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Alumni Information

Welcome ACC Alumni!

Thank you for visiting us today. We define alumnus as anyone who has taken a class at ACC and that probably means you! There are several ways to stay connected and get involved with ACC as an alumnus.

Alumni NewsletterThe Lumberjack Link is a bi-annual publication for ACC Alumni full of current information and happenings at the college. The Lumberjack Link is mailed to ACC graduates with a current address on file, it is also available online.

Recent Issues

Shining On: Taylor's Legacy

The great songwriter Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”Taylor Agius smiles while holding her nursing badge

Taylor Agius’ parents and brother describe her as having been sunshine. Many of her coworkers at Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM) commented on Taylor’s bright light and infectious smile. In her career as a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), Taylor tended to children whose lives had been cracked open by life-threatening medical conditions. Her light shined brightly for those children and their families, guiding them through unimaginable struggles.

“Taylor absolutely loved kids and from the beginning, there was never a doubt that pediatrics was her calling,” her parents, Phil and Pam said. “Even before she was a nurse, it was common for Taylor to babysit on a weekend night instead of going out–her love for children was amazing.”

Taylor had big plans for herself, too. She graduated from Northern Michigan University’s nursing program in May of 2023 and signed a two-year contract in September of last year to work at CHM. Even in a stressful environment like the pediatric ICU, Taylor thrived, forming tight bonds with her coworkers because of the intense level of care needed on the unit. Honing her skills and gaining knowledge, the sky was the limit for Taylor.

“She had dreams of travel nursing out west, fueled by her love of the mountains, the great outdoors, exploring, and adventure,” Pam and Phil said.

We will never know where her life and career would have led her. Tragically, Taylor Agius died in a car accident on April 13. To say that her family, friends, and coworkers have been grief-stricken by her loss is an understatement.

“Taylor’s passing has left a huge hole in our family, as anyone could expect,” Phil and Pam said.

Perhaps it is through that hole that Taylor’s light continues to shine through. At her memorial service at CHM, t-shirts
were sold in her honor that said “Stay Bright”, which was a reference to the light her coworkers felt she brought to the unit. The funds raised from t-shirt sales went toward a scholarship Taylor’s family established at the ACC Foundation in Taylor’s memory. The scholarship will assist ACC students pursuing a degree in nursing.

“A nursing career was her true calling,” Taylor’s parents shared. “Taylor worked hard to accomplish her BSN (Bachelor of
Science in Nursing), dedicating many hours throughout the week and weekends studying. We were fortunate to be able to help Taylor financially through college; our hope with her scholarship is to assist someone with her same drive and desire to help others reach their full potential as a nurse--ideally a PICU nurse.”

Taylor’s story has inspired many to contribute to her legacy. Within days of her passing, donations to the Taylor Agius Memorial Nursing Scholarship at Alpena Community College started pouring in. Her coworkers, friends, family, and people who were touched by the story of a beautiful young woman they never met added to the scholarship fund. To date, well over $80,000 has been contributed to ensure Taylor will continue to help others for decades to come.

“She was a friend to all and wanted to know everything she could about people she met. She was an incredible daughter and sister and helped whenever and wherever she could,” Taylor’s parents said. “Taylor always placed other people’s interests in front of her own. In honor of her giving spirit, our hope is that something positive can grow out of our tragic loss and that her light, spirit, and love will live on in the years to come.”

Donations to the Taylor Agius Memorial Nursing Scholarship at Alpena Community College can be made through the ACC Foundation.

The Irreplaceable Instructor: Steve Lewis Retires

Steve Lewis smiles while looking off to the sideACC math and engineering instructor Jim Berles describes him as one of the most brilliant people he’s ever met.

Roy Smith, ACC utility technology instructor, says, “No instructor spends more one-on-one time with their students.”

Attorney and former student Emily Bruski Rysberg commented on what she called his “profound dedication to teaching”, saying, “I’ve never had a college instructor put in the time and effort he did to help me pull off a decent grade… the dedication he taught me impacts me every day.”

