Surrounded by community, WCC student releases first album

Corey Strong album cover

Corey Strong’s six-song album ‘Believer’ was released in September 2014 and is available through iTunes and Amazon. Corey Strong | Courtesy Photo

By Erin Fedeson
Staff Writer


Teamwork, faith and family define the foundation that Washtenaw Community College student Corey Strong used to launch his first album, “Believer.”

WCC student Corey Strong, 33, of Southfield had played the organ for his church for years when he decided to try singing.

“I fell in love with it,” Strong said.

Strong studied at Hammell Music in Livonia for classical organ and voice before he began his studies at WCC in musical engineering. He wanted to have structure and understand what went on behind the scenes of music.

Sean Copeland, 25, an Eastern Michigan University student, studying electronic media and film studies helped Strong create the album.

The men grew up in Detroit together, and their families knew each other from church.

“He came over to my house in Detroit where I was living at the time with his lyrics,” Copeland said. They composed the lyrics and instrumentals in his living room.

Copeland played a number of roles. His keyboard playing accompanied Strong’s voice. As Strong’s producer, Copeland assisted in marketing and insured Strong’s creative vision was executed.

Strong is serious about his work, Copeland said, but has a great sense of humor, making the work process a lot of fun.

Andrea Meacham, 36, of Madison Heights, another member of Strong’s team, said his personality makes others want to work with him.

“There is a charisma around him,” Meacham explained. “He wants to help people.”

The album, Meacham added, was a way to get his message to the community. Her impression of Strong’s message about God is “Do the right thing with Him, and you have nothing to worry about.”

She joined Strong’s team as the photographer, a side job from her main career as a general adjuster for Farmers Insurance. She also helped him construct his website.

Strong credited his family, church members and team members for supporting his work. His future plans include a few concerts, Easter programs and a Christmas record out in time for Christmas 2015.

New culinary class teaches organic gardening

Groce teaching students

Instructor Kim Groce, center, works with students Holden Knapp, 19, left, and Charles Schwarz, in the LA building’s greenhouse before they plant another batch of tomato seeds. The plants will remain in the greenhouse until the weather permits their transfer to the Core Garden. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

By Natalie Wright

Kasey Shelton spent the last five of her 27 years sitting in a cubicle. One day she realized it wasn’t what she wanted.

“So you sit at your job every day and if you like it, you love it, and if you don’t, you think about what you’d rather be doing,” Shelton said. “For me it was food.”

Shelton, of Ypsilanti, quit her job working for an auto supplier, got a job at Whole Foods and signed up for culinary classes at Washtenaw. Now, she is studying baking and pastry, and is pursuing her interest in organic gardening in the Farm Harvesting and Management class that began this semester.

The class, which is a part of the culinary department, was developed by divisional counselor Kim Groce, as a support for the Core Garden project she spearheaded last year. It brings a body of labor to the garden that was desperately needed, Groce said, and gives her an opportunity to teach students, which is why she created the garden in the first place.

“It was always my plan to be able to teach students how to grow,” she said. “I didn’t know I would be able to actually have a class.”

When Vice President of Instruction Bill Abernethy had the idea to create a formal class, Groce was excited, she said, but also overwhelmed.

“We really only had six weeks. Normally it takes about a year to put together a whole new class.”

The course could have gone into a variety of areas, Groce said, like business or environmental science, but culinary is the best fit, she said.

students mixing soil

Students Charles Schwarz, left, and Holden Knapp, 19, both of Manchester, make a fresh batch of soil from which a new batch of seedlings will sprout. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

“We can look at the concept of ‘farm-to-table’ and teach students the importance of growing and knowing where your food comes from,” Groce said.

Charles Schwarz, a student in the class and lifelong farmer, said that even if students continue to go to the grocery store for their fruits and vegetables, this class will help make them better consumers.

“All the time people at the grocery store put down a fruit or vegetable for a ‘better one,’ because it looks brighter; it’s shinier; it has more wax on it, but that doesn’t make it better,” Schwarz said.

Learning how to grow also means learning what to look for in the best food products.

Schwarz admitted that he was a little disappointed when the class started. A farmer all his life, Schwarz, who is in his 40s, signed up for the class expecting it to cover topics like fertilizing methods, farming machinery and crop rotation.

“The first day I showed up and said, ‘Where do I park my John Deere?’” he said. “Where’s my parking structure?” While the farm harvesting class wasn’t what he expected, he stayed with it, he said, because he felt he could learn something and that his experience would be valuable for others in the class.

