Category Archives: Features

Metro Detroit artists bring birds to life through paintings

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

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Photo courtesy of Helena Kuttner-Giasson

For painter Helena Kuttner-Giasson, art is a way to communicate in more ways than one. When she couldn’t find the words, her art spoke for her, and she took inspiration from her surroundings.

“Art is my first language,” says Kuttner-Giasson, of Clinton Township. “I always enjoyed doodling and drawing from the time I was able to hold a crayon. When I was 4 years old, my immediate family immigrated to America from Europe, leaving behind what is now the Czech Republic. As I struggled to learn English, I discovered that drawing was a way to bridge the language and culture gap.”

Kuttner-Giasson is one of three artists with paintings in Level One Bank’s latest exhibit, “Birds: An Avian Adventure,” going on through Feb. 6.

While she paints landscapes and has always painted birds, she took a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to these paintings after watching birds in her yard.

“This Autumn in particular, my yard was filled with a myriad of sparrows, woodpeckers, buntings, cardinals — it became an airport for these world travelers as they prepared to depart to warmer climates,” Kuttner-Giasson says.

“Different birds represent different moments and ideas to each of us, so it was a perfect opportunity to paint a myriad of birds. I spent quite a bit of time observing how so many species could group together and watch out for each other with warning calls, sharing berries and seeds from the garden and the feeders. After many days of observation, it became rather impossible not to humanize their interactions with each other.”

Rather than compose her works as scientific observations, she used what she observed, and just began to paint.

“Nature is our common experience, the sum of many small differences,” Kuttner-Giasson says. “To me, birds symbolize how all of us with our differences across the world can come together and celebrate the community of being. During a season where there is very little color in the land and sky, I think having a bird-themed show is a wonderful way to warm our spirits while we await the arrival of spring.”

The group exhibit highlights aviary works of three metro-detroit artists, in the gallery area of Level One, called the Community Art Gallery, which takes up the entire front of the bank, and has been hosting art exhibits for about 10 years.

Exhibit host Mark McDaniel Burton has been curating shows at the gallery for about a year and a half and says it’s a nice space to highlight a large amount of work.

“The gallery is quite big, so each artist has their own section,” he says.

“For one thing, people should come to the show to escape the cold weather. And people don’t normally think of a bank having a gallery. It’s a unique space, and a chance to see some fantastic local artists.”

The bird theme fell into place when Burton was putting the show together. He reached out to artists, and Marilyn Bicsak Thomas sent her realistic, almost photographic paintings of birds. Kuttner-Giasson also sent her new loose, sketchy water-color pieces, which happened to show birds as well. And Louis Wildfong had a pen-and-ink series of fantastical, humorous birds, complementing the others.

“It brings a really diverse look in a single subject, instead of doing all photographs or hyper realistic, you have these different takes on the same object — birds,” Burton says. “You get three different views from three different artists.”

• Birds: An Avian Adventure exhibition is up through Feb. 6 at Level One Bank, 22635 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. The gallery is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday.

Local photographer and author release third picture book, ‘Among a Thousand Fireflies’

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Photo courtesy of Rick Lieder.

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Rick Lieder knows beauty and nature can be found right in your own back yard.

In his latest children’s book, “Among a Thousand Fireflies,” created with award-winning poet Helen Frost, the long-time photographer, artist and former photojournalist captured fireflies outside his home.

“Helen did a great job telling the story,” says Lieder, who is originally from Detroit but has lived in Berkley for 25 years. ““I’m taking world-class pictures, as good as anybody in the world is doing and I’m doing it in my back yard.”

While Lieder has a lot of experience in photography and designing book covers, he says he enjoys nature photos because they are challenging and different from what he usually works on. His goal is to make unique pictures, capturing birds and insects he sees in the wild.

“I’m always trying to challenge myself, if it’s hard to do I always want to do it more strongly,” Lieder says.

His science background, including studies at the University of Michigan, helped him with the technical side, but paying attention to lighting and details of the outside world gives him a more creative outlet. Many other photographers have captured fireflies in flight, for example, but by studying the insects intently, Lieder figured out how to catch them in static images.

