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PCEC Student & Alumni Spotlights
We love sharing stories about all of the great things our students and alumni are involved in! Check out our student and alumni spotlights below, or submit your own story for a chance to be featured in a PCEC spotlight!
Computing Students & Alumni
Joshua Hulst graduated from GVSU with a BS in Computer Science (Honors College) in 2009. He was just recognized by Grand Rapids Business Journal as one of the 40 Under 40 recipients. After graduating from GVSU, Joshua completed his MS in Computer Science at Michigan State University with a thesis in the area of computer security. An avid life-long learner, Joshua is currently working on his MBA at the University of Michigan. After working for a time at GE Aviation, Joshua co-founded Michigan Software Labs with Mark Johnson, where he continues to serve as a Managing Partner, consulting with clients to deliver custom software strategy and leading internal teams to deliver software solutions. Since its launch in 2010, Michigan Software Labs has grown rapidly. Based in Ada, Michigan, the firm has grown to a team of 30 professionals delivering custom software solutions to Fortune 500 companies. Under Joshua and Mark’s leadership, Michigan Software Labs has also earned a number of industry recognitions, such as Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces, Clutch Top UX Design Agencies in the USA, and most recently, West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to work for.
When asked how his studies at the GVSU School of CIS helped prepare him for his successful career in the software industry, Joshua indicated that well-rounded classes with experience in every area of software development gave him the foundation he needed to build his career upon. He said that his studies at GVSU taught him how to learn, which has been critical in his work as a consultant. He also mentioned the vibrant and growing software community in the West Michigan area, and organizations such as Software GR and the many software-related events which he could regular attend to learn, network, etc.
"I chose to attend GVSU because I wanted to pursue my degree in Computer Science and GVSU has a very good program in computer science with very well experienced faculty. Apart from the course program, I really like the location where it is situated. Also, GVSU offers very good financial assistance to the students who are in need. If I could take a class again for fun, I would take Machine Learning with Dr. Wolffe. It was a tough class but the way he simplified the complex ideas was amazing.
I always wanted to work in the field of Hardware Programming and I had the opportunity to work as a Firmware Engineering Intern at SoundOff Signal. This internship didn't just help me utilize my summer semester but also impacted me professionally. I got the chance to put my academic and theoretical knowledge into industry and learned how things are done in professional world. As an enthusiastic, curious student who loves to understand how things work, this turned out to be one of my most valuable experiences at GVSU, and also became a foundational pillar to my future career.
My advice to students considering studying Computer Science is to not take programming as something you need to learn, but rather take it as something you play for fun. The more you play, the more fun you will have and the more you will ace it."
Katherine Skocelas, a GVSU School of Computing & Information Systems (CIS) alumna (now a PhD student in the Michigan State University College of Engineering), has been awarded a three-year National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship. She is one of two Spartan Engineers named an NDSEG Fellow this summer.
Skocelas is in her second year as an MSU doctoral student, pursuing a dual-PhD in Computer Science and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Behavior. She will use the fellowship to study evolutionary dynamics and complex diseases using digital evolution systems. “With the NDSEG Fellowship, I will be leveraging the process of evolution to create and study biologically-inspired artificial immune system algorithms for distributed networks,” Skocelas said. “My goal is to advance the understanding of evolution as applied to coordinated networks, importing fundamental insights from biology into computer science, and paving the way for a new generation of robust and effective distributed algorithms. I hope to gain new insights into host-parasite coevolution and the ways in which immune systems can evolve,” she continued.
Prior to attending MSU, Skocelas completed two degrees at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) - a master’s degree in computer information systems and a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations. “I didn’t intend on pursuing a PhD,” she explained, “but I fell in love with research while working as a research assistant to Dr. Byron DeVries at GVSU. I was awarded a NASA Michigan Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship to continue our work over the summer of 2019, and I began my doctoral studies at MSU that fall to pursue a career in computer science research.”
