Dear Lou Anna

Dear Lou Anna,
After four years of tests, labs, research papers and countless all-nighters, pre-med students are likely to have realized that becoming a doctor might not as glamorous as it’s made out to be. As much as we would like to believe it, the real world is nothing like Grey’s Anatomy. Instead of glorified surgeries and in-house romances with attractive co-workers, a pre-med student’s academic career is often filled with studying and dates with the library. But regardless of the strenuous academic routine performed by pre-med students during four years of undergraduate study, many of them still want to go on to medical school, for another four years. [meds1]
Last year, MSU accepted 156 first-year medical students into its College of Human Medicine. On a campus of roughly 45,000 students, this is a rather small number. Many deserving students have to be turned down by MSU because there is simply not enough room. This forces many MSU students to look elsewhere, often out of state, for medical schools.
This is where the MSU College of Human Medicine’s new center comes in, L.A. The university is in the process of building the new Secchia Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. The facility is named in honor of Ambassador Peter F. Secchia, an MSU alumnus, long-time supporter of the university and former U.S. Ambassador to Italy (1989 to 1993), according to the MSU Newsroom Oct. 26 press release regarding the center.
As of fall 2008, 50 second-year medical students will have a chance to move to Grand Rapids to finish their final three years of MSU medical school. By 2010, the Secchia Center will officially open and 100 students will be enrolled at both the East Lansing and Grand Rapids campuses to begin their first year of medical school. This expansion of CHM will bump up the total number of students in CHM from 424 to 810 students by 2010. You’ll probably agree, L.A., this increase in numbers will help to increase the perception of MSU’s prestige with regard to its medical program.
The Secchia Center will house approximately 350 MSU College of Human Medicine students in its facilities, which will include 180,000 square feet of teaching labs, offices, classrooms and student areas, according to the MSU Newsroom. The students assigned to Grand Rapids will be taught in the Secchia Center, while those at MSU will continue to have their classes on the East Lansing campus.
“Being from the west side of the state, I am very excited that a medical school, which is really an expansion of a pre-existing med school, will be opening in Grand Rapids,” said Joshua Mastenbrook, graduate assistant for the Lyman Briggs College and first-year student with the College of Human Medicine. “This will offer a great opportunity for CHM to incorporate more research opportunities into the curriculum.”
But isn’t there a concern the medical students will receive different educations at the two separate locations, L.A? How can an equal education be guaranteed? The solution is a good one, L.A – each campus will have its own full-time staff to ensure information is delivered at both campuses at the same time. “My feeling is that the education will be very similar regardless of which campus a student attends,” Mastenbrook said. Medical school professors who will teach in the Secchia Center are currently commuting to MSU to learn proper teaching methods for the upcoming classes of second-year students set to arrive in Grand Rapids next fall.
But after living in East Lansing for four years during their undergraduate studies, Grand Rapids is surely much too far away for a student to go. Right? Not necessarily. Once it is time for a student to finish out their third and fourth years of medical school, a move to another location, such as the Upper Peninsula, Kalamazoo, Flint or Saginaw, is often needed anyway, “[These cities] have all been teaching third- and fourth-year MSUCHM students for decades,” said John O’Donnell, M.D. and assistant director for Block II Curriculum of CHM. “Students choosing MSUCHM have always expected that they were likely to finish the last two years of their education in a community away from East Lansing.” [meds2]
Having another place for med students to learn is a positive choice. “Anytime a medical school opens up spots for more students, it is a good thing,” Pre-Medical Association president and physiology senior Soud Sediqe said. “The more spots there are, the better one’s chances are of getting in.”
Your decision to open up a medical school in Grand Rapids for the CHM also helps solve an additional problem, L.A. More local hospital options for students to get their volunteer and residency experience will be available. With only two hospitals relatively close to MSU, opening a new building in Grand Rapids, close to a hospital, will help students when they are looking for a place to work. “I believe that [CHM] was the first community integrated medical school in the nation,” O’Donnell said. “When Michigan State University started the College of Human Medicine, the new idea at that time was to allow MSUCHM medical students to complete their third and fourth years of medical school in community settings instead of a university hospital.”
The Secchia Center will be conveniently located near Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care and the Van Andel Research Institute, and will also collaborate with Grand Valley State University for continued teaching in health care. Spectrum and Saint Mary’s have also both established partnerships with MSU to help fund the bond in creating the Secchia Center itself, and the Van Andel Research Institute will work with students at the Secchia Center to advance research nationwide, according to the CHM communications department. And until now, Grand Rapids did not have its own medical school.
