After a career spanning humanitarian relief, international and community development and a stint working on a congressional campaign, Megan Sall has a wealth of work experience. Sall currently serves as a business development manager at The Right Place Inc., a Grand Rapids-based economic development firm — a position she’s held for three years. At 32, Sall also became the youngest member appointed to Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Board of Trustees. She spoke with MiBiz about her upcoming eight-year term and the role of higher education in the region’s economy.
How are you approaching your term as a board member?
First and foremost, I bring a love for Grand Valley. They’re doing phenomenal things in the community. I grew up in Allendale a mile north of GVSU’s campus and later found out that my grandfather was on the township committee that vetted those plans and helped pave the way (for the university). Secondly, I come with a background in local government and economic development. When we think about the role GVSU plays as an economic engine for placemaking and economic development, I certainly have thoughts and ideas about what that looks like and other things GVSU could do.
What’s one of your short-term goals on the board?
To be honest, my goal in this first year is really just to learn. I think I have a pretty good handle on all the things that are going on, but in all honesty, I’m probably only aware of about 3 percent of what goes on and needs to be taken care of. My first objective is to learn and get a better understanding of what the school is facing and working through and what opportunities there are. Then I can figure out what I can bring to the table.
What issues would you like to address during your term?
We talk a lot about how we are preparing students that can go into the workforce of today and tomorrow. Every day, I meet with manufacturers and their main issue is talent. They can’t grow without people, and if we can’t figure out that puzzle, we’re going to have some real challenges. It’s a nationwide problem right now, but I want West Michigan to be out front. I want us to lead and people to come here because there is great talent and a community to support them.
How can schools like GVSU help retain students in West Michigan?
I have two opinions on this. Absolutely, I want to see students stay here (and) one thing that GVSU can do — and they do a good job of it — is work with employers and ask questions about what students need when they come out of the program. I think continued work with the business community to ask how we can better prepare students will be huge.
At the same time, there’s something to be said for wanderlust. If students need to go and see a different part of the world or country, I encourage them to do that. Go explore something new and discover yourself in a different place. But then come home and bring what you’ve learned and your connections from the rest of the world back with you.
With so much emphasis on education programs that track straight into a career, is there still a place for a liberal arts education?
Skilled trades and certification programs are very much a solution for a lot of people. That being said, for those who are well-suited for a four-year college degree, I think liberal arts is about opening people’s minds. (When) we talk about worldview, we look outside the U.S. into other cultures and ways of thought. If we send students off thinking that the whole world is like West Michigan, that may not be the best service. Providing a liberal arts education where they can learn about arts and humanities, I think that really serves them well.
How can you leverage your youth to the board’s advantage?
I think everyone that sits on a board is responsible for bringing their perspectives, experience and the voice of the people in the community they are associated with to the table. That’s what I plan to do. I’m really there to learn about the university and use the experiences that I’ve been fortunate to have to speak to the issues that are going on. I certainly don’t think I have all the answers but am excited to learn and work hard.
Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand.