Armchair travels

Seasoned world traveler and WCC instructor takes students on a trip without leaving the classroom

by Erin Fedeson
Staff Writer

Washtenaw Community College instructor Elisabeth Thoburn holds a passion for imparting the significance of other cultures in her students.

“There’s a layer in book learning, but getting the THOBURN-WEB-1hands-on experience is extremely important,” said Thoburn, a humanities instructor from Pinckney.

Thoburn, a native of Germany, has been traveling for 40 years – since she was 16.

At 19, during summer break, she hitchhiked with a friend from their hometown of Dresden, Germany to Bulgaria – more than a 1,000-mile trek.

Thoburn moved to the United States in 1985 when she married.

When she was younger, she never kept a list of the places she had been, but in 2007, she decided she wanted to start documenting her travels. She started a travel blog, http://www.elisabeth-thoburn.com which her son helped her set up, and has documented her travels to North Korea, Japan, Mali, France, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Iran, Dubai, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan.

While she travels, Thoburn dedicates four hours to her blog. She takes between 50 and 300 photographs a day, and uses travel guides to help her write.

She enjoys sharing her photos with her students, and they say that they take a lot away from sharing in her experiences.

“It’s never boring,” Emily Freeman, 21, a student studying nutrition, of Blissfield, said. Seeing pictures of Thoburn meant more, Freeman explained, because they were proof she was really there.

THOBURN-WEB-3Ann Farrah met Thoburn when she took her art history class at WCC after retiring from a career as a psychologist. She still visits Thoburn’s blog frequently.

What impressed Farrah was Thoburn’s ability to tie her personal experience with the culture and people, which adds a dimension to the subject matter in a way Farrah has not seen before.

“Teaching is an art. Few can teach it,” said Farrah.

Next, Thoburn will travel to Indonesia, she said.

She is also offering a non-credit class this spring called Armchair Travels: Japan.



Armchair Travels: Japan

What: Non-credit WCC course
Cost: $123.00
Duration: March 5-April 9
When: Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., registration closes March 5


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A history of open doors


statueEvery day, thousands of students pass through the shadow of the “Gateless Gateway” statue, most oblivious to it’s meaning.

The statue represents Washtenaw Community College’s open-door policy, which was central to the college’s original mission of serving the populations that were falling through the cracks in the education system.

This open door policy, a “fierce commitment” from the college’s founders, and the formative environment of the 1960s and ‘70s shaped WCC into the institution it is today.

A unique mission

As the baby boomers came of age in the 1960s, they shattered the traditions of their parents and grandparents. No social norm was safe. Civil rights, women’s liberation and the antiwar movement were all in full swing. Drug culture and the sexual revolution were spreading.

“These were exciting times, depressing times, a time for great creativity and a time of great anxiety,” former WCC President Larry Whitworth wrote in “A Fierce Commitment” (“AFC”), which chronicles the first 10 years of the college.

“It is during this time that the community college and the community college movement were born,” Whitworth wrote.

As citizens of Washtenaw County considered the possibility of a community college, critics argued that Michigan, which already had 10 four-year colleges and universities, and Washtenaw County, which had three, did not need any more higher education institutions.

“We had to carve our own niche. That was a tall order,” WCC’s first president, David Ponitz said in “AFC.”

But Washtenaw was not alone. Across the country, community colleges were springing up, and many shared the same mission – to offer what four-year colleges could not. They found their identities by filling in the educational gaps in their communities, serving populations that may not have the opportunity to attend four-year colleges.

High school graduates who did not have the grades or finances to attend four-year colleges, adults, already in careers, who needed to sharpen their skill sets and those who needed second chances could all find a place at a community college. The new, two-year institutions focused on occupational and vocational programs, preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges, developmental and remedial courses, non-credit and continuing adult education courses and community service.

“It’s a remarkable place to have wedged between these two monsteruniversities, where you can fail a little bit … You can fail; you can explore; you can find, and maybe even get a job,” said Ruth Hatcher, a WCC trustee who began teaching English at the college in 1979.

Open doors

Central to WCC’s mission of serving underserved populations in it’s community, was the college’s policy to accept any student with a desire to learn, regardless of past education, age, gender or race. This open door policy brought an incredibly diverse set of students to campus.

The college enrolled dropouts from universities across the state, Vietnam veterans, single mothers, high school dropouts looking for a second chance, factory workers hoping to learn new skills and students from the federal correctional institution in Milan and the women’s prison in Ypsilanti.

“I remember when I had students in my class who didn’t know how to read,” Hatcher said. “It was an opportunity for me to help them go in the right direction.

“After they started having more rules and regulations, my classes were more like honors classes, and we could go better and further, but I miss those folks that couldn’t read and were motivated to learn. Now they’re put in a reading class, and OK, maybe that’s better, but I’m from that old school, where this was a magical place,” she said. “It was magical for ESL students. After Vietnam, it was magical for soldiers.”