“I would like to see them have a good agricultural farm program here, though,” he said.

Brook Miller, 40, said that although she has been gardening for five or six years, there is still so much to learn.

“I’ve only just started,” Miller said.

While some students have as much as 30 years of experience in growing and others have never been able to keep a plant alive, they all seem to agree that more goes into gardening than meets the eye.

students gardening

Culinary arts student Chris Colaner, 52, of Ypsilanti, left, and WTMC student Imani Johnson, 17, of Canton, add water to their soil mix to bond the dirt together. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

“I didn’t know as much about gardening as I thought I did,” Shelton said. “You have to go back generations to learn the true and tried methods.”

Only nine students make up the class, and that’s “the only way it works” Groce said. The small class size allows for each student to have more hands-on time and helps to develop a sense of community and teamwork.

On their way up to the greenhouse atop the LA building, where seedlings are housed for the winter, the students crowded 10 to the elevator.

“Family style,” Groce said.

As the packed compartment carried them up, Miller asked Groce if she needed any help tending to the plants over break.

“Absolutely, I do,” Groce said. “I’m here every day, just let me know when you want to come in.”

Last summer, Groce tended to the garden mostly on her own, for months. It was a labor of love, but took a toll on her. Having students who are not only willing, but excited to help is a huge relief for her, though she is still keeping busy, she said.

“I can focus more on the administrative side and looking for grants to help support the garden project while the students do the more hands on experience,” she said.

But she doesn’t plan to give up all her weeding and watering responsibilities. “I’ll be out there as much as I can,” she said. “I’m never letting go.”


What: CUL 103: Farm Harvesting and Management

When: Spring semester, May 15–July 17, Fridays 1-6 p.m.

Where: TI 125


New vaccine regulations will stop some children at the door


Marc Pardo | Washtenaw Voice

By Taylor Robinson
Staff Writer

Even before the most recent outbreak of measles, chatter began about the need to strengthen the rules and regulations of vaccinations, especially among licensed children centers and schools.

As of Jan. 1, the Michigan Department of Community Health instated a new rule that parents must obtain a waiver from the MDCH if they choose to not vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons. Non-medical refers to religious or philosophical reasons.

Washtenaw Community College’s Children Center is included among the institutions that must abide by this new regulation.

Within the last couple of weeks, the guidelines changed for Trudi Hagen, director of WCC’s Children Center. Originally, the center needed one of two documents to allow a child into the daycare. On the day a child is signed up for the center, Hagen either needed an immunization record or a waiver signed by the parent if he/she did not vaccinate the child.

Because of currently registered children, the regulation will not go into effect until early March. If a parent child does not have proper documents, Hagen said, she must refer the parent to the local health department. After the parent takes a training class about vaccinations, the MDCH is given the responsibility of either signing or not signing a waiver form. Only after the parent presents a stamped document can Hagen allow the child into the center.

“It has been a kind of issue with daycare centers that we haven’t really been happy with, but there’s not much you can do because there’s never been anything with the agencies that regulate us to back us up, but now there is,” Hagen said. “Now the health department has stepped in because of these outbreaks.”

Involved for more than 30 years in the childcare field, Hagen recalled the vaccination debate gained attention when people thought a certain chemical in vaccines caused autism. She added that the chemical is no longer used and not proven as a link for the disorder.

Dr. Matthew Davis, a professor at the University of Michigan since 2000, specializes in pediatrics, internal medicine, and public policy. Davis spoke on the matter that some parents show hesitance toward vaccinations due to the influence of the Internet and media.

“What I advise parents to do is to not make up their minds about vaccines before getting to their child’s doctor office. Often times the information about children’s vaccines on the Web or other resources is incomplete,” Davis said. “I believe that every parent wants to make a decision for their child based on complete information.”

The Center for Disease Control does acknowledge the risks of vaccinations. It’s website mentions the most common reaction is redness and swelling surrounding the injection site that usually goes away in a few days. Some children may experience a rare severe allergic reaction and doctors are trained in dealing with those reactions.

“The vast majority of parents do vaccinate. That is the norm,” Davis said. “I do understand that some parents are concerned about vaccinating their kids and we need to have conversations with those parents.”

Voice in vogue: Coat couture

By Sofia Lynch, Features Editor
and Taylor Mabelitini, Staff Writer

It’s not news to anyone that winter is not the optimum time for fashion. Winter in general is so horrid you can’t do anything but layer up and make the best of it. If there is one article of clothing that has always helped people avoid the winter fashion doldrums, it’s the “statement coat.”

