MCC Board of Trustees race on the Nov. 3 ballot

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published October 15, 2020


MACOMB COUNTY — There are three open seats for the Macomb Community College Board of Trustees race on the ballot Nov. 3.

Ten candidates are running for three six-year terms, which begin Jan. 1, 2021. Board members are not compensated for their services. Here is a look at all 10 candidates. The (I) represents the candidate is an incumbent.

Frank Cusumano (I)
Cusumano, 58, is an attorney and counsel in law. The Macomb Township resident was appointed to the board in 2012 and was elected to his first term in 2014.

“Because of the COVID crisis, it would be best to have an experienced person on the board to navigate through troubled waters,” Cusumano said. “We’re providing policy guidelines to the administration. It’s a good working relationship between the board trustees and the administration. It’s a collaborative effort.”

One goal, if reelected, is to keep tuition “affordable and accessible.”

“Community college is traditional for students who have more modest means,” Cusumano said. “We also provide job training for the healthcare industry and firefighters. We are award-winning for veterans, and we follow Title IX.”

As a board member, Cusumano constantly talks with residents about the college. He also said he votes “no on different issues.” That includes voting “no” several times, during his tenure, on slight tuition increases.

“I always think of my role as representing the students,” Cusumano said. “If they’re satisfied with the direction the college is going, I believe I was an important factor in that direction. I understand the issues and am looking forward to continuing my role.”

Sara Gieleghem
Gieleghem, 49, teaches fourth grade in Chippewa Valley Schools.

“I think it’s important for us to have an educator on the board,” Gieleghem said. “We need to make the connection from K-12 to our community colleges. It’s important for us to help guide students and give them as much information as possible. We have a lot of great skilled trades and apprentice programs.”

If elected, the Clinton Township resident said she would make tuition as affordable as possible.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also a concern of hers.    

“I think we should continue to talk to the students and take every measure we can to make sure our students are safe,” Gieleghem said, but it does bring up questions. “Do we continue this online forum? What’s best for college students? How do they maintain their ability to still take classes?”

The candidate hopes students take advantage of the Futures for Frontliners program, which offers COVID-19 essential, frontline workers who qualify tuition-free courses at Michigan community colleges.

Gieleghem has passed out flyers and spoken to residents about the election.

“I would really like to serve on the college board, but it’s up to the voters. I hope I presented a case so they would want to vote for me.”

Eugene F. Groesbeck
Groesbeck, 60, is a retired Macomb County Sheriff’s Office corrections deputy. The Shelby Township resident is presently a U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service special investigator.

Groesbeck has previously run for the MCC Board but has yet to be elected. He earned a liberal arts degree from MCC in 1979, where he said he discovered his love of learning. He holds a history degree from Lake Superior State University and a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Wayne State University.

“With the quality of professors, instruction and the diversity of course offerings, I can say Macomb Community College is second to none in terms of the education I received,” he said. “It opened up a whole world of learning to me. I want to see Macomb Community College continue its excellent records of offering an affordable college education to the residents.”

If elected, Groesbeck said he would consider hmself “an independent on the board.”

When employed with the Sheriff’s Office, Groesbeck was the steward, vice president and president of the union that included deputies, corrections officers and dispatchers.

“I’ve got a lot of experience in labor negotiations and grieving dispositions. I think that has given me the skills to (conduct) collective bargaining negotiations.”

Maria Mijac
Mijac, 47, is a Michigan Alternate Route to Certification (M-ARC) program elementary field instructor at the University of Michigan.

“I have a group of teachers I work with and give them support. We try to help bolster their teacher training,” she said.

Mijac also taught lower elementary school for several years. She would like to bring her experiences, understanding and a new voice to the board.

“I think there are a number of things Macomb does well,” she said. “I just want to continue supporting those efforts and how things are going to impact students.”

She feels MCC “runs under the radar.”

“People sort of take it for granted it’s there,” she said. “It offers a unique opportunity in the county.”

One aspect she likes is that high school students can participate in dual-enrollment programs to earn college credits.

“We have to make the best of the current situation,” the Sterling Heights resident said. One concern is that some students decided not to enroll in MCC right now “because they didn’t want to do online classes.” That could lead to students never returning to school.

“That would diminish opportunities in life as a result,” she said.

Lance Pittman
Pittman, 55, is a senior human resources professional, educator and pastor.

“I want to be a contributor — not just a spectator with what the college is doing,” he said. “I think Macomb Community College is definitely a leader.”

