Kantzler Fellowship gives SVSU students scholarships and real-world strategies for solving problems

Every year local high school students on their way to Saginaw Valley State University apply for thousands of scholarships to pay for school.

One of those, the Kantzler Fellows Scholarship, comes with what might seem to be a catch. Anyone who receive the scholarship must agree to give back to the Great Lakes Bay Region.

For many, that catch turns out to be a blessing.

Maria Moore, part of the 2009 cohort of recipients, says being a Kantzler fellow informed much of her career path.

“I really kind of credit the opportunity to be part of the scholarship program with everything else I did in college,” she says. “It affirmed how I felt about giving back to the community.”

After graduation, Moore wanted to continue giving back, and “found other opportunities at the university to give back.”

During each year of college, her cohort was required to plan and complete a community service project. In Moore’s senior year, they chose to landscape and beautify the Kantzler Memorial Arboretum near the Bay City Riverwalk.

That project exposed Moore to new experiences.

A bridge on the Bay City Riverwalk connects Veterans Memorial Park to the Kantzler Memorial Arboretum. The walkway is a popular spot all through the year. (Photo Credit: Kristen Wild/Bay Area Community Foundation)She learned to interact with her peers, the Kantzler trustees, and community leaders.

As part of the project, the fellows had to connect with people who could help them, including business owners and community stakeholders. Moore quickly learned to interact with her peers, community leaders, and the Kantzler trustees.

”We also met with the trustees once or twice a year. We had breakfast with them so that we could share what our project was.”

As a 20-something, Moore says she found it difficult to present her ideas to people with decades of experience.

“These are people who are well known in the community, who have funds to donate personally. It’s intimidating to put a 20-year-old in front of them.”

Despite the anxiety-inducing presentations, Moore says she and her cohort benefited from the experience. They discovered the power of connections when one of the trustees turned out to be a member of a local Garden Society.

“We worked really closely with her and she made the introductions for us,” Moore says.

Meeting the right people was only one part of the project, Moore adds. The cohort still had to invest time and labor into getting the work done.

“We did do the planning and all the connecting, but we learned how to use our resources and the people that we were fortunate to meet. That made it a little easier.”

None of the fellows knew much about gardening, so they partnered with the Garden Society experts to execute the work itself.

“The Garden Society has a yearly clean-up of that arboretum, so we would go out and help.”

They also raised funds to add some new plants in the garden and had a plaque that indicated their involvement.

Although it’s been a few years since she received the fellowship, Moore says the experience still influences her.

“What a great challenge it was for young people to come into,” Moore says.

The project called for the group to identify a problem that mattered to them and then come up with solutions.

 “And that’s a mindset you’ll take everywhere. It’s not just what are the problems, but how are we going to fix it? How can we make this better?”

Problem-solving and community service were the impetus for staying in the Bay Region after Moore graduated from SVSU.

After graduation, Moore worked at SVSU for five years and served on the Kantzler Foundation Board of Trustees in 2019 and 2020. She enjoyed watching other cohorts accomplish their goals while part of the program.

“I think one cohort actually noticed there wasn’t a place to separate recyclables from paper, and so part of their project was to, campus-wide, have divided trash cans,” Moore says.

“It seems like a thing you take for granted, but it was something we didn’t have at SVSU before. And that’s another great example of the Foundation motivating college students to contribute in a really meaningful way.”

Moore recently took a job away from the Great Lakes Bay Region, but says she still sees herself as a member of the community.

“With the Kantzler Fellowship in mind and the things that I learned there, that just flowed right into a job where I could see the university as part of the whole community,” Moore says.

Much like Moore and her cohort, this year’s Kantzler Fellows ­– Lauren Gallagher, Kathleen Herndon, Raven  Piotrowski, and Benjamin Kochany – will have the chance to sit down with the Kantzler Board of Trustees and present they see within the community and propose a solution.

At the end of their projects, they will have made connections, grown their own communities, and learned how to solve problems for this community as well as the wider world.
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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.