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Need a change agent? Look to your CIO

In his 50 years in the tech industry, Francis (Fran) Dramis has discovered his passions: investing in startup and emerging businesses and helping leaders give meaning to people who work for them.

Fran Dramis

Francis (Fran) Dramis

In addition to comprehending the technical, financial and logistical aspects of running a technology business, the author, investor, retired CIO, and change agent understands what fuels morale and aids employee retention and innovation.

For his keynote address at the Michigan CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards program, Dramis, the former CIO of BellSouth, plans to present the importance of CIOs becoming meaningful interveners in the lives of their employees.

“They need to go beyond the task of just producing output and help the people working for them get meaning from their tasks,” Dramis said.

About box



The CIO Challenge

Dramis, who also judges CIO-related awards, is attune with what makes an effective and innovative leader.

While CTOs are purely technically focused, he said, CIOs take what the CTO has and blends that with their business knowledge. CIOs must convert businesspeople into accepting that technology will change their business processes.

“That kind of nudging is really tough,” Dramis said. “A good CIO will be the instigator of the transformation of a major business. I was always on the cusp of a transformational event that allowed me to do work in a different way.”

As senior vice president, CIO and chief security officer of BellSouth, which AT&T acquired, Dramis was responsible for technology in the company, software connected into public network switches, data and physical security. In other words, he helped BellSouth evolve from being just a phone company to becoming a more connected, technology company.

Long before COVID, Dramis convinced the business leaders he worked with that salespeople didn’t need offices. As long as they had technology, they could work remotely and be more flexible.

“Today, change is upon us because of COVID and other things, and working remotely is the norm,” he said. “A good CIO would have known that’s where it was going in advance and been capable of capturing important information and social interaction prior to COVID to make remote work happen.”

A good CIO also realizes that changes need to be implemented in “digestible chunks,” he said. “If they implement technology too fast, Bob or Joan, who have been handling it the same way for 10 years and doing it well, may not be able to keep up,” he said.

The CIO Path

Dramis, who authored three books, including “The Four Secrets of Retention: Holding Mindshare in a Transitional World,” has decades worth of advice for seasoned CIOs as well as for those just beginning post-secondary education and considering careers in information systems management.

He said the latter need to begin with a technical background, or platform, to which they add an MBA or MBA equivalent.

“The biggest issues are in the translation process. You need to speak the language of the business,” he said.

This knowledge is crucial because many leaders don’t know the systems, or assets, supporting them, and good CIOs value their assets.

“If you were running an oil rig, you would know the life of the assets,” he said. “A company’s most important assets are its people; yet, many leaders don’t understand their value.”

Acknowledging the value of one’s technical staff is why when Salomon Brothers Inc. approached him about being a managing director and CIO, Dramis told them he wouldn’t take the job unless he could make the technology portion of the company a separate entity.

“When you treat technology people like back office people, that’s what you get.,” he said. “By making technology a separate company, the tech people could be treated like front-office employees. By making them front-office employees, you attract more skilled workers.”

Transforming a Life

Dramis was mentoring someone in his architecture group at Salomon Bros. when he learned the man wanted, at the end of his career, to make a presentation to the national science foundation. So, the pair looked out for the credentials needed to do so and Dramis mapped out an incremental plan that could get him to that point.

The plan included becoming a consultant, joining a venture capital group, earning his Ph.D. and becoming a notable scholar, all of which required skills the man didn’t yet have. But the man started by learning to write and make presentations.

Dramis left Salomon and the men lost touch. But four years later, he picked up a magazine and saw among a list of the four hottest technical consultants a photo of his former mentee. Years later, Dramis learned he was lead technical person at a venture group. Years after that, Dramis discovered the man had become a professor and liaison between his university and all government entities.

“As I walked into the office, we celebrated that he was there based on the plan that was put together so many years before,” Dramis said.

If people get only one idea from his keynote address, Dramis hopes it’s that leaders are intervening in people’s lives every day. That intervention can be task- or meaning-focused, but it’s the latter that’s truly consequential and transformative. “The only way to help an employee get more meaning from their tasks is to know the employee’s endgame. Be an end-of-career facilitator, and you’ll get more employee retention.”

Crain's Content Studio originally published this story here for MichiganCIO.

CIOs must address value, impact over technology

Successful business leaders understand that IT strategies are foundational elements to corporate strategies and their tech workforce are critical strategic partners to leadership and clients.

