Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Health up, engineering down at state universities

Capital News Service

LANSING—The number of students who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering is declining while those in health-related majors is increasing dramatically at public universities, according to the House Fiscal Agency.

During the past six years, the number of undergraduate students in Michigan’s 15 public universities who earned bachelor’s degree in engineering majors dropped 4.4 percent.

At the same time, the number in health-related majors increased 76 percent.

The House Fiscal Agency is a nonpartisan office that advises the House on budget and tax issue.

Its figures show that the most popular majors are business-related, which increased 4.2 percent in six years.

“Health-related majors are the second most-popular majors on the chart — engineering ranked fifth,” said Kyle Jen, the agency’s higher education budget analyst.

Health-related majors include allied health, communication disorders science, nursing and 30 others.

There were 975 seniors in Michigan Technology University’s Engineering College in 2009, and the number declined to 955 in 2010.

The number of engineering seniors between 2004 and 2008 was 937, 917, 906, 955 and 962.

“You can see from the statistics that the number goes down and up from 2004 to 2008. Although it changed, it remained stable,” Michigan Tech engineering Dean Timothy Schulz said.

“The number dropped slightly during the past year,” Schulz said. “It is about a 4 percent drop.

“I’m not very concerned about that,” he said, because the difference is not significant.

If the number keeps dropping, “the thing I am worried about is the state’s competitiveness because engineers are masters at solving technical problems, and that’s why we educate students. If the number keeps dropping, it will harm the state’s competitiveness.”

At Western Michigan University, engineering Professor Edmund Tsang, the associate dean for undergraduate programs and assessment, said, “Since 2007, the enrollment number of engineering undergraduate is going up steadily.

“The good reputation of our engineering program attracts students to come and study here,” said Tsang.

Although in some public universities, the number of engineering students is  declining, the demand for engineering positions is still increasing.

The Michigan Labor Market Information forecasts that in 2018, there will be 4,820,640 architecture and engineering employees, which will be up 5.6 percent from 2008.

Bruce Weaver, an analyst for Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said, “The average openings for architecture and engineering will total 135,894 each year and it will grow by 32,192 each year.

“Take civil engineering positions for example. It will have a 20 percent growth from 2008 to 2018 and the annual average openings will be 230,” he said.

As for growing enrollment in health-related majors, Mary Alkire, interim director of school of nursing at Ferris State University, said, “We have 64 undergraduate applications but we only can only accept 32 students.

“This trend shows students’ interests in nursing programs,” she said. “And the other reason is that some countries have a shortage of nurses and they have great demand on them now and in the future.”

“The increasing number of students is a good thing for us,” Alkire said.

“There are two reasons for the popularity of health related majors,” said Jeanette Klemczak, the chief nurse executive for the Department of Community Health.

“First is because the aging population in Michigan keeps growing. We have 100,000 people who are over age 55 and they need more nurses for home care, hospital care and other care. That’s a very good demand for professionals in health,” Klemczak said.

“The second one is that even the younger citizens are not very healthy. Some citizens have Type 2 diabetes as young as in kindergarten. They need more health care. And 50 percent of nurses will be retired in the next 10 years, so we need more students,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Education

Growers smell trouble in stink bug invasion

Capital News Service

Credit: USDA

LANSING — The name of the new invader is enough to make people laugh, but its potential peril is serious enough to make fruit growers weep.

The brown marmorated stink bug, which is notorious for wiping out horticultural crops, has been discovered in Southwest and central Michigan.

The stink bug, known for its destructive feeding habits, could wreak havoc on Berrien County’s fruit, vegetable and ornamental plant industries if immediate action is not taken, according to Larry Olsen.  He is the co-director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) North Central region Integrated Pest Management Center and an entomologist at Michigan State University.

A research student from MSU collected the stink bug, which gets its name from the smell it emits when crushed, in Berrien County.  An MSU Extension educator discovered another in Eaton County.

Entomologists from the USDA have since verified both samples as an invader species similar to a common species native to Michigan.

