesting to do in the run-up to the presidential election,” she said. “These plays gave us a lot to think about in terms of what we are looking for in our rulers and how much expressive freedom the citizenry should expect. It seems to me to be easier to approach politics in the classroom obliquely through a safe literary filter. Shakespeare also provides a cross section of the population (rich and poor) and multiple ways of thinking about any given issue. This is so unlike our current divisive political discourse that it almost seems like Shakespeare is better at encouraging critical thinking about all manner of political problems.”

UM-Flint students performing their one-act play exploring gender roles in "Taming the Shrew"

UM-Flint students performing their one-act play exploring gender roles in “Taming the Shrew”

In other classes, Kietzman has had UM-Flint students write short (one act) plays to explore general questions like what gives people power? or why do we fight in relationships? or what are we fighting for? “Scriptwriting forces students to translate and own the issues in a personal way,” said Kietzman. “Because I ask them to draw on their own experiences, collaboration is tricky. Personal histories, pain, struggles, and prejudices inevitably come out and must be embraced by the teacher and the group.”

Shakespeare Beyond UM-Flint

Kietzman knows that those who connect with her class projects will carry the experiences with them long after graduation. “I was amazed to discover how relevant Shakespeare still is and at how little changes about human nature,” said one past student. “All of the issues we are facing today are covered in his plays. Professor Kietzman was brilliant at leading class discussions in a way that made us think beyond the words on the page. I finally understood why Shakespeare still matters and have turned into a passionate advocate for his work.”

Local community groups and publishers have also taken note of Kietzman’s work. She’s been an invited speaker to the St. Matthew’s Speaker Series—a downtown Flint church’s forum for those who are making a difference in the community. She has also written an article on her time spent teaching Shakespeare in Kazakhstan—where her idea to adapt King Lear to Flint was born.

“It’s hard to find a reason to truly care about what is happening in your surroundings,” noted alumni Stephanie Ruddock when speaking to the ways in which the Lear project helped her connect to Flint. “But when you begin to investigate, you begin to crave more knowledge, and, in turn, you become more involved in your community. Suddenly, you feel a desire to take part of the world around you and show the world how wonderful it is.”

Looking to the future, Kietzman said, “I would like to tackle another Flint adaptation. I have to figure out another play that would be a good fit for Flint. It also takes a dedicated cohort of students. I am passionate about this work for the single reason that I think students need to grow roots in Flint. There is a growing sense of alienation that comes, I think, from being displaced from a sense of place. Globalization is great, but what about our shared home—this city? Shouldn’t we know it? Shouldn’t we figure out how to care about and get involved in it?”


Learn about the ways in which linguistics, writing, and literature help UM-Flint students connect to the world around them and thrive after graduation.

Visit umflint.edu/english.