Melanie Kalmar, Corporate Vice President/Chief Information Officer/Chief Digital Officer, Dow

Leadership Award Recipient: Melanie Kalmar, Corporate Vice President/Chief Information Officer/Chief Digital Officer, Dow

“Unlike just five years ago, CIO’s now need to know all aspects of a company or organization, such as traditional manufacturing, supply chain operations, how financials in the company are run, security and the latest in technology, not to mention customers’ tastes and demands,” said Melanie Kalmar, corporate vice president, CIO and Chief Digital Officer for The Dow Chemical Company. “This is even more crucial as technology and CIOs help companies respond to unforeseen challenges, such as COVID, to maintain business continuity and connectivity with customers.”

Kalmar is the 2020 recipient of the Michigan CIO of the Year ORBIE Leadership Award. She earned a degree in management information systems from Central Michigan University and took on roles at Dow that helped her understand how technology could solve business issues on a large scale.

CIOs and their teams touch every part of a company every day, “putting them in a unique position to accelerate collaboration across an organization and get alignment on where best to invest in digital resources that will drive the most value for the company and customers,” she added.

More often, companies are looking to CIOs to help improve employee and customer experiences.

“Gone are the days of pushing out the latest new capabilities and then moving on,” Kalmar said. “Here to stay is business-aligned prioritization with shared ownership for change management and adoption to ensure we get the value and continuous improvement needed.

Among other initiatives, Dow also gathers data through market-listening capabilities that, integrated with machine leaning and advance modeling, allows it to develop products faster.

Looking to improve performance in sustainability, the company developed a mobile friendly, web-based lifecycle assessment tool to provide information regarding the environmental impacts of associated products and services and digital technology to reduce its carbon footprint and improve compliance.

A CIO’s biggest challenge, Kalmar said, is helping an enterprise understand that digital isn’t just an IT thing but a crucial corporate function. She said this requires CIOs to speak in terms of value and business impact and not in terms of technology.

“At Dow, we’ve changed the narrative within our teams to talk about technology as business drivers and value creators for the company, customers and employees. The more we’ve linked digital to outcomes in business terms, the more employees understand what’s in it for them, and the more we’ve been able to get them excited about playing a role in our digital acceleration,”

Just as IT strategies shouldn’t be limited to information systems functions, tech employees shouldn’t be relegated to being backroom service providers, she said.

“Members of our CIO teams are now embedded into functional and business teams. They’ve taken on new, ‘hybrid’ roles where they become fluent in business drivers and can translate those into digital strategies. But that is just the start,” Kalmar said. “These teams represent all functions and businesses, and by working together have become key in delivering the right capabilities and getting the right engagement to deliver successfully.”

Crain's Content Studio originally published this story here for MichiganCIO.

Business Technology Management During Economic Uncertainty

I wrote this story for Crain's Content Studio client Huntington Bank 
in May 2020. You can find it online here.

When the U.S. economy’s future is uncertain, businesses should consider investing in new technology 

Many corporate leaders began 2019 with a positive economic outlook and an optimistic plan of action. Now, bolstered by fast-moving headlines that raise questions without providing answers, some are less than confident in the economy and what they should do next.

In the meantime, businesses are looking to 2020 with an eye on potential investments in technology to help stay relevant, increase efficiencies and protect against a potential cyberattack.

For many, leasing technology equipment can provide valuable benefits, particularly in a volatile economy.

Economic Outlook: Where we stand at the end of 2019

A weak international economy catalyzed declines in U.S. exports and the overall manufacturing sector  in the third quarter for the first time since Q1 2016, says Huntington National Bank’s Director of Economics, George Mokrzan. A recession in Germany, a trade-induced slowdown in China, intensified concerns regarding the outcome of Brexit, and general uncertainties regarding international trade were factors weighing down world economic growth in the third quarter, Mokrzan says.

However, these events don’t guarantee a significant downturn and shouldn’t keep businesses from practicing wise operational strategies. There are still signs of growth and progress.

In 2019, the U.S. economy grew moderately in the third quarter due, in part, to solid consumer spending and a decline in the 30-year conventional mortgage rate. Powered by solid labor markets, increasing incomes, a rising personal saving rate, solid balance sheets, and generally favorable financial conditions, consumer spending is forecast to remain the major engine of economic growth in 2020. Despite the international growth and trade policy headwinds, a strong U.S. consumer is forecasted to lead real GDP growth of 2.3% in 2019 and 2.0% in 2020. 

In addition, the Federal Reserve held the Fed Funds rate target constant in the 1.5%-1.75% range and indicated that the monetary policymakers do not plan to change the rate in the current economic environment.