“There is a huge potential for significant crop damage and loss in Berrien County and other parts of the state as its population rises,” Olsen said.  “This bug infests strawberries, apples, peaches, cherries, vegetables and ornamental plants, all produced in large quantities in this county.”

Berrien County ranks second in acres of fruit and berry and third in annual revenue of more than $36 million, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Olsen said that eastern U.S., where the stink bug was first spotted more than a decade ago, has experienced great damage to its fruit industry.

“Since it’s just newly discovered in Michigan, we can only estimate the kind of damage it can cause by looking at its impact in other regions, but it can be devastating,” he said.

In 2010, growers in Pennsylvania lost an estimated 40 to 50 percent of their peach crop to the stink bug, according to Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.   While damaged fruits sold for processing may sell for $7 to $10 a bushel, undamaged ones could garner up to $20 to $60 on the fresh fruit market.

The winged invader, which can attack an estimated 300 species of plants, also destroys apples, peaches, blackberries, sweet corn, field corn and soybeans, according to Penn State.

Bill Shane, who is responsible for tree fruit research at the MSU Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Berrien County, said that there were cases where entire peach crops were damaged in the East.

He said that the stink bug is new to the state and that his center is trying to learn from other states how to head them off before they get to orchards.

Shane is on a team of researchers and Extension specialists collaborating with USDA entomologists and experts from universities in the affected states.

According to Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, research needs to be done before the state can take action.

“We just need to continue funding the state’s arms of research, including extension services at MSU,” he said.

Shane said that the stink bug nests and multiplies on field crops such as soybeans and corn and comes out in swarms once the crops mature and dry down, heading towards orchards and other plants.

“So we’ll be trying to see how we can use a chemical barrier on the outside edges of the orchards and vineyards we’re trying to protect,” Shane said.

One strategy is to spray the beetles while they are in the grass and weeds along their travel route to reduce the number reaching the orchards.

However, the waxy, hard-shelled bug is well-adapted to survive harsh chemicals.

“Its outer skin is repellant to water so that it doesn’t readily absorb chemicals,” Shane said.  “The bugs are also relatively large and require a bigger chemical dose to destroy.”

He said that the bug uses a thin, sharp-pointed proboscis to pierce and suck out nutrients inside plant tissue, bypassing insecticide on the plant surface.

But the pest’s body features aren’t its only survival mechanisms.

“Certainly any pest that moves in such vast numbers over large areas and has a wide host range is suited for getting established quickly and is harder to control,” Shane said.

The bug is also a prolific breeder, producing up to two generations each year in the region, Shane said.  In other parts of the world, it’s known to reproduce up to six times a year. Each female can lay up to 400 eggs per generation.

Researchers are looking at alternative ways to manage the pest.

Olsen said that his team is searching for the stink bug’s natural enemies to import into infested regions to keep the population low.

But a natural enemy must be specific to the species, according to Olsen.

“It has to be one that feeds or infests only on the pest and not on other animal, plant or beneficial insect species, and this takes a lot of research just to be sure,” he said.

Though the population of the marmorated stink bug is still relatively low in Michigan, according to Olsen, reports from the USDA indicate that even small populations can cause serious economic damage if left unchecked.

“We still need to do a large survey to measure its population and spread,” Olsen said.  “Then we also need a second survey to measure its economic impact in the region.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Agriculture

Summer lunch program misses many children

Capital News Service

LANSING — For some of the hundreds of thousands of Michigan children who receive free or reduced school lunch, summer vacation may not be all fun and games.

According to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services, in 2009, about 735, 000 students received free or reduced-price lunch, 26 percent more than in 2006.

The food service director for Mason County Central Schools, Mary Ann Nielsen, said the summer hunger gap is an increasing concern.

The number of low-income children who receive reduced-price lunch is rising, she said, and efforts such as the federally funded Summer Food Service Program attempt to reduce the problem.

