The Northwestern College Magazine
War prevented an exchange student from returning home. She’s now on the dean’s list and plans to transfer to WMU.
The Timothy J. Nelson Innovation Center is Anastasiia Hrukach’s favorite place on NMC's campus. “I love how modern it is, how light and open it is,” she says. “I’m in the Innovation Center ninety-nine percent of the time if I don’t have my classes.
has so completely adopted Traverse City as her home that she tries to use her palm, as Michiganders do, to show the location of her native Ukrainian city, Chernihiv.
“But it doesn’t work,” she says with a laugh, dropping her hand in her lap as she sits in the Hawk Owl Cafe on NMC’s main campus, separated by 5,000 miles and nearly two years from Chernihiv and her family.
Hrukach arrived in Traverse City in fall 2021 for a year as an exchange student at Traverse City Central High School. She was supposed to reunite with her parents and younger brother Nikita in Ukraine in May 2022.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Dual-enrolled at NMC and Traverse City Central High School
Runs with Traverse City Track Club
Member of TC Central cross-country, cheerleading and tennis teams
Named to NMC Dean's List and plans to attend Western Michigan University in fall 2023
Located on main highway to capital, Kyiv
Russia invaded Feb. 24, 2022
United Nations estimates 8,231 civilians killed
Parents and brother, 9, moved to grandparents' more rural home
But Hrukach’s plans changed on February 24, 2022, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Chernihiv, located near the border on the main highway a few hours north of the capital, Kyiv, was one of the first cities attacked. Hrukach, 17, had to figure out how to cope with an unimaginable reality. “People didn’t believe, to the last day, that the war would start,” says Hrukach, who had known fighting between Russia and Ukraine for half her life, dating back to 2014. Despite the eight intervening years of conflict, mostly in eastern Ukraine, no one had foreseen an all-out war. So the news her host mother broke that February morning was shocking as well as frightening.
In those first days, both of her parents’ workplaces were bombed as was a
neighbor’s house. Her family fled to a shelter. To prevent a Russian advance on
the capital, Ukraine bombed a key bridge between Chernihiv and Kyiv, isolating the city. Hrukach worried if her family would have enough food. Power was limited and unreliable, so she could only communicate by text.
Quickly, however, her parents and brother moved to her grandparents’ home in a safer village outside Chernihiv. Power improved enough that she could make phone and video calls. And with the help of those in her new hometown, including host parents Erin and Dean Bowles, the Traverse City Track Club and NMC, she
created a coping strategy.
“Keeping myself busy helped me the most,” says Hrukach. “I do read news. I also know the best for me, and the best I can do is just get an education.”
She’s well on her way. Hrukach took most of her senior year classes as a dual-enrolled student at NMC. She made the dean’s list for her high grade point average and earned 24 credits in subjects including English, psychology, contemporary social dilemmas and chemistry. She loved the in-person classes and NMC's faculty.
“The best I can do is just get an education."
– Anastasiia Hrukach
“Everyone wants to help you. You can text your professor and they will help you,” she says.
Chemistry instructor Mary Jo Elliott is one of her favorites. “She explained it in a way that I loved. She is keeping us on track,” Hrukach says, adding that the course requires 20 hours of homework a week.
Thanks to Elliott’s influence as well as the Bowleses (both engineers), Hrukach is leaning towards a degree in chemical engineering.
Dual-enrollment also was financially advantageous for Hrukach. In Ukraine, school goes only to 11th grade, so back home she would have been in college, which is mostly free to citizens. In the U.S. on a student visa, she’ll have to pay for tuition herself. She waged an all-out effort to get a scholarship, applying to 57
U.S. colleges and universities. She plans to attend Western Michigan University, which has offered her a full scholarship to its honors college. Combining her dual-enrolled credits with an Advanced Placement calculus course at Central, she could start at WMU with a full year already completed.
Sports and outdoor activities round out Hrukach’s life in Traverse City, another
change for her. She was born with a heart condition and doctors prevented her from much activity until she was 12 and outgrew her condition. Here, host dad Dean Bowles introduced her to running. Wednesday evening runs with the Traverse City Track Club became a weekly ritual, and she’s competed in events like the Frozen Foot 5K and St. Patrick’s Day fun run. She enjoys her fellow runners as much as the running.
“I felt like a part of the community,” she says.
The track club led to joining the Trojan cross-country squad. Her host mother introduced her to tennis, and she went on to earn the number one singles slot on the Trojan junior varsity tennis team. In between those seasons she even tried cheerleading for the boy’s basketball team.
“Getting out of your comfort zone
is sometimes the best thing to do.”
“After cheerleading, I really changed. That got me out there,” Hrukach says. “It taught me how to smile.” In Ukraine, people don’t show their teeth when they smile, so it was a change her family noticed right away, and one that she marvels at now herself, a visible evidence of how much has happened since she arrived in Traverse City. Prior to her exchange experience, she had never left Ukraine and never been on a plane.
“Getting out of your comfort zone is sometimes the best thing to do,” she says. “Being connected to people, and being part of some community, some outside support and people you trust, that’s what helps you most in life.”
