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West Michigan Aviation Academy takes off with huge expansion

What do astronauts and high school students have in common? A great deal in West Michigan after today. Dignitaries, staff, supporters and students of the West Michigan Aviation Academy braved cold, rainy February weather to attend the groundbreaking ceremonies for a massive expansion to this aviation-themed charter school near Gerald R Ford International Airport. The event also featured a guest appearance by former astronaut Mark Kelly, who talked to the students about what it takes to be leaders in the aviation world.

The newest phase of the Aviation Academy, and its largest yet, will create a new two-story, 47,000-square-foot addition and a new entrance. The addition on the West end of the building will give the academy the ability to add Junior and Senior classes and house a new gymnasium, fitness area, high-tech classrooms, science labs, administrative offices, food service and a commons area. At least five new hires are planned when the expansion opens, as well as the capacity for approximately 450 new students.

The groundbreaking ceremony featured remarks from the founder of the academy, Dick Devos; CEO Pat Cwayna; Joe Tomaselli, Chairman of the Gerald R Ford International Airport Board; Lennox Ramsey, student and President of the Student Council and former Congressman Vern Ehlers.

With a focus on aviation and aerospace, the school opened in the Fall of 2010 with the goal of 60 freshman students and quickly grew to 145 students. The expansion will allow the school to accommodate up to 600 students in four high school grades.

Source: Jenny Waugh, Rockford Construction
Writer: Jeff Hill

The pedagogy of experimentation

It's a foregone conclusion for many that geeks will inherit the earth. What is less understood, however, is the process of this inheritance.

Recently profiled in Rapid Growth Media, The Geek Group's Chris Boden offers a glimpse into the process and it begins with two robots, Jeff and Heather.

Like three of the protagonists in the Wizard of Oz, the robots are lacking one thing. In Jeff and Heather's case, it is a permanent mount. "Mounting the robots requires a small concrete project," says Boden, hopeful that  a local contractor will donate their services.

"We need a 12" x 12" x 12" reinforced concrete pad to mount the robots," Boden says. Once mounted and operational, Boden says this will be a unique learning opportunity for those interested in robotics and advanced manufacturing. "The robots cost more than a house. We're the only place in the world where someone can play with one and not get killed."

In exchange for the contractors' time, Boden says the entire process will be documented as they will shoot an instructional video on how to mount robots, which will then be part of The Geek Group's growing video network.

Once the robots are in place, other projects waiting to be finished off (and an old building on Grand Rapids' West side) will be one step closer to becoming a Mecca for innovators, explorers and entrepreneurs who prefer to learn through doing and experimentation.

To learn more about The Geek Group or to contact Boden with leads on local contractors, you can visit their website here.

Source: Chris Boden, The Geek Group
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

East Hills is alive with the sound of music

Life is good at Triumph Music Academy, which opened in April of 2011 and has had enough business to expand their facility and branch out into additional lessons for drums and voice.

Explaining the interest in their services, James Forrester Hughes, one of the owners, starts with their business model.

"It was always constructed to help musicians to succeed, regardless of age and skill level. There are no auditions (with the exception of the college-based programs). It is not every day you find folks working together around their passion."

Timing and location are two other factors Forrester points out.

"Grand Rapids is turning out to be a big art town," he says. "Art and music are synonymous."

The Academy is located on the corner of Wealthy and Diamond in a building and neighborhood that Forrester describes as "forward thinking," which he feels also is critical to their success.

As for future plans, Forrester wryly observes that as a musician, "you get used to things not going according to the plan," but the Academy is looking into offering training in recording technology -- a skill set he believes every working musician needs. 

To celebrate the expansion and the addition of new instructors Sarah Idema, voice and piano, Zachary James Kolkman, piano and composition, and Brian Kops, drums, the academy will be hosting an open house on Friday, Sept. 23.

To learn more about Triumph Music Academy, you can visit their site here.