“We have children that come in for breakfast in the morning and the last actual meal they had was lunch the day before,” she said.

“During the summer program, a lot kids come in where mom and dad both work and they’re grateful to come into our site in the summer and get lunch.”

The program is available to schools and nonprofit organizations in school districts where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Participation is open to all children regardless of economic status or whether they live in that district.

In 2009, the program served more than 2 million meals in Michigan.

Gloria Zunker, a school nutrition and training consultant for the state Department of Education said that was almost a 50 percent increase from the number five years earlier.

With the growing number of low-income areas in the state that qualify for the program, Zunker said the need for sponsors has increased.

Last year, there were about 215 sponsors and 1,100 meal sites.

While the program expects at least 1,100 sites this year, she said she hopes for a 26 percent increase in the number of sponsors.

“I anticipate more sites because I’ve been receiving several calls from schools in intermediate school districts that are interested in helping their communities through this program,” she said.

The program added 37 sponsors in 2010, Zunker said.

According to the Education Department, only 17 percent of eligible low-income children were able to get free food at a site in their neighborhoods.

Nielson, who sponsors five meal sites that serve around 220 children a day, said transportation is a major reason eligible children cannot take advantage of summer meal programs.

“We get a lot of kids that walk and that’s great, but we are a rural area, so unfortunately those kids just don’t have the transportation,” she said.

Zunker noted that some low-income children who receive reduced-price lunch might not live in a designated program area, so they have no meal site available to them.

She said the department is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through a pilot program that explores alternative methods of providing meals to such children.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the study by the League for Human Services, said that the solution must be more extensive.

“It’s a critical issue in terms of building the capacity within communities to have local food banks or have local distribution systems for food that can get out to people so that kids don’t necessarily have to come to a special site or program to have access,” she said.

While most sponsors are schools across the state, a handful are nonprofit organizations, such as the Michigan Christian Youth Camp in Attica.

The camp’s executive director, Dana Eubank, said that organizations don’t participate in the program because they don’t know about it.

“It’s a lack of knowledge about how the program can benefit them or their program. If they’re not sure of how to go about it, they’re not going to do it,” he said.

Zunker said that since the department took over the program in 2004 from the USDA, it has focused on increasing outreach and public awareness.

“We’ve tried to make people aware of the program, so in doing that, a lot of schools and other organizations have come forward to offer free meals to kids and utilize the federal funds to do so,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Social Policy

Economic study bolsters critics of national forest proposal


Capital News Service

Economic study bolsters critics of national forest proposal

LANSING—A Michigan State University research study has handed ammunition to opponents of a proposal to ban firearm hunting and snowmobiling in parts of the vast Huron-Manistee National Forest.

It is a 2009 study by forestry Professor Chuck Nelson on the impact of snowmobiling activities in the state.

“We did this regionally and we found that snowmobilers in Michigan and tourists bring in a considerable amount of economic impact to the state,” Nelson said.

The forest covers about 1 million acres between lakes Huron and Michigan in the northern Lower Peninsula.

The study is drawing attention as the U.S. Forest Service considers banning snowmobiling and firearm hunting in nearly 70,000 acres of the forest.

The potential federal action results from a U.S. Court Appeals order in a lawsuit by Novi attorney Kurt Meister, who claims those areas should be designated for quiet recreation.

Nelson surveyed a sample of 3,000 snowmobilers who were 78 percent Michigan residents.

“We looked at how many days were used for snowmobiling in the winter of 2007-08, and we also found that spending related to snowmobiling was $239 million for snowmobile trips and $173 million for snowmobile equipment for 2008-09,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the economy gained $156 million from travel spending and $98 million from equipment spending.

“For tourists, the gas and traveling involved to get to these trails and hotels also generates revenue for Michigan’s economy,” Nelson said. “Overall, we found this recreational activity to be beneficial to Michigan.”

Nelson also studied how many people take part in outdoor activities and found hunting to be the No.1 use of outdoor experience for both tourists and residents.

