GRAND RAPIDS — Forming a new school with the backing of a $15 million gift from an anonymous donor will enable Calvin University to elevate academic programs in health care.
Programs that are now spread across several departments at the Grand Rapids-based Christian liberal arts college will become part of the planned School of Health.
The new school will allow the university to better organize, coordinate and support undergraduate and graduate degree programs in health sciences. It will also expand academics, upgrade facilities and form stronger partnerships with care providers in the market, Calvin University President Michael Le Roy told MiBiz.
“Calvin has always had real strengths in the natural sciences and the health sciences at the undergraduate level, and I think that we’re building on that strength,” Le Roy said. “This will turn some heads and help them to see that we have some concerted strategy for growth and development and meeting the educational needs of people who want to work in these fields.”
A steering committee consisting of faculty, staff and administrators has started work to define the full scope of the new Calvin School of Health that initially would feature existing academic programs in nursing, kinesiology, exercise science, speech pathology and audiology, and public health.
In the coming months, the steering committee will assess market demand and identify new undergraduate and graduate programs for Calvin. The university hopes to launch three new master’s programs in health-related fields by the fall of 2022.
The School of Health will also develop certification programs for non-degree students already working in health care, Le Roy said. Clinical professions such as occupational and physical therapists and physician assistants are among the new programs the School of Health could develop, he said.
“This school will really allow us to evaluate the demand and the opportunity,” he said. “There’s a long list of opportunities, and part of what we want to identify is what are the most urgent needs and how we meet those fairly quickly.”
The university will soon begin searching for a dean for the new School of Health and work to redesign existing space for the programs.
Meanwhile, the School of Health should allow Calvin to expand partnerships with medical schools at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, as well as with care providers and other health sciences programs at colleges in West Michigan, said Calvin Provost Noah Toly.
“It does give us a better platform to partner with providers of health and health sciences education ... and be part of a network of partners that features not only other educators but also organizations and employers,” Toly said. “Everyone in that network benefits from all of its players doing the things that distinguishes them.”
Calvin, with a student population of 3,300, envisioned forming the School of Health under a master plan put in place after transitioning in 2019 from a college to a university.
The master plan involves “imagining the organization of the whole university and academic structure and what schools would likely be a part of this,” Le Roy said.
The university proceeded with establishing the School of Health after securing the $15 million donation from a donor with whom Cavin has “a long-standing relationship,” he said. The donation will go to support academic programming and support leadership, personnel, labs, and undergraduate and graduate training, Le Roy said.
The donor is “someone who is very familiar with Calvin and its programming in the health sciences, and somebody who was acquainted with our vision and the goals we have over the next decade to become a global university that’s serving a wide variety of students,” he said.
“The familiarity with that vision catalyzed some imagination,” said Le Roy, who described the donation as “a real affirmation of the work faculty have been doing in the health sciences area, and it will be a catalyst for us in our vision going forward.”
The gift for the School of Health was the second-largest single contribution ever for Calvin, behind a nearly $22.3 million donation in 2020 to form the new School of Business.
University officials hope the two contributions and creation of both schools will spur other benefactors to “get behind areas of our programming where they have great affinity” and support the university’s Vision 2030 strategic plan, Toly said.
“We had always been hoping that the vision, plus the launching schools, would lead other donors to see how their gift would make a difference,” he said.