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Grand Valley State University Allendale campus

Higher education’s broad reach
New degree programs and initiatives expand the
influence of area colleges and universities.
By Ann Byle
Photography by Michael Buck

Students attending colleges and universities in and around Grand Rapids have opportunities to expand their reach, thanks to new majors, new degrees and campus initiatives that extend beyond the classrooms.

Trending on campuses is sustainability, not only via institution-wide initiatives but in specific programs, as well.

While Western Michigan University’s new Bachelor of Science in sustainable brewing may draw a few laughs, the program is anything but easy.

WMU is partnering with Kalamazoo Valley Community College, which will offer a two-year associate’s degree and/or a 30-hour certificate in sustainable brewing. Students can then move on to WMU for a four-year degree that includes classes in biochemistry, organic chemistry, genetics and fermentation, as well as business classes on topics such as marketing and accounting.

“We spent time talking to leaders in the industry and asking what kind of workforce they’d need and would there be a need for a program like this,” said Ed Martini, who was serving as associate dean of arts and sciences at WMU. “They said yes. People who graduate from this program can get jobs in labs at big breweries, in quality control, and in the broader food, wine and beverage industries.”

WMU created an advisory board including breweries around the state, sketched out plans for the program and talked to the brewers. “They kept telling us they were looking for a triple major: brewing beer, understanding science and business savvy,” said Martini. “It’s the most fun I’ve had as a professional. We think it’s going to be a win-win all the way around — for the institution, the community and the breweries.”

Western is dedicated to developing undergrad and graduate degrees that reflect the changing ways students come to the institution. The new Master of Public Health classes will be offered primarily online, and a new accelerated law degree via an agreement with Cooley Law School recognizes that students want to combine undergrad and graduate degrees. WMU allows students to overlap the two degrees, creating a pre-law and law program that can be completed in six years instead of seven.

“This is a world in which we have to find ways to minimize degree time and still have competency,” said Tim Greene, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Families recognize the cost of tuition. We want to prepare students for a career and a life, but do so quickly and economically.”


Davenport University

The Master of Public Health begins in fall 2016 and is a generalist program covering five core areas: epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental science, social and behavioral health, and health care administration.

“Our underlying theme is: How do you take ideas and concepts and get groups excited about them and move projects through?” said Dr. Bob Wertkin, director of the School of Interdisciplinary Health Programs. “We think this is one of the areas public health doesn’t emphasize enough.”

Classes are offered in hybrid form: heavily online components, face-to-face meetings three times a semester, and a week in residence each summer. A new cohort of 20 students will begin each fall for the two-year program.

“The program is set up for people who are working and need to continue to work while getting their degree,” said Wertkin.

Davenport University also recognizes students’ needs for easy accessibility to classes and the need for job placement upon graduation. Each proposal for a new program — 14 new programs have been added in the last four years — must prove through market research there is need for such jobs in the state and students will be able to access those jobs.

“Our Vision 2020 plan started on July 1, and everything we do here is driven by our vision,” said Dr. Linda Rinker, provost at Davenport. “We address our strong commitment to placing students in jobs when they finish their program. We do market research on each proposal to find if there are ample jobs in Michigan in that field.”

New programs at Davenport include a Master of Accountancy beginning in the fall, one of only a handful in the country to offer graduate level concentrations in fraud investigation, managerial accounting and internal auditing, along with the traditional CPA track.

“Normally a grad program in accounting only leads to the CPA exam. In our case we still have that, but now students can choose a track where they’ll sit for the internal auditor, management accounting or fraud examiner exams,” said Irene Bembenista, interim dean of Davenport’s College of Business and Technology. “This program helps students prepare for and take the exams, and be more employable.”

Bembenista stresses that those already employed who want to take the exams can enroll in the four exam prep classes. “We kept hearing from students that they wished we had these tracks earlier, so this became the way to go. We already have about 25 enrolled,” she said.

Davenport launched a new Competency-Based Master of Business Administration (CMBA) in January 2015, designed for experienced professionals who will receive credit based on their demonstrated competencies.

“We looked at what broad competencies a student needed for an MBA,” said Bembenista. “We decided on 14 competencies, then broke them down into modules. Students take an exam in each competency to see where they fall, then work with a faculty coach who meets with each student three times during the semester. Students are tested on each competency.”

The program can be completed in as little as 18 months, and students can earn up to 18 credits via testing on competencies. All work is done online.

“We want to make sure the quality is still there so that when students earn a degree from us, we are confident they have the ability,” said Bembenista. “We’re hoping the CMBA starts establishing standards for competency-based education.”

Davenport also has a new Master of Urban Education for teachers working in an urban environment. The first cohort with 28 students began in March.

