A Higher Calling

May 31, 2002
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When Gov. JohnEngler revved up the Life Sciences Corridor a couple of years ago, Grand Rapids stood at the end of the road, waiting for medical, scientific and technology firms to come barreling down the pike. West Michigan as a medical technology “hub” was the vision, much like what happened in Rochester, Minn., with the Mayo Clinic.

Now, there is grumbling that the LSC has a flat tire when it comes to that sort of economic stimulus.

But the economic developers are still in tune. Patience, they say, is a virtue that West Michigan can afford to have. DougRothwell, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said projects such as these develop in stages and take many parts to create a whole. BirgitKlohs, president of The Right Place Program, has said all along that nothing will happen overnight. Yes, she expects clusters of medical-related businesses, but cautioned at the outset that such development could take five years or more.

That’s good news for the higher education community, because while economic development from the LSC is slowly making its way here, some of the focus in the college community is gearing up to meet that expected growth.

Juan Olivarez, president of Grand Rapids Community College, told the Business Journal that his school has developed a partnership with Grand Valley State University that will give students knowledge in the chem-tech and bio-med fields, and then send them on to GVSU to complete their course of study and training.

“The idea is to begin feeding these specialized workers into potential businesses here,” Olivarez said.

Over at Calvin College, similar results are being celebrated.

For the first time in at least a quarter century, 100 percent of the Calvin students who applied to medical schools this year were accepted.

Calvin biology professor and student adviser PeterTigchelaar recently learned that all 24 Calvin seniors who applied to medical, dental and podiatry schools were accepted. That includes 21 students off to medical school in the fall, two to dental school and one to podiatry school.

Most years the acceptance rate is between 80 percent and 85 percent, said Tigchelaar, which is certainly a good number, but not perfect.

So what makes this year different? Well, it just might be a renewed emphasis on, and support for, life sciences.

Topping that list, he said, is Calvin’s $18 million life sciences facility, DeVries Hall, which was dedicated in the fall of 1999.

“This place is humming in the summer,” he said of DeVries Hall. “Our students are involved in all kinds of research programs, working side-by-side with Calvin professors. They have full access to all the equipment, all of the labs. We hide nothing from them. Medical schools look at these kinds of experiences.”

Soon, it is hoped, employers who come to Grand Rapids as part of the LSC initiative will have a whole new crop of fully trained employees from which to choose. Attracting homegrown talent to stay home is far easier — and more cost effective — than trying to convince skilled workers to uproot themselves and their families and move here.

  • On a more disturbing educational note, the Michigan Department of Treasury last week released statewide scores for the winter 2002 Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) reading, writing and social studies tests.

On the good side, there is improvement. On the bad side, the numbers are dismal.

According to the official statement from Treasurer Douglas Roberts, the number of fifth graders who met or exceeded Michigan standards for social studies this past winter “jumped” nearly 4 percent. At the eighth grade level, 32 percent of the students taking the social studies test met or exceeded state standards, compared with 29.8 percent in 2001.

For those who aren’t too swift in math that means more than two-thirds of the state’s 14-year-olds don’t even meet the state’s standards for social studies.

Ouch.

No wonder Olivarez, Tigchelaar and those in higher education have their work cut out for them.

  • If you’ve been reading JeffreyGitomer’s recent columns in the Business Journal, you know that this is the time of year when as many business deals are made on the golf course as in the boardroom.

So it’s no surprise that the season’s early golf outings have been well attended. What is surprising, however, is the skill level shown by some of the area’s “business” players. A hole-in-one is an unusual occurrence at a golf outing. The recent Paws With A Cause scramble at Egypt Valley Country Club (site of the Senior PGA tour, no less) featured a pair of aces.

The event’s hole-in-one contests this year were displayed on holes No. 7 and No. 12. Golfers MarkWilson and BillRoersma each nailed a hole-in-one during the outing — on holes No. 5 and No. 16, respectively.

Darn, no car.

But one of the hole-in-one sponsors, Berger Chevrolet, said the rare accomplishments were too good not to reward in some fashion.

So the 28th Street car dealer came through with a Sony digital camcorder for Wilson and a pair of airline tickets to any destination in the continental United States for Roersma. Way to go, RandyBerger. That was another ace move.

  • Cup Crazy? That’s what Rosa Parks Circle will be on Tuesday if the Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche last Friday. If the Wings are in the Stanley Cup Finals, Lord Stanley’s chalice will be making an appearance downtown from about noon until 2 p.m. If the Red Wings lost last Friday, hockey’s Holy Grail probably will be sitting in a strip mall tomorrow somewhere near Hershey, Pa.

The Grand Rapids Griffins, who are just beginning their affiliation with the Wings (see story page 3), would get to host the Cup as part of a promotional tour touting the National Hockey League.

Here’s to hoping Grand Rapids drinks from the Cup tomorrow.

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