In addition, MSU’s new center will help to compensate for the growing number of medical school applicants in Michigan and throughout the country in a time when a lack of physicians is expected in the near future, according to a Blue Ribbon Committee study, which looked at the future of the physician workforce. “Increasing the class size helps to address this problem, while further integrating medical student education with a community campus,” O’Donnell said. According to the study, Michigan’s physician shortage is predicted to be higher than the national average: an 11.9 percent shortage in Michigan versus 7.9 percent nationwide. And by 2010, Michigan is expected to be short up to 900 physicians.
[secchia12]”MSUCHM is taking steps to ensure that the Michigan health care community continues to flourish by creating more resources for future physicians,” said Liz Sonntag, vice president of the Pre-Medical Association and a physiology senior with a specialization in bioethics, humanities, and society. “MSU is building state-of-the-art facilities to enhance the health care education in Michigan. The Grand Rapids location will not only benefit future medical students, but will continue to maintain the high standards that the Michigan State College of Human Medicine has upheld for years.”
Is everyone up for a move to Grand Rapids for an MSU medical school degree? Not quite, L.A., and some students do feel as though building the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids is an unnecessary move for the CHM, and things should stay as they are. “The idea of a new CHM center is a fine one, but that far away?” pre-med freshman Nicole Messenger said. “I just don’t like the idea of it being such a long commute.” Other students, especially those who are not pre-med, are not quite clear on the additional opportunities offered by the MSUCHM expansion. “I understand that the new medical school will allow more applicants to be admitted, but we still need to be wary on who is admitted into medical school,” business freshman Phil Weinberg said. “I don’t want the quality of Michigan doctors to go down now that more of them are being let in [to med school].”
However, other students are more supportive of the expansion. Paul Swiecicki, a graduate of the Lyman Briggs College with a degree in physiology, human biology and bioethics, humanities, and society (phew!), will be part of the first class to attend Grand Rapids for their second year of medical school. “I think students are eager to have the opportunity to do their pre-clinical years at the Secchia Center,” Swiecicki said. “We are also excited that the Secchia center and Grand Rapids in general will be excellent places to become more involved in cutting edge medical research.” [secchia13]
And about the Secchia center being too far away? Swiecicki does not think this is a matter of much concern. “I am thoroughly convinced that future classes will be extremely eager to utilize the opportunities and facilities afforded by the Secchia Center,” Swiecicki said. “The distance really doesn’t play a role as the campus will be self-contained. Choosing a medical school is like choosing any graduate school – they have to decide on whether the teaching style and community will fit best with them.”
The building of the Secchia Center is a good idea, L.A. You, and other university officials, were quick on your feet in deciding to build a new medical school facility to help compensate for the shortages in teaching facilities and physicians that is foreseen for the near future. Even better, this decision was made with the knowledge it would allow more applicants to be admitted into medical school. Maybe some pre-med students aren’t up for the move just yet, but, as they get further along in their schooling, they may come to appreciate the Secchia Center as a beneficial option.
“Many other medical schools around the nation have followed MSUCHM in establishing community campuses for their students,” O’Donnell said. “The current expansion of MSUCHM to Grand Rapids will add the first and second years of medical education to the largest MSUCHM community campus serving the largest population in our state outside of the Detroit area.”
Good job, L.A. Even with all its ongoing media attention, the reasons for building the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids could afford to be publicized even more. Some people may not be clear on issues such as why the center is so far away or who it’s being built for. What many people don’t seem to realize is many students already have to relocate to finish medical school or to begin their medical careers after school. Moving to Grand Rapids to do so may be the perfect choice for some. Perhaps medical school isn’t chock-full of television’s dramatic medical experiences, but being given the opportunity to continue in the medical field in Grand Rapids might be excitement enough.

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Tuition Blues

You reach into the overflowing bowl and start scooping the goop out with your gloved hand. Food is pushed around the plate and carelessly sprawled napkins resting high on top of the mix. Leftover food squishes between your fingers as you sigh. Even though it’s only your third day as a cafeteria worker, you’re sick of it already. You didn’t imagine having a job during college would be this…charming, yet you didn’t have much of a choice. Disgusted, you look around, wondering if the other cafeteria workers are thinking the same thing: “I’m doing this to pay for college?”