Source: James Hughes Forrester, Triumph Music Academy
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Keller Futures Center working to produce innovative curriculum

The Keller Futures Center followed up its spring research into career pathways with its third program exploring how West Michigan might best encourage alternative forms of transportation within the region using a process known as human-centered design.  

The transportation program was sponsored by Amway's Innovation Team and was co-facilitated by the Luma Institute.

According to Liz McCormick, director of innovation at GRCC, the Futures Center is designed "to provide fuel for the region's innovation engine through diverse perspectives. The insights then can be used by the people doing the work. If an entrepreneurial member in the community sees an opportunity, go for it."

"I'm a huge fan of human-centered design," states Luisa Schumacher, executive director of WMCAT, after participating in the career pathways program. "It was my first exposure to solving community issues using this process and I found it a great way to educate. The ideas that came out of the program are truly relevant." Schumacher adds that their organization will be implementing several of the ideas at WMCAT for career services.

With another program in the works surrounding the health care sector scheduled for later this year, a longer-term goal of the Futures Center will be the introduction of a formal curriculum, focused on human-centered design and experiential learning that will begin in January 2012.  

For a recap of the transportation event and to learn more about human-centered design, you can visit a series of articles published by a local journalist who blogged during the event here.

Results of the transportation exploration will also be available on the Keller Futures Center site.  

(Full Disclosure: the author of this article has been an active participant in two of the Futures Center's projects and is an adjunct instructor at GRCC)

Sources: Liz McCormick, GRCC and Luisa Schumacher, WMCAT
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor.

Passion a key ingredient in Kissing Rock Kitchens recipe for success

Advance preparation is the key to many a great recipe. For Chef Tina Marie, when considering starting her own business centered around her passion for cooking, it  meant "very purposeful research" into what would be a viable business model.

After years of market research, world travel and studying food traditions, Marie launched Kissing Rock Kitchens in January of 2011.  

"I love food, love people, and love travel," she says. "I've always been cooking for people. Friends encouraged me and I began taking cooking classes (and) baking and selling breads, which led to Kissing Rock Kitchens."

Marie describes her core business, based between Lowell and Ada on Kissing Rock Rd., as "primarily cooking classes for non-chefs and foodies." She also features personal chef services for corporate and special events, dinner parties and catering.

With a cooking philosophy that's "very much into farm-to-plate, eating fresh and healthy," Marie indicates her business is going well but needs to focus more on marketing.

"I am continuing to do market research and (I am) honing my skills," she says, referencing a recent trip to France where she studied more cooking techniques.  

Marie is very active with social media, including Facebook and Twitter accounts where she posts recipes, tips and pictures of her work. To learn more about Kissing Rock Kitchens, you can visit the site here.

Source: Tina Marie, Kissing Rock Kitchens
Writer: John Rumery, Jobs and Innovation Editor

Conga looking to line up West Michigan user groups

It's no secret that technology plays a role in almost every business in the world. What might not be so well known is the growing West Michigan community of developers, programmers, designers and engineers that provide the expertise and creativity that makes technology functional to the end user.

As evidence of this growth, you need to look no further than the increasing number of user groups that are active in West Michigan.

For the lay person, user groups are formal and informal organizations that are formed around a shared interest in programming, software and technology. They exist to help individuals learn from each other and also "to learn from outside speakers" according to Ben Rousch, one of the organizers of a new site, Conga.

Conga's mission is to coordinate the various user groups by providing a central calendar with meeting dates, speakers and special events within the industry.

"The tech world moves very fast," Rousch says. "To keep up with these changes, you really have three options: learn on your own, read or join a user group."

Before Conga, Rousch says many of the user groups existed "in silos" without much formal communication between each other. With Conga, Rousch and others involved in this initiative hope to be able to consolidate all this activity. He encourages anyone involved with a user group to list the events on the site.

Although involved in the I.T. sector for over 10 years, Rousch did not attend his first user group until 2009 when the the economy left him a bit nervous and decided he needed to network more. Since then, he heartily recommends this type of networking for anyone involved in the industry.  "The learning experience is cheaper than other alternatives" he says. "(It is) typically the "price of a beer. Everyone is very friendly and everyone is welcome."

