GRAND RAPIDS — Western Michigan University and Grand Rapids Public Schools have formed a two-year dual-enrollment partnership to assist high school students interested in pursuing careers in integrated design and manufacturing.
Through the collaboration, GRPS students can earn a WMU undergraduate certificate at no cost.
The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Laboratory in downtown Grand Rapids — built in conjunction with WMU, West Michigan manufacturers, Autocam Medical Devices LLC, and Grand Rapids Community College — will host the program. GRPS students will attend the lab during their school days and participate in courses led by WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences professors.
Kimmy Beuchler, director of Early College Programs at WMU’s Merze Tate College, says the program is similar to language immersion programs that the university has partnered on with various West Michigan school districts.
“Our goal with any of these programs is that the student has something tangible that they can come out of this with, something that's going to either set them up for success academically if they follow an academic track or set them up for success if they decide to go straight into the workforce,” Beuchler told MiBiz.
Applications for the program will be accepted on a rolling basis. The program is open to GRPS high school students with a 3.0 grade point average, or 2.75 for seniors. This year’s cohort includes mostly high school seniors, a few 11th graders and one 10th grader, Beuchler said.
Obtaining the certificate is equivalent to 15 credit hours, or roughly a semester, but the goal is for the certificate to lead into an associate’s degree at Grand Rapids Community College, where GRPS students can attend for free under a Promise Zone scholarship. That would build the basis for completing a bachelor’s degree at WMU.
Long term goals
Joanne Roehm, director of WMU-Grand Rapids, said the AMP Lab was created to help shift the narrative and perception of manufacturing careers.
“Manufacturing is one of the industries, certainly in West Michigan and in the Midwest, that has been identified as an area of need in terms of workforce,” Roehm said.
Moreover, the program is meant to help manufacturing employers fill a much-needed talent pipeline.
“There’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of different companies to start a career in manufacturing, and I think there is a growing recognition that it’s important to invest in those workers to retain them so you’re seeing more and more companies have tuition reimbursement or other training opportunities for people in those fields as well,” Roehm said.
As well, Autocam Medical runs a skilled trades apprenticeship program that uses the AMP Lab to grow the company’s own talent pipeline. Early this year, the company graduated its fourth cohort of CNC machinist apprentices, who receive free tuition from the company toward an engineering degree.
The first GRPS cohort is underway and a second cohort will begin in April 2023. The AMP Lab Gift Fund will help with the cost of books, materials, and transportation. The program will be administered by WMU’s Early College Programs, which will also offer additional student support services.