GRAND RAPIDS — MichiganStateUniversity
was looking for someone who knew the community well and who was well known to the community to serve as director of community relations for the MSU College of Human Medicine as it expands into Grand Rapids
. The university tapped former State Rep. Jerry Kooiman for the job because "he had a wealth of governmental experience and an excellent knowledge of West Michigan
," as well as the skill set to foster relationships, according to College of Human Medicine Dean Marsha Rappley, M.D.
In his new position, Kooiman is responsible for maintaining relationships on behalf of the College of Human Medicine with key stakeholder groups, such as the Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health, Saint Mary's Health Care, Grand Action, The Right Place Inc. and GrandValleyStateUniversity, among others. A number of stakeholders believed MSU needed someone on the ground here to do community outreach, and it has become his job to keep everyone in the loop regarding the medical school.
Kooiman comes to the position with an already established network of relationships with those organizations, as well as local and state officials stemming from his 12 years of elected service in Grand Rapids and KentCounty. His job is to make sure that the medical school is represented at the table when the business community makes decisions about what's going to happen next in Grand Rapids
Essentially, that means networking with all the entities and getting involved in all the activities on Michigan Street, because the College of Human Medicine will be a significant institution on the hill, Kooiman said. In his position, he'll provide a connection for the community to the College of Human Medicine and also help establish the college as part of the fabric of the community.
"The attraction for me was that it was an exciting new venture in Grand Rapids," he said of the medical school. "It's cutting edge. There will probably be five new medical schools built in the country in the next decade. We're going to have one of them in Grand Rapids, and that's pretty exciting. I think it has the potential to be a significant economic catalyst."
Kooiman graduated from CalvinCollege with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in business and economics. He did an internship in the office of then-State Sen. Paul Henry in the spring semester of 1984 and stayed on to serve as campaign office manager during Henry's bid for the U.S. Congress that year. He was Henry's staff assistant in the Grand Rapids District office from 1985 to 1992.
In 1993 he joined the staff of U.S. Congressman Peter Hoekstra as the congressman's Muskegon area representative from 1993 to 1996, then served as director of Hoekstra's district office in Holland from 1997 to 2000. He worked the circuit for Hoekstra in Muskegon, Oceana, Ottawa and Newaygo counties.
"I didn't go into this with elective office in mind at all; it was more with city management, county management or state agency management type career goals," Kooiman recalled. "But I really got involved and liked the political process."
After working for 16 years for the two full-time elected officials, he figured it was time to strike out on his own in politics.
In 1995, Kooiman was elected KentCounty commissioner representing the 16th District and subsequently cut back on his hours with Hoekstra's district office. He served the county for six years and moved up to leadership roles on the commission. Right about that time, a seat opened up in the Michigan House of Representatives due to term limitations.
"You sort of get that political bug, and I wanted to expand my involvement in the community," he reflected.
Kooiman won the House seat and served as a state representative for six years, the last two as speaker pro tem, one of the top leadership positions in the House.
"It was an incredible opportunity not only to be at the leadership table, but to preside over the House on a daily basis for those two years," Kooiman said.
Now his attentions are fixed on integrating the College of Human Medicine into the community. Kooiman's office is located in the med school's temporary headquarters at 234 N. Division Ave., where the first of the medical students will take classes. In 2008 and 2009, 50 second-year students will take classes at the Grand Rapids campus in addition to the current third- and fourth-year students.
When the new SecchiaCenter opens in the fall of 2010, about 100 first-year students will begin taking classes in Grand Rapids. By 2013, the med school will be training 800 students each year, which is nearly twice its current capacity. Of those, 350 will train in Grand Rapids and 240 in East Lansing. The remaining students, in their third and fourth years, will train at various community locations, including Flint, Kalamazoo, Saginaw and the Upper Peninsula.
It's projected that by 2020 there will be an 8 percent shortfall of physicians, while in Michigan the shortfall is expected to be about 12 percent, Kooiman pointed out. The new medical school is a concerted effort by MichiganState to meet that need; it is nearly doubling the number of students in recognition that the state is going to need additional physicians, he said.
The synergies of Spectrum Health and Saint Mary's Health Care, the Van Andel Institute and a brand new state-of-the-art medical school are exciting, Kooiman remarked. With all of the activity on Michigan Street hill, he can't wait to see where the community will be five to 10 years from now.
"I think the transition is going to be absolutely remarkable. The chances of Grand Rapids becoming known as a medical community are incredible. It's going to attract the best and brightest in the world."