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Old and new photos of NMC students using computersBack in 1998, philosophy instructor Michael Emerson was asked to join a small pilot group of NMC instructors trying something new: teaching online. A quarter-century later, Emerson now teaches all his classes online, nearly every NMC class has an online component, and the college’s strategic plan prioritizes more online offerings as well as greater student success in them.

That pilot project was an early adoption of the technology that would change the world, and NMC has maintained its position at the forefront of educational technology.

“We made this decision and committed ourselves long before other institutions did it,” Emerson said. “Now people are getting their masters and doctorates totally online.”

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If a strategic plan is a roadmap, where will NMC Next take the college? Following unanimous approval by NMC’s Board of Trustees Monday, imagine the impact on the Grand Traverse region:

Residents who want to upskill or change careers are reaching their goals faster with accelerated programs, more online options and expanded credential choices. By engaging with hands-on, real-world problem solving, they’re also having a richer experience and becoming independent, self-directed learners, skills they’ll bring into the workforce.

In the most diverse era ever, the college is a model for diversity, equity and inclusion, exemplifying how other regional employers can attract talent and serve customers. Mutually beneficial partnerships, like the ones nursing enjoys with Munson Medical Center, and culinary with the region’s hospitality industry, are visible on multiple campuses. Taxpayers will report even higher levels of satisfaction with “our community’s college.”

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NMC student Edris Fana speaks at the 2016 NMC Commencement

Edris Fana speaks at the 2016 NMC Commencement.

Last month, 2016 NMC graduate Edris Fana expected to see his parents for the first time in eight years, when they were to travel from Kabul, Afghanistan to Traverse City for his wedding to fellow alumna Emma Smith.

Instead, their wedding date, Aug. 15, became the day that Fana’s home country officially fell back to the Taliban, the Islamic military regime that resumed control of Afghanistan amid the final withdrawal of U.S./NATO troops after a 20-year presence.

“Everything just went downhill,” Fana said, adding that his parents have visas to travel to the United States, but cannot get a flight. (Very limited air travel resumed last week.) “To see it fall like this, it’s crazy to think about it.”

As the first international student to lead NMC’s Student Government Association, Fana, now 27, once aspired to apply that experience back home, and work in the government of the fledgling democratic republic.

“That was my all-time goal,” said Fana, who studied aviation. As the SGA president, he spoke at both the 2015 and 2016 commencement ceremonies.

“Coming from a place that I didn’t have the opportunity to practice leadership, or to have any experience of what I was capable of, it was NMC that presented me with opportunities to grow,” Fana told the audience in 2016.

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Promises Made, Promises Kept

At your child’s schoolRunning a winery. Under the hood of your car. At your doctor’s office. Running a tribal government. Thirty thousand feet overhead, in an airplane cockpit.

All these are places where you’ll find graduates with four-year and advanced degrees, earned at NMC’s University Center (UC). They embody the fulfillment of a promise made 30 years ago, when a community-wide goal-setting initiative, Grand Traverse 20/20, determined that it was a top priority for residents to be able to earn bachelor’s degrees and beyond without leaving the region.

9,000 Degrees Awarded

NMC stepped up to the challenge and need, and the UC opened in 1995 with more than forty programs offered by a dozen Michigan colleges and universities. In the 25 years since, UC partners have granted more than 9,000 bachelor’s, masters and doctoral degrees, plus specialty certificates and endorsements.

Programs are clustered in three main areas — business, education and health — and UC graduates have gone on to succeed as professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders. You’ll meet some of them here. Meanwhile, the UC continues to evolve. As more college students shift to online learning, the composition of the campus on Boardman Lake is changing. This fall, for example, the Greenspire School will begin offering high school classes in UC classrooms. Whatever community needs arise over the next five, ten or 25 years, NMC will be a willing partner to meet them.

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Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 has led NMC’s flagship Freshwater Studies program to a triple win: improving student learning, community collaboration and career exploration in a single course.

Introduction to Freshwater Studies is the first course in NMC’s first-in-the-nation Freshwater Studies associate degree program. This fall, instructor Constanza Hazelwood reimagined the 20-student course to conform to group size restrictions and distancing requirements necessitated by the coronavirus. She divided it into three tracks that allow students to experience project research, management and communications in areas that align with their interests, from water quality monitoring to habitat restoration to laboratory testing.

Freshwater Studies class gathers at Boardman River“We didn’t want large groups gathering anywhere,” said Hazelwood, who has taught the class for the past 11 years on NMC’s Great Lakes campus. “That’s what got me thinking we must have students outdoors. We cannot teach this on a screen.”

Field work and community partnerships have been part of the course in the past, but this time, it’s a much deeper dive. Hazelwood tapped nine community organizations, many non-profit. Each student works with three as they go through their tracks.

“This time the students are really engaged in the work of the organizations,” said Hazelwood.

Groups like the Grand Traverse Conservation District, where students planted trees to help restore the Boardman River Watershed (photos, courtesy Alan Newton) and the Glen Lake Association in Leelanau County, where students worked on a project to eradicate invasive yellow iris in Big Fisher Lake, part of the Glen Lake/Crystal River watershed.