WCC’s open doors were flooded with students, eager to further their educations. When registration opened in September 1966, enrollment was more than double what administrators had predicted. More than 1,200 students took classes the first fall semester, and by winter more than 1,500 had enrolled. Next fall enrollment nearly doubled to 2,394.

Faculty and administrators had to search for extra space to hold classes.Eventually the Ann Arbor Public Library, the YMCA and several churches in the community all hosted WCC students.

“Many of WCC’s new students were the first in their families to go college,” former speech instructor Char Hanson said in “AFC.” “They probably wouldn’t have ventured to Eastern, almost certainly wouldn’t have enrolled in Michigan, but when the school came to them, they knocked on its doors, and WCC changed the course of many lives.”

‘A fierce commitment’

As President Ponitz and the college’s first administrators searched for teachers for the new college, many assumed they would be seeking candidates holding doctorate degrees, because WCC was located among so many educational institutions, but WCC’s founders had something else in mind.

“Our priority was to find people who could really connect with our students,” Ponitz said in “AFC.” “We developed a hiring profile for our faculty members – which is where the phrase ‘A fierce commitment’ came into play. There was a shortage of teachers in those days, but we still focused on finding the best people, people with real world experience as well as good teaching skills, people who cared about students and shared our vision.”

Dennis Bila, a WCC math instructor, who started at the college in 1969, said that the college’s success is due in large part to great leadership in those early years.

“They hired great staff at all levels,” Bila said. “Now that doesn’t just happen. People have to have that as part of their mission, and that starts from the top.”

The philosophy applied to positions in all areas of the college, he said.

“If you look at the grounds, for example, you’ll notice they’re as well kept as any institution around,” Bila said.

Because the concept of community colleges was so new, the employees who first came to work for WCC took a big risk.

“These people left solid jobs … when no one knew if it was going to work or not,” Hatcher said. “It was a true act of faith in what education is about.

The “pioneers,” she said, were amazing people who sacrificed a lot for the vision of what WCC could be.

“I know it’s hard to keep a pioneer spirit going,” she added. “I have some of that fairy dust on me from them.”

100 days

When the first employees were hired, they had to put that “fierce commitment” mentality to the test.

In the spring of 1966, the new administration and trustees had a decision to make: They could open the following fall, or wait another year, which voters had given them funds to do.

Ignoring the fact that most community colleges were taking two to four years to establish, the founders pushed forward, opening that fall – in only 100 days.

There was a sense of urgency, Pontiz said, because there was so much need in the community.

To make this possible, the administration developed “the undulating cone.”

“It was a pyramid-style form of management, with the board and president at the apex. It was undulating because decisions traveled up and down and across. It wasn’t a rigid system,” Andy Ford, who was the director of the Technical & Industrial division at the time, said in “AFC.” “We were intellectually and pragmatically movers and doers. We had to be if we were going to get the college up and running in such a short span of time.”

“One of the things that strikes me about the beginning of the school was that it never occurred to us that we couldn’t make it work, even though none of us had ever done this before,” former English instructor Edith Croake said in “AFC.”

With passionate teachers who were led by the “fierce commitment” mentality crowded in the close quarters of the college’s temporary Willow Run campus, this communication system functioned well.

“It was kind of fun,” Bila said. “We were all crowded together so we got to know each other very well.”

And the rest was history

As WCC continued to grow, so did the obstacles that faced it. The ‘60s and ‘70s were a turbulent time, and as students erupted in protest on a regular basis, and rioters burned down Detroit, those who cared about the college felt a strong responsibility to protect it.

“We suffered from our share of traumas,” Ponitz said in “AFC.”

“Several times during the days of the riots, when Detroit was burning, Dave Pollock and I linked arms with folks from the Willow Run area – black and white – and we stood arm-in-arm all night, afraid that the campus would be torched.”

Ponitz described driving home from a meeting one night and seeing smoke in the distance. He thought the college was burning, but it turned out that the Ypsilanti dump was just burning dried Christmas trees.

“It was a symptom of the times that my first thought was that the campus had been torched,” Ponitz said.

Several times, bombs were lobbed into WCC offices, luckily never going off, and countless times, the college received bomb threats. Angry black students, associated with Panther groups in Detroit, would bring shotguns and Molotov cocktails in their cars.

But sometimes, the employees were the ones on the picket lines. In 1979, there was a faculty strike that Hatcher described as “nasty.”

“It was a serious strike – people barricading so that supplies couldn’t get it, so that part timers couldn’t get it. The place was shut down,” Hatcher said. “There were car nudgings … people got hurt.”

“We had people go to jail,” said Bila, who was the faculty union president at the time. “There was some violence on the line.”

