Dr. Bill Pink is Grand Rapids Community College’s 10th president, replacing Dr. Steven Ender who retired in May. Pink has been with GRCC since 2015, having served as the college’s vice president and dean of workforce development. Prior to GRCC, Pink was vice president of academic affairs at Oklahoma State University. An educator for 25 years, Pink’s background includes an associate degree from York College in Nebraska, a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Christian University, a master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. Pink spoke with MiBiz about the need for GRCC to stay relevant for employers and how the college is designing courses to make that a reality.
GRCC launched an industrial sewing program in 2014 to fill a talent gap for niche manufacturers in West Michigan. How do programs like that show the college remains relevant and responsive for employers?
One way is that our industrial sewing program is indeed a result of listening to our community and our employers who said, we want to bring back industrial sewing to West Michigan. That has been one of those great examples of how our college has been able to do that. A lot of people make funny or just humorous comments about the fact that we now have a craft brewing operation. That is a result of our community, of West Michigan. We have over 200 breweries in Michigan, so with the help of some private funding as well as state funding, that program was launched in listening to our community.
What response has GRCC experienced to those sort of classes?
With industrial sewing, several companies are partnering with us, which means jobs. That’s really how it’s taking off. The students in those programs typically walk out with jobs. With the craft brewing program, we’re seeing some of the same thing. What’s nice about that program, though, is it includes an internship component so that our students are out in the industry, thereby giving them a much better opportunity and much better chance at being hired out of that program.
Given the manufacturing strength in West Michigan, how can GRCC help solve the talent crisis many companies in that industry face?
I tell companies that you have to move from not just awareness but you truly have to think about attraction. How do you attract people to you, not just to your sector, but to your company? That attraction is huge because people have choices right now in West Michigan because everyone’s hiring. All of them say, ‘We’re not only needing talent, but we know that our talent need is going to grow as the aging work population retires.’ We just all have to realize how do we attract people to those careers because everyone is going after the same thing. I.T., construction — they’re all going after the same person, the person who’s reliable, dependable, works hard and is going to be a long-term employee.
The $12.7 million project to expand and update the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center in downtown Grand Rapids encompasses both the manufacturing and I.T. sectors. Could you expand on what’s driving the project?
What we’re doing in our Applied Technology Center is not only are we expanding its footprint, but we’re also doing renovation work on some of the existing space because we want to upgrade those in the area of advanced manufacturing and make sure that the lab space we have in that building is going to be conducive for our companies as we start going forward. I believe that part of our reason in doing (the expansion) on the I.T. side especially — expanding things like our Cisco Academy and Cisco labs — (is to) remain relevant to what our partners are telling us.
Looking ahead to your leadership role at GRCC, what keeps you up at night?
Things that are always on my mind is funding. Right now, we are in a great position as a community college, but anything can happen overnight, as we all know. The other thing is that we must stay relevant. A nightmare for me is to wake up and to find that our partners tell us, ‘Bill, you’re not giving us what we need. What you provide for us, those aren’t programs that help us; that’s not content that helps.’ If we’re not staying relevant, why are we even here? If I had a third thing, I would say ensuring that we holistically remain a safe campus because of all the things you see happening around (the world).