Blog - Category: Independent Alumni

Love “A Christmas Story”? Thank Hillsdale College

Merry Christmas! You’ll shoot your eye out.

You don’t need to own a Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle to know the line is from “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 movie that’s become a staple of the holidays. Played on constant rotation starting Christmas Eve, the movie is so quotable that most know its dialogue by heart.

Fra-GEE-leh! It must be Italian!

I double DOG dare you.

It’s a pink nightmare.

Less well known is the genius behind the classic is one of Hillsdale College’s own, director and co-writer Bob Clark. He attended the Michigan college in the 1960s on a football scholarship and starred in several productions of the Tower Players.

Clark also directed another, less family friendly classic, “Porky’s,” during a career that spanned four decades and began shortly after he left Hillsdale in 1963. He got his start directing zombie flicks and eventually helmed productions including Jack Lemmon, Sylvester Stalone and some of the biggest Hollywood stars.

But he’ll forever be known for “A Christmas Story,” a project he loved so much he forsook his salary.

The inspiration struck when he was on a bad date and listened to a broadcast of writer Jean Shepherd’s recollections about growing up in Indiana in the 1930s and 1940s. He ended up driving around the block until the program was over.

“My date was not happy,” Clark said in an interview.

Clark is one of many creative luminaries who got their start at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. The schools pride themselves on attracting students who do things differently and pairing them with dedicated faculty who help chart their own path.

So it’s probably no surprise the schools’ alums include diverse talent from singer Sufjan Stevens (Hope College) and funnyman Keegan Michael Key (University of Detroit-Mercy) to Martin Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader (Calvin College) and “Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun (Kalamazoo College.)

All the schools emphasize community over crowds and help students forge their own paths.

It’s an experience that simply doesn’t exist at big state schools.

And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates that big universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Calvin Graduate Helps Spacecraft Reach Pluto

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Sure, it’s a cliche. But the best college experiences teach students to reach for the stars.

Or Pluto, in the case of Thomas Strikwerda.

The Calvin College alumni managed the design, guidance and control teams of the NASA New Horizon spacecraft that was launched in 2006, traveled 3 billion miles and sent back humanity’s first, positively breathtaking, images of Pluto in July.

Strikwerda returned to his alma mater this month to speak about the Pluto mission and what’s next for the spacecraft (in five years, it’s expected to reach a recently discovered object on the solar system’s frontier known as 2014 MU69.)

More than 200 people turned out for the talk.

Strikwerda grew up in Grand Rapids, fell in love with astronomy and helped build the James C. Veen Observatory.

It was at Calvin that his passion became a career. Recognizing his talent, faculty allowed him to work as a presenter in the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium while he pursued his undergraduate degree in physics from Calvin.

He later earned his doctorate and postdoctoral fellowship in astronautical engineering, and his career has taken him to the moon and back and then some.

A key member of the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, Strikwerda has supervised mission design of several key projects, from the Messenger Mission to Mercury to the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Some people have the image that spacecraft scientists and engineers just sit alone at a console typing in commands,” Strikwerda said. “It’s nothing like that. It’s a multidisciplinary endeavor that requires many teams to work together, all precisely choreographed. It’s amazing!”

It’s an amazing career that began at Calvin, which prides itself on helping students chart their path toward awesome careers.

It’s one of Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities that are purposefully different than big state schools. Their world-renowned faculty teach their own classes instead of relying on a grad student.

Doing so helps forge tight bonds with students that their potential. Because helping students find their muse and follow it is what they do.

The schools emphasize community over crowds and a spirit of togetherness and cohesion that just doesn’t exist at big state schools. With low class sizes and award-winning faculty, the schools are proud that students forge lifelong bonds with professors.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Albion Grad Clothes World One Shirt at a Time

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Mallory Brown went to college hoping to plan events. She left wanting to change the world.

She’s well on her way.

Albion College helped Brown forge a unique path that combines business, social entrepreneurialism and global studies. She’s the founder and CEO of World Clothes Line, which donates a shirt to the needy worldwide for each one her customers buy.

“I travel to impoverished areas around the world to personally deliver new clothes to those who need them most,” said Brown, who graduated in 2008 with degrees in French and economics from Albion’s Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management.

“Albion provided me with the skills to take on every aspect of business. As founder and sole owner of a new company, I must understand and manage all moving parts. From marketing to economics to accounting to internships, the range of courses and experiences prepared me for such a challenge.”

Brown will tell her story Thursday at TEDxDetroit, the world-renowned symposium of ideas, optimism and collaboration about technology, entertainment and design. The all-day event is at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

She grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and was in Albion for event planning until her life took a detour. Brown went on a study-abroad program in Paris and loved it. She worked with her advisers to integrate her passions — travel, business, social justice — into a career track.