Operating with Longevity in Mind

Whether an economic downturn looms or the economy continues growing at a moderate pace, businesses still have to service their customers, stay relevant and maintain operational efficiency. 

One step toward accomplishing these goals may be to leverage the latest technology. 

Investment in technology initiatives is still growing, with companies looking to increase their short-term spending in an effort to gain long-term efficiency. In fact, a recent survey of more than 1,000 businesses found that 88% of companies expect their IT budgets to grow or stay steady over the next 12 months.

Many organizations are placing priority on user technology, such as laptops, mobile devices, and printers. Since October 2018, investment in computers rose 8.3% year over year and medical equipment increased 5.1%§.

Not keeping up to date with technology may put your business at an operational disadvantage. Companies that do not regularly refresh their equipment risk falling behind their competition and may find themselves unable to upgrade to the latest enhancements offered by new technology, says John Zimmeth, senior vice president of Portfolio Management, Huntington Technology Finance.

All too often businesses that have purchased products such as computers, servers and medical equipment, delay decisions to replace this equipment and keep it for as long as they can, even when refreshing their assets would be beneficial in the long run.

Zimmeth recommends that companies conduct a thorough study of the total cost of ownership of equipment prior to making a purchase versus lease decision, including the escalating costs of maintaining aging technology and the potential for lost business due to obsolescence.

Realize Financial Goals by Leasing

Nearly 80% of U.S. businesses, from small entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 companies, finance the equipment needed to run their organizations¶.

Leasing can be especially advantageous during an economic downturn when revenue may be down and liquidity is vital. Holding onto technology equipment beyond its useful life often ends up costing a company more money than if they had replaced it sooner.


John Zimmeth


Senior Vice President of Portfolio Management, Huntington Technology Finance

Leasing technology equipment offers many financial benefits to businesses¶ including:

  • Managing cash flow
  • Hedging against inflation
  • Planning expenses for cash flow and business cycle fluctuations

Leasing may also let businesses leverage operating expense funds, help preserve credit lines, mitigate and/or reduce risk, and allow for the acquisition of needed equipment without having to deal with traditional budget processes or utilizing sizeable upfront capital.

Evaluate Your Needs

At Huntington Technology Finance, we can work with you to assess your situation and economic trends and help craft a technology strategy that provides financial benefits, flexibility, and innovation for your business.


† IT Spending & Staffing Benchmarks 2019/2020, Computer Economics, Inc. 2019

The 2020 State of IT: The Annual Report on IT Budgets and Tech Trends, Spiceworks, July 2019

§ 2019 Equipment Leasing & Finance U.S. Economic Outlook, Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation, October 2019

8 Reasons Businesses Lease and Finance Equipment, Equipment Leasing and Finance Association, 2019

Huntington Bank's legal terms regarding this content is available here.

Women in Nonprofits: Why More aren’t in Positions of Power

Traveling to far-flung places and helping people with their basic needs was Julie Chase-Morefield‘s dream in high school. Her mother grew up impoverished and shared stories of standing in line to get federal food commodities. Now Chase-Morefield is president and CEO of the Lorain-based Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.

Diana Natalicio‘s high school set low expectations for students simply because they were from low-income families. Girls were taught home economics or secretarial skills, while boys learned woodworking and machine shop skills. As the first female president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Natalicio provided new opportunities for both low-income and Latino students.

Anita Bradley dropped out of college and struggled with drugs after both her father and uncle died in a boating accident. Bradley endured one crisis after another, including a miscarriage, until she finally sought treatment. Years later, Bradley founded the Northern Ohio Recovery Association in Cleveland.

Yet, driven and successful women like Natalicio, Bradley and Chase-Morefield are habitually demeaned on the job.

While studies show that 45% of nonprofit CEOs are women, the illusion of gender parity dissipates with closer examination, said Patricia Deyton, a senior adviser for the Council of Women World Leaders, an adjunct professor at the Simmons University School of Business and the Harvard Extension School in Boston and former CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay.

“When you look at the nonprofits with power—the ones with voice and the nationwide nonprofits—that’s where you see disparity in leadership,” Deyton said.

Women nonprofit CEOs earn 34% less than their male counterparts, said Deyton, who is also a senior associate at the Center for Gender in Organizations, a research group at Simmons University. And, she said, women hold just 18% of CEO roles at nonprofits with budgets over $50 million.

Such disparities make it difficult for women to lead, Chase-Morefield said.