Statement coats are such a staple in winter fashion because of how much they impact an outfit. Coats are versatile and varied, with different patterns, materials and textures, and can easily brighten up a bulky, layered winter look.

Amongst some of the top textures noted at February’s New York Fashion Week, were the trends of fur and fringe – a perfect trend you can follow by topping off your outfits with a statement vintage coat.

If the throwback styles are too dramatic for you, try a trendy color. Yellow, military green, orange and pink were spotted, by Glamour and StyleList, as the high trends for the season at fashion week. On the other hand, if on-season trends don’t concern you, there are still a wide range of statement coats you could choose from to find a look that expresses “you.”

According to Vogue, statement coats were sported by many fashion week attendees.

And strutting the halls of Washtenaw Community College, many fashionable students are “in vogue” this winter, sporting their signature statement coats.

Janice Self

Janice Self, 18, of Ypsilanti. Sofia Lynch | Washtenaw Voice

Janice Self, 18, Ypsilanti, liberal arts

Scarf- Walmart
Coat- Citi Trends

Do you have a fashion philosophy? What makes you feel good. I’m in my work uniform, I’m not really feeling like all awesome about it, but this little scarf is helping me feel better about the day. I feel like it’s always good to keep things that you like about yourself. We as women we know what we like to see ourselves in, and we know what we don’t like. If that makes you feel good, then do it.

Do you shop with a trend in mind? Yes, I like bright colors. Jewelry! Jewelry makes a difference. I am so serious. Earrings and necklaces, I’ll always have them on deck, that’s what I shop for.

Do you have a favorite store? I like Charlotte Russe. Citi Trends is like a good place to pick up little things when you’re not having a lot of money, and that’s it. I’m a college working student I do not have a lot to shop for.

How crucial is your fashion in how you present yourself to others? I think it’s important. It’s crucial to me because you’re presenting who you are and if you show yourself like you don’t care, then that’s how people are gonna take you.

Davida Austin

Davida Austin, 24, of Detroit. Sofia Lynch | Washtenaw Voice

Davida Austin, 24, Detroit, accounting

Star Wars purse – The Rocket
Pants and jacket – Citi Trends

Do you have a fashion philosophy? Whatever hops out at me is what I’m buying

How would you describe your style? I don’t know; it’s just me.

How long do you spend getting ready in the morning? An hour

How crucial is your fashion to how you think you present yourself? Very crucial

Do you have a favorite store? Hot Topic

Do you shop with a trend in mind? I usually have some idea in my head of an outfit I might want from looking at other people and celebrities, but usually if I see something else that pops out at me, that’s what I’m gonna grab.

Meet the club: Chess Club

chess game

Jacob Dougles of Saline, left, and Tyler Strauss of Ypsilanti, both 17, prepare their next strategic moves. Erin Fedeson | Washtenaw Voice

By Erin Fedeson
Staff Writer

Two kings gaze down on the black and white battlefield. They ponder their next move and future possibilities. One king snaps the silence with a chuckle.

“It’s a game of pawns,” Jacob Dougles, 17, of Saline said.

Dougles faced off with Tyler Strauss, 17, of South Lyon at the Chess Club’s Wednesday meeting in TI 129.

Strauss founded the club last September. It meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. each week. After the meetings, the club supplies are returned to the Student Activities office.

“They’re available to be checked out by anyone,” Strauss explained. He added there were Chess Clubs in the past, but it has been a while since WCC had one.

The club welcomes different levels of chess players. It occasionally has other types of games there such as ‘Go,’ a Chinese version of chess.

Someone might show a video game on a laptop, explained Michela Malfifano, 16, of Ypsilanti. She described the club as “a family-union type of event,” where no one is judged.

They hosted pizza parties on Mondays last semester where anyone could get a slice if they signed the club’s attendance sheet and played a game of chess.

Keeping people in the club is a challenge, Strauss said. He needed five people to sign the club form to start it. Student Activities requires the attendance sheet to be sent to them every week. If the club has less than five people for a period of time, the club risks being shut down.

The minimal the club has seen is seven while the maximum is between 10 to 15 people each day, Strauss said.

His interest in chess started when he was a Boy Scout earning his Chess Merit Badge. He taught himself how to play.

Now, Strauss oversees the Chess Club where kings and novices alike, battle to the death (or “checkmate”).