[snyd]And an education at MSU certainly does not come without a price tag, especially since MSU increased the tuition nearly 10 percent last July. With this increase, tuition prices vary depending on a student’s year in school (upperclassmen dish out more dough than underclassmen), and the new costs are effective for the 2007-2008 academic year.
When all the news seemed to revolve around the fall tuition hike, the MSU Board of Trustees made a small step to help relieve the tuition burden on students, according to an Oct. 29 article from The State News. At their Oct. 26 meeting, the board agreed to kick back $26 to each student registered for fall and spring 2008 classes, along with an additional $2.25 per credit hour, for next semester’s tuition bill. This action will help slightly, but does not come close to addressing the rise in tuition as a whole. So, nearly five months later, how are students adjusting to the increase?
The Job Jugglers
For most students, the tuition increase has only one solution, and it comes down to five simple words: the need for a job. Whether on or off campus, students are having to juggle one or more jobs on top of classes and other extracurricular activities to help pay for classes, books, rent and food. “Last year I got a job at Sparty’s to help my parents out with my tuition bill, but they only gave me 12-15 hours a week,” journalism and kinesiology sophomore Lisa Erickson said. “This year I got another job as a Brody desk receptionist because I didn’t make enough money last year.”
[wall]Several students like Erickson have chosen on-campus jobs to help pay for the costs of school because it is convenient to have a job that is close to their classes and residences, and on-campus employers generally work around students’ busy schedules. For most students, an on-campus job isn’t just for extra bar money and shopping trips to Meridian. English, journalism and interdisciplinary studies in social science sophomore Pamela Wall got a job at West Circle cafeterias to help pay for the costs of school. “With the fact that I am splitting tuition with my parents, not working while at school is completely out of the question,” Wall said.
Another popular solution to the price increase is becoming a Resident Mentor (RA), which takes care of room and board. “Although my parents are paying for my tuition, saving about seven thousand dollars a year is my gift to them for helping me through college,” said Michael Berkowitz, a pre-veterinary medicine and zoology sophomore and RA in West Holmes hall.
After a hefty $6,000 tuition bill for a semester, most parents are less than thrilled to pay for any additional costs. This leaves many students looking for jobs to help with the costs of living, books and activities. Human biology and criminal justice junior Lauren Doherty has a job at Noodles & Company to pay not only for her textbooks, but also has to cover the dues of her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, each year. “It’s a job where you do not like to work, but you know you need to in order to survive,” Doherty said.
Other students have not gotten jobs while at MSU, but now that tuition has been raised and the new semester is half over, the pressure is on to decide whether to get a job. Some students, like engineering sophomore Bradley Crandall, are planning to get a job or internship this summer to help pay for school. “Engineers have paid internships,” Crandall said. “The money should hold me over for the year. As for the other years, I might take a semester off to do co-op.”
No-preference sophomore Fil Nguyen transferred to MSU this semester and has to pay for school all on his own. “As far as tuition, I’m independent.” Nguyen said. He plans on getting a job in the near future as well, especially since school costs more this year than others. “Tuition, room and board don’t pay for themselves,” Nguyen said.
The Loan Sharks
Students also have several options besides taking up a job or two to help cover the costs of college. Many financial aid options are available, including Federal Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), Federal National Smart Grant, Federal Parent Loan (PLUS), Federal Pell Grant, Federal Stafford Loan, MSU Student Grant (SAG), MSU Assistance Grant (MAG), and others. Beyond financial aid and loans, alternative lending sites such as myrichuncle.com also are used as sources for financial assistance, but not as often as official financial aid services through the school.
“I had to take out a few loans for the first time this year,” chemistry sophomore Dan Gregg said. “I don’t really know how much because I don’t handle my tuition stuff, at least until I have to pay it back.”
And Gregg is not alone. Loans, along with jobs, are one of the most common methods of paying for school, especially in light of the tuition increase. “I will probably end up taking a loan out for the first time this year,” psychology sophomore Jessica Tapley said. “I never have any money even though I work.”
