Innovation + Job News

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WMU opens free virtual reality space for students, faculty

Virtual reality has come to Western Michigan University. A new lab that has six workstations with high-end PCs, Oculus Rift headsets, and Oculus Touch hand controllers has opened in the lower level of Waldo Library.

Virtual reality is part of a rapidly expanding part of the economy. "In three short years," says Tom Wolf, chief Information officer for the Office of Information Technology  "virtual reality has grown into a billion-dollar industry that has significantly disrupted the gaming and entertainment industries while opening up new educational opportunities in fields such as military, space, flight, archeology, medical, engineering, architecture and the fine arts." 

In Room 0135 students can experience both the entertainment and educational side of virtual reality content. The lab will help faculty members learn about the technology and how to integrate VR content into classes and research. More than 20 virtual reality titles are supported.

Software and other learning materials will be available to help students and faculty create their own VR content. They may also bring their own content developed elsewhere to test in the Lab.

The lab was created in a collaboration between the University Libraries and Office of Information Technology.

Western Michigan University has scheduled an open house for the free virtual reality space on Thursday, Feb. 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. The event will feature brief remarks made after 5 p.m.

The free VR lab is available on a first-come first-served basis during open hours. Other times may be reserved by contacting Kevin Abbott, Office of Information Technology here.

"We are excited to be working with OIT to host the VR lab in the libraries and bring greater exposure and understanding to how virtual reality can impact teaching and learning," says Dean of Libraries Julie Garrison. "We invite all students, faculty, and staff from across the university to take advantage of this excellent new resource and come to play, experiment and learn about virtual reality's potential."

Source: Deanne Puca, Western Michigan University

Hours of operation
The VR lab is open each week on these days and at these times:
• Sundays through Thursdays, 9 p.m. to midnight
• Mondays, 10 a.m. to noon
• Wednesdays, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
• Thursdays, 4 to 6 p.m.
• Fridays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, visit here.

Paper produced at WMU used in 'drinkable book' could provide clean water for millions

Western Michigan University has played a key role in the production of a paper technology designed to provide clean drinking water for those whose water is polluted and unfit to drink.  
The paper has been successfully produced in Western Michigan University's pilot plant this fall and may be on its way to becoming an international tool to prevent disease, the university reports.

Safe Water Books are both a water filter and an instruction manual for why clean water is important. Each page of the book is a water filter capable of killing the viruses and bacteria in the water that passes through it. The paper will be packaged in Safe Water Books with instructions in the local language of the country in which it is being used.

The books could provide clean and safe water to the 1.8 billion people worldwide whose water is contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria and other diseases. A page from a Safe Water Book can clean up to 100 liters of water at a cost of less than a penny per day with no heat or electricity or need for a pump. The filters are recyclable and biodegradable. Each filter "page," can last for weeks and each "book" could last for about a year.

The technology is based on centuries-old knowledge about the antimicrobial properties of silver, and it involves the production of paper with silver nanoparticles embedded in it. 

Folia Filters have been tested in South Africa, Ghana, Honduras, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Haiti, showing repeatedly that they can clean even the most polluted water and eliminate over 99 percent of bacteria.

Folio Water of Pittsburgh came to WMU this fall to find out if it the technology--developed in research labs at McGill and Carnegie Mellon universities and the University of Virginia--could be scaled so the books could go into major production. 

"By utilizing our pilot paper machine, Folia was able to combine several steps in the production process into one continuous process," WMU Pilot Plants Manager Lon E. Pschigoda says. The trial run in WMU's paper pilot plants was successful, and the paper rolls produced are being converted into books and being readied for distribution.

"Those rolls are already sold, and we'll be shipping books as soon as they are converted," says Dr. Cantwell Carson, Folia's chief technical officer, who attended the WMU trials. "The WMU paper plant has played a critical role in the development of our company and our technology."

To see a video on the book in action, visit here.

Source: Cheryl Roland, Western Michigan University

WMU rents goats to munch away on invasive species

A four-footed landscape crew from Munchers on Hooves has been at work this week eating their way through invasive plants on campus woodlots at Western Michigan University.