The faculty and the administration couldn’t agree on much of anything, Bila said.

“Community colleges were still relatively new, so it was a high school model. The faculties in the college weren’t given much in the way of determination of the curriculum or whatnot,” Bila said. “There was a lot of distrust on both sides.

But the faculty and administration eventually reached a consensus and the

faculty got back to work.

As with every challenge that faced WCC in its formative years, the employees’ “fierce commitment” to the mission of the college and the students and community that it served, carried WCC forward.

Today, the college has grown ten-fold, serving more than 12,000 students every semester. While few of the founders are still around, their legacy lasts in the mission of the college and those who still have the “fairy dust” on them.


Editor’s note:

A sincere thank you goes out to Bob Phillips and Diana Pacella for their help sorting through the WCC archives, and to those dedicated WCC employees who put together “A Fierce Commitment: The First 10 Years of Washtenaw.” The greatest ties to Washtenaw’s past, the archives and the book tell an amazing history that otherwise would be lost with the people who created it.


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Washtenaw students venture abroad

Staff Writer

As mid-winter break approaches, many are thinking about traveling to warmer climates – whether they’ll actually be doing it or not.

But for students interested in a more extended getaway, and learning opportunities abroad, Washtenaw offers a wide range of study abroad options that take students on adventures across the globe.

Two study abroad programs are available for students –  Modern Languages Studies Abroad (MLSA) and the AHA International program.

The MLSA program sends students to San Jose, Costa Rica, and Madrid, Spain. Most students choose to go to Costa Rica because it is the least expensive, explained foreign language instructor and study abroad adviser Juan Redondo.

The AHA International STUDY-ABROAD-TABLEprogram, run by the University of Oregon, offers opportunities to study in countries including Germany, Italy, China, England, France and Spain.

WCC is the only community college that is a AHA consortia member, said Julie Morrison, Washtenaw’s executive director of institutional effectiveness, planning and accreditation.

Becoming a consortia member in 2012 gave WCC privileges, Morrison explained. One privilege is the opportunity for faculty to create customized study abroad programs at the AHA sites. Another privilege is the access to scholarships to fund the study abroad trips.

Morrison assists WCC faculty in putting together study abroad programs, which can be done for any discipline, she said.

Last summer, photography instructor Terry Abrams took a group of students to Morocco to explore the country through their lenses, and radiography instructor James Skufis and anthropology instructor Christopher Barrett took students to Peru to examine mummies.

“We’ll see where we go next year,” Morrison said.

There have been many study abroad programs in the past at WCC, some of which were mentioned previously in the Voice.


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How WCC came to be


June 30, 1962 – County demonstrates need for community college

After Washtenaw County voters rejected a proposal for a technical high school in the late 1950s, the Ann Arbor board of education told the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee that there was a need in Ann Arbor for a community college that could provide vocational training. However, community colleges were a very new concept at the time, and few were sure of exactly what role a one might play.

The Education Committee was hesitant and decided it would be best to involve the community in the discussion. It asked University of Michigan professor Raymond Young to conduct a survey starting on June 30, 1962. The Chelsea Milling Company  provided the $10,000 needed to carry out the Citizen’s Survey of Washtenaw County Community College Possibilities.

In September, the results of the survey and the committee’s recommendations were announced.

They stated that there was a “demonstrated demand by county youth and employers for a post-high school program offering technical and semi-professional occupational training.”

The survey found that finances were the biggest barrier between high school seniors and college.

Fifteen percent of high school seniors surveyed said they were not planning on college, but would reconsider if more money was made available to them. Another 18 percent said they would have continued their education if finances were not a problem.

Three different populations would be served by a community college, the commission said: Recent high school graduates who lacked skills or finances to attend a four-year institution; adults, already in careers who needed to improve their skills or learn new skills; and “late bloomers” who hadn’t pursued their education and needed a second chance.


Jan. 3, 1965 – Voters establish Washtenaw Community College

While heavy snow led to a low voter turnout on Jan. 3, 1965, one-fourth of the 72,000 registered voters in Washtenaw County made it to the polls, and set the wheels in motion for the creation of Washtenaw Community College.

On the ballot, voters were asked to approve the establishment of a community college and to agree to a one-quarter-per million tax levy. The results were a resounding approval, with 11,109 voters in favor and 5,085 opposed.

Voters also chose six of 38 candidates for the college’s first board of trustees. They faced a difficult decision, as the candidates were very highly qualified across the board, with 17 having experience in education.

TRUSTEES-WEB-1On Election Night, officials announced that Samuel Harmon, Evart Ardis, Ralph Wenrich, Edward Adams Jr., Richard Creal and Elvira Vogel had been elected. However, two days later, they announced that there had been errors in the count, and that Kenneth Yourd had actually won the sixth seat, not Vogel.

