Success Stories


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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OCTOBER 14, 2020

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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April 8, 2020

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.

She will arrive in New York on the heels of 2015 nursing graduate and adjunct instructor Callie Leaman. Leaman, an ER nurse at Munson Medical Center, arrived in the epidemic’s epicenter Tuesday. She is working in midtown Manhattan at New York University Langone Health in a COVID-19 ICU unit.

Havens has not yet cared for any COVID-19 patients at her current hospital, Bronson Methodist, but she and her colleagues have researched how the disease has progressed in countries ahead of the U.S., studying patient presentation and care protocols.

“I don’t know if anything will really prepare me,” Havens said. For instance, Mount Sinai is establishing a tent annex in Central Park, directly opposite its building, to care for patients.

At NMC Havens took nursing prerequisite courses, including cell plant and ecosystem biology and chemistry. She remembers instructor Greg LaCross’s classes as among her favorites. She was also on the Dean’s List.

“I have no doubt she has made a difference in people’s lives, especially now, when our healthcare workers are so needed,” LaCross said.

She first considered going to Detroit, another hot spot, to help out her home state. But Detroit hospitals weren’t taking first-time traveling nurses. A licensing issue cropped up when she considered Chicago. But her qualifications were welcome in New York.

Havens begins work at Mount Sinai April 14. Her contract runs through May 31, though she expects it will likely be extended. It’s been most difficult to find affordable housing, though she thinks she’s found a temporary place. It’s a half-hour commute from the hospital, so she hopes the city keeps public transit running. She feels as ready for the challenge as she can be.

“I don’t have any kids, I’m not married. It’s just me and a dog. I’m the perfect candidate to go,” Havens said.

Her dog, Zaas, will stay with her parents in Interlochen. As for the general public, “Keep quarantining, and if possible, try and donate blood,” Havens said.


Do you know a helper or hero with NMC connections? Please share stories of students, instructors, alumni and community members stepping up during the COVID-19 epidemic by emailing publicrelations@nmc.edu.

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Hannah Beard and Jessi Martin

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.

Air Race Classic course mapEntering 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.

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