Ten goats, including Buba, Cinnamon, and Diva, have been munching on buckthorn, honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet and poison ivy. 

Goats will eat just about anything, though they prefer weeds, vines and woody material over grass. And the seeds of invasive plants aren't viable after passing through a goat's digestive system, so native plants have an easier time reestablishing themselves.

If the initial pilot program succeeds the goats will be moved to another piece of land on the back side of the pond. The goal is to clean up more of the property on the back side of the pond to make the site a more useable and inviting green space.

Nick Gooch, WMU horticulturist is the one who proposed bringing goats to campus.

"The current management practice to combat these species using labor, machinery and chemical herbicides is labor and capital intense and fails to improve the site to allow the native community to achieve balance and restore the ecosystem," he says. As campus woodlots are used and developed invasive species are going to continue to spread, making the land ideal to test out land management by goats.

The goats improve the soil by adding nutrient-rich manure to the surface, thereby creating an environment for beneficial plants and animals to thrive. They also can clear problem areas like steep slopes, ditches, and a stream bank. They don't destroy beneficial plants unless overgrazing takes place and they leave sites fairly clean so future hand work to remove torn, tattered, and uncut material is less labor-intensive.

Typically, it costs WMU about $1,618 to clear one-quarter acre using labor, machinery, and herbicides, Gooch says. The four-legged weed cleaning crew will cost an estimated $1,280 per one-quarter acre. 

He says the goats' effectiveness will depend on topography and the variety and density of the plant species present. In cases where there is especially aggressiveness vegetation, two or three repeat grazings could be necessary.

Munchers on Hooves, owned by Garrett and Gina Fickle of Coldwater won the bid for the project. Their goats were to spend a week inside a portable electric fence installed south of Goldsworth Valley Pond just below Sindecuse Health Center.

Plans call for the goats to be moved to additional plots further west on the north side of the Goldsworth Valley section of the Ring Road if all goes well.

Goats can clear vegetation four feet up from the ground and work together as a team in hard-to-reach places, says Gina Fickle.

“Every site that they go to is seen by them as a new salad bar," she says.

The friendly goats are used to working 24 hours at day and they work in the county and the city. “Noise doesn't bother them--they just kept on munching even with the recent fireworks," Gina Fickle says.

She and her husband have been breeding and raising Boer goats for seven years. They started using them in 2016 to clear buckthorn on their property.

Now they are working to educate the public about goats and what the animals can do for the environment as they grow their business, Munchers on Hooves.

WMU is not the first to try out goats for the fight against invasive species. The Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission started using them in 2014 and the University of Michigan Golf Course rented goats for clean-up work in 2015. Airports in Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco use goats as do schools such as Clemson, Oregon State the universities of Georgia and Wisconsin-Madison.

Source: Western Michigan University

International team seeks alternative for solar cell semiconductors

You've probably heard the rare elements used to make semiconductors for solar cells are running out and their prices skyrocketing. Now an international team of scientists and engineers, including researchers from Western Michigan University has demonstrated a new material made from abundant elements can be used instead.

The key is the compound that once was believed to be wrong for the job can be used if it is "tuned." The compound is ZnSnN2---zinc tin nitride. It has been recently synthesized by groups around the world, relying on zinc and tin, metals which are readily available in recycling facilities. It would replace expensive rare materials such as gallium and indium.

Whether the new semiconductor will work as anticipated has to do with something called its band gap, a defining characteristic of semiconductors. It originally was believed band gap for the new compound was too large for it to be used in solar cells. Now researchers have found that they can alter zinc tin nitride, paving the way for this material to be considered for solar cell applications.

"We use a sophisticated crystal growth technique known as molecular beam epitaxy," says Dr. Steve Durbin, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering at Western Michigan University. “It allows us to control crystal quality by carefully adjusting parameters such as temperature and the ratio of incident atomic (or molecular) beams."

A report on work and that of the rest of the team is found here.  

Source: Western Michigan University

Workplace bonds grow as garden blooms

Gardening is growing all kinds of benefits for the staff of Wightman & Associates, Inc.