To check out Conga, you can visit their website here.

Source: Ben Rousch, Conga
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

NewNorth Center begins regional benchmarking process on innovation

Holland-based innovation advocate NewNorth Center recently announced a joint project with Plante & Moran to launch an ongoing survey targeted towards Midwest executives to determine their company's innovation quotient (IQ).

According to Stephanine Elhart, director of client services and communications at NewNorth Center, the survey will provide a benchmark for the "health of the area" in terms of innovation.  

Elhart explains they want to use the survey to identify "pain points" and subsequent opportunities for companies to innovate as the regional economy improves.

"We want to find out if area businesses understand innovation," she says. "Do they have an innovation process in place?"

Participants in the survey will receive a report that benchmarks their organization against others in the area. A "white paper" will also be published by Plante & Moran later in the summer.

To participate in the survey, you can follow the link here.

Besides providing leadership to the survey efforts, NewNorth champions innovation and design through several educational and training programs which can be viewed on their website.

"Businesses are coming back and we want to help them navigate through the future," Elhart says.

Source: Stephanie Elhart, NewNorth Center
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs editor

Making science and engineering fun is a goal of organization promoting robotics competitions

FIRST Robotics Competition has been described as a "varsity sport for the mind" but according to David Kane, a long time organizer, fundraiser, judge/advisor and promoter of the event, the magic of FIRST is its goal of "drawing out the kids that aren't thinking about college because they never realized how much fun engineering and science can be."

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by Dean Kamen and now sanctions and organizes robotic competitions around the country.

In West Michigan, the high school teams are getting ready for the regional event, March 18 and 19 at the GVSU Fieldhouse in Allendale. The winner of this competition moves on to the state competition with hopes of advancing to the national finals.

Kane explains that each team, compromising of 25 or more students, has six weeks to build the robots after "it's  announced in a link from NASA."  After the six week period, the robots are boxed up and shipped to a site and teams are not allowed to work on the hardware until a day before the event.

At the competition, the robots are put through a series of prescribed activities, challenging the engineering, science, creativity and teamwork skills of each team.

Afterwards, each team is judged in a variety of categories and awards are given out. Kane says the event is very spectator-friendly with the finals beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

"The matches are exciting and it is also interesting to see the robots up close," Kane says. "I recommend that visitors walk through pits to see the teams working together with the mentors on their robots."

For information on the FIRST movement in Michigan, including dates and times of the regional events, you can visit their site here.

Source: David Kane, FIRST
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Youth program blasts off with $350,000 grant

"It's a win-win scenario," Lynn Heemstra, Executive Director Our Community's Children (OCC) enthusiastically proclaims when asked out the $350,000 grant provided to the organization from U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

Heemstra explains that with the grant dollars, OCC will be coordinating the Leadership and Employment, Achievement and Direction (LEAD) program, a "really cool initiative" that offers relevant work experience for 90 Grand Rapids city residents, ages 15-21, by partnering with a broad spectrum of businesses throughout the city.   

These businesses, part of the Mayor's 50 program, will provide employment mentorship and a learning experience. The LEAD program then focuses on an educational experience by learning about neighborhood economies, entrepreneurship and leadership. The program also complements the cities two-year youth master plan, which is focused on preparing a more skilled and creative workforce.

Heemstra strongly encourages city-based businesses to apply for the Mayor's 50 program, saying, "This is a wonderful opportunity to invest in the next generation of workers by offering a positive work experience."

For information on the Mayor's 50 program, visit their website here.

To learn more about the LEAD program and for application instruction, you can visit the site here.

Source:  Lynn Heemstra, Our Community's Children
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Built in West Michigan. Technology to help children thrive.

There's a new kid online and it wants to help children become more successful by identifying their natural learning and personality styles and providing parents and teachers with insights into what can make children thrive.