Her visa requires that she return to Ukraine for at least two years. But for the time being, with no end in sight to the war and the scholarship awaiting at WMU, her home will be in Traverse City, at the tip of the pinky finger, with the Bowleses. “I will stay here until the war finishes,” she says. “Maybe one day I will do something for my country.”
Five NMC alumni were honored with 2022 staff awards from the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office. Included was recognition from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to
DEPUTY MITCHELL HOFFMAN
(Law Enforcement, 2019) and
DEPUTY HAYDEN TALBOT
(NMC 2021-2022). Life Saving Awards were presented to
DEPUTY HILARY SMITH
(Law Enforcement, 2016) and
DEPUTY SHANE ROELOFS
(Law Enforcement, 2020).
DEPUTY ROGER GROTEFENDT
(Law Enforcement, 2018) was honored as one of two Employees of the Year
DR. ANDREA (ANNIE) KRITCHER
(2001-2003, Outstanding Alumnus 2022) was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2023. She was lauded for her scientific research that helped bring about the first-ever controlled fusion ignition in December 2022 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
(Business/Marketing, 1976) recently printed the third edition of "Perry Hannah's Gifts, Then and Now," a local history book which she also co-authored about Traverse City’s founding father. Proceeds from the book helped fund Hannah’s statue, located at the corner of Union and Sixth Street in Hannah Park
RICONDA SOLIS LAMB
(Business, 1987) lives in Rogers City with her husband Richard. Together, they own the Presque Isle Advance and are active in the Rogers City Community Theatre.
(Law Enforcement, 1996) was recently promoted to lieutenant of the Patrol Services Division for the Traverse City Police Department, where he has served for twenty years.
JANÉE MARIE MEADOWS
(2003-2004) launched Hot Metal Playground. Their sketch comedy act performs throughout Michigan and the Midwest. Performance dates and digital shorts are available at hotmetalplayground.com and on
(Commerce, 1971) is retired in Traverse City, after 30 years implementing technology solutions for Kellogg Corp.
(Culinary, 2021) is now a Culinary Specialist in the U.S. Coast Guard and is stationed in St. Petersburg, Fla. on a medium endurance cutter.
(Chemistry, 1964) is retired and now resides in St. Helena, Calif. His autobiography,
Dirt Farmer’s Son
, has been updated through 2022 and is available through online retailers.
2023 OUTSTANDING ALUMNI NAMED
Since 1988, NMC’s Outstanding Alumni award has recognized graduates and past students for professional achievement and/or exemplary leadership in the local or global community. Recipients’ accomplishments reflect the NMC values of dedication to lifelong learning, innovation and integrity, and respect for and collaboration with others.
(Mathematics & General Arts & Sciences, 1998) As a student and as a faculty member since 1989, Dobek has played a pivotal role in the operations of the Rogers Observatory. His teaching at NMC extends into numerous schoolbased, community and national programs, including the design of the State Theater’s starry ceiling, the NASA Ambassadors and the International Dark Sky Association. Dobek has written dozens of dark sky ordinances for Michigan communities, and served as chair of the Grand Traverse Planning Commission for 15 years. He has received NMC’s teaching excellence awards as both an adjunct and full-time faculty member.
TIFFANY SMITH MCQUEER
(General Studies, 2012 & Practical Nursing, 2013) At the onset of COVID-19, Tiffany and her husband Jason McQueer, the owners of J&S Hamburg South in Traverse City, saw a need to provide food support to local families. The McQueers also provided numerous meals for essential workers at Munson Hospital and other facilities. What began as one cooler outside their restaurant stocked with a handful of meals has turned into a full-fledged nonprofit organization, with three locations providing food as well as drives for holiday gifts, winter wear, and back-to-school support. Project Feed the Kids just passed the 200,000 meal mark, after nearly three years in operation.
Outstanding Alumni nominations are welcomed at any time. To learn more, visit
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Cafe Lobdell’s opens
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until July 20. Closed July 4. Coffee and pastries served in NMC’s teaching restaurant at the Great Lakes campus.
Kids Free Fishing Day
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Great Lakes Campus. All equipment supplied.
Free admission at the Dennos Museum Center
for Juneteenth Day
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Classes run through August 18
College for Kids classes begin
Most classes run one week each through August. Choose from STEM subjects, art, outdoor education, culinary and more.
or call (231) 995-1700.
Also July 19, August 23
New student orientation
Must be admitted first.Visit
to learn more.
NMC Summer Concert Band
Traverse City Senior Center. A freewill offering will be taken.
NMC Summer Concert Band
Traverse City West Senior High. A freewill offering will be taken.
College Edge (session 2) begins
Free math, English, student success activities for any student starting college at any school this fall.
NMC Summer Concert Band
Civic Center Amphitheater. A freewill offering will be taken.
Fall semester classes begin
Pine Palooza student fair
1 a.m.-2 p.m.
Under the tent on the green by the
Timothy J. Nelson Innovation Center
30th anniversary season of International Affairs Forum begins
for lecture series speakers and dates, as well as other events.