Employees are connecting over eggplant blossoms, corn stalks, and marigolds under the lunchtime sky on the grounds of the company’s Benton Harbor office located at 2303 Pipestone Road in Benton Charter Township.

A workplace experiment in growing produce in raised beds has increased camaraderie among coworkers and fostered an atmosphere of sharing, the company reports. As the garden begins to yield tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, squash, watermelon, and other produce, the gardeners are sharing food with each other and other co-workers. Food for thought is also being shared, the company says.

It started with the idea that 16 staffers would tend eight raised bed gardens, surrounding a new picnic area. Now, co-workers interested in the progress of the crops and the team of workplace farmers all gather there during lunch breaks.

The GREEN team at Wightman & Associates, whose focus is on developing sustainable and environmentally conscious purchasing and operational practices within the company, came up with the idea for the workplace garden, believing it could be an educational tool for those interested in learning more about sustainable practices.

The team also anticipated the community garden could create new connections between employees, improve communication, and foster a greater sense of teamwork within the company.

Senior management approved the proposal and went on to purchase the materials to build the garden beds.

Eight, 4' x 8' raised garden beds, each to be shared by two employees, were planned.

"On a Friday evening this spring, we held a potluck and invited anyone who wanted to help us build the beds to join in. People brought their spouses and kids to help and it became a family activity. In three hours, the entire site was prepped, raised beds built and filled, the plot edged, and walkways mulched," says Ben Baker, landscape architect, and coordinator of the project. "I never dreamed we’d get it done so quickly."

Baker says they also put company skills to good use in creating the site. Landscape architects designed the plot, architects designed the raised beds, and members of the survey department staked the site to ensure the beds were in perfect alignment.

"We paired people who had no connection to raising food with those who are more experienced. We exchange information about companion plantings and gardening methods so everyone learns from the experience," Baker says. Employees work on the gardens before or after work, or during lunch breaks.

As food is being harvested, interest in the garden is increasing. More employees have asked to participate next year. The raised beds have even gained the attention of neighbors who stop to learn more about what the WAI team is doing.

With several weeks left in this growing season, there is already talk about expanding the project next year to include more employees and possibly provide each gardener with a larger garden plot.

"In the middle of this commercial corridor, there aren’t places for people to gather outside," says Baker. "Now almost every day, employees take their lunches outside and eat together. Even those without garden plots make use of it."

Source: Jamie Balkin, Wightman & Associates, Inc.

More than 1,200 turn out for region's first Mini Maker Faire

The weather didn't quite cooperate, but that did not stop more than 1,200 people from turning out for Southwest Michigan's first Mini Maker Faire recently.

The May 30 event at Whirlpool Centennial Park had more than 30 interactive learning stations. A 3D printer, soldering, and a 30-foot-long 'Nerdy Derby' racetrack were all part of the fun and learning. There were 200 Nerdy Derby Cars built, 150 rockets launched, and more than 100 makers of all ages learned to solder, even though the day  brought foggy, cold and rainy weather.

The day allowed the area's "future workforce of entrepreneurs to have a truly interactive and first-hand experience of what is involved in making things," says Greg Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer. "We want the next generation to realize how important manufacturing is to our economy, while encouraging their creativity and innovation."

Regional Education Services Agency (RESA) was the the lead agency in putting on the day's events. Cornerstone Alliance, Kinexus, St. Joseph Today, SeeMeCNC also were partners. The group licensed the event through Make:

Kalamazoo was represented at the event by Hacker Gals’ founder Stacy Burdettte and by representatives of The Kalamazoo Makers Guild. Burdette reports that organizers took care of the Makers at the faire very well, offering assistance in unloading and feeding them pizza at lunch time. 

“Less than one year ago, this faire was a merely a concept,” says  Joe Rommel, RESA  Educational Technology Consultant. “Makers faires have been wildly popular throughout the world, and we wanted to create an event that promoted innovation, creativity and learning in our community.  Despite the weather, we were delighted with the attendance. The months of planning and hard work were rewarded with the countless smiles and teachable moments we saw from makers of all ages.”