Surprisingly, Anthony Procassini, who had been chairman of the Education Committee that spearheaded efforts to create the college, lost by just five votes, but he was elected to the board the following year.

The board was highly qualified and diverse.

Harmon, who earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from U-M, owned a company called Sensor Dynamic, and had previously owned Bendix Systems Division.

Ardis was director of the U-M Bureau of Appointments and Occupational Education, and previously worked as the superintendent of Ypsilanti public schools.

Wenrich was chairman of the Department of Vocational Education and Practical Arts at the U-M and previously worked as associate state superintendent of Public Instruction and state director of Vocational Education.

Adams was the president of the National Bank & Trust Company of Ann Arbor and a director and trustee of several state and local institutions.

Creal was a known figure in the Ann Arbor public school scene. A lifelong resident of the city, he had a master’s degree in school administration and supervision from U-M and participated in all phases of the local public schools.

Yourd was the assistant dean to the U-M Medical School and previously worked as a senior attorney for the Columbia Broadcasting System and director of business affairs. He also served as vice president and treasurer of the National Educational Television and Radio Center in Ann Arbor.

In a 1982 interview with WCC history instructor Flavia Reps, Ardis reflected on the board’s diversity.

“The board had a lot of different points of view and that fact became evident as we grappled with all the crucial decisions that had to be made immediately,” Ardis said. “The board was committed to a lot of openness. They felt that it would give the institution credibility if the people felt it was truly their college.”


Aug. 13, 1965 – WCC trustees appoint college’s first president

Although the board of trustees had received applications from all around the country for the college’s first presidency, several trustees felt the ideal candidate had not applied of his own accord, and they set about convincing him.

PONITZ-WEB-1David Ponitz was working as superintendent of schools for Freeport Illinois and president of the town’s new small community college.

The 32-year-old held a bachelor’s and master’s degree from U-M and a doctorate from Harvard University.

When Ponitz called Ardis, an old colleague from U-M, to ask for a recommendation for a person to fill a position in his school district, Ardis redirected the conversation, trying to convince Ponitz to apply for the WCC presidency. Wenrich joined in later, working hard to convince Ponitz to get behind the community college movement.

“I wasn’t sure that made sense,” Ponitz said years later. “I worried that some people would want to replicate the University of Michigan’s programs, and I felt that any new college would have to be really different in order to meet the needs of people whose needs weren’t being met by the University of Michigan or Eastern Michigan University.”

Ponitz traveled to Ann Arbor to talk to the board, though he was still reluctant.

“It was an exciting idea, but daunting,” he said. “At that point, the college possessed not a pencil or piece of paper.”

And Ponitz wasn’t the only one with hesitations. Although some board members were sure he was the man for the job, Harmon had doubts.

“I was the lone holdout for a while,” Harmon said. “It was clear that he was very, very competitive, but not clear if he would have a passion for the population I was most concerned with.”

Harmon was concerned that Ponitz was very conservative in relation to the place and time where the college was being created.

So Harmon drove to Illinois to meet with Ponitz.

“Both of us persuaded each other that we had the same vision of what this college should and could become,” Harmon said. “I became Dave’s greatest supporter, while he became one of my greatest friends.”

On Aug. 13, 1965, the board announced that Ponitz would be WCC’s first president. Soon after Ponitz spoke to a reporter from The Ann Arbor News.

“I am here because this appears to be one of the finest challenges in education,” he said.


Summer 1966 – WCC finds temporary location at Willow Run Village

In May 1966, Ponitz and the trustees decided that classes would begin that fall, giving them only 100 days to create the college, when most community colleges were taking two to four years from establishment to opening.

This meant that WCC would need to search for both a temporary location and a permanent location, as well as faculty, administrators, staff and students.WILLOW-RUN-WEB-3

Dave Pollock, one of the college’s first administrators, was tasked with finding a temporary site, a difficult job at a time when real estate was tough and vacant spaces that were big enough were extremely rare.

When Pollock visited Willow Run Village – the community built for bomber plant workers during World War II – he thought the place was entirely unsuitable.

“I walked around the school, saw the broken windows and overgrown site, then go into the car and said, ‘There is no way this place is appropriate,’” Pollock said. “I would later have to eat those words.”

Ponitz did not approve of the site either, but there was nothing else they had seen that would work, he said. Willow Run offered two things that the other sites didn’t, Ponitz said: The college could be self-contained there and the location was close to two low-income neighborhoods that would be served well by the college.

“The shortcoming of the location was that it wasn’t central; it was almost on the Wayne County line,” Pollock said. “On the other hand, it was in the heart of a depressed community and those kids who had been throwing rocks at vacant buildings might be the kids who would benefit most from a community college.”

State officials inspected and approved the location for one year, although the college would remain there for three.