The Shelby Township resident, a U.S. Air Force veteran, has been affiliated with MCC for several years. He earned a baccalaureate degree from the University Center and began working at McLaren Hospital in Mount Clemens. While working there, he partnered with MCC, recruiting certified nursing assistant students to work at the hospital.

“When we did it the first time, we hired 14 people. We did this in subsequent times,” Pittman said.

Pittman also has been an educator at the college, teaching a customer service class in which students earn an administrative assistant certificate. Pittman also has thoughts on school returning to on-campus learning in light of COVID-19.

“I’m in favor of the hybrid learning model,” he said. “We want to make sure to follow best practices and the CDC guidelines. How do we engage students and help them understand virtual is still viable and get them to where they are going?”

He’d also like to see those who qualify apply for the Futures for Frontliners program.

Craig Plesco
Plesco, 57, is a technical specialist and supervisor of advanced technology at Ford. His stepson is attending MCC’s Early College of Macomb program for high schoolers enrolled in high school and college courses simultaneously.

“I want to see programs like that expanded. I could be a voice for expanding programs like that,” he said. Plesco does not want to see students paying off “loans their whole life,” and he would like to see “tuition-free college across the board.”

“There has been some discussion at the federal level about this. We could work with grantors and scholarship providers,” Plesco said. “Other countries have done this, and it’s paid off. People become more educated, get better jobs and can compete with people from other countries.”

If elected, the Harrison Township resident wants to see more flexibility in the scheduling of classes for students who work during the day.

“The budget is a concern and the rising costs of tuition and books,” he said. He also feels MCC offers classes on the professional side and the vocational side.

As far as the remote learning during COVID-19, “I think it’s working very well. I think what Macomb is doing right now is appropriate.”

Cecil D. St. Pierre Jr.
The 63-year-old attorney served on the Warren City Council 24 years.

“I just want to serve the public,” he said. “Even though I am an attorney, I still have this urge to serve. I believe Macomb Community College is an underused and undervalued asset. It has much more potential. I have an interest in making it better. I want to make sure Macomb Community College is prepping students for a four-year degree.”

He said one priority is to make sure funding is being spent properly. The Warren resident said he wants to ensure students aren’t being indoctrinated with “left-wing politics” while getting their education.

“I’ve heard about it throughout the country,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s happening at Macomb.”  

 He, too, will look into whether or not MCC could become a four-year university.

“That has been discussed in the past,” he said. “In regards to teaching skilled trades, it should be a job-training college.”

St. Pierre feels the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts is “a great resource” for plays and concerts.

“It’s a beautiful building,” he said.

“Being an attorney and my experience on the Warren City Council managing money and managing policy will help me as a trustee,” he said.

Carl Territo
Territo, 73, is a senior clinical specialist for a pharmaceutical company. He is a past Utica Community Schools Board of Education member and “had an interest” in running for the MCC Board.

“Macomb is rated relatively high. To me, this is the next step,” he said. “There’s a little more you can do for folks looking for certain degrees and certifications. With COVID and changes in the environment, there are people looking for newer or different employment opportunities.”

If elected, Territo, of Shelby Township, would ensure the Office of Veteran and Military Services stays strong.

“It’s supposed to be one of the best in the state. I don’t want that lost,” he said.

Territo would like to see a more diverse athletic program. If elected, something Territo would like to do is seek input from local employers regarding what type of job qualifications they are looking for in workers “and get the kind of courses those businesses need.”

He would also like to work with local business groups and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel to bring more business to Macomb County.

“I feel students should be back as long as it is safe to be back,” he said of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shelley Vitale (I)
Vitale, who turns 61 this month, was appointed to the board March 11, 2019, to fill a vacancy. Vitale, of Macomb Township, has a fine arts degree and has worked in many areas, the latest as a teacher at the Paint Creek Center For the Arts in Rochester.

“It’s really wonderful being on the board,” she said. “Your opinion and your vote count. You can make a difference. Macomb is about helping students get a degree that will improve their lifestyle and improve their lives.”

Vitale said of MCC President James O. Sawyer IV, “He listens. Great guy.”

“Everybody at the college are really hard working. I have nothing but admiration for everybody there,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic — it’s a lot more work for everyone. Everything still has to be done.”

It “makes sense” to continue with the at-home learning.

“If one person is infected and then it’s quarantine for the whole class,” Vitale said. “The college took every precaution. They didn’t flinch.”

Since being appointed, Vitale said the trustees have worked to make the college more inclusive for students.

“There’s a real commitment to improving our community,” she said.

Her youngest daughter attends MCC, and her older two daughters are past students.
Vince Viviano (I)
Did not respond to attempts seeking comment.