The two also collaborated on “Sweep Up the Sun” last year, and “Step Gently Out” in 2012. Frost and Lieder hope their books encourage readers’ appreciation of the world around them.

“I’ve always loved nature, and I think we all appreciate nature — maybe none of us are as close to it as we’d like to be,” Lieder says. “Most of my work is not the nature books. Most of my photography is very urban and deals with lots of subjects and people. Much of what I do is completely different than this, but I like to express myself and these books are a good way to do it.”

While Lieder’s images are strong, Frost’s words bring them to life even more. Ever since she was little, Frost says, she loved writing. The former teacher from Fort Wayne, Ind., has written many different kinds of books, but especially likes putting pictures together with her poetry.

“I think for me, I love poetry and I love children, so it’s a really good combination when I write poetry for children. It’s a joy for me,” she says. “Children really like the sound as well as the meaning. I try to make it lovely and exciting.”

Her writing process is different for each book, but she never just sits down and writes it — it takes time and work.

While she has worked with illustrators in the past, she says having actual photos and creating these stories with Lieder has been a different, more collaborative experience.

Lieder’s photos and Frost’s poems are arranged in a way that both children and adults can enjoy.

When they created the stories, they chose a subject in Lieder’s photos, and Frost told the story through a poem.

She worked with him and their editor to put together the poem and figure out which lines went with each photo, in addition to adding information in the back of the book about the story.

Frost and Lieder return to The Book Beat bookstore in Oak Park on March 12, to promote “Among a Thousand Fireflies.” They met at the store 10 years ago, which started their book-making journey.

“We have a special feeling towards the Book Beat,” Frost says. “We loved doing our first book event there.”

With Lieder’s love for nature photography and repertoire of photos, “Among a Thousand Fireflies” won’t be their last book. The two have many more in the works.

“Helen did a great job telling the story,” Lieder says. “A lot of people think that what I do requires a lot of expensive equipment, but it doesn’t. It’s not the equipment, it’s how I’m looking at the world.”

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Kelly DiPucchio wants to show the world that picture books aren’t just for

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Kelly DiPucchio, 48, of Rochester, has proof that adults enjoy children’s picture books just as much as kids do. Courtesy of Kelly DiPucchio

kids.

DiPucchio, 48, knows a wide audience can enjoy and benefit from reading art-filled stories.

“Picture books are ageless — I dislike age ranges on books,” DiPucchio says. “Whether you’re 1 or 100 years old, you can enjoy a picture book.”

With the release of the Rochester native’s most recent story, “Everyone Loves Bacon,” at the end of August, she has proof that adults enjoy them just as much as kids.

“The fun part of this book is seeing both kids and adults responding to character and finding it funny,” says DiPucchio, who now lives in Macomb Township. “Even my agent, a vegetarian, loved the story. It’s quite possibly the best and worst thing I’ve ever written. It’s been interesting because bacon lovers fall into all categories of ages — a lot of adults have been buying the picture book for bacon lovers they know.”

DiPucchio’s love of picture books rejuvenated when she started reading to her own children. She was looking to switch careers so she could work from home, so she decided to write stories.

While DiPucchio has had 19 books published, with more in the works, it took time and persistence to get to where she is today.

After six years of writing, reading and submitting her works to publishers, and facing 150 to 200 rejection letters, DiPucchio got an agent. Her first book, “What’s The Magic Word,” was picked up by Harper Collins in 2001.

When DiPucchio is putting a story together, inspiration comes from all around her. Everyday life, parenting and watching her own kids were the original source, but she says she gets a lot of ideas just observing the world.

“My job is always interesting, and always changing — each book is unique,” DiPucchio says. “My body of work is very diverse. All of the books are different and the art reflects that. The illustrators are chosen to match the text.”

Among her works, two books, “Grace for President” and “The Sandwich Swap,” are New York Times best sellers. Both stories were special to DiPucchio.

“Grace for President” tells the story of a young girl questioning why no girl has run for president at her school.

In addition to telling the story of Grace’s candidacy at school, the book talks in depth about the election process. DiPucchio says she has heard from teachers who use it to teach their students about government — even high-schoolers.