Kidtelligent is the new online business launched by Roger Jansen along with partners Atomic Object, and Jeff and Craig Tiggleman.

Development of Kidtelligent began in 2008 and has its foundation in over 30 years of research, according to Jansen.

"There is existing research on how kids from a wide range of backgrounds thrive," states Jansen. "Wouldn't it be helpful if parents knew this information?"

The website, built by Atomic Object, is designed to be simple and to provide value within the first 10 minutes. Targeting children ages 7-13 and their parents, the initial experience starts with a survey which resulting in a profile. Parents and educators are then directed to several tips and techniques targeted toward that specific personality type.

Besides the insights from the survey, there are significant online features built into the site, which will allow users to share their experiences, building both content and knowledge.

Carl Erickson, president of Atomic Object, is takes pride in the process leading up to the launch.

"A lot of people don't think this type partnership and development of a web-based business can happen in West Michigan," he says. "The launch of Kidtelligent is a great example of the opportunities that exist in this area for technology entrepreneurs to start a business, despite contrary opinions on the lack of the resources. It looks like a start-up coming out of Silicone Valley."

To learn more about Kidtelligent, you can visit  their website here.

Source:  Roger Jansen, Kidtelligent and Carl Erickson, Atomic Object
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Kent County organizations collaborate to tackle poverty-related issues in early childhood

On many levels, it is a staggering problem. Child poverty rates continue to increase in Kent County where 20% of children between birth and the age of five live in poverty, and 43% of all births in Kent County are being covered by Medicaid.

However, thanks to the work of many individuals and organizations in the area, programs are being implemented to address these issues.

According to Amy Turner-Thole, communications director for First Steps Kent County, "statistics are startling  but the community is taking a proactive approach and focused on prevention."

Turner-Thole, whose recent column for state think tank The Center for Michigan, highlights three innovative programs in particular that are taking an aggressive and proactive stance:

- Welcome Home Baby
- Children's Healthcare Access Program
- Early Learning Communities

Turner-Thole points out these innovative projects are collaborative in nature, and the approach is to address the problems at a systems level.

For more information on the work of First Steps Kent County and/or for ways to  get involved, you can visit their website here.

Source: Amy Turner-Thole, First Steps Kent County
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Local organizations take center stage in global entrepreneurship event

During the week of Nov. 15-19, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages in West Michigan will have a smorgasbord of opportunities to learn, network and be inspired.

As part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, Grand Valley State University's Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation will be facilitating a series of 16 events including business plan training, speakers and pitch competitions to help celebrate and inspire imagination and creativity.

According to Linda Chamberlain, executive director of CEI, the activities in West Michigan will hopefully do more than just celebrate past accomplishments. After the week is over, "We hope to build on that energy to help entrepreneurs create value," she says.

Ryan Vaughn, entrepreneur and founder of Varsity News Network, is also a believer in the potential for events like this to create value.

"GEW is a chance for entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids to learn from and collaborate with our colleagues, both locally and around the world," says Vaughn. "I'll take what I learn from any one of the events and apply it to our company the next day."

Ten organizations will be helping to bring these events to West Michigan including the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, Lakeshore Advantage, Cornerstone University, the Muskegon Inventors's Network, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and The Factory.

Regionally, Michigan Emerging is a day-long event that will be held in Dearborn, MI on November 17. This conference is intended to help connect entrepreneurs, inventors and investors from throughout the state and hopefully serve as a catalyst for new venture formation.

Global Entrepreneurship Week, founded by the Kauffman Foundation and Enterprise UK, is expected to have countries across six continents participating.

Find out more about Global Entrepreneurship Week at their website. For a listing of events, visit the community calendar for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Source: Ryan Vaughn
Writer: John Rumery, Innovations and Job News Editor

Grand Rapids flexing its design prowess

Two years ago, Kevin Budelmann posted a question on LinkedIn to determine if there was any interest in forming a local chapter of AIGA, a professional organization that supports the interests of design professionals, students and educators throughout the world.  