Crunching the Numbers
According to the Michigan House and Senate Bill 0436, which was issued in May of this year, the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate approved a report from the Legislative Conference Committee that requires taking measures to resolve the 2006-2007 budget problems, including a significant loss in funding for higher education. Michigan’s 15 public universities were cut $25.9 million. The reduction for MSU was $6 million, or a loss of 60 percent, which included a $400,000 cut to the Agricultural Experiment Station and a $300,000 cut to the Extension Service, according to the bill.[phill]
Not only that, but the Legislature also approved a delay in funding for the second half of the August 2007 payment to the universities, until the 2007-2008 school year. For public universities, this means a delay of $69.4 million dollars. These two components combined will cost MSU about $400,000 in its income overall. Translation? MSU needed to raise tuition for students in order to make up for these budget losses.
“In the face of limited support from the state government, the university had to make a difficult choice,” said Mark Skidmore, an agricultural economics professor at MSU. “As a first best solution, I would favor adequate funding from the state government so that we could keep tuition down. Unfortunately, Michigan, as well as other states, is facing a difficult fiscal crisis. This means budget in a variety of areas will be cut and increases in any category will be very limited. MSU then has to decide whether to limit [or] cut educational services, increase tuition, or both. I think MSU made the prudent choice in increasing tuition.”
Economics professor Todd Elder agreed. “I think no one can really be happy about a tuition increase, but it seems as if most big state schools, particularly in the Midwest don’t have much of a choice, since state Legislatures keep cutting state appropriations for higher education,” he said. “If a school like MSU didn’t raise tuition, obviously it would have to make some cuts somewhere, like eliminating majors or reducing salaries of faculty and staff.”
[todd]In a public statement made by MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, she commented on MSU’s current budget situation. “In taking this action, MSU’s Board of Trustees carefully considered the university’s current and future value and how best to preserve that value. MSU’s budget framework is strategic, and it is both evidence-based and values-based in nature. It demands sustainability. The university has worked diligently over time to contain costs, operate efficiently, keep student costs in check, and provide financial aid for students in need, all while maintaining world-class quality.”
While the increase may have been necessary for MSU to keep up with its status and expectations, it has certainly placed a financial strain on many students and their parents. Students are turning to alternative lending options to help pay for school, as well as finding jobs that will likely coincide with their busy class schedules. Now especially, students are beginning to feel the burn of the tuition increase, and it is getting harder to ignore. Even if students don’t need to pay for their own tuition, the extra money to help with other school costs proves to be very helpful in the long run. So whether you need to pay for your entire class or just the books that come with it, five months into the school year, you may be realizing you need to swallow your pride and get a less-than-glamorous job to help cover the costs. So put on those rubber gloves: it might be time to get a job at your hall’s cafeteria to help pay for the rising prices of college.

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Dear Lou Anna

Dear Lou Anna,
Amanda Gretka’s dorm room in West Holmes is like most other MSU students’ dorms. She has a pink fitted sheet with yellow stripes on her futon, portraits on the walls of sunsets and waterfalls, a closet chock-full of clothes and a lofted bed in the corner. On her desk, Gretka keeps her everyday necessities, including an audio-enhanced laptop that reads everything that comes onto the screen, along with a photo-scanner magnifying glass that scans print and blows it up hundreds of times larger than its original size. Wait…a what? Yep, that is right; she has a magnifying glass scanner. Gretka, a physical therapy sophomore, is one of the many visually impaired students at MSU. [ag1]
We all know about the stresses of college: Am I going to get this assignment done on time? How am I ever going to juggle 16 credits this semester? I don’t know if I can handle all this homework. However, students with visual impairments, like Gretka, face additional challenges. Knowing how stressful college is for students without a disability, I can’t even imagine the challenges faced by students who are visually impaired. MSU is doing well in helping accommodate these students, L.A., but we should make sure we keep our reputation as a school that will be a positive aid to the visually impaired.
In fact, Gretka transferred here from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) this year, partially because MSU offers more resources to visually impaired students. She found MSU to be extremely helpful when it came to her disability, in part because MSU has a wide array of disabled students. “The more people there are, the more help there is,” she said.
For instance, Gretka used the help of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD), located in 120 Bessey Hall, for assistance in her transition to MSU. RCPD, which has been aiding disabled students since 1971, services both MSU students and employees with disabilities. RCPD’s mission is to lead MSU in maximizing ability and opportunity for persons with disabilities, such as blindness and visual impairment, brain injury, chronic health disabilities, deaf/hard of hearing, learning and cognitive disabilities, mobility disabilities and psychiatric disabilities.
RCPD also helps students find a place to live. “[RCPD] is how I ended up in a single room,” Gretka said. Her room is also handicap accessible and more spacious than the average MSU dorm. “[RCPD] helped me get approval,” she explained. “It’s basically to help fit my accommodations; some of the things I use are really expensive.” Much of her machinery, including her photo scanner, also takes up a lot of space, making a more spacious room necessary.