To WCC English instructor, students are ‘heroes’

Maxine Gibson

WCC English instructor Maxine Gibson believes that ‘teaching is like helping people to have choices.’ Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

By Paulette Parker
News Editor

Pictures and poems wallpaper the gray, metal office door. Across the threshold, inside the small, dim room, picture frames showcase smiling faces. Projects of students past have found refuge in the corners.

Visiting the office of English instructor Max Gibson offers a glimpse into what she cherishes. A conversation with Gibson gives a glimpse at her humility. With nervous laughter, she abashedly tells her story, preferring to highlight those she feels have helped her become who she is.

Gibson came to Washtenaw Community College as a part-time instructor in 1980 after teaching English and art to junior high and high school students. She became a full-time instructor in 1990. The oldest of seven siblings, she was thrust into the role of helping them with their homework, she said, which was the beginning of her path to teaching. After taking philosophy class, she arrived at writing’s door.

“I didn’t have really good experiences in high school. I felt like I didn’t know what the purpose was; I finally learned the purpose when I took philosophy and I realized that writing was problem-solving,” Gibson said. “The better you can describe the world, the better you can analyze it.” The ability to problem solve is what she strives to pass on to her students, helping them have more control over their lives.

“Teaching is like helping people to have choices, helping people to be free, helping them to be happy and helping them to problem solve,” she said.

Fun, intelligent, interesting, wise – just a few of the words within reach that Gibson uses to describe her students. The glow in her eyes, light in her voice and the loosening of her posture when she dotes on them tells that they are so much more to her.

“I’m privy to my student’s unfoldings,” Gibson said. “I feel very privileged to hear their stories.” And it’s these varied stories, challenges and experiences that inspire Gibson in her own life.

“It’s like, oh my gosh, you’re my heroes,” she said. “If you can do that, I shouldn’t be complaining about not having time or resources because you’re doing it with so much less.”

WCC screenwriting major, Arianna Gelderloos, 19, of Ann Arbor says that it is Gibson who has inspired her.

“I think that my writing has always been for me, and Max made it so that my writing could be for other people,” Gelderloos said. Gibson helped her gain the ability to share her writing with less fear of judgment, she said. She has also been a friend.

“She’s really good at validating your feelings,” Gelderloos said. “Like if I’m upset about anything she always says what I need to hear.”

In her classroom, she sits atop a table at the front of the class, her black-slack-clad legs dangling, crossed at the ankles. She leans forward, hands in her pockets, relaxed; her curly hair brushes her shoulders. She listens intently as each student speaks, and they return the courtesy. It is a safe zone of self-expression.

“We spend a lot of time talking about how to really listen to each other with an ear to understand rather than judge,” Gibson said.

Maxine Gibson

Brian Ruhlig, 29, of Dexter, receives individual attention from English instructor Gibson before class begins. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

“Max does a really good job of getting people to talk because a lot of times people are too shy to do so,” Gelderloos said. “She has a really open and sweet thing that makes it hard to be nervous around her.”

“I don’t want them to write like me; I want them to find their own voices,” Gibson said. A task she feels cannot be accomplished with judgment.

“She has such a wonderful eye for what is good about us; and she is very good at not paying particularly close attention to what is not great about us,” said WCC English instructor Hava Levitt-Phillips. “She is the kind of teacher that teaches teachers just by being near her.”

With plans to retire in a year, Gibson said that what she will miss most is her students.

“That’s the only part I feel sad about; to leave their energy and their creativity,” she said. She hopes to have instilled in each of them the desire to be lifelong learners.

“I want them to be good human beings, I want them to be respectful and I want them to be open-minded and have a sense of social responsibility,” she said, “that if you’re privileged enough to have a good education, a roof over your head and all these cool things, maybe you need to think about how you’re going to give back and make sure that everyone has an equal chance for success in this world.”

Gibson hesitantly speaks of herself but readily and proudly shares stories of her students’ successes. For her, it is less about her as an instructor and more about the amazing students she encounters.

“She is without ego,” Levitt-Phillips said. “You can’t persuade her that she is as lovely as she is. That is Max. That’s what makes her so tremendous.”

The science behind stress

stressed woman

Sanaa Naeem | Washtenaw Voice

By Paulette Parker
News Editor

You study for an impending exam. You’re confident you’ll ace it. Once the exam is in front of you, you read the questions and draw a blank. Your heart rate increases, palms begin to sweat. You struggle to realign your jumbled thoughts.