Engineering Students & Alumni
"I was born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and I used to dream of becoming an architect. My dad, Bob Bonczyk, has been involved with FIRST for more than 20 years now, so it’s always been around my life. My mom, Michelle Bonczyk, a 14-year mentor, used to take me to FIRST events when I was little and I would see just how fun robotics was. Naturally, when I got to high school, I joined Team 107 and fell in love with engineering and the idea of being an engineer.
After high school, I went to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering. I had developed a passion for mechanical engineering while on the team in high school, and GVSU was a great fit. Being that GVSU hosted a FIRST event (now the West Michigan District Event), I had a chance to see the university and its passion for FIRST. GVSU has a great Co-op program, and I got work experience before I graduated through my internship at JR Automation. After graduation, I continued to work at JR Automation and shifted from an intern to a full-time mechanical engineer, which is really a dream job! Not only did I already know tons of people there because so many employees volunteer at FIRST events, but I get paid to play with robots all day – can you think of a better job?"
Aziz Gram Sarhan, Jr.
Aziz Gram Sarhan Jr., Class of 2022, always had a love for math and cars. It just seemed natural to study mechanical engineering. When it came time to find the right university, it was Grand Valley’s hands-on learning environment that brought Aziz all the way from London, England to pursue his degree. “What drew me to Grand Valley was the hands-on aspect of the engineering program,” said Aziz. “I need that tangible feedback for me to feel like I can grow in my field.”
While everything seemed to be fitting in place, Aziz shared it hasn’t always been easy. Especially when it came to physics. “When I first got here, one of the things I felt was a sense of confidence. I’m smart, so I thought I should be able to do well in physics.” said Aziz. “Immediately I hit a road block. I knew I was working hard, but I wasn’t seeing any results. It was just a bunch of failed tests.”
Aziz’s love for math stayed with him through his struggles. He practiced, persevered, and took the time to figure out a new way of learning. Soon Aziz went from needing a tutor, to being the tutor. He credits much of his improvement to the relationships he has built with his professors. “My favorite aspect about Grand Valley is the classroom size. It has allowed me to stop my professors in real time to ask questions. The professors really do want to help, and those relationships have definitely allowed me to grow,” he said.
School of Engineering alum, Stephen Wierenga, was recently recognized by the Allendale Rotary Club, receiving the Homegrown Hero Award for his contributions to the community. He serves as a member of the Allendale Chamber of Commerce board, was involved in the crucial efforts undertaken by 3DC19 to create personal protective equipment in response to COVID-19, and is the founder of Perception Engineering, an Allendale-based engineering firm focused on providing design assistance and high quality engineering solutions.
Stephen completed his degree in mechanical engineering at Grand Valley State University in 2012 and met his wife during his time as a student at GVSU. They liked living in Allendale so much that they decided to make it their permanent home. Upon graduation, Stephen worked for DeWys Manufacturing, where he had worked prior to his GVSU co-op placement at Oliver Healthcare Packaging. It was there that Stephen noticed a business need for reliable engineering contractors in order to help level-load the design work of company engineering departments. Stephen got into additive manufacturing and 3D printing in 2013 and decided to make contract work his career. DeWys Manufacturing was the first company he contracted with. As opportunities for business grew, Stephen reached out to friends in the Grand Rapids region and invited them to serve as subcontractors. The team worked out of Stephen’s basement. Stephen officially formed Perception Engineering in 2013 and hired his first employee in 2016. Now, their team of eight employees works out of the Allendale industrial complex. During this process, Stephen discovered his passion for building a business, developing people, and leading projects.
Occupational Safety & Health Management Students & Alumni
Larry Logsdon was the first Occupational Safety & Health Management student at Grand Valley State University, and was instrumental in development of the curriculum. Larry’s interest in Occupational Safety & Health began after the tragic death of his father in a work-related accident. After reading the accident report, Larry wanted to know as much as he could about occupational safety. While he began his career as a tool engineer for Herman Miller, he eventually became the company’s first Corporate Safety Manager due to his interest in the topic. Looking to learn as much as he could in order to be successful in his role, Larry connected with two GVSU professors who had been considering developing a four-year health and safety program. That conversation led to a long-term partnership as the faculty invited Larry to help. They formed an advisory committee of local professionals to investigate industry needs and obtain feedback on the proposed curriculum. As soon as Occupational Safety & Health classes were available at GVSU, Larry enrolled.