“Women are collaborators who just want to make things happen without worrying about who gets the credit,” she said. “But that’s not the way the rest of the world is.”

As a result, Chase-Morefield thought she couldn’t have flaws.

“I felt I had to be much more serious and much more prepared than men because I was being judged on a much higher standard,” she said. “My predecessor had been male, and there was a little bit of a ‘good ol’ boys’ thing with the men in the community. It was frustrating. They wouldn’t take me seriously.

“People would even say, ‘You went into nonprofits because you couldn’t make it in the business world.'”

Women’s work? No, women’s values

Nearly 75% of nonprofit employees are women—not because they can’t make it in business but because the sector reflects women’s values to a greater degree, Deyton said.

Indeed, most staff and board members at Humble Design in Pontiac, Mich., are women—though not intentionally. Founder and co-CEO Treger Strasberg said the work resonates with more women.

Strasberg understands Chase-Morefield’s frustration.

“I’ve seen directly how being a woman has impacted my business,” she said. “Small meetings tend to be run by women-driven organizations. But when we get to the large organizations seeking large dollars, serious money, it’s a male-centric room.”

Strasberg has been studying homelessness for 11 years and even talked about affordable housing at the White House with Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “But I’ve been to meetings where there were 16 people, and I was the only woman,” she said. “And they turn to my husband, who is not an expert, for answers.”

Likewise, Diana Sieger finds she’s not always taken seriously or included in networking opportunities even after being appointed president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation more than 30 years ago.

“I don’t play golf,” she said, “But I survive.”

Sieger credits the respect she gets in boardrooms to her outspoken nature.

“I would be the only woman sitting around the table, and I wanted so desperately to be taken seriously,” she said. “But I was never shy about advisedly expressing my opinion, and that worked in my favor.

“I remember sitting in a meeting, and the men were denigrating Hillary Clinton in pretty unsavory terms. I said, ‘I want you to go home and say that to your wife, your daughter and your granddaughter and see how they react.’

“From that time forward, I didn’t hear those kinds of comments.”

The takeaway, Sieger said, was not to allow herself to be minimized, to address it then and there and to learn how to sit down with a business leader and hold her own.

“I take the attitude that you may not like me, but you’re going to respect me,” she said.

Nonetheless, Sieger acknowledged that being a white woman in leadership is a truly different experience from being a minority female leader.

“Women say men treat us as if we’re invisible,” she said, “but African American women and Latinx women are truly invisible people.”

Case in point: Helene Gayle, M.D., noticed throughout her career that she could be the only leader in the room and still be discounted by male colleagues.

“Luckily, I came into my roles in the times when being the first woman was not the uphill battle that it was 20 or 30 years ago.

“Still, I have had male counterparts that were my direct reports, and reports of my direct reports, who got more attention in meetings than I did,” said Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, former president and CEO of CARE and a physician who worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

As a minority leader, NORA’s Anita Bradley finds she must do more than her male counterparts to get the outcomes for the people she’s serving.

“I have brought in more than 20 million federal dollars,” Bradley said, “but it’s not easy.”

It’s what you know—and who, too

The ability to acquire essential funding, Bradley said, comes down having access to a larger social network. That’s something that men and white people in general tend to have because they are invited to serve on more boards of directors.

“Clearly, being on boards provides connections, knowledge and experience,” Deyton said.

Likewise, Cassie Nielsen, president of Talent for VMG Partners, recently told Yahoo! Finance it “makes economic sense” for women to serve on boards as they make 70-80% of consumer purchasing decisions.

“Yet, because women are underrepresented on boards of directors, those boards lack a diversity of decision-makers, which allows unconscious bias to play out,” Deyton said.

Sieger of the Grand Rapids Foundation said boards of trustees also help build a good network of female leaders and other support and are easier to get on than boards of directors.

It took a while to get her foot in the door, but Eva Garza Dewaelsche, president and CEO of SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Inc., said sitting on several boards has allowed her to penetrate a normally all-male group of leaders. Dewaelsche sits on the advisory board of Comerica Bank, is a member of the New Detroit board of directors and is a Detroit police commissioner.

Unfortunately, she said, she has received more help from men than women.

“I would like to be able to say that women have opened doors to opportunity for me, Dewaelsche said. “But that hasn’t been the case for most of my life because they are not in leadership roles or were not when I started 25 years ago.

“Women have to place themselves in situations where they can have that opportunity—where they can be leaders. I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to learn how to be a leader.”