The changes you feel in your brain and body in this moment are due to stress, which we all experience daily, from the minimal to the monumental. How you cope with it can mean the difference between it being a mere hurdle and causing lasting adverse effects.

Cortisol, called the “stress hormone,” is continually released in the brain throughout the day to regulate or modulate many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress. Negative effects begin to arise with higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol, such as with chronic stress, and can contribute to elevated blood pressure, lowered immune function and coronary artery disease.

Factors contributing to stress are often put into three categories, said Washtenaw Community College psychology instructor Anne Garcia. “Catastrophic events” include fires, floods and car accidents. Incidents such as death, divorce, job loss or moving to a new city are known as “life events.”

“Even if it’s a move that you are looking forward to, physiologically we respond to novel things with a little bit of arousal,” Garcia said. Occurrences such as waiting in long lines, navigating through traffic or worrying about money are known as “daily hassles.”

“That’s not the same as a divorce or a fire, but they happen constantly,” Garcia said. The same events can be processed differently from individual-to-individual.

“How much stress you feel is the function of how you respond to it and can vary depending on your personality,” Garcia said. “Like people who are more anxious versus people who kind of take things in stride.”

WCC general education student Hillery Beavers, 34, of Ypsilanti, balances school and motherhood and says that stress is always there, which leads her to worry.

“It’s kind of like thinking too much and not being able to stop the thinking,” Beavers said. “Instead of doing, I’m thinking.”

Liberal arts student Elizabeth Ehinger, 16, of Ann Arbor, juggles her academic schedule along with participating in team sports. Stress makes it difficult for her to focus on tasks she needs to complete.

“I freak out,” Ehinger said. “And emotionally I’m a wreck.” Coping with stress effectively is vital because stress can leave the body more susceptible to infections due to a lowered immune system, as well as leading to heart attacks and negatively impacting personal relationships.

There are two ways of coping with stress: maladaptive coping and adaptive coping. Maladaptive coping is more destructive than constructive. This includes withdrawing from the situation instead of working through it and participating in harmful behaviors.

“At the moment they’re more pleasant,” Garcia said. “It’s more fun to watch TV than it is to go see a counselor, or it’s nicer to have a few drinks than to go get on your homework, but in the long run it can hurt.”

Drug use and abuse is how a lot of people cope with stress, Garcia said. Ignoring the problem may seem like the easiest thing to do, but in the end it can lead to being more overwhelmed.

“All the maladaptive ways of coping with stress almost invariably lead to more stress,” Garcia said.

The adaptive methods of coping with stress can be broken up into two categories: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping is designed to decrease or eliminate stressors by generating solutions to the problem at hand.

“If money is your issue you might take a semester off, work more hours, save up a little then go back to school,” Garcia said. “It may not solve it completely, but it may make the problem some better.” Beavers experienced frequent stress while trying to get her children to school by 9 a.m. each day.

“I can’t stand being late,” Beavers said. “And when I would rush, I would speed.” One morning Beavers experimented with taking a step back, relaxing and doing the speed limit for her entire route.

“I got there at the same time,” she said. “So I chose not to worry about it.” When it comes to situations that have no easy-fix solution, such as the death of a loved one or loss of a relationship, coping methods are emotion-focused.

“It’s just the time to mourn,” Garcia said. “It’s allowing yourself the opportunity to talk about it, if that’s your way.” Seeking friends or professionals to listen can help frame the situation differently.

“Women do what’s called friend-and-befriend,” Garcia said. “We listen to each other and get ourselves through a lot of things.” Both coping methods can be used concurrently in some situations. Activities such as exercise, meditation or finding a hobby can also be used to manage and minimize stress.

“I’m catholic, so I pray a lot and that helps,” Ehinger said. “I also have a lot of siblings so if I’m stressed I go and spend time with them then come back to the situation.” Beavers finds that meditating in the evening is her most effective way of coping. When stress presents itself suddenly, she finds it helpful to stop and focus on her breathing.

“I focus on just three breaths,” Beavers said. Ultimately she finds it most helpful to remind herself of one thing:

“I just tell myself, ‘It’s okay.’”

Healthy Voice: The new ‘it’ couple

salted caramel runway

Sanaa Naeem | Washtenaw Voice

By M.M. Donaldson
Staff Writer

Trends aren’t always found on the fashion runways of Paris or Milan, but so often in the aisles of any grocery store. And right now, a trendy pairing is on everyone’s lips. Salted caramel.

In this must-have duo, caramel has become an accomplice for delivering mass quantities of sodium.