The House has passed a resolution opposed to the proposed ban for the national forest.

The House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee discussed the effects on the economy if the ban is imposed.

“Hunters bring in overall revenue to the state and improve economy by traveling and participating in the outdoor experiences the state offers,” Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, said.

And Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, said that in- and out-of-state hunters bring in $28 million.

Bill Mason, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, cited Nelson’s study and said the forest offers 600 miles of trails, including 13 non-motorized areas that have seven trails.

He said it would damage the economy if they are closed.

“Travel and tourism in Michigan are dependent upon forests like this and closing some of the trails would make it harder to rebuild in the future, if we ever had to,” Mason said at the committee meeting.

Mason referred to Nelson’s study, saying that Michigan has more registered snowmobilers than any other state and that outdoor activities are a necessity for a better economy.

Jane Cliff, public affairs specialist at the Forest Service in the Eastern Region, said that anytime a large proposal is brought up, it has to go through a major analysis.

“The committee meetings are being held because everyone needs to discuss the topic and find what’s best for the state,” said Cliff, who is based in Cadillac. “This is part of the ongoing analysis process, and we have to look at all the evidence presented in order to make a correct decision.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Environment

Proposal would bar benefits to undocumented immigrants

Capital News Service

LANSING – A proposed constitutional amendment would ban undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance from the state.

Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, the sponsor of the proposal, said the main goal is to make sure state funds go to legal residents who receive assistance, not to people who are in the state illegally.

According to Hune, many public assistance programs, like the Food Assistance Program, don’t offer benefits to undocumented immigrants. He wants to make that a permanent mandate for all state-run programs.

“This is already being done by many programs but we want to tie it in to the state constitution,” Hune said.

Anika Fassia, policy analyst at the Michigan League for Human Services, said that the resolution would reduce an undocumented immigrant’s eligibility to receive emergency medical treatment, among other benefits.

Fassia said undocumented immigrants can receive assistance for emergency medical services through Medicaid.  Pregnant women can also receive outpatient prenatal care through the Maternity Outpatient Medical Services program.

Those programs don’t require verification of U.S. citizenship, which could change under the proposed amendment.

Susan Reed, lead attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said that any hospital participating in Medicaid is obligated to provide emergency care under federal law.

According to Reed, hospitals receive around 30 percent of the funding for such care in the Emergency Services Only Medicaid program from the state, with the rest coming from the federal government.

Reed also said that the state is obligated to provide emergency medical service under the federal Social Security Act.

If the amendment passes it would create “serious legal uncertainty about hospitals’ ability to receive payment for these emergency services,” Reed said.

But medical care wouldn’t be the only programs affected.

Fassia said, “If this resolution outlaws all public assistance to undocumented immigrants, it could affect any program that receives money from the state.”

According to Fassia, that could prevent undocumented immigrants from using emergency meal programs and even shelters that get state funding.

Reed said, “Nobody knows who this would affect.”

She also said that if “public assistance” were to include shelters and soup kitchens, it could create “huge potential for racial profiling.

“Many of the people that use things like shelters have no identification regardless of immigration status,” Reed said.  “People could be turned away if they are even suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.”

Fassia said it’s hard to say what impact the amendment would have on the state economy but noted that “providing these services would allow these immigrants to work and contribute.”

Hune said that it is “hard to quantify” how much money undocumented immigrants have received through public assistance but said that he is confident the amendment would help the state’s economy and residents.

“If illegal aliens aren’t receiving public assistance, then there is more money going to the state and its citizens that are here legally,” Hune said.  “We need to make certain our citizens are catered to first.”

However according to Reed, the proposal would have little effect on the economy.

“Policies like this don’t save the state significant money and just send an unwelcoming message to all immigrants,” Reed said.

The resolution is pending in the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee.  It would need to pass both the Senate and the House and to win voter approval at a statewide election.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Prevailing wage law stirs debate


Capital News Service


LANSING – Pay for workers on state-funded projects could drop significantly if legislation introduced in the Senate becomes law.

