Thursday, January 21, 2016

Plan on Learning

by Zinta Aistars
Published in W Magazine, Winter 2016

That moment always comes, when the event planner must pull his or her hair out. Deb Droppers, professional instructor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, guarantees it. In her role as head of Kalamazoo’s Experiential Learning Center, or KELC, it is one of the many lessons she lets her interns learn the hard way—on their own, fistfuls of hair in hand, just before they get to work fixing the problem.

“Oh, I love to tear my hair out,” Droppers chuckles. “I’ve been doing it since 1995, when I started The Event Company, and it was based on providing interns opportunities to plan events. Back then, we called them party planners. Today, it’s much more about business management.”

When Droppers began her company, she operated out of her living room, forever apologizing to the students milling about in her house, helping her organize hundreds of events. The students didn’t mind. Her husband finally did. He offered to buy his wife a building to house her business.

Now located at 210 Farmers Alley, KELC offers internships to juniors or seniors majoring in event management, communications, marketing, public relations, graphic design, or similar field of student study.

Becca Shemberger graduated from WMU in 2015 with a degree in public relations, and she is grateful to Droppers and KELC for giving her the edge that helped her land her job as an engineering recruiter.

“Deb gives you direction, but then let’s you do the work,” Shemberger says.

One of her projects as an intern was to organize a summer sidewalk sale downtown Kalamazoo. Another was to plan and oversee the 10-year celebration of The Kalamazoo Promise.

“I contacted participating colleges, put together booths, brought in food trucks, live entertainment, cake donations, face painting, tent and chair rentals, and kept track of volunteers,” she says. “It gave me the people skills and the confidence I needed for the job I have today as a recruiter.”

Emily Kasa is a senior at WMU, majoring in organizational communications. Kasa put in about 350 hours as an intern at KELC. She planned a 3-day block party in three Kalamazoo neighborhoods.

“Our focus was to introduce the community to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety,” she says. “We wanted to create interactions and connections between cops and kids.”

Kasa oversaw volunteers for the event, involved local businesses, arranged for food trucks, organized games, talent shows and educational presentations, and brought in a fire truck for kids to explore.

“I learned so much!” Kasa exclaims. “Talking to community developers, talking to kids, I learned marketing strategies, but also how to create news releases, fact sheets and computer programs.”

Spirit Week at WMU was Malcolm McCants’ internship project. The public relations major found his challenge—and his lesson—planning for 10 artists to paint downtown store windows with spirited images.

“Only six showed up,” McCants says. “I’d never painted before, but that day I was one of the artists, painting windows.”

McCants also worked on the Holiday Parade. He signed in more than a hundred volunteers, matched volunteers to floats, passed out T-shirts. And he chauffeured Mr. and Mrs. Claus around town to meet children.

If the interns relish their hands-on experiences, their clients are equally enthused. Justin Hatfield is the director of business development and marketing for HECO, a family business dealing with electric motors and performance systems. He’s also a WMU alumnus.

“When I wanted to have a symposium at HECO, I interviewed two event planners,” Hatfield says. “Deb Droppers from KELC was one of them. As soon as I interviewed her, I knew I wanted KELC. She was more expensive, but when I looked at all that she offered, it was worth it.”

Using interns was part of Dropper’s bid. Droppers let Hatfield know that her plan was to hand the entire project over to interns.

“Two-day symposium, five sessions going at once, and the event went perfectly,” Hatfield says. “I was able to focus on my customers rather than worry about the event. We’re planning on making this an annual event, and I will use KELC again. I feel good giving real-life experience to students.”

Learn more about KELC at .

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Between the Lines: The Vonnegut Brothers

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guests: Ginger Strand 

Ginger Strand (Photo by Robert Brown)

Say "Vonnegut" and most everyone fills in the first name: Kurt. But there was another Vonnegut, and when Bernard built silver iodide generators and seeded clouds to create rain, he was the brother the government began watching. If the military could control the weather, well, that could be the next super-weapon.
In her new book, The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, Kalamazoo College graduate Ginger Strand explores the relationship between the two brothers and how each struggled with moral and ethical issues in their work.
Bernard Vonnegut was a leading scientist in a research lab at General Electric in Schenectady, New York, during the 1950's. His younger brother Kurt worked in GE’s public relations department, often writing press releases about the scientific discoveries Bernard made in the lab. When one of Bernard’s discoveries had the potential to change the weather, the military took notice. The Army oversaw Bernard’s work, calling it "Project Cirrus." That led the brothers to share perspectives on science used to harm rather than benefit humanity. For Kurt, those themes worked their way into his many novels.

“That, for me, was the interesting story that emerged in my research,” Strand says. “During their time working together at GE, they began to exchange ideas and talk about the ethical dilemmas Bernard as a scientist was facing. This was the era after the development of the nuclear bomb. There was a lot of talk about scientists and their responsibility for the use of their inventions.”

When Kurt Vonnegut wrote about what he saw going on at GE, his work was classified as ....

Friday, January 08, 2016

Between the Lines: Writing Through Grief

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guests: Mira Ptacin

The pregnancy was unplanned. The boyfriend was new. Mira Ptacin wasn’t sure she was ready for any of this, but it was too late to back out now. After all, she was in love with Andrew; she was 28; and why not accept his proposal for marriage? Everything was going to be just fine. Even if she did just cancel her health insurance. But everything was not fine.

Ptacin’s memoir Poor Your Soul (Penguin Random House, 2016), recounts her experience of grief and loss at finding out from an ultrasound that her unborn baby had serious birth defects and could not survive outside the womb. Ptacin had three options: end the pregnancy, induce early delivery, or wait and inevitably miscarry.

While Ptacin struggled with losing her child, her parents tried to cope with the sudden loss of Ptacin’s brother, 14-year-old Julian, who was killed by a drunken driver. Tragedy seemed to hit Ptacin from all sides.
Mira Ptacin
Ptacin is a Battle Creek-native and a graduate of Western Michigan University who deals with social issues as she deals with personal issues. Her book describes what happens when a woman who's expecting and faces the complication of having no health insurance. She addresses the lack of empathy shown to a woman who has had to terminate a pregnancy or gone through a miscarriage by friends in her inner circle as well as society in general. She writes about the irony of growing up Catholic and having a father, a medical doctor and former seminarian, guide her through the end of her pregnancy.
As part of her concern for the social welfare of women, Ptacin teaches memoir-writing at the Maine Correctional Facility, near her home in Portland. She says sharing her story with the women imprisoned there has been especially meaningful.
“These women have often endured hardship all their lives. They end up in prison because of ...