“When we look at the landscape of urban education, there are a lot of schools that are failing and the attrition rate for teachers in urban schools is quite high,” said Dr. Susan Gunn, interim dean of Davenport’s College of Urban Education. “Are teachers leaving because they don’t want to be teachers or because they aren’t prepared to deal with the challenges of the urban environment? The program is based on the concept that there are certain skills needed to be effective in the urban environment.”

The degree offers two tracks: for pre-service teachers who have an undergrad degree and who want to apply their knowledge by teaching in an urban setting, and for in-service teachers who are already on the job. Davenport is partnering with Grand Rapids Public Schools to share data, recruit teachers and mentors into the program, offer a residency program and conduct courses at Innovation Central High School.

“The purpose of the residency piece is offering experience but also giving students the opportunity to bond with the community that is deeply embedded in urban education,” said Gunn. “We offer a holistic approach: Students need to know the pedagogy but also need to know the pulse of the community.”

Gunn chairs Davenport’s science department and is eager to talk about the new Bachelor of Science in biological laboratory science launching this fall. A straight biology degree doesn’t always lead to a job, said Gunn, because of the lack of laboratory research experience.

“We’ve built lab experience into this degree so when students complete it, they have an arsenal of techniques and lab experiences, including external lab experiences and a capstone project,” said Gunn. “The student has one to two years of research lab experience to put on their résumé. Michigan has one of the largest biotech emphases in the nation. There is a need for students to be trained in this way.”

Other recently started programs at Davenport include a Master of Occupational Therapy, just starting its second year, and a concentration for family nurse practitioners in the Master of Nursing program.

The sciences also play heavily in newly added programs at Grand Valley State University. A Master of Science in medical dosimetry allows students to become a practicing clinical medical dosimetrist after a 12-month curriculum of traditional classes, online instruction, case studies and problem-based learning. A medical dosimetrist understands the treatment options and equipment used in radiation oncology and is a member of the radiation oncology team.

GVSU also offers a Master of Science and/or psychology specialist degrees in school psychology, a three-year, full-time program. “We aim to create school psychologists who are data-based problem solvers who make an impact on schools at the local, state and national level,” said Maria Cimitile, assistant vice president for academic affairs.

A data science minor is another new GVSU program, allowing a student in statistics or computing and information systems to gain cross-disciplinary background, or a student in any discipline to develop basic skills to deal with complex data.

“Data science is gaining recognition as an emerging multidisciplinary field often associated with big data,” said Cimitile. “There is a projected need for 1.5 million additional managers and analysts in the U.S. It is the most urgent and up-and-coming field for every profession.”

Other degrees in development at GVSU include: an M.A. in applied linguistics, an M.S. in clinical dietetics, majors in health information management and global studies, and minors in human rights and art for therapeutic applications.


Calvin College instructor Randall DeJong observes Thuy-Tien Nguyen and Michelle Lee as they test water at Plaster Creek. Calvin’s Clean Water Institute is devoted to improving drinking water conditions in developing global regions.

Calvin College is also pushing deeper into the health and science fields with its newly approved neuroscience concentration available for students majoring in psychology, biology and biochemistry.

“This concentration is about understanding the link between the brain and learning,” said Cheryl Brandsen, provost of Calvin College. “It offers the opportunity to study neuroscience within the broader degree and will benefit those going into areas such as school psychology, physical therapy and occupational therapy.”

Calvin also is expanding its speech pathology and audiology programs, creating a 4+1 arrangement in which students can get an undergrad degree in four years and a master degree in one more year. This fall, the college will open the Calvin Integrated Rehabilitation Center, a clinic that allows speech pathology and audiology students a clinical placement and also serves the community.

“This will allow us to expand the number of students we can take into the graduate program because it’s hard to find placements in this field. We can do so through the clinic and serve the larger community,” said Brandsen.
What may seem like a science-heavy trend in new programs doesn’t mean other areas are ignored.

Calvin is beginning a new public history major for those interested in history but not interested in teaching.

“This is for students who want to work outside of colleges and universities in places such as museums, archives, cultural resource agencies, business and the legal profession,” said Brandsen.

Cornerstone University has launched an editing-publishing concentration within its journalism major, which also includes broadcast reporting-producing, business reporting, health-science reporting, news reporting and sports reporting.

“Students will acquire general and specific editing skills that will enable them to obtain practical, professional experience as interns at book publishers, magazines, newspapers, online publications and more,” said Alan Blanchard, associate professor/director of the journalism department.

Besides class work, students will do job shadows, three or more internships and will learn from guest speakers.

“Students will be prepared to enter the marketplace as beginning editors, copy editors or editorial assistants, using a host of skills ranging from proofreading to editing for style, grammar and content to designing publications and more,” said Blanchard.

Cornerstone is expanding its health care and business offerings, as well.