Whatever the reasons for the inequality, women’s work should not be diminished, Deyton said. “Women at work in this country’s more than 900,000 charitable organizations are making huge contributions to the fabric of our society.”

This story was originally published at Read more about these incredible women:

Compassion Becomes a Career for Women in Nonprofits Dignity to the Struggles of Others
From Roots in ’60s and ’70s Grow 3 Advocates for Social Change 

Pandemic requires colleges and universities to develop a new education norm

Daimeon Stevenson, Jr., an electromechanical maintenance technician student at Gateway Technical College

Ready or not

Derrick McCants doesn’t see the wisdom of reopening classrooms this fall. The 21-year-old has been paying close attention to news related to COVID-19 coming from the media and his school but isn’t convinced that resuming in-person classes so soon is best.

Derrick McCants  headshot, African American male youth, short hair wearing orange hoodie

Derrick McCants Junior at Florida State University, Tallahassee

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable being around mass quantities of people,” said McCants, a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “I just don’t believe we have this pandemic figured out.”

McCants, who is working toward a degree in athletic training, takes social distancing seriously and has been limiting himself to interactions with people who also “do the right things.” Having to be around those who don’t could be a recipe for disaster, he said, especially since students come from so many regions within and outside the United States.

“Some people might not have been social distancing, and it’s tough to get people to wear masks,” McCants said. “We would need to decrease class size. Maybe put two empty seats between people in the class environment.”

These are just the sorts of issues that administrators at many of the 5,300 post-secondary schools in the United States are trying to puzzle out for staff, faculty and their more than 14 million students, with guidance from their states and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, the coronavirus is significantly hampering college and university finances, resulting in planned layoffs and budget cuts at many schools.

Preparing to pivot

In a recent survey of 262 colleges and universities, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) found that nearly 60 percent are considering or have decided to remain completely online this fall.

The California State University system intends to continue with online-only courses for most of its 23 campuses, affecting half a million students. Two other institutions in the state—the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA—may have students returning to some of their 10 campuses.

Michael Wright headshot, white adult, receding hairline, gray at temples of brown hair, wearing dark jacket, blue shirt and tie with Wayne State lapel pin

Michael Wright, vice president of communications and chief of staff, Wayne State University


“The restart is far more complex than the shutdown because there are so many different scenarios,” said Michael Wright, vice president of communications and chief of staff at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. WSU is trying to plan for a variety of unknowns, Wright said, including having far fewer students returning in the fall or more students than expected showing up.

“We know people will be uncomfortable even if the governor says it’s OK to open, and we’ve heard from students who want to get back in the classroom,” Wright said.

Either way, he said, WSU will be back in business come September. “We’re Wayne State Warriors, and we hope to get back on campus.”

Albeit with caution. The school doesn’t want students or faculty to be in lecture halls with large numbers of people, Wright said. “So, we suspect we’ll phase in the return with online and classroom instruction within social distancing guidelines,” he said.

Two white females wearing face masks and latex gloves flank cart filled with books

Wayne State University School of Social Work student Colleen Elsbernd (left) and Joanne Sobeck, School of Social Work Associate Dean for Research, donate disinfected books to the Detroit Medical Center as a “rolling library” for COVID-19 patients. Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

During a recent Zoom luncheon, WSU President Roy Wilson told students and alumni the school created a restart committee with nine subcommittees that are examining housing, dining services, testing recommendations and more. The university will be designating space in residence halls for students needing quarantine.

Understanding the importance of the college experience, Wayne State’s plans to welcome incoming freshmen include virtual small groups that allow students to connect before school reopens.

“We are going to be guided by what’s safe,” Wilson said. “I want to be sure I can look any parent in the eye and say, ‘Your child will be safe.'”

The school is prepared to pivot back to online or remote-only courses should another wave of coronavirus cases arise, Wright said.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, also plans to bring back students. Its fall semester, however, is scheduled to start in early August, two weeks before the semester typically begins. The semester also will end earlier, in case a second surge of coronavirus cases occurs in the late fall, as health officials predict.

Like Wayne State, Notre Dame will alter its plans and go online-only if necessary.

The University of Pittsburgh thinks online classes are the likeliest scenario for its 34,000 students, at least until a coronavirus vaccine becomes likely. Still, the university is looking at other options.

Thankfully for Gateway Technical College in Racine, Wisconsin, about 30 percent of its programs already had an online component. Gateway primarily provides occupational, skills-based programs that emphasize hands-on learning through labs—such as nursing, automotive, aviation, welding, manufacturing and information technology.