Buildings in the village were fixed up and adapted to suit the colleges needs. Foster School, which was built to educate the children of bomber plant employees during WWII, became the new College Hall, where most of the general studies and occupational studies classes would be held.

A former firehouse, which had been transformed into a meat market in the years since, would house the administrator’s offices. Employees joked that this was where one could find the “meatheads” on campus.

A ten-minute walk from College Hall, an old bowling alley became counseling and faculty offices and a library.

Later, as the college grew, several corrugated steel Quonset huts and other temporary structures were used for offices, classrooms, a bookstore and a daycare center.


Sept. 15, 1966 – Washtenaw Community College opens student registration

Voters had given WCC enough money to spend a year planning before opening the college, but the trustees and President Ponitz decided to use those funds to buy equipment to start occupational programs.REGISTRATION-WEB-1

They pulled together all of the pieces for the college in just 100 days, and were prepared to launch 72 classes in the first semester. Fifty full-time faculty were hired from all across the country, and 1,207 students enrolled for classes that fall.




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Source: A Fierce Commitment: The First 10 Years of Washtenaw Community College


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Snapshots in the sand

WCC students travel to Morocco to document the culture and the, sometimes dangerous, desert

Staff Writer

Sand darkened the skies near the Ziz Gorges in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The sandstorm whirled towards a group of Washtenaw Community College students and faculty taking pictures.

Their guide, Omar Chouiyakh, yelled “Get on the bus!” and the students ran in the opposite direction, eager to take photos of the swirling sands, said Larry Hauptman, a 69-year-old WCC student from Ann Arbor.

The guide called out again, “No, no, this way!” Morgan Jennings recalled.

But the students didn’t listen.MOROCCO-WEB-9

“We’re not there to be on the safe side. We’re there for the pictures,” said Jennings, 20, of Hartland.

But while some students were fearless, others heeded the guides warnings.

“It wasn’t too intimidating, but I could tell others were freaking out,” said Brad Roberts, 19, a science and photography student.

After a few photographs, the group hustled onto the bus. The sandstorm raced behind them before it obscured the road as Bouchama, their bus driver, drove.

“It was almost like driving in really thick fog, but it was sand particles in the air,” Kimberly Borecki-Troiano, 34, of Ypsilanti said.

The WCC photography students found themselves in Morocco last May through a trip organized by photography instructor Terry Abrams. The students spent 11 days traveling throughout the country, capturing its stories in their images.

They visited sites all around Morocco including Casablanca; the Hassan II mosque; the Roman ruins at Volubillis; the Saadian tombs; the Erfoud area, known for its nearly one million date palm trees; the Todra Gorges; the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, the location of several iconic movies; and many other sites throughout their travels in Morocco.

The class, PHO 105, only requires one prerequisite: Intro to Photography, so it attracts students at all different stages of life and photography careers.

Hauptman had traveled previously to South Africa, and decided to explore a different part of the continent. Jennings rearranged her fall semester to take the prerequisite so that she could go on the trip. Roberts’ photography career “took off” when his parents gave him a camera when he was 15. Borecki-Troiano thought the trip would be a marriage between her love to travel and her desire to take photographs.

While their life paths were different, these WCC students shared in the sandstorm experience.

Three WCC photography instructors – Jennifer Baker, Donald Werthmann and Abrams – take turns traveling with groups of students abroad each year.

“If I take enough students, maybe those who come back from the trips will bring back enough of the culture that America will adopt it into its own culture,” said Abrams, who lived in Europe for 13 years in the 1970s and ‘80s, teaching photography workshops for off-duty military personnel. Abrams has also taught workshops for the past 10 years all around the U.S. and Europe.

Abrams wants his students to understand there are places outside the U.S. worthy of experiencing, he said, and he hopes those who travel with him will develop tolerance and understanding of a culture that is different from their own, and learn to enjoy those differences.

And after experiencing two sandstorms, the WCC students clearly learned something about Morocco and its people.

Therefore, he led the latest photography class study abroad to Morocco on his rotation where they experienced the power of the sandstormMOROCCO-WEB-13, not once, but twice.

After the first sandstorm dissipated, the group drove on to a village where they took four-wheelers 20 miles into the Sahara Desert to spend the night out in a traditional Toureg nomad encampment. Once they dropped off their gear, the group walked out to the dunes for pictures in the late afternoon sunlight. It was out in the dunes when the second sandstorm struck.

“They wear the headscarves for a reason,” Borecki-Troiano said. “The entire desert can be in your lungs if you’re not careful.” She added, laughing. “We were kind of clueless.”

“I was a little panicked as I couldn’t breathe or see,” Jennings admitted during the second sandstorm. She had a visual of the encampment, but the sand made it challenging to walk. A Toureg nomad went over to Jennings and wrapped a headscarf around her head so it covered her ears, mouth and nose. Jennings put on her sunglasses. She felt better after these changes as she could breathe and see.