Through its “Teach A Girl to Lead” project, The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University plans to send copies of the book to every woman governor, member of Congress and state legislator in America, to share at their local elementary schools in 2016.

DiPucchio’s other New York Times best seller, “The Sandwich Swap,” shares one of the Queen of Jordan’s childhood stories.

DiPucchio met with the Queen to fictionalize her memories into a book, which tells a story of tolerance and cultural differences. “The Sandwich Shop” ended up being published in more than six different languages, and shown on “Good Morning America” and “Oprah.”

“It’s very surreal,” DiPucchio says.

Some of her books have also been interpreted theatrically. “Zombie in Love” premiered as a musical in Portland, Ore., in 2014, and “Grace for President” will be performed on stage in North Carolina next year.

In addition to her recent bacon book, DiPucchio has three books set to be published in 2016: “One Little, Two Little, Three Little Children,” “Dragon was Terrible” and “Everyone Loves Cupcake.”

While putting the stories together and seeing them published has been exciting for her, DiPucchio says one of her favorite parts of her work is sharing the stories with children.

“I go to schools and talk to kids about books, talk about humor, poetry, creative nonfiction and working with the queen,” DiPucchio says. “It’s been a really wonderful career, and I love it just as much today as 20 years ago, when started on this path.”

Halestorm rocks Flint at The Whiting

Halestorm at The Whiting.

Halestorm at The Whiting.

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

It was a hurricane of positive energy at The Whiting Auditorium in Flint, Mich. last week, when Halestorm brought a gale of good music to the stage. Opening acts Starset and The Pretty Reckless also added strength to the show.

To kickoff the evening, Starset literally lit up the stage with their track “First Light,” wowing the audience with their cool, space age costumes. Throughout their 8-song set, Starset conveyed that the band had entered a new world, the “Starset society,” as they called it. The band wrapped up with a high energy performance of “My Demons.”

The Pretty Reckless was up next, and Taylor Momsen was the star of the stage. As the band opened with “Follow Me Down,” the lights went up, but Taylor still seemed mysterious half bent over with her hair covering her face. She really got into the music, and when she played “Heaven Knows,” fans belted out all the lyrics as she continued singing strongly and dancing as the star of her band’s performance. Before finishing up their set, The Pretty Reckless performed “Going to Hell,” off of their new album, which also received gratitude from the audience.

The anticipation built as fans waited for Halestorm to make their way on stage, and as the lights went up and they opened their 19-song set with “Love Bites (So do I),” front-woman Lzzy Hale belted out the song vocally and on guitar, complimented by her talented band mates, drummer (and her brother) Arejay Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith.

“Hey Flint Michigan!” Lzzy shouted to the audience with a smile, sharing her love for the city and its fans. Halestorm has a close connection with Flint; Their video “I Miss the Misery” was shot in the town and they’ve grown up as musicians putting on many shows there.

The entire band was lively and energetic, especially during performances of “Scream,” “Sick Individual” and “Gonna Get Mine.” Each member’s talent was spotlighted throughout the show with an amazing solo.

Things calmed down a lot and got emotional when Halestorm performed the slow sentimental “Dear Daughter,” which Lzzy said was about how her parents had always supported her, even when she wanted to start a rock band at age 13 with her friends.

The night went back to a fast rock n’ roll party, even towards the end when Lzzy brought out the Jägermeister and did a shot with the audience. The band returned to the stage for an encore, rocking until the last moment when they closed the set with “I Miss the Misery” and “Here’s to Us.”

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Lzzy Hale tweet

Oprah’s ‘Life You Want Tour’ brings inspiration to Detroit

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Oprah Winfrey made a stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Photo/ Palace Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey made a stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Photo/ Palace Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey wants her fans to remember that when things aren’t going the way you want, it might be a message from life pushing you in another direction. That was one of the topics she shared this motivational weekend, Sept. 12-13, when the “Life You Want Tour” made its stop at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Friday’s events began at 11 a.m., with O Town, an art-fair style event with vendors selling food, clothing and more.

At 6 p.m., the Palace became extremely packed, as the eager crowd gathered  to see Winfrey live.