Sponsors included Lake Michigan College, Purple Mash, Chemical Bank, Dane Systems, LLC, Hanson Mold, Revision/Legal and United Federal Credit Union.

Source: Cornerstone Alliance

WMU entreprenuers win $5,000 in GreenLight competition

A business based on an electric lawn mower designed to reduce lawn care costs and the carbon footprint of those cutting their lawn was a $5,000 winner at the recent GreenLight Michigan Business Model Competition.

Tyler Lemke, a Western Michigan University student, has been working with a team at the business accelerator Starting Gate to create the company. He gave the winning pitch for AutomowticCo. to judges at the competition, whcih drew entrepreneurs from around the state.

"My team's tremendous contributions, feedback from my peers and instructors, and the mentoring session with the judges prior to the competition really helped solidify my presentation for the competition," he says.

Eight finalists were invited to a mentoring session before pitching their companies during the final competition at East Lansing.

A second student-built company from WMU, Michigan Smart Lighting, also was a finalist in the competition. The company is developing smart-phone controlled light switches that use a mobile app that can schedule lights, deter theft, and monitor energy use.

The Whirlpool award-winner, AutoMowticCo., is a lawn care service business that uses multiple autonomous electric lawn mowers. The mowers do not have to be pushed, and they cut the lawn automatically under the supervision of a person on site.

This is the first year Whirlpool has given an award in the competition. Its $5,000 award was intended to promote innovation that helps keep homes running smoothly.

The top winner in the GreenLight Michigan Business Model Competition went home with $25,000.

Source: Western Michigan University

Photo: The AutoMowticCo team is, from left, Cody Loyer, Andrew Schram, Race Bedell, Conor Makowski, Tyer Lemke, Austin Scott. Not shown, Jamirah Terry.

Perrigo hires associate director of corporate accounting

Barret Bloenk is the new Associate Director of Corporate Accounty for Perrigo, Co.

Barret will assist with financial reporting, internal controls and financial regulatory matters.

He will also will work on special projects related to accounting changes and policy implementations, business combinations and integrations.

Barret has 15 years of public accounting experience as a senior manager in the financial advisory practice of a national accounting firm.

Most recently, Barret consulted on mergers and acquisitions and led due diligence engagements on behalf of strategic acquirers and private equity groups.

Barret earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Western Michigan University. He is from Bay City and now lives in Holland. 

Source: Perrigo Co.

Wightman & Associates, Inc. adds five new team members

The civil engineering, architectural, and survey firm that serves Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana, Wightman & Associates, Inc., has added five professionals to its team.

James Baker of Augusta, Michigan has joined the Portage office as a project engineer and storm water, asset management, and wastewater grant manager. He earned a bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in mathematics from Western Michigan University. Baker is a veteran of the Marine Corps and also has 12 years of direct municipal experience working in water resources, most recently with the City of Kalamazoo.  

Ron Brady of St. Joseph, has joined the Benton Harbor office as an architecture technician. He has more than 24 years of experience in drafting and architecture. Brady's background is in fire protection sprinkler design and pre-manufactured homes. He earned an associates degree in architecture from Ivy Tech Community College.

James Derks, of Kalamazoo, has joined the Benton Harbor office as a licensed architect. He earned degrees in both a master of architecture and bachelor of science from the University of Michigan.  He has more than 25 years of programming, design and management experience, and an extensive background in educational and recreational facility design projects.

Denise Duffel of Berrien Springs has joined the Benton Harbor office as IT administrative support. She comes to the role with eight years of experience. She earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration and computer science from Indiana University, and an associate’s degree in business administration and computer science from Lake Michigan College.

Source: Wightman & Associates, Inc.

MI Makers Box: The Secret's Out

A love of what's being made in Southwest Michigan brought together a group of people who want others to know what's happening here.

Their idea for getting out the word grew from the realization that though there was a lot of support for purchasing locally made goods here, there was little opportunity for local makers to be discovered or to have their story told.