The GOP proposal would repeal Michigan’s 45-year-old Prevailing Wage Law that mandates construction workers on such projects be paid at prevailing levels.

The lead sponsor, Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-Olive Township, cited a school construction project in his district as a motivating force behind the legislation.

But proponents of the current law, including union leaders, say prevailing wage is an important safeguard for workers and project quality.

The law requires contractors on projects receiving state funds to pay at least the average wage levels of skilled workers in the fields necessary for the project.

Meekhof said current law meant taxpayers paid far more than they would have for labor costs and too much of a $58 million millage passed by Allendale voters in May of 2007 went to labor costs.

The people “could have gotten a much better price” without the prevailing wage requirement, he said, and “any contractor” in the area could have matched the price the district paid for the project.

In 1994 the prevailing wage law was temporarily repealed due to a court ruling. Before its reinstatement in 1997, a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found the potential savings on labor costs topped 10 percent.

In Ohio, an exemption of public schools from prevailing wage laws allowed that state to save $487.9 million, 10.7 percent of construction spending, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

Repealing the law, Meekhof said, would remove barriers to state contracts, increase competitiveness and get taxpayers more for their money.

School and university construction projects and many municipal projects fall under the law.

Projects with federal funding fall under the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which provides similar protections.

Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said despite the federal protections, a “very significant amount” of work is covered under state law. He said repealing it would make it easier to give construction jobs to out-of-state firms, calling the proposal “insulting” to Michigan construction workers.

Construction workers, he said, are “easily exploited” because of their field’s temporary nature. Taxpayer-funded jobs must “come back to local firms and local workers at local wage rates.”

Patrick Devlin, treasurer-secretary of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, also said the law should remain unchanged. Far from saving money, repeal would cost the state money in the long term, with less-trained workers lowering the quality of construction.

“Skilled labor doesn’t come cheap and cheap labor doesn’t come skilled,” he said.

Losing prevailing wage, Devlin said, would create an uneven playing field, hurting skilled workers and lowering wages without decreasing costs.

But Paul Kersey, the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center in Midland, a free market-oriented think tank, called prevailing wage law a “waste of money” that “drives up the cost of construction.”

The law favors unionized workers at a time when they are just over one-fifth of the construction workforce, he said.

Kersey said that the money saved on repeal could keep the state from having to cancel construction projects, something he said is important given the state’s budget crisis.

Meanwhile, in the House, some Democrats want to punish state contractors that repeatedly violate the prevailing wage law or employ undocumented workers. Sponsors include Reps. Tim Melton of Pontiac, Vicki Barnett of Farmington Hills, Jon Switalski of Warren and Jimmy Womac of Detroit.

David Reynolds, professor of labor studies at Wayne State University, called the prevailing wage law “very important,” saying it “guarantees that you have high-quality work” on state-funded projects, keeping construction at “union-quality” levels and making contractors hire “highly trained workers.”

The price of labor, he said, “reflects paying for that high level of training.”

Meekhof disagreed, saying state projects already require a standard that any contractor would have to meet.

Even if workers receive a lower wage, he said those standards would maintain current quality.

However, several studies, including one by an economist at the University of Utah, suggest that repealing such laws doesn’t lower construction costs.

And Wayne State’s Reynolds said the cost of wages must be distinguished from overall project costs. While workers might receive more an hour, those same workers are often better trained and work faster and better.

“What are the ultimate hidden costs?” he asked, adding that the adage “you get what you pay for” applies.

Meekhof, however, insisted he doesn’t look at it as a wage issue, but about “peace of mind” for taxpayers by ensuring the state gets the most for their money.

And the Mackinac Center’s Kersey said the state should “let the taxpayers benefit” from the full scope of the private construction market, insisting that quality wouldn’t decline.

The legislation is pending in the Senate Economic Development Committee. Co-sponsors include Dave Hildenbrand, R-Grand Rapids; Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township; Howard Walker, R-Traverse City and Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Business

It takes an internship to find jobs for grads

Capital News Service

LANSING — An internship placement initiative is working to keep college students working in-state after graduation.