“The desert is more unique in the bad weather than in the good weather,” Jennings said, so it made for interesting photos.


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15 years of ‘bone boot camp’

Staff Writer

‘Mummy Quest’ sounds like the name of a bargain bin video game, but for some Washtenaw Community College students it is a real-life adventure.

Last summer, a group of radiography and anthropology students traveled to Peru to X-ray, research and catalogue mummies. This May another group of students will take the trip.

Last year’s group shared their findings at Free College Day in October in a presentation titled “Mummy Quest: Seeking the Past Lives and Cultures of Peru.”

Radiography instructor James Skufis gave an overview of the trip and PERU-WEB-7explained the forensic imaging his students took.

Anthropology instructor Christopher Barrett and his students shared their specific research projects, which focused on the Roca Verde and Chiribaya Baja, two ancient populations in the Osmore River Valley. Barrett’s research focused on the stress the individuals experienced, which could be determined by their teeth.

Carly Slank, 24, presented her research on the sexual dimorphism and the talus of the two populations.

“I thought (the trip) was a good opportunity to further my education and future career and to help me get into graduate school,” said Slank, who now attends Eastern Michigan University.

Both Slank and Barrett hope to present their research at Central State’s Anthropology Society conference this upcoming April.

Prior to the trip, both groups of students must complete classes that prepare them for the work – RAD 290: International Studies in Radiography and ANTRO 165: Bioarchaeology and Anthropology of Peru.

Barrett described his class as a “bone boot camp.” First, Barrett explained, students learn the parts of the skeleton and learn how to take bone measurements. Next, they learn how to document the teeth, which help determine the individual’s age. Finally, they learn about pathology, determining if there is anything odd about the bones, such as if the individual suffered arthritis.

Although this was the first year students from the two programs traveled together, radiography students have been making the trek for 15 years.

Jerry Baker, WCC emeritus faculty, initiated WCC’s involvement in the trip to Peru in 2000 at a radiography conference. There, a University of Arkansas professor talked about his work X-raying mummies in Peru and invited the others to get involved. Baker approached WCC’s president at the time, Larry Whitworth, asking if he could participate. Whitworth told Baker to go for it.

PERU-WEB-6Four years later, Baker dined with Sonia Gullien, an archeologist and director of Centro Mallqui, the bio-anthropology center in Peru. Gullien is a native of Peru as well as a University of Michigan alumnus. Gullien told Baker she was impressed by WCC’s quality of work and invited the college to make the trip.

“We’re the only community college that goes down there,” Baker explained.

He recalled a trip where the group encountered students from Stanford and Yale doing doctorate research. They were shocked there were community college students doing this level of work, Baker said.

In 2006, Baker invited Skufis, who is the clinical coordinator of the Radiography and CT programs, to travel to Peru. He taught Skufis the ropes before asking him to take over coordinating the project. That same year, Baker retired, but he has continued his involvement as an advisor who travels down to Peru.

Seven years later, Skufis invited Barrett, who was a new faculty member in the Anthropology department at the time, to join him on the Peru trip.

The next trip will begin on May 24 and end on June 14. Preparation classes begin on May 11.


Interested in joining the mummy quest?

What: Anthropology 164: Bioarchaeology and Anthropology of Peru and Radiology 290: International Studies in Radiology
When: May 11-May 20 [classes] and May 24-June 14 [work in Peru]
Where: WCC and Centro Mallqui, Peru
How much: $5,100 (includes tuition, airfare, housing, food) course fees and in-country fees are paid separately
For more information: Contact Christopher Barrett at ckbarrett@wccnet.edu or Jim Skufis at jskufis@wccnet.edu


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RELATED ARTICLES: Washtenaw students venture abroad, Armchair Travels, Snapshots in the sand

From ‘techie’ to trustee

Features Editor

Christina Fleming, one of three new members on Washtenaw Community College’s board of trustees, and recently elected board secretary, traces her love of technology back to her high school days in Frankenmuth. When she was about 13, with an interest in Atari and computer games, Fleming’s father had her build her own computers from bare-bones parts. Since then, technology has been a significant driving force in Fleming’s life.

After graduating from the University of Michigan inFLEMING-WEB-1 1997 with two Bachelor of Arts degrees in classical archeology and sociology, Fleming went on to work at a local non-profit, the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, as a help desk technician for 9 years.

She continued making a career of her technological experience as a data administrator at Kramer-Triad and later worked for central informational technology services at the University of Michigan, managing campus domain computers.

Afterward, Fleming decided to take a break from her career to go WCC to earn her certificate in web development.

“After college, that kind of sustained me for a while in my career, but I was really coming back for skills,” Fleming said.