So the team put together MI Makers BoxFor an annual rate of $129.99, subscribers get four boxes shipped and delivered to their doorsteps each quarter. Each box is full of four or five products made regionally. The story of the person who made the product also is included.

"By sharing these boxes with the world, MI Makers seeks to passionately support the dreamers, the believers and the entrepreneurs who spend countless hours making high quality products right here in the southwest corner of the mitten state," says Cynthia Hernandez, managing director of operations and curator of the project.

MI Makers Box is launching at a time when handcrafted goods are making a resurgence in the United States. The work has even spawned its own form of political activism--known and Craftivism. The name refers to the idea of making your own goods as a statement against the bland sameness of mass-produced goods.

For the MI Makers team, however, the project is simply fueled by what they call an awareness of how much people from Michigan love what's made here. "I love how Michigan loves all-things Michigan," Hernandez says. "This is especially true in our Southwest Michigan community."

MI Makers collaborates with local makers to handpick the products, tell their stories, and market and sell each box. Before each box’s products and makers are revealed to the public, contents are kept secret until the boxes' recipients have the chance to open up their surprises and take the exclusive first peek.

The first boxes hit local doorsteps in March and they sold out. Inside there were goods from Lush Gourmet Foods, Pop City Popcorn, Confections with Convictions, Damn Handsome Grooming Co., Kalamazoo Candle Company and Van Buren Intermediate School District’s Paper Production Program.

"The response for the inaugural box from local and national subscribers has been great," Hernandez says. "Makers are already beginning to see new fans and even corporate sponsorships."

MI Makers works with C2 Brands, a not-for-profit, benevolent organization established to help grow communities through a variety of brands, programs and resources. Headquarters for MI Makers and C2 Brands are in Kalamazoo, though the team's focus is on the entire surrounding region across Southwest Michigan.

he MI Makers Box project, Hernandez says, is about "lifting up the small business community, sharing best practices, and making new connections."

And the project is not about those creating the boxes, but those who create what goes in the boxes and how together they can help Southwest Michigan thrive. 

Source: Cynthia Hernandez, MI Makers Box

The gears that must mesh to create a community where innovation thrives

Culture, institutions, community members, and capital all play a part in whether or not a community fosters business startups. And they all could be represented as gears that work together and form an integral part of such communities. 

Ten Western Michigan University students traveled to Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Detroit and Grand Rapids to learn about each of those communities as part of the Understanding Startup Communities Course offered through the Lee’s Honor College. They also went to Cassopolis to learn about Michigan companies to watch. 

They came back to Kalamazoo and presented to community members at a meeting at Starting Gate their thoughts on how the gears mesh and put forward an idea for an business incubator like those they saw on their travels. 

John Mueller, assistant professor of management at Western Michigan University, who teaches entrepreneurship, led the students in the cross-country visit as they explored the factors that drive a vibrant startup community.

Students reported that as they visited different communities they came to understand how important culture was in each of the communities they visited, though they initially did not recognize it as a vital part of the equation.

They found communities where risk taking was expected and accepted. 

The students also came to realize that business incubators and co-working spaces came with a social aspect, in that entrepreneurs could find others with whom they could collaborate and commiserate. Social events also were important for providing places people and ideas could “collide,” the students said.

In Boulder, meetings took place not only in the office, but out in nature. Boulder Open Coffee Club happens in the Boomtown Accelerator where members talk with one another.

They learned about Techstars, and how it empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market through mentorship and seed funding.

The startup investigation trip was timed over spring break so that students could experience a taste of South by Southwest in Austin. As the students said: “There were great opportunities for socialization and collaboration in the city of Austin. Although, we could be biased because we witnessed South by Southwest.”

Both communities share a quality of life that the WMU students described as an almost magical quality--a “stay factor.” They explained that in both Boulder and Austin they heard that students came to attend university and never left.

For Boulder, the mountains and outdoor activities in a city where there is 330 days of sunshine each year is a big draw. The city is clean and there are many opportunities to eat healthy food. Dogs are welcome everywhere and marijuana is legal. With a population of 100,000 the community is tight-knit, so businesses that might compete in other communities collaborate in Boulder.