Salt has been a staple of human history and language. Think “salt of the earth,” “worth its weight in salt,” and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. But more recent history has made NaCl into a health villain.

Salt knows everyone loves to follow sexy couples and despite the hyphenated name, would anyone just choose caramel by itself?

Becoming a flavor so common it is on a trajectory to reach the level of go-to vanilla or chocolate. Google “salted caramel” and get about 10,900,000 results in 0.24 seconds for cake, sauce, cupcakes, ice cream, chocolate caramels, brownies, popcorn, recipes and images.

This sweet and salty couple is now accessorizing pita chips, pretzel bites and popcorn bits as if brownies and cookies weren’t good enough. And the rest of the grocery store aisles are pining to get in on the trend. 2015 has been ushered in with a salted caramel protein drink and salted caramel craft beers.

Chocolate has always been the little black dress for just about any occasion, but with salted-caramel, a black tee shirt and sweat pants are now acceptable at the party.

But how much of a good thing should anyone have?

Health experts recommend capping sodium at 2300 mg per day. Or less. In real-person-speak 2300 mg is one teaspoon.

According to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans, 2010 estimates the average intake is 3400 mg per day with the majority of the sodium found in processed or convenience foods.

The Centers for Disease Control  warns excessive sodium consumption can raise blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Having kidney failure, heart attack or a major blood vessel blow out is way not sexy.

Despite the possible health consequences of too much sodium, opponents of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 have successfully lobbied against decreasing the sodium content in the school lunch program. Arguments ranged from school children refusing to eat the healthier food to school administrators complaining the standards cost too much.

The original legislation called for step decreases in the maximum amount of sodium that could be served in a school meal. By the 2022-23 school year, the cap would be at 500 mg. Many children who would be affected by the standard haven’t even been born yet.

But the belying and winning argument may have been whispered into the right ears.

In the book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss interviews salty snack industry experts who state sodium is such a cheap ingredient, it is more cost effective to throw it away than redesign equipment to minimize waste.

Food companies are providing more salted caramel options to sate consumers demand while caramel is a delightful flavor and can truly be enjoyed by itself.

A safer bet for enjoying the salted caramel duo might be the WoodWick® Sea Salt Caramel candle where you just light the wick and enjoy the scent.

Sodium (mg)
Starbucks Hot Chocolate, 16 oz 160
Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, 16 oz 300
Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra ice cream, ½ cup 70
Ben and Jerry’s Salted Caramel Core ice cream, ½ cup 180
Smuckers Simple Delights salted caramel topping, 2 tablespoons 115
Torani Caramel syrup 0
Torani Salted Caramel Syrup 100


Mary DonaldsonM. M. Donaldson is allergic to scented candles and commits to leave the salt for French fries. She has a bachelor of science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults.

WCC dance instructor uses the arts to break down barriers

Gayle Martin began teaching dance at 15, and 35 years later, she’s still going full-force

News Editor

The beat of a hip-hop track pulsates through the hardwood floor. Arms and legs move methodically under the bright lights, mimicked by reflections on the mirrored walls. In the dance studio in Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence building, dancers’ emotions emanate from their bodies.

Leading the class is WCC’s resident triple-threat: Gayle Martin, who has taught dance at the college for 35 years – since she was 15.Martin

Fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, her personality projects through the roof. Her ebullient laugh reverberates through the room. Her beaming grin is magnetic. Her aura is warm and welcoming.

“I’m an Ann Arbor-ite,” Martin said, born to hardworking, upper-middle class, social parents. Among numerous accomplishments, her mother, Shirley D. Martin, was a founding administrator of the WCC nursing program.

Christmas, church on Sundays, visiting family in St. Louis, years as a student at St. Paul Lutheran elementary school – Martin’s traditional upbringing makes up her fondest memories.

Friday nights with a phonograph were a ritual in the Martin home.

“Every Friday night (my parents) would be home,” Martin said. “They would put on the record player and they would dance (and sing).”

“It’s always been around me,” she said. “There was always creating, always music, always dancing.” At the age of three Martin knew she would be a performer.

“I got the bug,” she said. She began with studying Cecchetti ballet. She performed in studios and on stages, but in a time when a prima ballerina was relegated to a certain mold, she faced challenges.

“Back in those days if you had too much bosom or too much behind, they didn’t consider that you were going to be able to become a prima ballerina,” Martin said. “Well look at the top-three prima ballerinas now.” At the age of 15, she was asked to take classes at the University of Michigan. Through that experience, she had a revelation.

