VAI Is More Than Medical Research

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Institute is not only about cancer research, it's also about elementary education.

That "Hope on the Hill" message was delivered by VAI Chairman and CEO David Van Andel to GR Rotary Club members and their luncheon guests recently.

Van Andel told the audience that the medical research arm of the institute was more widely known than the separate educational unit because it has received more press. But he also said that the lesser-known section, called the Van Andel Education Institute, is just as important to his family as is the cancer research center. Although the two are funded and operated separately, their missions are directly tied to each other.

Van Andel said the VAEI has its focus on the K-12 years because that is when a young person develops culturally, morally and ethically, and is open to learning about technology. He reminded audience members that the education institute opened the first Van Andel Education Technology School in the fall of 1998 at Alger Park Elementary, one of the city's oldest public schools.

"The interaction between students and teachers, and students and parents, greatly improved as a result of the Education Technology School," said Van Andel.

"Twenty families, for example, have returned to Alger Park that had previously sent their children to charter schools or other public schools because of the technology school. And we've already seen improvements in MEAP scores from the Alger students," he added.

The centerpiece of the school is a 2,500-square-foot lab that is equipped with new Macintosh and laptop computers, which feature state-of-the-art, integrated curriculum packages from Apple.

In addition, Van Andel reported that a new middle school opened at Alger last fall through the combined effort of Alger Park officials, Steelcase Inc. and the VAEI

"Based on the early enthusiasm of the students, parents and teachers, there is a strong feel the school holds great promise for the future," he said.

Van Andel said the VAEI is now working with the Prestigious Center for Educational Outcomes at Dartmouth College to discover how to improve educational techniques at the primary and secondary levels. What that effort uncovers, he said, will not only impact local education, but will also be shared with schools across the nation.

Van Andel said it's no secret that American students score lower in math and science than their counterparts in foreign lands — ranking ninth and tenth, respectively. The rankings, he said, explained why more than half of this country's scientists and engineers were born overseas.

"On another front, enrollment in our nursing schools has been declining at an alarming rate for the fifth consecutive year," he said.

"A study by Vanderbilt University projects that by the year 2020, only two decades from now, there will be a nationwide shortage of over 400,000 nurses, a serious crisis concerning the acceleration of the baby-boomer generation."

Van Andel said the institute would unveil the details of a new foundation this spring called the "Hope on the Hill Foundation." The foundation's name, he said, came from a $27.11 donation made to the VAI by a small group of elementary students. Van Andel said the students wrote the check out to "Hope on the Hill," instead of the VAI. He felt the name mirrored his family's vision when they decided four years ago to build the institute.

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