Green Applies Himself Well

December 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDSFerrisStateUniversityGrand Rapids academic dean Don Green makes it his business to know what employers want.

Actually, when he came to Grand Rapids in 1987 to work in then-Davenport College's human resources department, that was his business.

But when he began serving as an adjunct faculty member, he quickly lost interest in much of his field. He didn't feel a passion for labor relations, safety or benefits work. But there was still one aspect of his job that excited him. Both as faculty and within the college's human resources department, Green found that "what really got him geeked" was training and education.

So when the college offered him an opportunity to help design and serve as the first director of its ACE program, a degree completion program for working adults, Green took the step into higher education and never looked back.

"I've loved working in higher education ever since," he said. "It's an industry where you can make enormous change and make a really positive impact in people's lives."

From that start, Green has worked hard to create programs that fill needs within the business community. At Davenport, he was involved in the creation of the area's earliest NT and Novell certification programs. Later in his career, he helped develop education programs customized for local companies through Grand RapidsCommunity College's corporate training and development division, which recently adopted the new "training solutions" moniker.

Since crossing over to the other side of GRCC's AppliedTechnologyCenter, Green has been able to effect changes that are making FSU-Grand Rapids a popular destination for students seeking applied business education and a welcome pipeline for employers.

"What we wish to be is entrepreneurial," Green said. "The expectations concerning higher education and especially our state universities have changed. Years ago, we were expected to be the developers of labor for the market; now we're expected to be the developers of the market."

FSU President David Eisler prefers to give Green and the Grand Rapids campus as much latitude as it needs to develop programs that fit needs in the West Michigan community.

Green has responded with new programs like digital animation and game design. Now in its second year, Green believes the program will likely become an economic engine for the West Michigan region.

Students learn how to create video games and digital cinema as they would at PurdueCollege, DePaulUniversity or The Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, but they also learn how to apply those skills to the business and industrial market.

"When we talk about digital animation and game design, so many people think Nintendo or Pixar," Green said. "That's great, nothing wrong with that, but what they have to understand is that industrial simulations are getting to be a bigger and bigger part of how we sell products and how we sell services.

"We're seeing so many different industries come to us expressing interest."

With demand for digital animation spreading from entertainment to both the marketing and design arms of a great number of industries, including the manufacturing, real estate, health and legal communities, many FSU students — now freshmen and sophomores — are already finding full- and part-time work with their new skills.

One student was even paid several thousand dollars for a single freelance assignment, creating a project animation for a local company.

This program comes on the heels of the successful launch of the bachelor's of applied science in industrial technology and management.

"We developed a degree that was part management and part engineering," Green said. "And we designed it so that the coursework was easily accessible to students."

There is no burden of prerequisites, with flexibility within the program for transfer credits as well as customized concentrations.

This major has become popular with community colleges. Since its launch in Grand Rapids in partnership with GRCC, the major has found homes at a half dozen other community colleges, with the transfer flexibility allowing for as much as two-thirds of the degree to be achieved through taking the lower-cost community college courses.

Green hopes to extend FSU-GR's long-standing partnership with GRCC even further in the coming year, as he develops a bachelor of applied science in sustainability and environmental impact.

Like FSU-GR's other programs, the new major will be tailored to fit the need expressed by the local business community. AquinasCollege recently rolled out a major in sustainable business, and Green hopes to work closely with Aquinas on the FSU program.

Green does not intend to duplicate the Aquinas program, instead focusing on the applied manufacturing and design potential of the concepts. He also hopes that Aquinas, along with GRCC, KendallCollege and local businesses, will become partners in a sustainability and environmental impact design center and research facility, preferably housed at the ATC.

Green also hopes to roll out a second program centered on building design and management if the first sustainability major is successful. This would be accomplished with help from the Big Rapids-based construction management, facility management and architectural design programs.

"The way we do business at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids is that I look at the trends taking place across the United States and the world — population trends, social trends — and based on those we develop unique degree programs," Green said.

Green cited health care as another growth area for the college, which has developed a laddered program that can usher students through certifications, associate's degrees and then bachelor's degrees per their interests and job requirements.

"(Applied education) is a tradition at Ferris," Green said. "We are unique in that we want people to be able to go out into the industry and do — to accomplish. The education that we offer is applied and hands-on; it gives students the opportunity to try something rather than just learn the theory behind it."           

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