For those unfamiliar with Occupational Safety and Health, Larry likes to describe the field in terms of loss prevention. “If I keep people safe, I save my company money in worker’s compensation and the potential for other unwanted liabilities.” In reflecting on his career, Larry feels more undergraduate students should enter the field of Occupational Safety and Health Management. “It has been a great occupation for me and I loved it,” he said. Larry recommends current students consider OSH careers in both industry and government and feels loss prevention, industrial hygiene, and ergonomics are excellent pathways. “Take all the science you can as an undergrad,” Larry advised for those entering the profession.
"My name is Sam Miglieri and I graduated from the GV OSH Program in 2019. Shortly after I realized a career in engineering wasn’t for me, I found myself in Professor Huizen’s office hearing about the program and the different career opportunities within the OSH degree. I thought he was full of it initially, but he was spot on. The courses prepared me to excel right out of the gate in both my internship at a meat manufacturing facility in South Holland, IL and in my current role in construction safety at an electrical contractor in Chicago. I chose a certain path, but my friends and former classmates in the same courses are just as successful in different roles all over the place, from chemical manufacturing plants to insurance companies.
In my current role, I am the Field Safety Manger where most of my work entails investigating and solving jobsite safety issues. This includes all things construction related, from inspecting a freshly dug trench to walking a roof with a foreman to determine the best fall protection system. You never know what you are going to get in construction safety. It’s fast-paced, ever changing, mentally stimulating, and definitely not for everyone. Early mornings, long drives, and outdoor conditions fill your days, but it’s all worth it seeing your recommendations come to life onsite.
I was nervous to make the major and ultimately career switch at the time from engineering to OSH, but honestly, it was the best decision I have ever made. The GV OSH program gave me the kickstart I needed to get my feet under me and start my professional career."
"While attending school at Grand Valley State University, I was originally pursuing a degree in the medical field. Over the course of three years, I changed my degree path four times. I reached a point where I felt like a medical career wasn't sparking my interest as much as another industry could. I just didn't know what that industry was yet! I found out about the safety industry and was surprised that it was something I didn't think of before. Growing up, I was always the "safety nerd" who made sure my friends would look both ways before crossing the street, volunteered as a "safety" in elementary school to help assist students on and off the bus, and even dressed up as a "Super Safety" for Halloween in 4th grade. Even in college I was a crossing guard on campus! So reflecting on my life, I realized safety had always been a passion of mine and I just didn't even know it. The same day I had this realization was the same day I applied for GVSU's Occupational Safety and Health Management program. During my final year in the program, I interned with Founders Brewing Co. which led to a full time position as their EHS Coordinator upon graduation."
"The thing I love most about my job is being able to use problem solving skills and creativity to find solutions to keep others safe. I really enjoy being able to work with the employees who are on the floor since they're the ones performing the hazardous tasks. That's why I think it's important to work with them, keep them involved in the incident prevention process, and listen to their ideas and concerns to create and implement effective and safe solutions. They usually have solutions and ideas of their own that they've thought of while doing the job, so I really value their input. If you listen to what they have to say, you can come up with a solution that is safe and is something the user will actually want to do. Doing this builds trust to the point where the employees feel comfortable voicing other safety concerns that they've had. This creates an opportunity to solve a problem that you may not have ever known about if that employee had not communicated it. I'd say that's what I'm most proud of - having that trust built with the employees."
Professional Science Masters Students & Alumni
"It was Google maps that first helped me land on Grand Valley State University from the distant bed of Everest, about 7,515 miles away. When I was in Nepal, I heard a lot about Michigan and its beauty. So every night in the bed, I used to imagine touring around Michigan. From the motors and hipsters of Detroit, to Great Lake Superior of the north, the skyscrapers of Chicago (which I could only build with Legos), and the beer city of America. I knew in my heart that Grand Rapids would be my home for the next few years. For someone who came from a country whose per capita income is just about 1,000 USD, the affordability and great value were the main reasons to choose Grand Valley.
