Speakers chosen for NMU commencement ceremony

Diana Lafferty, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, will be the faculty keynote speaker during Saturday’s commencement ceremony at Northern Michigan University. Lafferty was the 2021-22 recipient of NMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARQUETTE — For the first time in Northern Michigan University history, the student commencement speaker will be an NMU Global Campus graduate.

Jeff Ferrington has completed a bachelor’s in applied workplace leadership entirely online from his home base in downstate Macomb Township, but deliver his speech in person.

NMU’s commencement is at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 17, in the NMU Superior Dome. It will be broadcast live on WNMU-TV 13 and streamed online at nmu.edu/commencement.

Ferrington calls himself a “second chancer” for getting the opportunity to finish the NMU degree he first started as an on-campus student in 1996.

It took some convincing on his part to receive a second try. Ferrington readily admits that his introduction to Northern back then did not end well. While he loved the Marquette area and collegiate atmosphere, and immersed himself in activities such as hall government and other student organizations, he said, “I was not as focused as I should have been academically, and I was not welcomed back.”

Jeff Ferrington will be the student commencement speaker, Ferrington is an NMU Global Campus graduate. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

Ferrington returned to lower Michigan after his third year and entered the workforce. He started work in sales and marketing, then he got into the audio-visual field. For the past 15 years, he has worked within the sports, medical and higher education industries to design spaces where people can incorporate interactive technology into their workflow.

“I reached out to NMU’s Global Campus because when I turned 40, I started looking at regrets I had in my life that I could correct,” he said in a news release. “Not having a degree from Northern sat at the top of that list. I didn’t know if it would do anything for professional advancement, and I still don’t. It’s totally selfish in that I simply needed to fill that void for my own personal journey. I wrote a letter on the steps I had taken, why I wanted to finish my degree and the connection I had to Northern. The people at Global Campus took a chance on me. I think it’s paid off, as it’s been a great journey. I’ve even made the Dean’s List.”

When graduating NMU students received an email describing the application process for commencement speaker, Ferrington’s first reaction was that it would be an amazing way to cap his experience. Then doubt intervened. He questioned whether the selection committee would seriously consider an off-campus, distance education student. With his wife’s encouragement and support from advocates on campus who wrote recommendation letters, he applied. 

“I wanted to write a speech in a way that anyone listening would be able to connect to a piece of it because we’ve all faced challenges,” Ferrington said. “But I didn’t want another COVID speech, because that’s been done and perseverance goes beyond the pandemic. I really believe that gratitude is an essential part of life and wanted that message reflected as well.”

Ferrington will be accompanied to campus by several family members: his wife of 13 years, Leslie; their two daughters: Lily, 11, and Emmy, 7; his parents, Bill and Elaine; and his in-laws, Doug and Sandy Sova.

Lafferty faculty

keynote speaker

Diana Lafferty, assistant professor of wildlife ecology, will be the faculty keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony. She was selected through a nomination process overseen by the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University, the student government organization. 

“I’m shocked and incredibly humbled that the students selected me as their commencement speaker this semester,” Lafferty said in a news release.. “It’s such a wonderful privilege to celebrate their graduation with them in such a meaningful way.”

Lafferty was the 2021-22 recipient of NMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes faculty who have outstanding peer and student evaluations, are dedicated and enthusiastic, create safe and open learning environments, and experiment with innovative teaching and learning paradigms.

As a broadly trained interdisciplinary conservation ecologist, Lafferty synergizes her research, mentoring, teaching and outreach activities to advance understanding of how wildlife populations — and their associated communities and ecosystems — respond to global change. She leads students in hypothesis-driven research at the nexus of basic and applied ecology using a variety of taxonomic models that span myriad landscapes, both in her classrooms and lab.

By integrating authentic research into her curriculum, Lafferty trains NMU students to conduct ecological and conservation-focused research. She also fosters cross-institutional student collaborations and provides unique opportunities for all her students to engage in professional development activities.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is that I get to be the students’ No. 1 cheerleader,” she said. “I really love playing a small part in helping students identify their academic and professional goals and creating a scaffolded framework to ensure they can achieve their goals in a timely manner.”

Since joining the faculty at NMU in the fall of 2017, Lafferty’s efforts have enabled more than 450 undergraduate students in her Principles of Ecology and Conservation Biology courses to present their class research projects at local and national symposia.

She and student researchers also contributed to Snapshot USA, the first coordinated nationwide mammal survey that consisted of 1,509 motion-activated camera traps from 110 sites across all 50 states. The data was published in the journal Ecology, and Lafferty and students have collaborated on other published articles based on related research using Snapshot USA data.

Thompson to receive honorary nursing degree

Higher education and public policy leader Linda Thompson will receive an honorary doctorate degree in nursing at commencement. She has served as president of Westfield State University in Massachusetts since July 2021.

In a previous capacity as dean of nursing at Oakland University, Thompson played an instrumental role in facilitating the creation of NMU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

“The nursing profession was moving its practice degree to a DNP, but there were few programs at that time in the U.S. and none in Michigan,” said Kerri Schuiling, former director and associate dean of Nursing at NMU and current president, in a news release. “Linda is an amazing visionary and requested that Oakland’s director of grad programs develop a DNP curriculum. Our conundrum at Northern was how to support current faculty with master’s degrees in obtaining a doctoral degree. Linda suggested our schools work together.

“We were able to use faculty experts from each school to teach content areas in the program; we did not have to hire new faculty. We also created student exchanges so that students from the Upper Peninsula would have opportunities for clinical experiences in urban Detroit, and students at Oakland had clinical experiences in the rural U.P. The state awarded us a $1.9 million grant to create a DNP. Linda’s willingness to share the curriculum and her vision for a collaborative with faculty reciprocity saved money and time, and enabled a number of NMU nursing faculty to earn a doctoral degree.”

Prior to joining the Westfield State community, Thompson served as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at University of Massachusetts Boston.

Thompson has taught nursing and public health throughout her career at 10 different colleges and universities. She has received numerous awards, was an invited participant in the White House Conference on Childcare, and has served on numerous boards and commissions. Thompson earned her bachelor of science and master of science degrees in nursing at Wayne State University, and holds master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

“I am very grateful to Northern Michigan University and President Schuiling for selecting me to receive an honorary doctorate degree in nursing,” Thompson said in a news release. “As I have spent most of my life working in education and public health, this recognition is personally significant. I look forward to working with NMU to achieve our shared goals.”


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