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Podcast: June 16, 2021

An Ann Arbor organization hosts a fundraiser for local food insecurity, and EMU alumnus Jack Roush gifts the university $1 million.

Ronia Cabansag: On this week’s episode, we’ll be talking about an Ann Arbor organization’s fundraiser to address local food insecurity, as well as an alumnus gifting $1 million to EMU. We will also discuss the Africology and African American studies programs at Eastern. I’m Ronia Cabansag, and this is the Eastern Echo podcast. 

Food Gatherers, an Ann Arbor-based food bank and food rescue program, canceled their in-person picnic for the second year in a row, deciding to instead launch a fundraiser in its place. 

For over 25 years, Food Gatherers hosted Grillin’, a picnic to raise awareness for food insecurity in the community. It was the organization's largest event, attracting more than 1,400 attendees to the Washtenaw County Fairgrounds. Sadly, it's been canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns. 

In place of the canceled event, there will be a matching campaign to raise money for the fight against hunger. The Harold and Kay Peplau Family Fund is matching donations up to $35,000.

Helen Starman, the chief development officer of Food Gatherers, said the following expressing her gratitude for local business sponsors: 

Helen Starman: “We’re very grateful to the local businesses that even in this challenging year have chosen to support Food Gatherers, even without the benefits of sponsoring an event.” 

Ronia Cabansag: While plans for the return of in-person fundraisers are on halt, Starman said the organization is hopeful about the possibility of their holiday event, Rockin’ for the Hungry, returning this year. She also looks forward to Grillin’ returning in 2022.  

Food Gatherers’ impact on Washtenaw County extends to EMU’s campus as Swoop’s Food Pantry, a resource for students to receive food and other essentials, is partnered with the organization. Heidi Bechtel, a graduate assistant at Swoop’s, said about 50% of the food on Swoop’s shelves is from Food Gatherers. 

Heidi Bechtel: “I mean we really would be half the size without them, so we would have a lot less to offer, and we would have to spend a lot more of our administrative hours on getting grants and stuff like that.” 

Ronia Cabansag: Through community partners like Food Gatherers, Swoop’s is able to help more students during the COVID-19 crisis. Whether or not you are in immediate need, Bechtel encourages EMU students to take advantage of Swoop’s resources.

In other community news, EMU alumnus Jack Roush has decided to gift the university $1 million in support of Eastern’s GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology. 

Roush is not only the chairperson of the board of Roush Enterprises, but also the founder, CEO, and co-owner of the NASCAR racing team, Roush Fenway Racing.

This gift will be supporting three initiatives that support math preparation and tutoring, preparing students in the automotive industry, and purchasing industry-standard lab equipment.

There will be a $400,000 endowment to enhance and expand math preparation and tutoring programs. The particular emphasis of this initiative is students desiring to pursue STEM majors, especially in engineering and computer science. 

The second initiative will be another $400,000 endowment focusing on student preparation for careers in the automotive industry. Students would be able to do this through academic and beyond the classroom opportunities. This endowment includes supporting the Baja SAE racing team and other vehicle competition teams.

The last initiative of $200,000 will support the purchase of industry-standard lab equipment for the automotive industry. 

This $1 million gift from Roush comes as a part of the Give Rise campaign. Give Rise is a comprehensive campaign fundraiser for Eastern Michigan with a goal of $100 million. The campaign aims to support student success, advance programs of distinction, and push students to excel beyond the classroom.

In our last segment today, professor Victor O. Okafor, the department head of Africology and African American studies at EMU,  spoke with the Echo about the various programs offered under the department.

The department offers a bachelor’s degree program, a 21-credit minor, a 12-credit certificate program in African studies, a master’s degree program, a 15-credit graduate certificate program, and a general education program. Students are encouraged to double major in AAAS and another discipline of their choice. The general education courses offered within the field are expansive, with courses that cover the general education areas of global awareness, U.S. diversity, and knowledge of the disciplines.

Okafor said of the master’s program: 

“It is unique in the sense that we allow students to complete as many as nine credits. Most master’s degrees require six. Part of the reasoning for that is to enable students to double up their areas of expertise and enhance their employability.”

Each semester, the AAAS department at EMU offers a variety of courses related to aspects of Black life and culture in America, as well as in the Caribbean and Africa. The program is designed to give students a holistic view of the Black experience globally with a focus on the New World, specifically the United States.

Okafor told the Echo: 

“No matter what career a student is pursuing, it is vital for that student to learn as much as possible about the world, their society, the institutions by which society is organized, and how those institutions function. You need to know about others who are in your cultural and geographic space so you can relate to them in a respectful way.”

As always, thank you for listening, and don’t forget to tune in next Wednesday for another episode. Also, check out our new Eastern Echo Music Podcast hosted by Layla McMurtrie every other Friday, where she discusses the hottest new music releases and shares recommendations for every genre. 

Reported: Catherine Lietz, Megan Forystek, Quanzelle Wyatt

Scripted: Layla McMurtrie

Produced: Cameron Santangelo

Host: Ronia Cabansag