When the pandemic hit, the school and its nearly 23,000 students went completely virtual, with online lectures and other virtual components.

White, blonde female stirs blue liquid in labratory

Civil engineering student Elizabeth conducts a fresh water lab experiment at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, prior to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Gateway Technical College

Bryan Albrecht headshot

Bryan Albrecht President, Gateway Technical College

“We always taught aviation courses through flight simulators,” said Gateway President Bryan Albrecht. The school, he noted, already offered virtual welding, law enforcement and health care simulations, among others.

Still, the communication skills gained through in-person learning are critical. “For example, law enforcement professionals need to have communication skills and be able to read body language,” Albrecht said. “Nursing is the same.

“You can do a lot with simulation, but nothing is better than the feel of holding someone’s hand.”

For summer and fall semesters, Gateway Technical faculty are developing a hybrid program that allows classes to stay online as much as possible. There will be two engineering programs, Albrecht said, one completely online and another with a face-to-face component.

Overall, the college plans to decrease the number of students in a lab to 10 from 17. In addition, Gateway is adjusting class schedules so fewer students overall will be on campus at any given time.

Leaders at the University of Kentucky recently asked the public to comment on its reopening plans. Administrators, who are considering requiring face masks in cafeterias and classrooms, say they would shorten the semester if it has a “normal” restart. The university also would adhere to social distancing in classrooms and encourage outdoor classes.

Another plan would involve starting in-person classes a few weeks later and lengthening class times. A hybrid plan would include starting with online classes and transitioning into in-person classes.

Donald Tuski headshot

Donald Tuski President, College for Creative Studies

Then, of course, there’s an online-only plan.

Previously, online learning was a challenge at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies because art students were used to working in studios. However, Tuski said, they’ve adapted and become even more creative about how to present their work.

For instance, students tasked with developing clay models to help brand the new Ford Mustang learned to develop videos and animation instead.

“For an art design student, the quality of their portfolio is the most important thing,” Tuski said. “Since they missed out, we’re allowing some students—even graduating seniors—to come back in the last two weeks of July and part of August to use the studios.”

For Fall, CCS plans to start in-person classes and studio courses on Aug. 31—with appropriate social distancing. On-campus instruction would end on Nov. 25. After Thanksgiving break, students would continue with remote-only learning until the end of the fall term.

“We’ve really tried to figure out what students need to be successful,” Tuski said.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education is compiling a searchable list of college plans.)

Seven male and female students working on clay models with instructor advising

Design students developing clay models at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, before the pandemic pushed learning online. Photo courtesy of College for Creative Studies

The budget toll

As of this writing, more than 40 million people in the U.S. had filed for unemployment benefits; overall spending continued to fall; and property tax payments, in some states, have been deferred. All of which means impending cuts to state and federal budgets, a drop in donations and decreased enrollment in colleges and universities. Moreover, analysts expect declines in state support as schools look to weather the COVID-19 storm.

In Detroit, CCS provided prorated housing and dining refunds and refunded winter semester resource and graduation fees when the pandemic shut its classrooms. This summer, CCS plans to offer free housing for students living beyond a 50-mile radius as well as workshops.

However, such support—paired with supplying students with the technology they need to learn remotely while enrollment numbers and endowment donations drop—takes its toll.

Among the colleges and universities surveyed, the AACRAO found that fall enrollment for continuing students dropped 44% and fall residence hall renewals fell 32%. Now, colleges and universities, like companies across the country, are announcing layoffs, furloughs and other budget cuts.

CCS announced it would lay off 25 staff members. In Ohio, Bowling Green State University, which is projecting a $29 million budget deficit this year, announced it would lay off 102 members of its staff and 17 faculty members. Ohio University is eliminating 140 unionized positions, terminating 53 faculty jobs and laying off 94 administrators.

While Albrecht and Gateway Technical College appreciate the federal funds received as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, he said school administrators are monitoring Gateway’s current and possible future financial situation.

“We are seeing a current dip in enrollment,” Albrecht said. “Families are uncertain. Their jobs are in jeopardy, and there’s this awkwardness from the state of the pandemic.”

Despite the possible cuts, Albrecht said, Gateway’s role as an occupational-skills educator gives it an advantage. The high rate of unemployment means people will seek employable skills.

“High unemployment means high enrollment. We serve those most in need,” Albrecht said. And because Gateway trains those considered essential workers, the school also is essential.

“It’s a whole supply chain system,” Albrecht said. “If any part breaks down, it affects the next generation of workers.”