From the beginning, the audience was encouraged to send questions and share photos of themselves, using #LifeYouWantDet.

The show officially started shortly after 7 p.m. DJ Kiss got the crowd excited with fun, uplifting music, including Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars.” The lights then went off, and the screen lit up with a montage of clips from Oprah’s career, from her start in daytime television, to the first episode of her talkshow and the beginning of her network television station.

As the video wrapped up, Oprah’s voice boomed talking about stars and matter, and the fans’ RFID  access wristbands lit up, turning the pitch-dark Palace into a solar system of lights.

Oprah strutted onto the stage in a  jade-hued gown, and fans cheered as she talked about her visit to Pure Michigan, and the peaceful walk she took along downtown Rochester’s Paint Creek trail.

“Hello Detroit! The D, you’re here! You came, oh my gosh, I’m so happy to see you,” she said. “So I ask you why are you here? You know I don’t sing, I don’t dance. You know I don’t have a hit record, right?”

“I’m here to help you figure out why you’re here. I’m here to help you turn up the volume in your life, to help you figure out what your passion is, what your vision is, what your mission is. I’m here to let you know that you’re co-creating your life, right now. And if you acknowledge and honor that, you will be able to move closer to the life you want.”

Oprah had her audience’s full attention throughout the evening, sharing personal stories including a bit about the process of auditioning for ‘The Color Purple’ and other things that impacted her life, all relating to the idea that the universe pushes people where they should be.

“Be grateful even when you’re in the struggle,” Oprah said. “Be thankful for the little things. Life is speaking to me all the time,

Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc. / George Burns Oprah Winfrey and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (far left), Bonnie Davison (Devita’s father, second to left) and Devita Davison (second to right) of Detroit Kitchen Connect who was honored with The Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award.

Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc. / George Burns
Oprah Winfrey and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (far left), Bonnie Davison (Devita’s father, second to left) and Devita Davison (second to right) of Detroit Kitchen Connect who was honored with The Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award.

and gratitude is a force.”

The second day of activities started bright and early at 7 a.m., with more O Town going on all day, and a morning fashion show to kick off the day.

Throughout day 2, various speakers — the “trailblazers” — took the stage, in a classroom-like atmosphere to speak and hold mini “seminars,” where fans listened, asked questions and participated in activities. Among the guests were ‘Eat, Pray Love’ author Elizabeth Gilbert, author Rob Bell, author and philosopher Mark Nepo, Soul Cycle Instructor Angela Davis and Life Coach Iyanla Vanzant, all bringing their stories and life tips to the fans.

“We all want the same thing, and that is to be able to fulfill the highest and truest expression of ourselves,” Oprah said. “You want to be able to step into that what is your glory, take that and live everyday. And I promise you that that is what we are here to help you do this weekend.”

During the second day, in addition to more motivation talk and group activities like exercise and meditation, Devita Davison was awarded the second Toyota “Standing O-Vation” award, for her work with Detroit Kitchen Connect, “a Detroit-based organization created to build community and invigorate the economy by supporting local food entrepreneurs.”

Through this award, DKC is awarded a $25,000 grant from Toyota to help them continue supporting the local Detroit community.

After a day of speakers, the event wrapped up, leaving guests uplifted and inspired to take on their world and take control of their lives.

“All power comes from the greater power that is spirit, and your success, your happiness and your joy is in direct proportion of how you are connected to that spirit,” Oprah said.

The Life You Want Tour Continues, with more stops across the country:

Sept. 19-20            Washington D.C.                 Verizon Center

Sept. 26-27            Newark, New Jersey           Prudential Center

Oct. 17-18              Houston, Texas                   Toyota Center

Oct. 24-25               Miami, Florida                      American Airlines Arena

Nov. 7-8                  Seattle, Washington           KeyArena at Seattle Center

Nov. 14-15             San Jose, California           SAP Center at San Jose

OU mechanical engineering alum takes skills overseas

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS
 
Charon Morgan never thought about moving away from Michigan — the place where

Photo/Charon Morgan

Photo/Charon Morgan

she grew  up, started her family and started her career.