For many years, west Michigan professionals in the design industry participated in AIGA activities sponsored by either the Detroit or Chicago chapter. Although there had been informal discussions on establishing a local chapter, no one actually took the time to begin the process but Budelmann sensed the increasing alignment of many businesses and local initiatives tied to the design industry.  

"I was astounded by the response,"  Budelmann recalls about his LinkedIn request. "Within 30 days I had 70-80 people signed up in the group."

And that was only the beginning. Within 18 months, AIGA West Michigan had up to 270 paying members and has been recognized by the national organization as one of the fastest growing chapters in the nation.  

"We have a very high percentage of design talent for a community this size," Budelmann says.

Stressing the benefits of having a local chapter, he cites not only the importance of bringing the values of the national organization to West Michigan, but also the training, networking, and recognition opportunities for local design professionals. He also feels very strongly that having a local organization helps in the retention of design talent and plays a significant role in branding west Michigan as a design hub throughout the country.

AIGA not only provides services to professionals, but can be a major influence for students interested in a  design career. Besides providing inexpensive networking and big industry events "people don't always appreciate the breadth of the design industry," he says. Far too often, design is equated with decoration. While design has an artful quality, it is really problem solving."

The national organization has a membership of over 22,000 and works on activities and local programs with 64 chapters and 240 student groups. For information on the west Michigan chapter of AIGA you can visit their website.

Source: Kevin Budelmann
Writer: John Rumery

Preparing high school students for the knowledge economy

Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) has received a $50,000 grant from the Michigan College Access Network to establish the Kent County College Access Network (KCCAN).
According to Ruth Bishop, GRCF education program officer, this grant will support the high school counselors and local networks that coordinate the programs, services, and resources helping primarily low-income and first-generation students to pursue postsecondary educational opportunities.

Bishop is quick to point out that the program is not only focused on four-year schools. "We use the word college, which is the word the national organization uses, because it is something everyone understands," says Bishop, "but these programs also support two-year schools and vocational training programs too."

To accomplish their goals, the program will have services to help students navigate their way through the financial aid bureaucracy so they can access the money to continue their education.
The programs will also consistently reinforce a strong message on the importance of continuing education and training beyond high school.
"We want the individuals working with students to plant the college culture seed early," states Bishop.

The Community Foundation will provide oversight to KCCAN. A team including individuals from youth-oriented nonprofits, K-12 and higher education and the private sector will lead the planning and implementation.  A portion of the grant will also help hire a part-time coordinator to get the program up and running.

For more information on this program, you can visit their website.

Source:  Ruth Bishop
Writer: John Rumery

Law school preparing students for the wired and global world

As many a Michigan worker knows, the times are changing.  Individuals and businesses need to acquire new skill sets to stay competitive in the 21st century. These changes have impacted not only the manufacturing industry, but the legal industry is also having to adapt to the new economy, especially as it relates to using technology and working in a global economy.

To help both alumni and students beginning their academic careers better compete in the flattened world, Thomas M. Cooley Law School has expanded and restructured their career and professional development services by adding six professional advisors, all attorneys with experience in career development and placement.   

These advisors are placed throughout the four of Cooley's campuses in the state and will help integrate new economy principles in the classroom so that students know the importance of relationship building, presentation skills, technology and effective communication, in addition to the mastery of subject matter.

Cooley Law School Associate Dean Nelson Miller
 points out that many economic changes have impacted the legal industry. Like other service businesses, law firms and sole practitioners have to find new way to deliver their services. "They need to be more efficient and serve a more global market.  There is also more emphasis on international law and comparative law."

It is not only individuals working in large firms that are faced with these pressures. Smaller firms and sole practitioners all need to better understand and utilize technology. Miller indicates there is a higher level of expectation with clients who are very tech savvy. They expect technology to be integrated in all their interactions with their law firms. 

Source: Interview with Nelson Miller
Writer: John Rumery

57 Education Articles | Page: | Show All
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