In Austin, live music, good food and art all create an attractive culture for innovators. The people are friendly and sincere and the city is a haven for Texans who don’t fit in other parts of the state. Students said they were told the city is a speck of blue in a sea of red that is Texas. Though, the two political parties do cooperate in Austin.

When it came to diversity, the students found more in Austin than in Boulder, though they admitted the festival may have skewed that. They also found that beyond demographic diversity it is important to have a diversity of mindsets (which can be hard to achieve without demographic diversity). 

They also tried to determine whether it is possible for economic growth created by startups to take place without shoving out certain members of the community through gentrification. Those they talked to said they believed it was possible, but had not yet determined how it could be done.

The students looked at institutions such as universities and local governments and their roles in encouraging entrepreneurship. They also identified the role of large corporations: They start a culture of technology and provide the community with economic stability and a base for employment.

Community members also play a huge role, especially billionaires. Especially in Austin, these members of the community were described as approachable and willing to share their expertise and funds.

Both Austin and Boulder are also filled with entrepreneurs and lifestyle businesses (those that allow their founders to maintain a certain income level and particular lifestyle). They found food trucks in Austin and came to appreciate those trucks in Kalamazoo.

The students learned that 80 percent of the capital invested in Boulder comes from outside the city. They found out about investors who only put money into businesses they know about and which they feel passionate about. Investors care about where hey are putting their money and they want it to help entrepreneurs and the community.

“People making connections opened up capital,” said Elyse Hogan, one of the 10 students in the course.

Innovation is flourishing in Detroit because of the influx of people who want to make a difference there. 

In Grand Rapids they learned of the changes taking place in Start Garden.

Inspired by their visit to Boulder, students envisioned a co-working space for Kalamazoo. It would have a downtown location, open workspace, lounges, a kitchen, ping pong tables, conference rooms and lockers. Mentors with office hours, workshops and classes all could help entrepreneurs succeed. 

They even had a name for the building--Dash. In a local cemetery they were shown head stones with dates that represent beginnings and endings, but learned what matters most is the dash between those years, as it represents how one spends his or her life.

As students rolled out their co-working space idea, several members of the audience spoke up saying that they are at work on similar plans. They also said that people may be looking for different kinds of spaces and it is likely there will be room for different kinds of incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces.

Students said it would be helpful for them to work with those who are already at work on such a project and as the meeting broke up connections were being made for further collaborations.

Kathy Jennings is managing editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave Media. She is a freelance editor and writer.

Editor’s note: Thanks to the students of HNRS 2900 for sharing their Framework of Startup Communities used as reference in this story. Students who participated in the class were: Ethan Archer, Eric Carlo, Simbarashe Chirara, Elyse Hogan, Alexi Lenderman, Josie Marshall, Kailin Marshall, Mackenzie McGuckin, Jill Pickett, and Adam Roth. 

Skillman Corp. hires project engineer

Nate Preston has joined the Skillman Corp's Kalamazoo office as a project engineer.

He has most recently worked for Turner Construction Co. and Birchwood Construction Co.

The Michigan native says he is happy to be back after years of working in Arizona and California.

Preston is a graduate of Ferris State University in Big Rapids and has a Master of Science Design-Build from Auburn University in Alabama.

Skillman Corp. provides project administration and construction management services including construction management, design/build, facility studies, owner technical representative, project administration, and more.

Source: Skillman Corp.

United Federal Credit Union promotes two

United Federal Credit Union has moved two of its employees.

Carly McNeilus has been named Director of eCommerce Sales and Marketing and  Nithida Somsanith has been appointed to the position of Products Marketing Manager at United Federal Credit Union in St. Joseph.

McNeilus will lead the staff as it revamps ways members interact with the credit union digitally. She will lead them as they prioritizes, design, and develop new digital connections. She also will direct changes in existing interactions.

She will oversee selection, quality assurance, and implementation of new technology solutions and will be responsible for growing sales and improving service levels for web- and mobile channel-derived business and transactions.