Fleming took a few courses with Jason Withrow, a WCC Internet professional instructor. Withrow was eventually approached by Keith Gave, former adviser of The Washtenaw Voice, who was seeking recommendations for a new web editor for the newspaper.

When Gave approached him, Withrow suggested that Fleming would be a perfect fit for the position.

“There’s not all that many students that I would recommend to work at The Voice,” Withrow said. “You need someone who is self motivated, and competent, and who can push the envelope, and I think Christina is all of those things.”

Fleming described receiving her position on The Voice as a “stroke of luck,” since the position came along just as her funds for school were dwindling.

“With working for the paper, she felt like she was finally being heard,” said William Fleming, her husband of over 10 years.

Her husband noted that writing opinion pieces for The Voice helped build her confidence to speak out on the issues she cares about.

“She was very passionate about … things that have happened at Washtenaw and with The Voice,” William said. “She felt that there was this strong need for reform in a lot of areas. She saw that this was an opportunity to work towards change.”

And that passion was, ultimately, reflected in her decision to run for trustee in November’s elections.

“I’ve always kind of wanted to do something that was for the community, something local,” Christina said. She wanted to “volunteer in some way that was meaningful – go big or go home kind of thing.”

A self-described techie, Christina believes her extensive technology background will be a major benefit in her role on the board.

“I have a lot of experience with technology,” Christina said. “And that’s not going away. We’re always going to have technology.”

She looks forward to helping the board make budgetary decisions, especially on new technologies.

And though she’s spent most of her life working in technology, Christina is also a passionate artist – enjoying oil painting, toll painting, ceramics and lapidary arts – as well as a mother and wife.

Christina also has a passion for helping special needs students, said Pam Pasley, her mother-in-law.

“She is the mother of a special needs child, my granddaughter Athena,” Pasley said. “And it’s not easy to raise a special needs child.”

In her campaigning for the board, Fleming promised to be a voice for special needs students, who often have little voice in such forums, she said.

“She has been a wonderful daughter-in-law, a terrific mother to my precious granddaughter and very good wife to my precious son,” Pasley continued, “She has a lot on her platter, but she’s done so well with it all.”

 This is the second in a series of WCC trustee profiles


RELATED ARTICLES: Board of Trustees meeting

Why I donate

WCC instructor provides necessities for students in need

By Jessica Hale


Jessica Hale

I donate because I want to support my students in tangible ways that help reduce the day-to-day barriers preventing them from concentrating on their education. Worrying about hygiene, meals, or basic self-care can be a major stressor for some of our students

The Student Resource and Women’s Center pairs students in need with case workers who provide emotional support and physical resources to help get them through difficult and unexpected situations.

I like that students don’ t have to feel as though they are begging to get the help they need. The SRWC sees the whole human being and provides services that preserve a person’s dignity.

Life is complex for many of our students. Each semester I hear the stories of students living in cars and homeless shelters because they do not have families or friends that are able or willing to support them in their studies. Students raising children below the poverty line may sacrifice their own meals to feed their families.

Look around your classrooms … do you know of obstacles the person next to you has had to overcome to make it to class?

I hear stories of my students’ dedication to obtaining a degree and I am inspired. People that are willing to work tirelessly towards their goals and dreams in the face of adversity deserve my support.

For some students, one small hitch, like an unexpected bill, a medical emergency, or car trouble can set their lives into a tailspin.

I donate to help ease some of the burden of shuffling resources. I provide supplies like shampoo, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, razors, and food.

These necessities can be the difference between whether or not a student is able to get a job, feel comfortable in class, or concentrate on his or her studies without worrying about their next meal.

In some sense, I think the necessities pantry supplies hope – hope that a temporary setback won’t be the end of their dreams. The necessities pantry also gives me hope. Hope that students with the intelligence and desire to succeed will be able to do so.

How to get the best out of your giving

By Sofia Lynch
Staff Writer

Sofia Lynch

Sofia Lynch

People live the first 17-plus years of their lives with their family members, and yet every year around the holidays they are stumped by the idea of shopping for them.

However, there is no shame in that – we’ve all been guilty. If shopping for your loved ones doesn’t come easy, here are some simple ways to show how much you care this season.

One tip for anyone you’re shopping for is know their kryptonite. It’s easy to make a gift thoughtful by shopping with the recipients “favorites” in mind – like a book by their favorite author or a few bags of coffee from their favorite store.


Your mother should usually be the simplest because moms will love practically anything you get them – especially if it’s personalized. You could get her a customized necklace with all your siblings’ names or a nice message. There are many reasonably priced, unique options of these necklaces available on Etsy.com.

If there is one specific thing your mother loves, you can expand on it to make a cute gift basket. If your mother loves scrapbooking, buy her a new book, some sticker packets and some stamps or various tools.