Her dream didn’t coalesce until after she graduated and backpacked in Asia and South America. She was dumbfounded by how many people lacked good clothes. After spells in other industries, she launched the World Clothes Line in 2010 when she was 24. Flash forward five years and she’s delivered clothes to people in need in 16 countries.

“The incredible preparation from Albion gave me the flexibility in my career to take chances, try new things, and take advantage of new opportunities,” Brown says.

This January, she visited Haiti for three weeks, an experience she described as “incredibly emotional.” This summer, it was an earthquake relief trip to Nepal.

Friendships made at Albion also helped her business. One of World Clothes Line’s partners is CreateMyTee.com, which was founded by Albion alums Josh Fales and Nick Shelton.

That’s the hallmark of an education at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

The schools are guided by passion and community. Class sizes are small enough so students not only know their professors, they form lifetime bonds. Professors pride themselves on working closely with students to help them forge their own path, buck conventional wisdom and find a new way.

It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities. And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates than four-year institutions.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Marygrove’s Rita Fields beats the odds, becomes an inspiration

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Rita Fields could have given up. Or been a statistic.

Instead, she became an inspiration.

A single mother at 17, she was raised by a schizophrenic violent mother. For a spell she was homeless, literally eating food from a dumpster and sleeping behind a Kroger. Somehow, through prayer and grit, she persevered to complete her GED and pressed forth to provide a better life for her son, Alaric.

Fields knew that life went through college. Most weren’t willing to accommodate her.

But Marygrove College in Detroit saw something in Fields, offering her financial aid and other support.

She flourished, earning a double major in psychology and English, winning honors and setting a school record by taking 10 classes in one semester and received in A in each. At her side throughout the incredible journey was Alaric, riding the bus with her and sitting at her side a classes.

“At Marygrove, I felt valued. I was able to connect with people and interact with professors who cared deeply about their students and wanted to support them,” Fields says.

“The program was tailored to support the working individual — so the ease of access was tremendously important for me.”

Today, she is known as Dr. Fields and is a business professor at another MCA member school – Madonna University.

She’ll share her story Thursday at TEDxDetroit, a daylong conference devoted to big ideas in technology, entertainment and design at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

“Marygrove greatly contributed to the person that I have become. My education not only gave me knowledge, it also largely rebuilt my shattered self-esteem,” Fields says.

It’s a heart-warming story and there are many more like it at Marygrove and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

The schools take pride in finding and nurturing promise. Purposefully small, they prefer community over crowds. Unlike big state schools that pack hundreds into lecture halls, classes are small so faculty can work individually with students.

Like Fields, the path may not always be straight. But it’s one that leads to great things.
And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates than four-year institutions.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Gospel star Babbie Mason returns to alma mater Spring Arbor

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World-renowned gospel singer Babbie Mason is returning to Spring Arbor University for a concert Friday. It’s the latest performance in a remarkable pairing that’s benefited both over the years.

“I’m always excited to come back to the Arbor,” she told MLive.

“My dad graduated from there, my brother graduated from there. It’s home.”

An alumna who graduated in from Spring Arbor in the 1970s, Mason returns regularly for concerts and special events such as free workshops.

Friday’s concert benefits the Babbie Mason Minority Music Scholarship, which helps fund tuition for aspiring singers and performers.

Like other events, Mason is incorporating her Spring Arbor family and will be joined by the university’s choir, orchestra and jazz band. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $4 for students.

Mason grew up in Jackson, Michigan, where she went to high school with NFL coaching legend Tony Dungy. Her family was deeply steeped in religion and music. And the passion hit her early: Her father was a pastor and, from an early age, she accompanied him on piano.

Her career has taken her around the world and won her acclaim. Mason has twice won the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award and has been nominated for Grammies. She’s sung for Presidents Carter, Ford and Bush and is a member of the Christian Music Hall of Fame.

Mason speaks at women’s conferences throughout the nation and has written books about faith.

But no matter the acclaim or fame, Mason’s path always finds her way back to Spring Arbor.

It’s a bond typical of the unique relationships among alumni and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

The schools stress community over conformity, with small class sizes that allow students to work closely with professors committed to helping them forge their own path.

It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities. And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates than four-year institutions.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Purchase tickets for Babbie Mason, live in concert at SAU, October 2 at 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm at http://www.arbor.edu/event/babbie/

Keegan-Michael Key’s Path to Stardom Began at University of Detroit Mercy

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Keegan-Michael Key is on the kind of roll professional funnymen and actors can only dream about.