McNeilus was previously eCommerce Technology Manager in the UFCU Information Technology Department. There she was responsible for day-to-day operations of digital electronic channels including web; mobile; apps, and other integrated systems, and directing the implementation of technology solutions to help enable the credit union's strategic goals.  

McNeilus’ previous experience includes marketing and consumer relations positions in Southwest Michigan and Northwest Indiana.

A Southwest Michigan native, McNeilus earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts and Sciences from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.  She lives with her family in Niles.

Somsanith will lead the pricing, promotion and life cycle management of UFCU products. Somsanith was previously a Business Products Specialist with UFCU. She designed, developed, implemented, and managed business products and services to meet the long-range strategic objectives and financial targets of the credit union.

Somsanith’s previous experience includes management, consulting, marketing and business development positions with The Pure Pantry, Kiran Analytics, Charter One Bank and Chase.

A St. Joseph native, Somsanith  earned a bachelor of arts degree in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing from the University of California at San Diego. She lives in St. Joseph.

United Federal Credit Union has more than 130,000 members worldwide, and manages assets in excess of $1.83 billion. Its corporate offices and main branch are located in St. Joseph and it has other branches in Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, and Ohio.

United Federal Credit Union

Four new team members join Wightman & Associates

The team of service providers at Wightman & Associates has grown by four. A new CADD drafter, an engineer, and two engineer's in training are now working for the civil engineering, architectural, and survey firm.

Joining the survey department as a CADD drafter in the Benton Harbor office is Shawn Howell, of South Bend, Ind. He earned an associate degree in Industrial Technology from Lake Michigan College and brings 15 years of drafting and design experience to the company.

Anna Keehn of Gobles has joined the Benton Harbor office as an engineer in training. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University where she earned a bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. She has background in water system infrastructure and road design.

Veronica Maslanka of Fennville has also joined the Benton Harbor office as an engineer in training. She earned a bachelor of science degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in Mathematics from WMU and an associate in science degree from Lake Michigan College. She has background in road design and transportation planning.

The engineering team in the Portage office has expanded to include Paul Schram of Portage. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Western Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from the University of Michigan. He brings to his new role five years of design experience.  His engineering school focus was in structural and traffic design.

Wightman & Associates, Inc. is a civil engineering, architectural, and survey firm that has been serving Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana since 1946 with offices in Benton Harbor, Portage, and Allegan.

Source: Jamie Balkin, Wightman & Associates, Inc.


Ice bucket results: Bronson uses new technology to treat ALS patients

Remember when everyone from celebrities to your next door neighbor was dumping ice buckets over their heads to support the ALS Association?

Those who were part of the ice bucket challenge helped make possible a new system that connects specialists at Bronson Methodist Hospital and ALS patients in remote and underserved communities in northern Michigan.

The ALS Association Michigan Chapter and the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Family Foundation also made possible the use of the JEMS Technology Telehealth System.

Medical professionals can send live streaming video to a specialty physician via an iPhone, iPad or Android-based phone or tablet using the JEMS Telehealth System. The specialist will be able to review the video on their smart device in real time and respond with medical advice.

Kevin Lasser, president of JEMS Technology, based in Orion, Mich., says the system is "the conduit that enables physicians and specialists to deliver expert care in a way that's convenient for patients and their caregivers."

Dustin Nowacek, MD, Bronson Methodist Hospital's medical director for neuromuscular services and neurodiagnostics, explains the impact of the technology: "Telemedicine will give ALS patients in northern Michigan -- and several other rural areas across the country -- access to the multidisciplinary clinic approach to ALS care, which in itself has been shown to improve ALS care."

ALS patients and their caregivers have to travel to several specialists to receive all of the care that is required to combat the full-body, degenerative nature of the disease, says  Paula Morning,  executive director of the ALS Association Michigan Chapter.

"Telemedicine allows the ALS patient a unique opportunity to become educated about their disease and receive uncompromised care through face-to-face interaction with experts across all domains of care," says Morning. "Recent donations to the ALS Association made it possible for Bronson to use the JEMS Telehealth System; those who participated in the ice bucket challenge this summer made this patient care possible."

Source: JEMS Technology
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