Student plants tree near Boardman River‘We’re so grateful, not just for the manual labor but the opportunity to work alongside these really incredible students,” said GLA’s Tricia Denton. “These are the future caretakers of our precious water resources.”

Other groups participating include For Love of Water, Circle of Blue, Freshwater Solutions and Fish Pass. (Watch a TV 9 & 10 story on the Fish Pass project.)

“A big component is career exploration,” Hazelwood said. “It’s very much immersion in the professional world.”

“They’re working with master’s and PhD-level professionals, some of them who have been in the field for over 40 years, which is so different from reading about something online or in a textbook,” said Denton, who is also eyeing the group of nine students she worked with for future association interns.

2019 graduate Abbey Hull, now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Freshwater Science and Sustainability from Western Michigan University, a partnership with NMC, returned to mentor current students in a project using state-of-the-art technology to test water for E. coli. 

Traverse City’s Freshwater Solutions is the partner for the project using qPCR technology, which extracts DNA from water samples. Also being deployed to monitor for COVID-19, for E. coli, results are available in two hours instead of the 24 hours it would take using the traditional method of sampling and then attempting to grow cultures. 

Drilling down further, qPCR can determine the source of the bacteria — septic tanks, or waterfowl? — which guides appropriate mitigation. 

“This was a great way for students to get hands-on, and meet people in the field and network from there,” Hull said.

Hazelwood points out that it’s another opportunity for alumni like Hull, too.

“Even after graduating, they’re still learning from NMC,” she said. 

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Karissa HavensOver the last few months, in between her nursing shifts in a Kalamazoo hospital’s medical intensive care unit, Karissa Havens followed the worsening COVID-19 epidemic as it swept from China to Europe to the United States.

The Traverse City West High School graduate, who attended NMC from 2013-2014 before transferring to Western Michigan University for her nursing degree, knew she had the skills to help both patients and overwhelmed hospitals in COVID-19 hot spots. She felt called to go where they were desperately needed.

Next week, she is. Havens, 24, has accepted a six-week traveling nurse position in a COVID-19 ICU unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was able to find a job within two days of deciding to leave Kalamazoo.

“I am completely humbled by this opportunity and ready to give everything I can to help fight this terrible virus,” Havens posted on Facebook announcing her move.

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A near-record number of NMC students will study abroad in five countries this spring, gaining experiences to help them succeed in an increasingly global society.

Seventy students are registered to travel to Iceland, Ireland, Spain, England and Brazil. The previous high was 73 in 2015. Between 60-65 students have traveled each of the last three years, ranking NMC the No. 1 community college in Michigan for short-term study abroad, and usually in the top 25 nationally.

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Cozy Up to Reality… TV

Posted on Dec 20, 2019

Nexus Spring 2020 Feature

Cozy Up To Reality illustrationWe all hope the polar vortex spares northern Michigan in 2020. but here at the 45th parallel, a few blizzards are just about guaranteed. so fire up your streaming services and hunker down with shows featuring these NMC alumni, students and faculty. (All four featured shows are available on Amazon Prime Video; all except ‘The Arrangement’ are also on Hulu.)


Show: Forged In Fire, the History Channel, summer 2019

Where he is now: Working at WKLT radio and taking classes online to fit his schedule as a dad.

Why he did it: Crum, 49, started watching YouTube videos on blacksmithing and built his first forge out of a brake rotor. He refined his DIY skills over six years and replied to a show casting call. After a two-month selection process, he was on his way to Connecticut for the filming in June 2018.

What he learned: Crum’s why-not entry into blacksmithing is reflected in his attitude toward returning to school. He’s taking classes online but also volunteers at radio station WNMC and is interested in other student groups like the International Club. “One of my goals was the college experience,” he said. “As I was coming up on 50, I was feeling very regretful that I never pursued college. This one’s for me.”

Find it: history.com (Type “Forged in Fire” into search field. Select Season 6, Episode 28, “Blackbeard’s Cutlass.” Multiple streaming options.


Show: The Curse of Civil War Gold, the History Channel, spring 2019

Why he did it: Essentially, because he was asked. Filmed in Lake Michigan in summer 2018, the episode is part of a series in which treasure hunters search for a cache of gold rumored to have been smuggled out of the South during the Civil War. While—spoiler alert!—Holley and co. didn’t find gold, he said the film crew did make a cool nautical archaeology find: a turn of the century scow in the waters off of Frankfort.

“It’d make a great project for one of our students,” said Holley, who teaches online and holds an  annual nautical archaeology field school in West Grand Traverse Bay. He’s previously appeared on the National Geographic Channel, Science Channel and Japanese TV.

Fun fact: Holley purchased the side-scan sonar equipment used in the episode with money from the NMC Barbecue.

Find it: history.com (Type “Curse of Civil War Gold” into search field. Navigate to Season 2, Episode 1, “The Return.”) Multiple streaming options.

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