The Intern In Michigan program fosters opportunities and includes a new website,, to match employers with students, according to Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

“It encourages both students and employers to connect with each other by posting employment opportunities onto the website for students to apply for,” Boulus said. “The website gives alerts and notifications about openings in internships to students e-mails once they become a member.”

The initiative is a partnership with business groups in Southeast Michigan and the Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Lansing areas.

“Each university offers their own opportunities and we want to contribute to that and give students more employment offers that are in-state,” Boulus said.

Jim Gadzinski, director of the Academic and Career Advisement Center at Northern Michigan University, said he works with students every day to explore internships in the state.

“Right now, the economy is driving people, and they will take any location, as long as it’s a job,” Gadzinski said.

Gadzinski said he understands the dilemma young graduates face in finding a job and believes schools can address that by offering more internships.

The initiative was created through four partners: the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, West Michigan Strategic Alliance in Grand Rapids, Prima Civitas Foundation in Lansing and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These are economic development businesses, and we find a lot of our internships for students through them,” Boulus said.

Cindy Brown, project manager for the initiative at the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, said the partners agreed that education is the No.1 priority.

“We found that other regions offer more internships to college students, so we decided to take on the same idea,” Brown said.

She educates employers about the website and gives them a tool kit to start creating efficient internships for students.

“We also look to the partners in this initiative to cover all regions of the state, to ensure all colleges have the same opportunities,” Brown said.

“The website has created 1,000 internships through our relations with regional employers, and we have specifically seen a good response from colleges in western Michigan,” Brown said.

Dan Piepszowski, senior director of community leadership development at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said there have been successful internships through a variety of employers.

“They include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Masco Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc.,” Piepszowski said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Education

Community crime watch goes high-tech


Capital News Service

LANSING — McGruff the cartoon anti-crime dog has gone high-tech with the arrival of an interactive neighborhood watch program called Crimedar.

So far, the new technology is in use in Williamston, Bloomfield Township, Troy and Fraser

Crimedar is an interactive online neighborhood watch that allows law enforcement officers to map out suspicious activity. The program enables community members to learn about and report any crimes in their area, such as theft, burglary, robbery, assault, arson, vandalism, gunfire or threatening behavior.

“Crimedar allows us to communicate with the public quickly and efficiently, instead of them having to wait for the police report in the weekly paper,” said Williamston Police Chief Bob Young. “This is the news that people want to know and need to know.”

When Young became chief on June 1, 2010, he said his mission was not only to bring a police department website to the city east of Lansing, but also to integrate Crimedar into the department’s everyday work.

Young discovered the program while attending an FBI National Academy Association meeting where Troy’s police chief, Gary Mayer, had a layout of Crimedar in his office. Inspired by Mayer, Young brought the idea to Williamston and launched it last December on his department’s website.

Peter Collins and Ryan Shelby of Royal Oak founded Crimedar.

“We both had a little bit of crime in our neighborhood and we wondered why we didn’t hear about it for so long until after the fact,” said Collins, the Crimedar vice president. “It was a good week before we heard anything and we thought there has to be a better way.

“We just started spit-balling and there you go,” he said.

Collins and Shelby began developing the program in April 2010, and after fine-tuning the software for about a year, were ready to use it in Michigan.

Troy was the first community to show interest and incorporate Crimedar into its system, followed by Fraser.

Williamston’s Young said, “This is simple technology that allows people to zoom in on locations of crimes and allows us to upload and control information. Community members are able to stay well-informed and active, and as a result their communication with us improves.”

With his administrative assistant, Vonnie Green, Young reviews police reports every 24 hours and determines whether a crime is newsworthy or sensitive enough to post online.

Green said, “It’s a great tool that gives people an idea of what’s going on and it’s easy to use.”

“Each report has a 14-day lifespan, then disappears so Crimedar stays current,” said Young.

