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WMU marks 100 years in Grand Rapids

Sept. 24, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.--Next month will mark the 100th anniversary of Western Michigan University providing academic offerings in Grand Rapids.

WMU began offering courses for the greater Grand Rapids community in October 1909. One hundred years later, 1,500 area residents are furthering their careers by enrolling in the nearly two dozen graduate programs and three graduate certificate programs offered through the two graduate centers operated by WMU-Grand Rapids.

To celebrate its centennial milestone, an open house for prospective students will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, in the Graduate Center-Downtown, located at 200 Ionia Ave. SW. WMU-Grand Rapids will pay the application fee for attendees who apply to a program by Oct. 16.

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Graduate Center-Downtown Open House

During the event, staff members and academic advisors will answer questions about programs and help attendees register for courses. Among the offerings that will be featured are the graduate certificate programs in alcohol and drug abuse and in holistic health care, and the master's degree offerings in business administration, counselor education and counseling psychology, engineering management, occupational therapy, and social work.

WMU was founded in 1903 as Michigan's fourth and final teacher-preparation school, and soon made serving Grand Rapids-area residents a priority. The first class offered in the furniture city was "Nature Study," taught by Dr. Leroy Harvey in October 1909 in a rented classroom space.

In keeping with its teachers-college mission, WMU faculty brought advanced courses to the city to help teachers improve their skills and to keep them updated in their subject areas.

As the times and community needs changed, WMU-Grand Rapids responded with improved facilities and new programs. The Graduate Center-Beltline at 2333 E. Beltline SE opened for business in fall 1990, while the Graduate Center-Downtown opened in 2001. Today, WMU has more than 30 full-time faculty and administrative staff assigned specifically to the two facilities.

Dr. James Schultz, director of the graduate centers, says the University's tenure in Grand Rapids has been marked by continued program growth spurred on by three visionary presidents.

"Dwight B. Waldo, Western's first president, had faculty teaching courses here just a few years after the institution was founded," Schultz explains. "President Emeritus Diether Haenicke opened the first WMU-owned facility in Grand Rapids, which expanded both academic opportunities and local enrollments dramatically. Finally, former president Elson Floyd shared the vision and enthusiasm of Grand Rapids city leaders and developers for the revitalization of downtown, and he wanted WMU to be an active part of that."

President John M. Dunn, who has headed WMU since 2007, is expanding on the vision of those previous visionaries.

"Our philosophy has always been to operate regional sites in a way that reflects a long-term commitment to the communities we serve and in a way that allows Western Michigan University to become part of the DNA of those communities," Dunn says. "In the case of Grand Rapids, that commitment has been in place now for 100 years, and it has always revolved around community needs."

Dunn notes that throughout its history, WMU has maintained longstanding relationships with local school districts as well as Grand Rapids Community College.

"Our new master's degree in occupational therapy is a good example of that commitment. That nationally ranked program is now up and running in Grand Rapids," he says. "We're looking at additional programs we might offer at our graduate centers that would enhance professional development in the life-sciences sector, since that is now the city's focus and a particular area of expertise for WMU."

Although pausing to reflect on 100 years of history, both Dunn and Schultz are also looking to the future.

"From the earliest efforts to strengthen the teaching profession, to slowing the business 'brain-drain' in the 1960s, to providing the very best trained mental health professionals beginning in the '80s, to using the latest technologies to train health-care workers today, WMU has achieved a long list of 'firsts' in Grand Rapids," Schultz says.

"We have every intention of continuing that kind of leadership into the future here."

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400