For someone who grew up never wanting to be a teacher, Steve Lewis (’83) turned out to be a supremely gifted educator who leaves big shoes to fill in his retirement from Alpena Community College after 32 years of teaching.

The son of two retired teachers, Steve’s time at ACC began when he was a senior at Alpena High School and took calculus as a dual-enrolled student. He enjoyed ACC so much that he decided to stick around and earn an associate degree before transferring to the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

Steve took an engineering job in Ann Arbor after graduation and was happy, but back when he was a student at ACC, he got an inkling that he might enjoy teaching someday—but only at ACC. “The first opening at ACC that I would have been qualified for came available after just six-and-a-half years of being an engineer, and my wife encouraged me to apply,” Steve said.

He got the job and moved home to Northeast Michigan. In what would become a theme in Steve’s life, he buckled down and got to work learning a new skill: teaching.

“Both of my parents were teachers. Both of my wife’s parents were teachers. My sister and brother-in-law were both teachers. I had two aunts and an uncle who were teachers. I thought I should know what it means to be a teacher,” Steve said. “I had no idea.”

Steve worked hard to learn how to teach and not only became a great instructor, but a gifted educator who brought subjects alive. Students trusted him with their education. For the next 23 years, he taught engineering and math classes.

In 2014, Steve was presented with the opportunity to make a second major career change. ACC had developed a bachelor’s degree program that straddled the gap between utility technology and electrical engineering. ACC’s Electrical Systems Technology (EST) program focuses on building and maintaining the electrical power grid. As Steve looked at the curriculum, he noticed a lot of math classes that, combined with the electrical studies he’d had in college, he knew he was qualified to teach. When he offered to help cover some of the math classes in the program until they found an EST instructor, Steve was approached with a proposal: Would he consider going back to school to learn more about electrical systems so he could take over as the lead instructor?

“I agreed to do that. I did some industry training for the electrical knowledge, but the majority of my training was in the form of 18 graduate credits in Power Systems Engineering from Iowa State University. I was awarded a graduate certificate for that work, and I am way prouder of that certificate than any of my degrees,” Steve shared.
Steve helped pioneer a new advanced degree program at the college, and changed lives along the way.

“The difference Steve has made in my life is hard to overstate,” recent EST graduate Mason Rogers (’23) expressed “He is the most dedicated teacher anyone could ever meet. I will never forget the many hours he spent working with me on my homework for both his classes and others. My success in the program is a direct reflection of his dedication to his students and their learning.”

Nine years after taking a chance and changing departments and 32 years after his first day of teaching, Steve Lewis is ready for another adventure: retirement. He doesn’t have anything specific planned other than to do some traveling and soak in the freedom to explore what life has to offer.

One thing is for sure: Steve’s legacy at ACC will endure. His dedication to lifelong learning, his belief in the power of education, and his willingness to embrace change have left an indelible mark on the institution and the countless lives he has touched.

Welding Opportunities and Manufacturing Excellence at ACC
A group of people cut the ribbon at the new manufacturing labWhat used to be crowded into one windowless footprint divided by a thick concrete wall, Alpena Community College’s renovated welding and manufacturing technology labs have spread out into two state-of-the-art spaces across campus.

The college, along with the ACC Foundation, invited donors on April 18 to the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Holcim Industrial Education & Welding Center and the Besser Company Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Each lab allows students to stretch out over 7200 square feet filled with the upgraded equipment, HVAC systems, and lighting.

The project was made possible by a grant from the United States Economic Development Administration, Besser Company, Holcim, Besser Foundation, Star Cutter, and the late Edward Grezlak.

A group of people cut the ribbon at the updated welding labAndrew Paad, lead instructor of the manufacturing technology program at ACC, looked around the new machine shop and said, “We’re building our community. We’re working with the businesses. That’s what we’re here for. This gives us the room and space to continue to grow.”