As for the future, Collins said the company plans to expand in Michigan, nationally and possibly beyond.

“This is not going to be Williamston, Troy and that’s the end of it. I mean we could, if we wanted to theoretically set up in London tomorrow. We could be anywhere in the world and put this program up,” Collins said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Spotlight shines on women lighthouse keepers

Capital News Service

Credit: University of Michigan

LANSING – The most visible legacy of Michigan’s lighthouse heritage is in the buildings preserved along the coast – among them the Whitefish Point Light Station on Lake Superior, Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Leelanau State Park and Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington.

They’re the physical structures – more than 120 of them – that draw tourists and remind the public of the hazards of sailing and shipping on the Great Lakes.

They also attract the money and efforts of historic preservationists and maritime heritage enthusiasts who see them as key pieces of the state’s cultural heritage.

For example, sale of “Save Our Lights” specialty license plates has raised more than $1 million for restoration and preservation grants. The plates depict the red-and-white striped White Shoal Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

However, the people who operated the lighthouses, often in bleak and isolated conditions, are less known – especially the 52 women who served as keepers and assistant keepers for more than a century on lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron and the Detroit River.

That absence from public attention isn’t surprising, according to Terry Pepper, executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association in Mackinaw City.

That’s partly because the U.S. Lighthouse Service strictly regulated what keepers could record in their daily journals to official happenings, such as the weather, events of “earth-shattering importance” and visits by federal boats. Entries about family and personal matters were forbidden, he said.

“Until  the Coast Guard took over in 1939, the agencies responsible pretty much considered keepers a necessary evil,” Pepper said. “All that mattered was the light. They built the structures using the technology they had, and the keepers were sort of an afterthought.”

Those keepers led “a rugged life filled with long hours and hard work punctuated by periods of real peril,” Patricia Majher writes in her new book, “Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service” (University of Michigan Press, $22.95).

“Not a profession for the fainthearted, it was thought by many to be unsuitable employment for the `fairer sex,’” said Majher, who is editor of Michigan History magazine.

Majher curated an exhibition about female keepers at the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame. In the past several years, the Ladies of the Lights exhibition has traveled to “every small maritime city with a museum or a library,” said center director Sandy Soifer.

It’s scheduled for display at the Grand Rapids Public Library during Women’s History Month, March 1-31.

According to Majher, some women took over as keepers after their husbands died – such as Catherine Shook at Pointe aux Barques on Lake Huron and Caroline Litogot Antaya at the Mamajuda Lighthouse in Wyandotte  – or left for the Army, as did Anastasia Truckey at Marquette Harbor during the Civil War and Jennie Beamer at Big Bay Point during the Spanish-American War.

The job came with deadly dangers. Julia Sheridan drowned on South Manitou Island, and Mary Terry died in a fire at Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba.

But the job had its attractions, such as the pay, according to Majher.

“Lighthouse keeping was one of the few positions at which women could earn as much as men,” she said, noting that women in the late 1800s and early 1900s were often restricted to jobs in factories and mills or as housekeepers and cooks.

The last Michigan woman to serve as a keeper was Frances Wuori Johnson, who left Whitehall’s White River Light Station in 1954.

Pepper noted that women were allowed only at lighthouses on shore or on relatively large habitable islands.

Among the other lighthouses where women worked were Beaver Island Harbor, Au Sable Point, Presque Isle Harbor Range, Thunder Bay Island Pentwater Pier, Cheboygan River Range, Gibraltar and Grand Haven.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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About CNS

CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.

Covering stories of meaning to their member papers, they come in contact with the important newsmakers of the day, from the Supreme Court justices and the governor to members of the Legislature and the people who run the state government departments, to lobbyists and public-interest organizations.

Then they also talk with “real people” — the individual citizens and businesses in communities to get their reactions to what’s happening in Lansing.

In addition to weekly news stories, CNS students write in-depth articles on issues facing state government and their impact on taxpayers.