“That’s when I realized there’s African-American dance, there’s Congolese dance, there’s tap, there’s modern; I don’t have to be a prima ballerina,” Martin said. “So at 15 I said, ‘This is a done deal, I can do this.’” There was no turning back. Her parent’s opinions were mixed.

“My dad always said, ‘Do what you love, money will come later,’” Martin recalled. “My mother? No. She was more practical,” she laughed.

Martin was drawn to the arts because it provided her “soulful enjoyment,” she said, and she never had any interest in sitting behind a desk.

“Singing is a wonderful way to let go of everything. Acting, you can be on stage and you can be anybody you want to for 30 to 45 minutes. You can be different people,” Martin said. “You can dance a different way. You can let the music move you in a different manner, and each time is different.”

Another motivating factor in her pursuit of the arts was not seeing anyone like herself while growing up. As an African-American albino, Martin has endured discrimination and misunderstanding. How she has handled adversity has shaped who she is today, she said.Martin

“Being an albino, there’s a very fine line, as far as I’m concerned, that you walk because you’re not really accepted,” Martin said.

Although she has often dealt with ignorant, negative portrayals of albinos in the media and has even been mistaken as Caucasian, she takes it all in stride.

“You can go through life being very angry, because every day there’s always something stupid said to you, or you can find humor in everything that happens,” Martin said. “I choose to find the humor in it.”

At 14 years old, Martin was seen in a talent contest by renowned WCC musician, Morris Lawrence, for whom the Morris Lawrence building is named.

“He asked my father if I could come dance with the WCC Jazz Orchestra,” Martin said. Her father agreed. By 15 years old, Martin began substitute teaching at WCC, and by 17, she was teaching a class of her own.

“I didn’t say how old I was in class.” She chuckled. “I don’t know how Morris did it, but he did.” After graduating high school, she officially enrolled at WCC in preparation to transfer to the University of Michigan.

The grounds were barer than they are now. Apple trees paved the path to temporary buildings that housed the arts department. Where there were fields, parking lots now sit. And it was a time of great diversity, Martin said.

“Not only in the color-wise, but age-wise,” she said. “There were people coming back to school; people taking classes because they wanted to hone up on what they already knew.”

Students could take a class more than twice, allowing them to perfect their crafts. WCC music instructor and musician John E. Lawrence learned under Morris Lawrence’s guidance alongside Martin. The two still perform together.

“He not only is a guitarist, he’s an artist,” Martin said. “He mastered his guitar not over a two-semester or a year thing. It was years.” Studying at the University of Michigan, Martin met and befriended her long-time colleague, WCC dance instructor, Noonie Anderson. Martin was an undergrad, Anderson, a graduate student.

“It’s funny, because we were in school together, and we came to Washtenaw and ended up working together, and it’s been the dynamic duo ever since we’ve been there,” Anderson said.

She was awestruck when she first witnessed Martin perform.

“She performed in a musical that Morris Lawrence had written and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that young woman is incredible,’” Anderson said. Martin remains as passionate as she ever was, Anderson said.

“Teenage Gayle was equally as energetic and effervescent and creative as she is now,” she said. “She still has that same sort of contagious energy.”

There has never been competition between the two artists, and their relationship has extended beyond the boundaries of WCC, Anderson said.

“Our families are very close. Not only are we family within the WCC connection, but we’re family outside,” Anderson said. “I kiddingly say, it’s probably one of the best relationships I’ve had outside my marriage.”

As Martin dances alongside her students during her class, she weaves her way through the room. Her manner is encouraging. “Can’t” and “won’t” are words she doesn’t accept.

“Just because you’re new to whatever form it is, I push you,” Martin said. “I don’t accept, ‘I can’t,’ because you’ve never tried it, so how do you know?”

WCC culinary and hospitality management major, Ashley Bedwell, 25, of Superior Township, is in her second semester of Martin’s hip-hop dance class.

“Her choreography is amazing and it will kick your butt,” Bedwell laughed. “Her choreography challenges us to do things we didn’t know our bodies could do.” Martin jokes that she’s also a counselor to her students.

“I treat them like they’re my kids,” Martin said. “I don’t care if you’re 80, you’re still my kid.” She feels that dance is like therapy, and her students concur.

“Gayle can take you on your worst day, and turn it around and make you completely happy that day,” said nursing major, Sheena Riley, 28, of Romulus. “Just seeing her face, she’s just positive energy at all times.”

“She truly listens, and she truly cares,” Anderson said.