The lengthy list of universities suffering from the financial consequences of COVID-19 also includes well-endowed universities. The University of Michigan projects a loss of $400 million to $1 billion this year, and Johns Hopkins University reports that 1,200 employees have been unable to work because of stay-at-home orders.

Harvard University is also taking blows.

“Although we entered this crisis in a position of relative financial strength, our resources are already stretched,” Harvard President Larry Bacow, Provost Alan Garber and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp wrote in a recent letter. “If we are to preserve our core mission of teaching and scholarship, we face difficult, even painful, decisions in the days ahead. “We must look for more cost-efficient ways to deliver our essential services.

Dean for Research, donate books that were collected and disinfected to the Detroit Medical Center as a “rolling library” for COVID-19 patients.

“Because of the recent declines in the markets, the endowment, while still large, is not as large as it was previously. As it shrinks, it has less capacity to support our existing operations, especially as other shortfalls in revenue sources loom.”

The ending of the announcement thanks the Harvard community for its flexibility—something many academic leaders and students agree is a necessity.

While McCants doesn’t feel comfortable returning to the classroom at Florida State, he said he will adapt and do what he must to graduate.

“I would probably do online classes in the fall, just as they have us doing now,” he said. “But if some of my classes, like labs, require me to go in, I’ll go. I just hope they have fewer people.”

(This story was originally published by the Ford Motor Company Fund.)

2020’s Most Notable Women in Michigan

Women and men in silhouette.

Women business professionals are often overlooked. But talented women contribute value in every industry.

Specifically, Michigan women are relentless, approachable, focused, and community-oriented. They defend high net-worth clients, navigate restructurings, lead mergers, invent new products, secure patents, manage plants, harness the power of technology, enhance brands, design our world and save lives.

Find out who has made our Crain’s Detroit Business lists of Notable Women so far this year:

Crain’s 2020 Notable Women in Design:  Someone designed nearly every image and object in our physical environment. They blended form and function, art and engineering in ways often invisible to the conscious mind. At its best, design just works. And so do our inaugural Notable Women in Design, whose fields range from architecture and graphic design to fashion and industrial design. They run companies, make things happen, and most importantly, create images, objects and ideas never seen before. Meet Crain’s Notable Women in Design.

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Music and Our Brains

Christina Rodriguez

By Leslie D. Green

Changing minds and bodies through musical experience

The Ford Motor Company Fund recognizes that creativity and artistic expression enrich lives and inspire innovation and that communities which support and provide access to the arts are stronger for it. In this collection of stories, we share how and why music affects us at all ages and stages of our lives.

Cristina Rodriguez, on the right, holding a ukelele, and Lauren Koff, third from left, holding a green microphone with Mind&Melody music enrichment specialists. Photo by Amanda Smith Photography

As a young student, Cristina Rodriguez adored music. But when a teacher announced a donation of instruments would allow her school to start an orchestra, she was unsure what to expect.

Then Rodriguez picked up the cello. And soon, she was smitten.

In high school, Rodriguez discovered the string instrument wasn’t the only thing that charmed her. She was fascinated by the way music touched people’s brains: How all the members of the orchestra had high grade-point averages; how most of the students in her honors and AP courses participated in the arts; and how time seemed to stop when she created music and played her cello.

“You are present the whole time you are playing and can’t really worry about anything,” Rodriguez said. In her teens, she volunteered at hospitals and conceived of various ways to share with others the comfort music gave her.

Years later, while working on her thesis for degrees in biochemistry and pre-med at Florida Atlantic University, Rodriguez found a way to combine her loves of music and medical science to help those in need.

In 2014, she and classmate Lauren Koff founded Mind&Melody to bring interactive music programs to individuals experiencing neurological impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism and Down syndrome. Based in Miami, Fla., the nonprofit engages musicians who perform music that represents patients’ favorite eras and personal cultures to help reengage their static minds and improve their cognitive and motor skills.

Mind and Melody music specialist demonstrates didgeridoo to elder adults

Ashlie, a Mind&Melody music enrichment specialist, demonstrates the didgeridoo an indigenous Australian instrument to older adults. Participants are fascinated by the sound and shape of the instrument.  Photo by Amanda Smith Photography

“They play a song that brings back memories for the patient,” Rodriguez explained, adding that the brain stores emotional memories in a different way from how it stores regular memories.

While listening to or playing music hasn’t been shown to prevent dementia or cognitive impairments, Rodriguez explained that music can reach hidden areas spared by diseases like Alzheimer’s and help patients reunite with the world around them.

