Back 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
‘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.
Over 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.
NMC’s aviation program will get a lofty showcase before a national audience this summer when a pair of student pilots fly across North America in the Air Race Classic, the oldest air race of its kind, and exclusively for female pilots.
Ninety years after legendary aviator Amelia Earhart made cross-country racing popular, Team Hawk Owls — Hannah Beard of Interlochen (left) and Jessi Martin of Maple City (right) — will take off from Jackson, Tenn. on June 18 in an NMC Cessna. The 2,500 mile trip is a race against the clock broken into nine legs. They expect to land in Welland, Ontario, by June 21.
“It’s going to be marathon,” Martin, 43, said.
“Sunrise to sunset flying,” agreed Beard, 23.
Entering the Air Race Classic is the latest example of how women at NMC are making significant strides in what has long been a male-dominated field. While only four percent of U.S. airline pilots are female, nearly 20 percent of current NMC aviation students are now women. The college is now home to a chapter of Women in Aviation International, which allows them to network and support each other.