“Our two main areas of emphasis, based on our desire to be nimble and adapt to needs in West Michigan, are in health care programs and business,” said Dr. Rick Ostrander, provost.

CU is offering new concentrations in pre-occupational therapy, which puts students on track for a master’s in occupational therapy after receiving a bachelor of science degree, and in cardiac rehabilitation. Also on the docket is a new major in health communications, designed to equip students to work in hospitals and research clinics.

Cornerstone is also offering new majors in community health, economics and computer information systems. A minor in creativity and innovation expands what used to be a one-class requirement for all students. It falls under CU’s Interdisciplinary Studies Division.

“One of the chief traits employers are looking for, according to polls, is the ability to be innovative, to problem solve, to be creative,” said Ostrander. “This program pairs with any major and allows students to be more effective in the major and also more competitive. It’s safe to say there are no programs like this in West Michigan.”

Brian Craig, chairman of the Master of Architecture program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, looks on as students Alicia Miller, Geena Pickering , Anne Schnitzenbaumer and Jenn Hicks work on a project.

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University has debuted two new programs. The Master of Architecture launched last fall, and the Master of Arts in visual and critical studies launches this fall. The MAVCS program is designed for grad students interested in exploring visual artifacts and can lead to careers or doctoral studies in art history, fine arts, design, museum or cultural studies, or library or information science.

The Master of Architecture program services both Kendall and Ferris State students and offers two pathways to a degree: a three-year program for students with an undergrad degree in general, and a two-year program for those with previous training in architecture. The first year had eight students enrolled, who easily found internships.

“We are getting great support from the professional practice community,” said Brian Craig, chair of the program. “This is a great time to be in this field because things are way better than five or six years ago.”

The classes are held on the Kendall campus, with studio time at 1 S. Division Ave., just behind the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. “Studio is where students live, eat, sleep and breathe architecture,” said Craig. “Using computers to create designs is beguiling but can get in the way of real life. There is a wonderful connection between the hand and the eye that translates into design.”

Craig said the KCAD program is the only one in West Michigan, and important because Grand Rapids is a global center for sustainability and LEED-certified buildings. “Grand Rapids is a great place for a program in architecture. We’re focused on place making and making those places sustainable culturally, economically and ecologically.”

Aquinas College is opening a new book on its relationship with campus and community, thanks to an institution-wide program called economicology — based on the term coined by the late Peter Wege to define the balance between economy and ecology, and paid for with a $2.5 million grant from The Wege Foundation.

“We are integrating the six Es of economicology — Economy, Ethics, Environment, Education, Ecology, Empathy — in the way we do all of our business,” said Dr. Gilda Gely, executive vice president, provost and dean of faculty at Aquinas. “The economicology program goes deep and wide, and allows people to connect in ways that make sense to them.”


A community garden is part of the economicology program at Aquinas College. Chad Gunnor, far right, is the point person helping students Natalie Tassell, Becca Walzak and
Jessica Elmer.

Aquinas has created “sustainability fellows” — faculty members who incorporate the tenets into their curricula — developed the Economicology Leadership Fund to help fund research and scholarship on the topic, held an Economicology Day for area high schools, created recycling programs to turn Aquinas into a zero-waste campus, and created a community garden and farmers market.

Chad Gunnoe, special assistant to the president, is the point person for the economicology program. He says the college’s initial entry into sustainability was via degree programs, but “with this larger vision, we embed a lot of that work throughout the college rather than just through degree programs.”

Several new degree programs that are in development will be tooled to reflect the economicology mindset. A Master in Counseling with a focus on mental health is waiting for final approval from the accrediting agency, and Aquinas is in the initial stages of developing a peace studies major.

All students will come into contact with the economicology vision for the college. “We want students to have an integrated experience in which they have opportunity to put economicology into practice, not just in one department but across the college,” said Gunnoe.

Calvin College is also creating several institution-wide initiatives.

The Clean Water Institute of Calvin College is devoted to improving drinking water conditions in developing global regions via teaching, learning, scholarship and service at all levels of undergrad education.

This fall Calvin also will launch three initiatives tentatively titled “Flourishing Society Initiatives.”

The Faith and Citizenship Initiative seeks to study and develop strategies for empowering and mobilizing citizen in various geopolitical contexts around the world.

The Communities and Public Health Initiative will attend to the needs of vulnerable communities within healthcare systems that are increasingly centralized.

The Sustainable Systems Initiatives works toward creating healthy interactions between the natural environment and the socioeconomic systems that draw upon its resources.

“We are offering students the opportunity for research and service learning,” said Calvin provost Brandsen.

“It’s brought together people from around campus to talk to each other who wouldn’t normally have done so. We are taking a definite turn toward being more engaged in the community.” GR

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