Or show her you recognize how much she does for you by giving her a relaxation
package. You could buy her some small candles, some bubble bath, a massage (or manicure), and a sentimental note telling her she deserves the rest.


Unlike mothers, fathers are not that easy to shop for. Dads are usually practical, and the most touching gift is something they will use. When dads want something, they usually go out and get it themselves, so this won’t be easy!

Find out who your dad’s favorite band was when he was young and buy a vintage band T-shirt with a CD to match. You could buy him a warm scarf and thick pair of gloves – things like winter wear translate to “I care about you” in dad-world.

Buy a set of gift cards to set up a date for your parents – one to their favorite restaurant, a local movie theater, and an ice cream or coffee shop for afterwards. It’s thoughtful and gets your dad out of having to plan a date night.

Or if none of those ideas fit your dad, just ask your mom what he needs. There is probably something like white T-shirts or socks he could never get enough of.


Shopping for siblings depends on their age, but it still goes back to knowing what their favorite things are. For an elementary school-er think favorite toys, for a middle school-er think favorite video games and DVDs, for high school aged think gift cards… and still probably video games and DVDs. Plus, the younger the siblings, the more likely they are to just bluntly tell you what they want.

Boys don’t shop for themselves, so for the most part you’re safe getting them anything. A lot of the gifts that are good for a dad are good for brothers as well – like jersey from their favorite team, a T-shirt from their favorite band or good winter wear.

Guys don’t usually hold the same sentiment to personalized or initialed gifts that moms or sisters do, so the only way to make your gift personal is really hone in on the things that your brother likes. Think about hobbies, general interests, collections if they have one, or even just music/TV/games they love, to find things specific for your brother.


If your sister is between the ages of 9-20, generally speaking, there’s usually something
in fashion that “every girl has” and thus they want. Lokai bracelets have been widely popular for their positive mantra, and most girls would be thrilled to find one under the Christmas tree.

Although gift cards may not be personal, they’re as good as gold to girls. Nothing is better than an allotment of money set aside just to be spent splurging at their favorite store. But still pair the gift card with a smaller gift so you don’t seem careless. Little things like lotion sets or jewelry could do the trick.

Everyone has something they can’t get enough of and gifts are best when they to play into that. Girls tend to be more obsessive toward the things they love, so look for phone cases, posters, stuffed animals, blankets, etc. related to her favorite singer/book series/TV show.

One fun gift idea most girls would love is a Polaroid camera. The fun and ease of having photos print right after their shot is something girls (or anyone) would love. The camera also travels easily, so they can bring it anywhere.

WCC volunteers brighten the holidays at the VA

News Editor

For more than 20 years, Debi Freeman, a childcare professional at Washtenaw Community College’s Children’s Center, along with WCC volunteers, have been making the holidays a little brighter for residents, their families and staff at the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Community Living Center.

Freeman provides Christmas Eve dinner, treats and gifts, to men and women who have served the country. What started as a small gesture has grown into a substantial collaborative effort.

“My first time doing it was with Russell,” Freeman said. “My first encounter with a veteran who was in the nursing home and no one was going to visit.” She brought him Kentucky Fried Chicken and discovered others in need.

“All the other guys were like, ‘How come he gets it and we don’t?’” Freeman said. “Then it just blossomed from there.”

The following year, when others heard about what she doing, they began donating money so she could provide dinner to more veterans. Currently, they serve approximately one hundred people each Christmas Eve. Organizations including: the Dexter Lion’s Club, Hiller’s Market, Edible Arrangements and KFC of Saline, volunteer their goods and services.

“This year, Whole Foods is donating the bags for us to put the gifts in,” Freeman said. “There’s a lot of elementary schools that will send cards for the veterans, and we stuff those in there too.” While receiving a meal that isn’t hospital food is nice, having people willing to donate their time can mean more.

Beverly Leneski, chief of voluntary service at the VA Community Living Center, has witnessed the positive effects firsthand.

“It’s the opportunity for families to spend Christmas Eve together in a nice environment and have a nice dinner,” Leneski said. “But just the fact that the community and Washtenaw Community College is thinking of the veterans on a holiday, it means a lot to them that they’re being honored by the community.”

Toni Ellicott, administrative assistant for support services and student advocacy at WCC, has been working alongside Freeman in this effort since at least 2003, she said. She has been brought to tears over the joy she has brought to others.

“Just a little bit of time or even effort, whether it’s money or going over there. What you get out of it is so much more,” Ellicott said. Her experiences have made a lasting impression.

“Whenever I see a vet, I stop and shake their hand and thank them,” Ellicott said.

Freeman has continued this tradition based on one value:

“Freedom,” Freeman said. “I don’t take it for granted; it’s really near and  dear to my heart and I want to thank the men and women who did it.”