The “MadTV” alum and star of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” found himself onstage with President Obama this spring, serving as anger translator during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Key has had big roles in summer movies “Tomorrowland” and “Pitch Perfect 2” and has several big roles on tap.

Buzzfeed declared him “the most important comedian right now.”

That’s quite a feather in the cap for Key, who credits the University of Detroit Mercy’s acclaimed performing arts program with nurturing his love of performing and putting him on a path to success.

“I loved college,” Key told the Varsity News. “Especially with a liberal arts college, it’s there to teach you how to learn. I learned practical skills for what it was that I wanted to do for a living.”

He is one of several alums of the award-winning performing arts program. Others have appeared on Broadway, in movies such as “Spiderman” and on legendary TV shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Magnum PI.”

A Detroit native, Key considered many schools. He went to private high school and knew he wanted to act. He was drawn to UDM by its artistic director, David Regal, who helped hone his talents and work ethic.

“Like most students, he grew slowly,” Regal told Varsity News. “He did extra things that escalated his growth as an artist. He organized a once-a-week improv group on campus and ran it, which became wildly popular. He was aggressive in finding things to do in the art and pushing himself.”

Two decades after graduating in 1993, Key still visits the school and remains close to Regal.

Those sorts of relationships are the hallmark at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.
The schools are guided by passion and community. Class sizes are small enough so students not only know their professors, they form lifetime bonds. Professors pride themselves on working closely with students to help them forge their own path, buck conventional wisdom and find a new way.

It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities. And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates than four-year institutions.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

‘Daily Show’ correspondent honed funny bones at Kalamazoo College

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Flip on “The Daily Show” and there’s a good chance you’ll see “Senior Caucasian Correspondent” Jordan Klepper.

In just a year on the show, his takes on instability in the Ukraine, “Britain’s Non-Issues” and “Star Hack: The Nude Generation” have made him a fan favorite. http://thedailyshow.cc.com/news-team/jordan-klepper

A few years ago, you could have seen him on stage during Kalamazoo College’s production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” or with the improv troupe Monkapult, which also counts “Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun among its alumni.

A Kalamazoo native and ’01 graduate of K-College, Klepper credits theater professor Ed Menta for nurturing his love of improv and organizing trips to see Second City, the Improv Olympics and other performances in Chicago.

At Kalamazoo, Klepper honed an act called “Free Pudding” that involved wearing gigantic cowboy hats and serving the crowd – you guessed it – free pudding.

Klepper graduated that year and went to Second City. Over the years, Klepper has moved upward through the ranks, joining the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City and collaborating often with his wife, Laura Grey, before graduating to “The Daily Show.”

His career may be high-profile, but it’s a lot like others that began at Kalamazoo College and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

Purposefully small, they pride themselves on molding young talent. Smaller class sizes allow passionate faculty to form bonds with students that just aren’t possible at larger universities. Instead of crowds, the colleges emphasize community.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Steven Yeun: From Kalamazoo College to The Walking Dead

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Steven Yeun will have his hands full Sunday night. The Kalamazoo College grad plays zombie slayer/heartthrob and all around good guy Glenn Rhee on the hit AMC show The Walking Dead.

You might be surprised to know Steven never dreamed of being an actor.

Steven was born in South Korea and raised in Troy, Michigan. His parents hoped he’d become a doctor. He enrolled at K College to study psychology with a concentration in neuroscience.

During his freshman year, he attended a performance of the Kalamazoo College student improv troop Monkapult.

“It blew my face off. I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I want to do this so bad,” Steven remembers.

He tried out for the troop, but was rejected. “I was terrible,” Steven says. He took an improv class. He practiced his craft. He set his sights on studying theatre in instead of med school. His sophomore year, it finally paid off. He became a member of Monkapult.

Following graduation, Steven moved to Chicago to continue performing. He earned a spot on the famed Second City stage. He did some voice over work for the Crysis video game series. He acted in a few independent films.

Steven moved to Los Angeles, in 2009 and his career took off. He appeared on Big Bang Theory and Law & Order before landing his breakout role on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

“I’ve just been incredibly fortunate in every risk I took,” says Steven.

Steven continues to do acting and voice work. You’ve heard him on The Legend of Korra, American Dad and the upcoming film Chew alongside Felicia Day.

Steven still finds inspiration from his K College experience. His latest book suggestion? A collection of short stories by Andy Mozina entitled “The Women Were Leaving the Men.” Andy was one of Steven’s professors at Kalamazoo College. “He really pushes the boundaries of storytelling.”