Lead welding instructor Tim Ratz’s lab more than doubled in space and is now outfitted with cutting-edge equipment.

“I’ve been here 21 years and this is the most special day I’ve had in my time (at ACC),” he said. “We are able to offer training just as good as anybody. I can’t believe this is the space I get to come into to work every day.”

2024 ACC Distinguished Graduate: Arthur H. Knechtel

Art Knechtel poses with his award alongside his wife and daughterHow does a first-generation college student from Alpena’s North Side end up traveling the world representing a major multinational corporation?

For 2024 Alpena Community College Distinguished Graduate Arthur Knechtel (’57), it was all about education. Both his parents had been raised on farms and neither one of them had any formal education. In fact, Art’s parents couldn’t read or write. It was the teachers in his life that encouraged Art to pursue the education he needed to unlock opportunity.

When Art was 15, his father died of stomach cancer and his mother supported the family by making and selling aprons. A good student, Art continued his schooling and got a job at the A & P grocery store. He graduated from Alpena High School in 1955 and then went on to Alpena Community College, which became the first step in his journey to becoming a globetrotting executive.

A member of ACC’s fourth graduating class, Art completed an associate of science at ACC, then transferred to the University of Michigan and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

Right out of college, Art went to work for Hercules Incorporated, a major chemical and munitions manufacturing company. He steadily rose in the organization and eventually became the director of purchasing, flying all around the world and buying raw materials for the company.

A small-town boy, Art moved eight times in his career.  When he relocated to San Francisco, he moved into an apartment
building that housed 26 women and two other men. The odds in his favor, Art met his wife Mary Ann, then a flight
attendant, and they married, eventually having two children and settling for good in Pennsylvania.

Art’s career with Hercules ended with retirement after 38 years. Free to do whatever he wanted—including nothing
at all--Art devoted himself to helping others.

He began a volunteer project to provide affordable housing for senior citizens. This resulted in a 28-year labor of love helping to plan, construct, and manage Luther House, a four-building complex consisting of 256 apartments
for seniors. Art has forever changed the lives of the 800 senior citizens who have lived there since it was constructed.

If that weren’t impressive enough, Art also began delivering Meals on Wheels to homebound adults, something he has done for 26 years. In addition, Art has served for 15 years on the finance committee for an after-school program for at-risk kids called After the Bell. The program has served over 5,000 children since its inception 25 years ago.

While life has taken Art to Pennsylvania, he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Northern Michigan or the people among whom he was raised. Several years ago, Art and his wife established the Arthur H. & Mary Ann Knechtel Scholarship through the ACC Foundation to assist students pursuing a degree in engineering or science.

“Giving back to people is important,” Art said. “God has been nice to me. I’ve had a happy career. I had a happy childhood.
I had a great college career, first at ACC and then at U of M. I wanted to give back to the community.”

Art’s accomplishments, both in his career and in service to others, are worthy of recognition. He serves as a remarkable example of what graduates can build on the solid educational foundation laid at ACC.

Dr. Henry and Florence Stibitz Named Fellows of the College

Dr. Henry and Florence Stibitz pose with their award at GraduationThere are people who appreciate Alpena Community College for what it brings to the community—and then there are Dr. Henry and Florence Stibitz, who have each in their own way helped to nurture the seeds of growth at ACC. For their efforts, the couple has been named Fellows of the College.

The Stibitzes moved to Alpena in 1967 after Henry was hired as Alpena General Hospital’s first doctor of internal medicine. Since that time, the couple has not only become a treasured part of our community, but helped shape Northeast Michigan into what it is today through their service to the people and institutions of the region.

Henry and Florence have been involved in a wide range of community and ACC activities in the nearly 60 years they’ve called Northern Michigan home. Their service in projects and activities great and small have greatly enhanced the educational, cultural, and economic lives of the citizens of Northeast Michigan.

