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Sunday, 15 February 2015 22:00

Jerry Zandstra, co-founder, Pyramid Campus Group

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Jerry Zandstra, co-founder, Pyramid Campus Group Jerry Zandstra, co-founder, Pyramid Campus Group COURTESY PHOTO

Jerry Zandstra aims to take the vacant, yet iconic Steelcase Pyramid in Gaines Township and transform it into a destination for education in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). By next fall, the 660,0000-square-foot building is expected to begin filling up with public, private, charter and home school users looking to join a campus that Zandstra hopes will change the notion of traditional education. All schools will have autonomy, but there are a handful of requirements. Zandstra spoke with MiBiz about the project as well as how businesses in the area can leverage this new opportunity.

How do education providers get involved in the Pyramid Campus?

Our requirements are that you be STEAM-focused. Our other requirement is that you collaborate with each other. The reality is some of the users don’t know each other. They have had some interesting discussions. They’ll be sharing some space and some faculty lounges. They have started talking about sharing faculty.

How might that collaboration come together?

What if we took a class that normally one couldn’t do alone, such as an AP chemistry class, and what if we grabbed a university chemistry professor to teach the class? They are having those conversations, which is pretty cool. Some of those conversations are going on apart from us. It’s that collaborative model that has worked extremely well for most companies and has not really infiltrated the education system. It is starting to.

How are you going about encouraging parents in the area to be a part of this?

You would approach the schools rather than us. We are not running schools. We are the canvas. The schools are the ones that are autonomous. They take on the students and the faculty. They run their own programs in the context of this building that has film studios and manufacturing space. There’s a couple dozen businesses in there providing internships and apprenticeships.

How do you describe this non-traditional model?

It’s blurring the lines between different kinds of schools, blurring the different levels of schools so you may have an 11th grader who is dually enrolled in a university while at the same time is mentoring a fifth grader. You are doing an apprenticeship or an internship with a manufacturing group. It’s really meant to blur and blend.

How did we get to the point where this kind of campus is needed?

From my perspective, it’s driven from the needs of manufacturers. (Inno-versity, a company I’m a part of,) does a lot of work with manufacturers. We are in a lot of plants and factories. We hear it over and over. (They) need engineers and technicians. (Owners) are looking at their shop floors and the average guy is 58 years old. They know they are in trouble. I don’t know if that’s being fixed. I think a big driver was the need of business. Some schools have responded to that better than others. … The facility is lined up perfectly.

Why is art a part of this endeavor?

I think there are plenty of places to do STEM. It’s the art side that is a challenge. We will have dance programs and we’ll have art programs. We are talking with some of the art leaders in the area and the state about having a significant art presence in there. Most things you really appreciate are the combination of form and function. If the emphasis is too much on STEM, you get lots and lots of function, but you don’t have aesthetics. We see art as a necessary component of manufacturing.

Going forward, do you envision the campus becoming a regional education destination?

A big part is transportation. We are having conversations about getting public transportation out there. There will be literally hundreds of jobs out there. When we talk to people that are in need of work, daycare and transportation are big aspects. We have addressed the daycare by providing it inside the facility, and now we are trying to address the public transportation issue. I think that parents from all over the region – if they have a particular interest – they will choose to send kids here.

What economic impact will this project have on the south Kent County area?

I think it will change that area of Grand Rapids. We are a long way from a hotel, we are a long way from a restaurant and dry cleaners and doctors offices. We anticipate all of that collaborative and supportive stuff that needs to be around a school, and not just on the additional property we have but in surrounding areas.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. 

 

Read 5226 times Last modified on Sunday, 15 February 2015 16:17

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