Now, the 1996 Oakland University mechanical engineering graduate lives and works in Shanghai, China, where she took an executive job with General Motors over a year ago — and  she said it was one of the best life choices she ever made.
“It’s important for people to really stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zone to experience something they never thought they’d do, because that’s been the best experience  for me,” Morgan said. “I never thought two years ago that I’d even be here.”
Growing up in Romeo, and going to school in the area, Morgan lived in Michigan her whole life.
Immediately following her graduation from OU, she began her career at General Motors in technology and validation.
“Oakland was such a great experience,” Morgan said. “I recall working very, very hard, spending many hours every day in the library with teams — I remember working in a lot of teams. The one thing that sets OU apart from discussions I’ve had with my colleagues and experiences with other schools, is spending a lot of time in the labs. The fortunate part of that was you had the theoretical message in the lecture, but then you really got the hands-on experience when applying it in the lab, and that also taught you to work very effectively with teams, which is really what you do in the real world.”
What started as a primarily technical and chassis career led to more design and management work.
Morgan’s current position focuses on “optimizing the way engineering functions are run” at General Motors, working to boost efficiency with the company there.
Being with the company for almost 20 years, she had rich experience that made her a good fit for the job. In this position, she is working to better the market’s needs, which vary in other
countries based on fuel economy regulations among other criteria.
“As a global company, GM has engineering centers located around the world, and China is where the industry has high growth projected,” Morgan said. “There’s growth now, but there will be an even more rapid pace of growth in the future. With that in mind, understanding how we can operate the business on the other side of the world to be as efficient as in the U.S where we have such a mature automotive industry, is great for us as a global company. Being able to collaboratively spread regional knowledge and apply it to our emerging countries is key.”
The move to China wasn’t easy, however. Morgan has three sons, and nobody in the family spoke Chinese. Professionally, verbal communication wasn’t an issue, since most of her Chinese peers speak English, but interacting in society was a bit more of a challenge.
However, Morgan said communication goes beyond speaking, both in the professional world and through personal interactions.
“You can learn a lot about people and how they feel based on their emotional and physical mannerisms, so you learn how to communicate with them without speaking as much,” Morgan said. “Chinese culture is very different. But China ultimately wants the same thing as the U.S.,  Germany, Brazil and other countries. Globally at GM we all want to design, build and sell the world’s best vehicles. We’re really focused on utilizing the global capabilities that we have to build our company to be the best it can be.”
From college to the present, Morgan has been involved with the Society of Engineers (SAE), and currently serves on the Board of Directors.
“My transition from student to professional life was seamless because I had great experiences with the OU staff and professors. Plus, with all of the labs that were required, I learned how effective teams can work together,” Morgan said. “I was able to bridge some of the student-to-professional gaps through my involvement with SAE, which was how I met up again with Brian, one of my first professors at OU.”
When Charon first became an SAE board member, she ran into a former professor and fellow OU alum, Don Hillebrand, a 1984 mechanical engineering grad and current Director of Energy Systems Research at Argonne National Laboratory.
Hillebrand said he remembers Morgan’s ambition and dedication from when he taught her as an undergrad.
“I remembered Charon because she was a very good student,” Hillebrand said. “She stood out as the one who got all her work done and left, as opposed to everyone else who just goofed off, which is why I remembered her. When I saw her on the board, it was clear she had done very well for herself.”
Through SAE, Morgan has done various projects, including leading a group in the reinvention of SAE’s mission, and consistent involvement in the board-sponsored education outreach programs.
While on the board, Morgan has continued to be very involved even after her relocation to China, continuing to attend meetings and participating in calls.
“While she (Morgan) was on the board, she was called to go to China on assignment, first temporary and now permanently,” Hillebrand said. “But she’s continued to attend all board meetings and all calls. It’s amazing how much she’s doing and she’s a tremendous asset. There’s that saying if you want to get something done, find a busy person and ask them to do it. That’s the definition of Charon — she has so many things going on but if she volunteered to take something on, it was done quickly, it was done very well and it was done very efficiently, with a really good attitude.”
Though she sometimes misses home, Morgan is enjoying her career in China, and said it was one of the best decisions she’s made. She recommends taking the time to experience something new at least once in life.
“Hard work pays off and it’s so important to step outside of what you’re used to and do something a little different — take a risk, put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, or stretch yourself, because those are the times in your life, and in your career, that you’ll cherish those experiences….. you will cherish them the most and learn the most,” Morgan said.