Henry coached hockey for over 20 years for both the Alpena Hockey Association and Alpena High School. His love of flowers and gardening inspired him to create the ACC Gardeners group and install greenhouses on ACC’s Alpena campus. Professionally, Henry was cherished by the people he treated and worked with, and he made a positive difference in many lives.

Florence’s commitment to service in our community is demonstrated through a rich history of personal involvement in numerous community groups, including the Alpena Farmers Market board, the Alpena Lions Club (as a member and 2004 president), the READ program at the Alpena County Library, ringette hockey, Leadership Alpena, the League of Women Voters, the Alpena General Hospital Tray Club, the Community Concert Association, and the Alpena Hockey Association. She was voted the Zonta Club Woman of the Year in 1998, and was nominated for the Athena Award. She currently serves on the executive committee of the Association of Lifelong Learners Board of Directors.

Florence’s many contributions to Alpena Community College begin with her long-standing service on the ACC Board of Trustees for the past 40 years. She has represented ACC on the statewide Michigan Community College Association board of directors, including acting as MCCA board president in 1999.

She was the founder and chair of the ACC Spotlight Series and helped to organize the ACC College Day for Women. Florence has volunteered for the Christmas Wish program through the ACC Volunteer Center and participated in ACC’s strategic planning and budgeting committee.

Because of Henry and Florence’s efforts in enriching the educational, cultural, and economic lives of the citizens of Northeast Michigan, Alpena Community College proudly conferred upon them the title of Fellows of the College during the 2024 ACC Commencement, held May 9, 2024. The honor, created in 1972 by ACC President Herbert Stoutenburg, recognizes those who make outstanding educational, cultural, or economic contributions to Northeast Michigan.

Service above self – Henry and Florence Stibitz have made NE Michigan a better place by their involvement with the following:

ACC Board of Trustees Alpena Lions Club
ACC College Day for Women Association of Lifelong Learners
ACC Gardeners Group Hospital Tray Club
ACC Spotlight Series Leadership Alpena
ACC Volunteer Center League of Women Voters
Alpena County Library READ Program Michigan Community College Association Board of Directors
Alpena Farmers Market Ringette Hockey
Alpena Hockey Association Zonta Club Woman of the Year

"The Scholarship Changed My Whole Life" - Help the ACC Foundation Make a Difference

Evan Fairbanks poses with a glove for his baseball photoEducation can unlock a world of opportunity, but what happens when our region’s students don’t have the means to access education? Can you imagine the difference in a student’s life you could make by giving them the means
to get a college degree?

Evan Fairbanks will tell you about the impact Alpena Community College scholarship donors made on his life. His educational journey at ACC began after he graduated from Rogers City High School and enrolled in the welding program at the college.

Evan initially sought a certificate in welding, but kept eyeing the associate degree in welding technology. The cost of staying in school another year was daunting, even with the help of state and federal financial aid and the small athletic scholarship he received from playing first base on the ACC Lumberjacks baseball team.

In the meantime, ACC Foundation donors established a sizable scholarship that was a perfect match for Evan. At the end
of the fall 2023 semester, Evan was awarded the new scholarship, unlocking the opportunity to continue his education and pursue his associate degree.

“The scholarship changed my whole life,” Evan said. “It really gave me a chance to further my education and give me
breathing room to come back for a second year. It 100% changed my plans for school…it meant the world to me and gave me a chance to really enjoy college.”

For Evan, like many students, the financial burden of pursuing higher education seems like an insurmountable obstacle.
That’s why the ACC Foundation is seeking your help to increase our general scholarship fund to give us the flexibility to assist individual learners with their individual financial needs.

Will you join us in opening doors of opportunity for students who, like Evan, aspire to reach their full potential? Your donation to the general scholarship fund, no matter the amount, has the power to change the trajectory of a student’s life.

Together, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of students and the future of our community.