Rodriguez recalled a formerly active married couple whose age-related cognitive difficulties made it difficult for them to connect with people. When the pair started therapy with Mind&Melody, they were able to socialize again.

“It helps them connect better with friends and family,” Rodriguez said. “They talk through music. It keeps their brains active and keeps them socially active.”

Violinist Diane McElfish Helle launched a similar program for the Grand Rapids Symphony. Her Music for Health Initiative at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., partners musicians with medical professionals to provide music therapy for people with myriad health issues. McElfish Helle has called the nonprofit agency her most important endeavor as a professional musician. In 2017, she received the Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras for her work.

Musical chemistry

In addition to creating chemical reactions in the brain, researchers have also found that music produces a sense of comradery, or unity.

Ever notice that it only takes two or three claps to get thousands of people at a concert to synchronize their claps or foot taps on beat?

Research going back to naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin suggests that our ancestors were more fit to mate if they were able to not just feed, protect and provide for a family, but also were able to sing or make music in a pleasant way. Musical abilities, scientists contend, stimulate cohesion, which helped groups hunt for large game, outlast predators, and better survive the savage world where survival most often only was for the fittest.

Now, music-generated cohesion plays a role in community building and work productivity, according to four economists from Cornell University. They examined music’s impact on cooperation by having three groups of participants make decisions based on how much they would or would not pool resources with other people in the lab.

Kevin Kniffin, co-author of the 2016 study, reported music in the workplace can cause conflicts if people dislike the selections played. However, Kniffin said his research team found “a rhythm that was a common qualifier of happy music” and streamed that for one group. At the same time, they streamed unhappy music for the second group and did not stream any music for the control group.

Kniffin and the Cornell researchers found that those who received the established happy music had better moods and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior. Meanwhile, the control group, which heard no music, and those who heard unhappy music, were less inclined to cooperate with colleagues.

Regardless of one’s workplace, medical diagnosis, age or stage of life, Mind&Melody’s Rodriguez said an important “chemical thing” happens when you listen to music, play an instrument or sing.

“If you’re having a terrible day or month, music is comforting,” Rodriguez said. “It can bring you back and ground you.”


Music’s Physical Benefits

Music initiates brainstem responses that normalize heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance, and muscle tension in people of all ages, according to Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin, authors of a 2013 study conducted at McGill University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Infants and children

• By routinely playing familiar music to premature babies, who are prone to neurodevelopmental disorders that include learning difficulties, doctors can enhance connectivity in the brain, according to researchers at the University of Geneva and University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland.

• Music therapy has been shown to help children with cancer cope with the stress of treatment by improving mood and relaxation and reducing exhaustion and anxiety.

• People begin developing affection for music in the womb through exposure to their mother’s heartbeat. And learning rhythms and melodies begins during the third trimester of development.

• A few years of music practice thickens part of the corpus callosum, a band of nerve fibers dividing the brain’s left and right hemispheres and integrates sensory processing between the two. As a result, music and musical training can foster academic and life skills in children.

Aging and neurological disorders

• The Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, recently completed a 12-week study where 24 people with Parkinson’s disease played the guitar. They found the patients’ shaky hands, moods and levels of anxiety improved. Moreover, patients who participated in a study involving drum circle classes and choir singing lessons reported having a better quality of life, including enhanced communication with loved ones because of the classes.

• Group drumming counteracted age-related deterioration of immune functioning, in one study Chanda and Levitin cited.

• Music therapy creates entrainment, a simultaneous activation of neurons in disparate parts of the brain. So, even if we are not tapping, clapping, playing or singing along to music, scientists have found that our brains recognize and keep up with the beat. Knowing this, researchers are looking at how they can individualize the use of music in medicine to help people with motor-system disorders, like Parkinson’s.

Heart health

• Medical trials around the country have found that listening to music can help people to exercise longer during cardiac stress tests, cause heart rate and blood pressure to return more quickly to baseline levels after physical activity and alleviate anxiety in heart attack survivors.


• Scientists are exploring whether music played during surgery causes surgical teams to provide better care or whether the music is directly helping patients, even those under anesthesia. Either way, music played during surgery and post-surgery has been found to improve moods by decreasing cortisol levels and reduce sedation, pain and infections.

This story was originally published at The Ford Motor Company Fund supports a range of music-rich programming, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, the Sphinx Organization, The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the League of American Orchestras in Washington, D.C., the GRAMMY Museum’s GRAMMY in the Schools program and Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation’s Latin GRAMMY in The Schools program.

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