SECS outreach programs boost engineering interest among youth

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

outreachweb3Oakland University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS) provides a great place for students to learn more about the field of engineering— and not just those admitted into the program.

From camps, to field trips and special “engineering days,” OUSECS has a variety of outreach programs to get children and teens interested in engineering and related fields. 

“My favorite part (about outreach) is watching the students get excited about what they’re doing,” said Chris Kobus, director of outreach and associate professor of engineering. “I used to do a majority of the material, but now I have a staff of students and I get to watch and see the progress of the students. The kids are very happy — it’s a great feeling.”

The hands-on activities started about 4 years ago, when the school started offering general engineering and computer science exploration summer camps. 

A relationship began with Pontiac Schools, and gradually, camps expanded from general exploration camps to more focused programs. 

After positive feedback from the parents and kids, the camps have expanded greatly — providing more options and facilitating an increase from 100 to about 700 attendees in the summer alone. 

“From mid June to mid-August, the students are here all day, everyday,” Kobus said.

STEM camps take place on OU’s main campus, the OUInc business incubator and the Macomb County satellite Anton Frankel Center. OU engineering undergrads and other local engineering students lead the camps, instructing the hands-on activity, which they plan with direction from Kobus.

While the camps benefit the community, they also help the program grow. With jobs increasing in the engineering field, more graduates are needed, so gaging students’ interest — and indulging and encouraging them in those interests early on — is crucial.

“Around 7th and 8th grade, parents start talking to their kids about what they want to do,” Kobus said. “Having an opportunity to come out to a STEM camp — either a focused camp or general exploration camp where they learn a bit of everything — helps kids get acquainted with what the substance is, and get excited because now they get to decide what math and science courses they might take next year, and into high school. If they want to be in the STEM field, they’ll need to take a certain pathway to get there, so this both prepares them and lights their fire for the subject.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camps focus on hands-on, project-based learning. Students have the opportunity to apply material and themes to real-world situations, through experiments and projects, for a unique learning experience.

Noelle Rossetto, who is home-schooled, found out about STEM camps from her sister. Attending them was enjoyable for her, and the work she did made her more interested in engineering and computer science.

“It was really fun,” Rossetto said. “I did a lot of stuff that I haven’t done before, and that I honestly didn’t think I could do. Making web pages was my favorite, because I liked writing the code. I would definitely come back again.”

Rochester Hills resident Kristin Schreck enrolled her children in STEM camps for the first time this summer, and said they will
attend again next year.

Abby Schreck, 11, and Nate Schreck, 9, both took part in an Engineering Exploration week and had a great time learning new things.

“I think the most valuable part of the camp was that my kids were able to see a side of science and technology that they don’t webget a lot of exposure to in school,” Schreck said. “The topics were current and relevant, and taught by experts in the field. Lessons were explained to them in a technical way, but in a way they could understand and get excited about and have fun with. The counselors were excellent too, and explained so much about OU’s campus during the tours.”

Kobus said the camps have continued to grow, and in turn, have boosted enrollment in the OU Engineering and Computer Science Programs. 

He said he plans to continue adding more outreach programs each year — from STEM camps to field trips and visits to schools — because of the positive effects they have on everyone involved.

“The whole point is to get more students excited about STEM,” Kobus said. “For every student who graduates, there’s two or more job openings — we can’t possibly fill them all without increasing enrollment. It (STEM) has done quite a bit for our enrollment. Since this program got rolled out a few years ago, our enrollment has almost doubled. From 2009-2014, we’ve almost doubled the number of students we have. We’re growing this year— about 20 percent. You don’t see that kind of growth in other units on campus. So what’s different? The outreach program. We’re getting the name out there.”

For more information about the outreach program, visit oakland.edu/ouinc/outreach.