Attaching Wings to Dreams
by Dr. Don MacMaster, ACC President

Dr. MacMaster stands on stage to receive his PTK awardMany thoughts crossed my mind as I waited backstage at the Gaylord Conference Center to be announced as a 2024 recipient of the Shirley K. Gordon award at the Phi Theta Kappa annual conference in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, April 5. The Gordon award honors community college presidents who demonstrate commitment to student success with written nominations provided by current or former Phi Theta Kappa students. Not knowing who supplied the nomination or what they said made the award in some ways sweeter, a common theme among the other 15 presidents from the nation’s 1,150 community colleges across the country receiving the Gordon award.

Standing backstage my thoughts landed on a visit early in my presidency from a vibrant senior citizen from Black River who had my dad as principal in 1960 at Alcona High School. I was born in 1959 so the stories she told I’d never heard before — I never had my dad as either a teacher or an administrator. She brought along a black and white photo of my father in his office at a point in his life and career when he was younger than I was at the time of her visit. Despite the decades, I recognized the look. It’s framed in my office, looking over my shoulder keeping tabs on things. Your dad could be a stern disciplinarian, she recalled, but she liked him and respected him. What she liked best, she said, is that no matter what you did that landed you in his office, he had a way of making you feel he was in your corner.

Then my name was called and out I went. It felt great to represent Alpena Community College in this setting, with approximately 6,000 Phi Theta Kappa honorees and their advisors applauding with brightness and enthusiasm. I doubt most of them knew where Alpena is. Looking out, what I saw was youth, vitality, and the diversity of this nation. Picture ACC’s recent Phi Theta Kappa honorees — Megan Wright, Olivia Hemker, Todd Graham, Morgan Esch, Yuki Nishibashi, to name just a few — in a group of 6,000 young people radiating similar brainpower and positive energy. That’s how it felt to me. A wise man once noted that community colleges attach wings to dreams. It takes hope and energy to lift off, to focus on the present with the future in mind. That’s what ACC does and it was a career highlight to represent this fine institution and the communities it serves.

Iron Woman: Tiffany Younk is Rebuilding Detroit

An ACC graduate’s face is decorating Detroit’s skyline as she makes a name for herself in an unusual arena.

Despite all the gains they have made in equality over the decades, women comprise just 2% of the 120,000 members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, AFL-CIO (IW), in North America. Tiffany Younk (‘19, ‘20) is one of them. An honors graduate of Alpena Community College with an associate degree in general science and a certificate in welding, Tiffany took an atypical route to end up in her atypical career for a young woman.
Tiffany Younk Photo
“I started attending ACC as a dual enrollment student when I was 16 years old,” Tiffany, from Harrisville, said. “I graduated from high school with 37 college credits and Phi Theta Kappa honors and transferred to NMU. Over the course of the next six years, I switched majors and had not found anything I could see myself doing for a career.”

Tiffany’s educational path led her back home to ACC, which offered her the opportunity to lay a solid educational foundation on which to build her future.

“I came back to ACC when I was 24 and graduated with an associate in science (in 2019),” Tiffany said.

It was in the course of earning her degree that she realized her heart and future were forged in iron.

“I went back (again) to study welding,” Tiffany said, as she explained her decision to earn a certificate in the trade after getting her associate degree. “My father is an ironworker and growing up, I always wanted to work on those jobs and go to work with him. Welding came a clear choice to go back once again and study—and I am so happy I did.” After spending the preceding six years trying to figure out what to do with her life, Tiffany wasted no time in laying the foundation for her future.

“Before I graduated, I signed up with Ironworkers Local 25 out of Detroit. I graduated and almost immediately started working as an apprentice ironworker.”

Living in Lapeer and commuting to Detroit every day, Tiffany is doing a lot of welding, fabricating, and working around heavy machinery.

“Currently I am working on the restoration of Michigan Central Station in Corktown in Detroit. It is a lot of fun and I am so thankful to be able to work on a building with such rich history behind it. I’m not sure how I got so lucky…,” Tiffany said.

Ford Motor Company, who bought Michigan Central Station in 2018 and is restoring and renovating what was once the tallest train station in the world, recently featured Tiffany in a promotional campaign about the tradespeople working to resurrect the Detroit landmark.