Steaks became my tummy’s favorite buddy since butchering a cow was illegal back in my country. Classes were amazing, the university was beyond my wildest dreams, the students were the best, and the professors were just awesome. I worked as a Research Assistant under Dr. Tusch and as a Data Analyst/ Technology Specialist for the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center. Despite English being my second language, with hard work, and patience, I was able to achieve a 3.9 GPA and was awarded with Excellence in Data Science and Analytics. For my required internship of the PSM graduate program, I worked as a Java Developer and researched about different Machine Learning projects at Remote Tiger. The internship helped me understand the different paradigms of working in the real world and it helped me better understand a new Agile process that makes work more effective.
Currently, I am working at Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company of Idaho as a Data Analyst Specialist. This position requires working with SQL, and my future projects are related to creating the pipeline for Python to consume data directly from the Data Warehouse. I help create different statistical models to determine who should pay less premium and who should pay more. I am also creating different kinds of dashboards in Power BI to help different departments visualize and gain a clear understanding of their data and where the company is heading."
"Near the end of high school, I began looking for a university to attend. Although I knew I wanted to stay in Michigan, I didn’t know enough about each university here to select one. Grand Valley was one of the places I wanted to tour and learn more about, and once I saw the honors living centers (air conditioning, your own room, a kitchenette!) I was sold. What pushed the envelope even farther for me was the affordability. I was able to obtain various undergraduate scholarships, saved money from my three internships, and became a graduate assistant during my master’s, allowing me to graduate from college debt-free. Financials aside, Grand Valley quickly began to feel like home. I became very involved in the statistics community by working as an office assistant in the statistics office, a tutor in the statistics tutoring center, a 1-on-1 tutor for the introductory statistics courses, and a consultant in the statistical consulting center. I also worked on a special project regarding social network analysis with the head of the Data Science and Analytics program. The faculty had also enhanced my experience at Grand Valley and allowed me to take advantage of new opportunities to develop as a student and a professional by participating in data analysis competitions (DataFest) and attending/speaking at conferences (Big Data Ignite). Grand Valley also made sure to recognize and appreciate their students when applicable – See if you can find the three plaques with my name on them in the halls of Mackinac!
One of the other amazing opportunities Grand Valley provides in the annual career fair, where I obtained my internships and full-time job offer. In undergrad, I interned twice at 3M in Minneapolis. In my graduate program, I interned at Amway in Ada, Michigan, where I worked on the data science team. These experiences, along with the courses provided through the PSM program, allowed me to become a more well-rounded professional with a better understanding of how my field integrates with the business world prior to joining the workforce. Over Thanksgiving break of my senior year, I accepted an offer with General Motors to join the data science team. Currently, I work with a large team of amazing data scientists who are extremely helpful and welcoming. My team takes continuing education very seriously and dedicates a portion of your time towards learning new techniques, methods, and coding languages. One of the main reasons why I chose this company was the opportunity for growth and development as a data scientist. Without a doubt, the GVSU PSM program had a great impact on my success at Grand Valley and here at GM, and I am excited to see where I go from here."
With a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and Business Administration from India, Sree was determined to pursue a graduate degree in the United States. Grand Valley State University provided an opportunity for her to achieve this dream. Starting off in the Public Health program, Sree changed to the Health Informatics and Bioinformatics PSM program. She believed pursuing Health Informatics and Bioinformatics would be a more suitable platform to work as an application-oriented environment with the bright future of the data science fields.
Having minimal experience in data sciences prior to starting a master’s degree, she leaned on her newfound enthusiasm and curiosity to help make learning a fun process. While earning a master’s degree, she worked as a graduate assistant (GA) for the Physician Assistant Studies department at GVSU. There, she was responsible for extracting, cleaning, and analyzing both student and department performance data. This experience gave Sree the unique insight of learning course materials and applying them in a practical way.