Published in Economic Development
Thomas Haas, President of Grand Valley State University Thomas Haas, President of Grand Valley State University Courtesy Photo

GVSU pushes further into ‘high-tech, high-touch’ learning environment

BY Sunday, December 24, 2017 05:39pm

Grand Valley State University will continue to grow its presence in and around downtown Grand Rapids in 2018. As well, the university also hopes to tap into the ever-changing world of technology and data as a means of improving the learning experience for students. President Tom Haas discussed these topics and more at the recent Business Leaders For Michigan CEO Summit in Detroit.

What’s happening in the economy right now that’s driving change at GVSU?

I think there’s a couple areas that I’m very interested in. First off is the whole area of technology and how that impacts the social fabric and also what we’re seeing in the (learning) environment. So … (it’s) what I would call high-tech, high-touch. 

What does that mean?

We need our professors and our instructors and our staff and faculty to understand that the relationships with students at the undergraduate and graduate levels is critically important. But in order to enable that to be even more effective, we have to have the high-tech (tools) to assist in that enterprise of higher education. I’m really excited about the next year and years ahead as we seek those ways to augment the learning experiences, so that at the end of the day, the talent is going to be even more poised for success in this ever-changing world.

How would you describe the ‘high-tech, high-touch’ dynamic playing out in practice at GVSU?

We’re looking at hybrid courses, ensuring the technology is there. For instance, in the health professions, we have robotics, we have simulations that are going into our new facilities. That helps augment the learning experiences. We’re seeing that in engineering and technology. 

If you’re a student going for a business degree, how will that play into your studies?

What we’re really going to be focusing on next year and the years ahead is competencies that are necessary … for post-baccalaureate training and education and going into careers. Those competencies need to also employ technology as well — critical thinking, understanding the nature of inclusion, global thinking. All those are very important as we build our curriculum, internships and co-op programs and other experiential learning. (It) all has to be integrated. 

What do you see happening in the next year in terms of investment in facilities at GVSU? 

We’ve already started down that pathway. We’ll finish up the Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall (in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood). We’re planning on a new building next to the Cook-DeVos Center (on Michigan Street in Grand Rapids). That’s coming along. We finished off the new biological sciences building on Allendale’s campus. One of the exciting projects is as we create the (former) Ferris Coffee and Nut facility into Grand Valley’s Innovation and Design Center. That’s 64,000 square feet and now we’ll be able to enable and engage computer information systems and technology right there.

As GVSU has expanded into some of the neighborhoods around downtown Grand Rapids — albeit not without some controversy — what has the university learned about tackling large-scale urban development?

We couldn’t take a model of a traditional campus in Allendale and thrust it downtown. Downtown, there’s so many stakeholders. The neighbors, we have to ensure that we’re in full partnership, agreement and mutual conversation. It may take a little more time, but at the end of the day, what we’ve learned in working with neighbors in Belknap, their voices are important in the design and the final evolution of what we’re going to do there. 

What other stakeholders do you have to work with?

We have to work with our city planners and our commissioners and our mayor. So all these different players are there at the table — they must be at the table. We, as an institution, need them to listen and state our case for achieving the mission with their assistance. 

How would you describe GVSU’s overall financial situation?

It’s not out there publicly yet, but Moody’s affirmed their rating for us as A1 and Standard & Poor’s is giving us an A+ rating. Now instead of being stable, we’re positive. Those are good indications of our financial stability and strength.

Are there looming issues that could derail some of GVSU’s future growth plans? 

Yeah, I think so. A couple things come to mind: the demographics. I don’t think it’s going to derail Grand Valley State University. Be that as it may, we’re holding our own in the marketplace for the the 18-year-old cohort, which has been going down since 2009 and 2010. So we are holding our own there, but the demographic shifts are changing, so we have to pay attention to that.

What about state funding?

There continues to be an erosion of state support. We’re seeing a little bit of (an increase) because of performance metrics. But nonetheless, the state really hasn’t embraced the whole notion that higher education is a public good, so we’re seeing that as well. And looking ahead, I think some of the financials out there, whether it be unfunded liabilities and other issues (like) roads, are going to be coming up again because it was kicked down the road a little bit. I think all those are going to impact Grand Valley and our planning.

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