“My superintendent told me one day that people would be coming to take photos of workers for a documentary and he had chosen me and a male colleague to get our photos taken. A few months later I walked outside to the front of the building and my photo was on a banner that hangs on the front of the building along with other workers from different trades.”

Tiffany hopes many more female welding students at ACC follow in her footsteps and join the profession she loves.

"I have been told time and time again that women are some of the best welders," Tiffany shares. "Welding is a lot of fun and pays very well. It is an awesome career to get into, and if you like manual work that is tough but rewarding, it is an amazing career with endless opportunities!"

Like many students, Tiffany needed some time to figure out what career she wanted to pursue in life. With the help of her instructors at ACC, she forged the perfect fit for her.

Finding Home: Musa’s JourneyMusa Kabbah poses with his arms folded across his chest

The story of how an ACC electrical systems technology student plans to bring power to a country largely in the dark starts on another continent.

Born in 1997 at the end of the first Liberian civil war, ACC junior Musa Kabbah took his first breath in the chaos of a refugee camp in Guinea, just over the border from his native Republic of Liberia. The Kabbahs had fled their home country to escape the fighting that was waged largely along ethnic lines. Because Musa’s mother is Catholic and a member of the Lorma tribe, while his father is Muslim and a member of the Mandingo tribe, his family was at heightened risk in the war. They could not safely return home, so life in a refugee camp, where he got used to hearing gunshots and rockets coming from across the border, became Musa’s “normal”. The Kabbahs would stay there for the next decade, making a shelter out of savannah grasses and palm fronds and always being ready to flee when the rebels crossed the border and raided the refugee camp.

“It was…some of it is indescribable,” Musa said. “Sometimes I try to suppress my memories (of the past). I don’t want to think about that anymore. I have a really good memory and I can still see (that time) really clearly, but I try not to think about it. But it was terrible—especially when it came to shelter and food. During the rainy season, food grows and there’s a lot of water, but in the dry season…it’s extra hot and crops don’t grow well. We had to go fetch water at the pump and it’s so far away. When it came to shelter, we would go get the leaf of palm and I know all the traditional ways to make a house. It was a life or death skill you needed to know...sometimes you’d wake up in the middle of the night and it would be raining and the roof had been torn off your house by the wind.”

Life as Musa knew it was difficult, but difficult was normal to him. When his family was able to finally move back home to Liberia, Musa never really fit in. He was a Muslim attending a private Catholic school, as it offered him the best education. His mixed ethnicity made making friends almost impossible, as he was viewed with suspicion by both his ancestral tribes.

“Because of my parents’ background, I didn’t have lots of friends and I thought it was normal to not be accepted because of differences. That’s all I knew,” he said of that time in his life. “I thought it was normal to be kicked around and kicked out.”

Musa learned to keep to himself and devoted his time to his studies, which paid off. In 2013, he was recruited to apply to become a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad scholar. A U.S. State Department program, YES facilitates foreign students largely from Muslim countries to come to America and, according to the State Department website, participate “…to advance the U.S. foreign policy goals of promoting civil society, youth leadership development, and lasting ties between Americans and the people of participating countries.” Out of the thousands of students who applied in Liberia, about 500 were invited to take a series of tests that would help separate the great students from the good students. The testing process just happened to be in Musa’s hometown of Voinjama that year, so after he progressed through each round, the young man who was bullied and had few friends suddenly had a lot of fans. Eventually, Musa made his family and city proud by earning the distinction of being one of just eight students in Liberia to be chosen to participate in the exchange program.

Musa and the other YES scholars moved to Liberia’s capital of Monrovia and began training with the U.S. embassy there in preparation for a year abroad. He spent almost a year in Monrovia, away from his family for the first time, while he learned about America and prepared to represent his country.

Musa receives his Academic All-American awardWith about a month to go before leaving for America, in late April of 2014, Liberia became the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak and everything changed. Infection by the Ebola virus causes fever, muscle aches, headache, rash, diarrhea, vomiting, and, in more serious cases, bleeding internally and externally. It has about a 50% average mortality rate and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Countries weren’t allowing planes from Liberia to land in their airports and Musa and his fellow YES scholars didn’t leave their lodgings in Monrovia for fear of being exposed to the virus. There would be no exchange program—at least not as originally planned. Musa had spent almost a year away from his family, who was now terrified that he was in danger of contracting Ebola, and he couldn’t go home. He was stuck.

Finally, after another full year away from his family, the Ebola epidemic passed and Musa made his way to America, where he was to live with host father and Alpena Public Schools Board of Education President Gordon Snow in Alpena. Musa was prepared for the culture here to be vastly different from what he experienced in Liberia. What he didn’t expect, however, was how his differences would ultimately be accepted in Northern Michigan.

“When I came to the United States, it was so different—in terms of race, in terms of everything—but I felt more at home than when I was actually at home sometimes,” Musa said. “When I came to Alpena, I had lots of friends from high school…it changed my entire personality. Everything I had in mind had changed. All the kids growing up—we were all black, we were all the same race and everything, but still, they kicked me out. But here, everyone is a different race—different everything--but these guys from school were friends to me and accepted me…I loved living here.”

Musa gained a lot from his time in Northeast Michigan attending Alpena High School, not the least of which were friends and confidence. The young man who left Liberia as an introvert who kept to himself returned a confident extrovert who had a host of friends in America.

Upon his return home, Musa took the confidence he gained in Alpena and enrolled at a Catholic university in Monrovia to study electrical engineering and founded a youth-led nonprofit organization called Better Understanding for a Better Liberia (BUBL), which seeks to promote peace and development in Liberia. It was this nonprofit that brought Musa back to America and, in a roundabout way, back to Northeast Michigan. He received an invitation as BUBL’s founder and executive director to come to Washington D.C. for a week of training on nonprofit management. He wanted to visit Alpena while he was in the country, so his former host father here in Northeast Michigan, Gordon Snow, arranged for Musa’s flight to and from Alpena following the conference.

Musa competes in a cross country raceFor some time, Musa had wanted to come back to Michigan and go to college, but he discovered the cost of getting a degree at someplace like Michigan State was far beyond what he and his family could afford. Once in Alpena, Musa learned from Gordon Snow that Alpena Community College had recently developed a bachelor’s degree program in electrical systems technology, which Musa says combines electrical engineering with computer technology—two of his passions. The cost of the program was far less than what a traditional four-year university would charge to get the degree Musa would need to reach his life’s goal: to bring affordable, reliable electricity to all parts of Liberia, where the power grid is centralized in Monrovia and doesn’t reach the whole country. After meeting with ACC Director of Admissions Mike Kollien, Musa knew where he needed to be.

“Alpena is my home. I have a lot of good friends here—a lot of people here. I feel like this is someplace that’s special to me, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll go back to Alpena.’”

And back to Alpena he went—after a year in Liberia cutting through the necessary red tape. When Musa began to take classes at ACC, he realized he had truly found the perfect program for himself and the goals he has for his degree.

“It’s a mixture of computers and electrical engineering. It’s not 100% either of those, but I have to take a lot of computer programming and networking classes and then I’m taking power generation and distribution classes. So, I feel like these things (the classes that comprise this degree) are something I’ve got that I didn’t know I needed. (This degree) is just perfect. It gives me the full spectrum of everything that I want to do.”

And what Musa wants to do is nothing short of lighting up Liberia, a country in which the U. S. Agency on International Development estimates only about 12% of the population has access to electricity. Imagine living less than 500 miles from the equator, with the average temperature about 80 degrees year-round, and not even having the ability to quench your thirst with a cold drink. Imagine the dangers and expense of living life by candlelight, gas generator, or battery. Imagine what access to safe, affordable electricity could do for a country, a town, a family, a young man.