MARTINLaughter echoes throughout the dance studio. The humor Martin has used to sail through rough waters in life is the same humor she carries into her classes.

“She makes us laugh all the time, which makes the class more fun,” said WTMC student, Maya Koziol, 16, of Ann Arbor. “It’s more laid back; it doesn’t feel like it’s serious.”

In 2012, Martin started the Rare Paragon Gem dance company. She doesn’t believe dance is limited to a certain body type, age or dance background, and trains students to become the dancers they’ve always wanted to be.

“A lot of people have told me they couldn’t because of how they looked, or where they were in life or whatever,” Martin said. “I don’t believe it.” Martin has never shied away from a challenge, and has taught students with Downs Syndrome, some who spoke different languages, and three students who were deaf.

“I’m waiting for someone to come in there, who is brave enough, who is blind,” Martin said. “I can’t wait. I want it to happen because it’s possible.”

“It’s amazing that she can have total beginners and advanced students all in one class and still be able to challenge every single person,” Riley said. “She makes it a safe, comfortable place for everybody.”

When Martin isn’t working, she continues dancing. Volunteering her time at the Children’s Creative Center in Ann Arbor, she teaches dance to preschoolers, and teaches praise dancing at two churches.

Once she tucks away her dancing shoes, she wants to be remembered by her students as someone that inspired them to give to others, to share with others, to be the best person they can be and to be totally honest and truthful about who they are.

“You should not be ashamed of anything that has happened, because it made up who you are today,” Martin said. “Never give up. Things may not always work out the way you planned it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work.”

“Washtenaw is really lucky to have her,” Bedwell said. “She’s the coolest lady I have ever met; I really believe that.”

“I have the utmost respect for her and I truly know how lucky I have been to have her as a colleague for all these years,” Anderson said.

Although she has been teaching since she was 15, Martin does not foresee retirement anywhere in the near future.

“I truly believe that my last breath will be either singing in a microphone or on a dance floor,” Martin said. “As long as I can move, I’ll be doing it.”


SEE VIDEO: Gayle Martin’s hip-hop class

RELATED STORIES: A history of open doors



College plans yearlong celebration for 50th anniversary


Washtenaw has big plans to celebrate this milestone year, which will begin in September and last through September 2016.

“Celebrating the anniversary over two years gives us the opportunity to recognize both the year Washtenaw County voted to establish WCC, 1965, and the year the college first held classes, 1966,” said Janet Hawkins, associate director of public affairs.

Hawkins has been planning the year’s celebrations since 2013, she said.

While formal celebrations won’t kick off until the fall, Hawkins hopes to launch a blog in late May, featuring archive photos, interviews with former employees and students, testimonials and a calendar of events for the year.CELEBRATION-LOGO-SQ-WEB

“I’m really excited about getting reacquainted with some of the retirees, former employees and definitely some former students,” Hawkins said, adding that in the interviews she has done so far, she has been happy to hear how positive interviewees memories are about the college.

“I am excited about welcoming all of these people back to campus to see how we’ve grown and evolved over the years, to hear more of those stories about the campus in the early years and to be the facilitator who is bringing all of this together,” Hawkins said.

There is also some talk of establishing a WCC volunteer corps, Hawkins said, which is really just a way of recognizing the volunteerism already taking place at the college.

The events planned for next year include:


Anniversary Kickoff

Saturday, Sept. 26

Playing off the concept of Free College Day, which the college has done in the past, this event will open up the entire campus for community members to explore. Faculty and staff will teach free, specially designed courses to community members. Hawkins said she hopes to have a class representing each academic area and building on campus.

The event will also incorporate the annual Cars & Bikes On Campus show, where students and community members show off their rides and compete for prizes.


50th Anniversary Gala

Early February 2016

The gala will take the place of the annual Mardi Gras fundraiser for WCC Foundation scholarships. This event will be more formal than Mardi Gras, Hawkins said, and will “celebrate the past and present, with an eye toward the future.”


Free College Day

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A day of free learning for community members, this event offers the chance to get to know WCC from the students’ perspective. Community members are invited to come to campus and learn from WCC instructors about a variety of topics.



Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016

Fifty years after Washtenaw opened its doors for classes, the college will celebrate homecoming, welcoming back WCC alumni, retirees, former employees and the community at large.

Anyone with ideas for how the college can celebrate CELEBRATION-LOGO-SQ-WEBits 50th anniversary can email Janet Hawkins at jhawkins@wccnet.edu.