Beyond living arrangements, one of the most challenging aspects of being blind at MSU is trying to navigate such a large campus. To help curb this predicament, the RCPD office allows blind students to access Web sites for campus construction updates with their specialty computer programs that read the site’s text out loud. The RCPD office also puts blind students in contact with a student willing to walk around campus with them. Gretka declined the offer however, because her boyfriend attended MSU last year, and she was already familiar with the campus. “I was here almost every weekend,” Gretka said. “I learned about construction and other problems with finding our way around from being here so often.” But other students are not so well-versed in campus layout, and a “walking buddy” becomes a valuable resource for them.
RCPD also does much in the way of providing academic and social opportunities and resources. The center employees help visually impaired students with alternative testing options and set up extra-curricular activities such as wheelchair hockey and beeper baseball. RCPD even has alternative Study Abroad programs for the disabled, such as the four-week program in Dublin, Ireland, that works in collaboration with the Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Students (ORDS) to provide a unique opportunity to explore attitudes and beliefs about disabilities.
[martz]”We have approximately 30 students annually, who are visually impaired, that we give assistance to at RCPD,” said Virginia Martz, a blindness, visual impairment and mobility disabilities specialist with RCPD. “What we do to provide help for them depends on what kind of help the individual needs. At the beginning of the year, when things are usually a little busier, students make an appointment with the RCPD, especially if they just need advising. There are a variety of things that students are currently utilizing through the resources at RCPD. It all depends on what their needs are.”
Another organization the administration deserves praise for, L.A., is Tower Guard, a prestigious group which has been around since 1934. Tower Guard works together with RCPD to help about 450-500 students with print-related disabilities each year. In the past, Tower Guard members used to actually read text out loud to visually impaired students in the Tower Guard office, which is the second floor of the Beaumont Tower. With the advent of technology such as recorders and computers, however, Tower Guard enhanced its services to continue to be a successful aid to the blind. The organization is run by approximately 80 sophomore students per school year that are carefully chosen to be members based on their academic excellence, leadership skills and commitment. [ag2]
Spanish and education junior Piper Marunick was president of Tower Guard from 2006 to 2007 and knows what a successful and important organization it is. “I have found it very rewarding to not only be part of this great history and organization, but also to aid students in such a wonderful way,” Marunick said. “I have gained such an incredible respect for those who have visual impairments.”
L.A., the university deserves recognition for allowing Tower Guard to flourish as an organization. They do much to assist visually impaired students, such as constructing e-text (a way of converting a printed book into a digital format where it can be accessed by a computer). “We upload our books that we e-text online at bookshare.org ,” Marunick said. “From here, students with print-related disabilities can access these texts through college campuses all throughout the country.” Additionally, Tower Guard also offers a campus orientation, in which they walk students who need assistance through campus.
Blind and visually impaired students recognize and appreciate the help they receive at MSU. “I’ve already talked to more people here in the past two and a half weeks than I did my entire time at GVSU,” Gretka said. It is organizations like these to be proud of, L.A. – they are the reason we stand apart from other universities when it comes to giving aid to the visually impaired. However, more can still be done to assist those with disabilities at MSU, especially visual impairments.[ag3]
Blind students need to be made aware of organizations like these right away. Gretka had heard the name Tower Guard, but was not sure what kind of organization it is. What good are these valuable resources if not all students with disabilities are aware of them, L.A.?
In order to get the word out about these organizations, the university should make sure the hall managers of each resident hall are made aware of the blind students in their buildings, enabling them to offer their support. Perhaps a reach-out welcome packet at the start of each school year would help blind and visually impaired with their transition to MSU and inform them about the different groups and the extended help they can receive.
Much of the confusion that blind and visually impaired students face may also come from the lack of Braille around campus. Many campus buildings, elevators and signs lack Braille, a valuable tool for these students. L.A., don’t you think it would be helpful for the university to encrypt Braille onto all of our signs?
Despite minor room for improvement, MSU has still proved to be a top choice for blind and visually impaired students. As Gretka put it, “MSU is awesome.” Good job, L.A., on the assistance to the visually impaired here at MSU. Let’s be sure to keep aid for students with disabilities a priority at MSU.
Sincerely,
Seeing U. Lead

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