Host mother Denelle Shultz & Musa celebrate Independence DayMusa knows firsthand what that’s like and he’s teaching others about the transformative nature of something most of us take for granted by sharing his family’s story. Musa’s Alpena host family during his college journey, Steve and Denelle Shultz, got to know Musa’s mother through weekly phone calls to update her on her son’s progress in America and heard from Musa about his mom’s efforts to earn extra money for the family by buying ice from people with gas generators so she could chill water she then sold to others at a profit. Impressed by her entrepreneurial nature and hard work running the Kabbah family’s retail shop, the Shultzes decided to invest in the Kabbahs to honor Musa at Christmas and for his birthday.

“They asked me, ‘You know, you’ve talked about your mom and about how she’s doing all these things. How helpful would it be if she got a solar generator so she could produce cold water and didn’t have to pay money to do that.”

“Helpful” turned out to be an understatement when describing the impact access to affordable energy had on the Kabbahs’ capacity to run a business and earn a living.

With Musa’s connections gained apprenticing for a solar energy company between his two American educational residencies, he and the Shultzes arranged for a solar energy panel, generator, and refrigeration unit to be delivered and installed at the Kabbahs’ home. With this investment in their future, not only have the Kabbahs been able to power their home, enabling them the simple “luxury” of being able to turn on a light when they hear a noise at night, but they’ve also been able to power their small textile and clothing store nearby. But that’s not all. The Kabbahs began to produce, store, and sell cold water, with sales so good that they could afford to plant and harvest a palm crop on their ancestral land, which resulted in them being able to employ over 30 people. The family has now expanded into growing ginger and producing ginger juice, which they sell alongside their cold water.

Musa wants other families in Liberia to have access to affordable, reliable energy, too. He believes that hydroelectric power plants could be the answer to bringing power to Liberia on a large scale. On a micro level, however, Musa would like others to benefit from solar energy like his family has. Deeply invested in the development of his country, as evidenced by his continued day-to-day leadership of BUBL remotely through the power of technology, Musa wants to be a part of the solution to Liberia’s energy inequality problem, using his degree in electrical systems technology from ACC to help accomplish that goal. He knows that change won’t happen overnight, though, which is why Musa would like to stay in America after graduation and gain knowledge and experience by working in the power industry until he has the expertise needed to effect real change in his home country.

Musa’s pursuit of the knowledge he needs to realize his dream of building the massive infrastructure needed for affordable, accessible power in his home country of Liberia brought him back to Alpena. Whether he can now gain the experience he needs to realize his dream by working in his adopted hometown in America remains to be seen. But if his career takes him away from Northeast Michigan, however, one thing is for certain: he will always have a home in Alpena, and Alpena will always have a home in his heart.

Campus Crosscut
Campus Crosscut
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Lumberjack Boosters ClubThe Lumberjack Boosters Club is an association of individuals committed to providing the financial resources necessary to support athletics at Alpena Community College. Membership in the Lumberjack Boosters Club is extended to individuals or businesses who make an annual donation of $100 or more.

     Membership Benefits

  • Season Pass to all Alpena Community College Athletic Events
  • Recognized in College publications, including its Annual Report
  • Recognized on a specially designed plaque located outside Park Arena

All donations are deposited immediately into the Lumberjack Boosters Club Fund, which is entrusted with the Alpena Community College Foundation and used exclusively for athletics. 100% of every gift is used to fund equipment, supplies, lodging, food, and travel expenses for all sports. Contributions are never used to pay salaries or for the day-to-day operations of the college. 

Distinguished Graduate AwardThe Distinguished Graduate Award was established by the ACC Foundation and Development Office in 1998 to honor and recognize ACC graduates who have contributed to society through successful careers. The accomplishments of these individuals exemplify how a solid educational foundation from ACC can launch a lifetime of achievement.

Distinguished Graduate Nomination Form
Past Recipients