Street Talk: Talking tech


What to make of Grand Rapids’ infrastructure, technology and entrepreneurship?

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce tackled that question recently during its Issue Summit.

About 50 people attended the June 17 event to hear keynote speaker Otto Doll, chief information officer for the city of Minneapolis, discuss his experiences developing IT operations in his city. Doll, one of Government Technology magazine’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers, spoke about issues including parking, access to digital technology and Minneapolis’ “creative city-making” projects that partnered city officials and the arts community.

On cybersecurity, Doll said his team works with people who teach tech classes and other groups to help the public.

“There is a hunger (for learning about it). We surveyed our city. … We got a good view that people did not feel safe online” but didn’t like having to rely on outside experts, Doll said — they wanted to take some ownership of their own cybersecurity.

“Internally, we do an awful lot with security awareness. We make it mandatory training with all employees. When there are instances (of security breaches), my guys just descend upon it.”

Jim VanderMey, chief innovation officer at Open Systems Technologies, moderated a panel with Krischa Winright, Priority Health CIO at Spectrum Health; Ryan Anderson, director of product and portfolio strategy for Herman Miller Inc.; and Mike Morrin, business strategist and portfolio team member for Start Garden.

The group discussed how the city of Grand Rapids and the West Michigan community are working to overcome similar technology obstacles.

“We often think technology is the problem. I don’t think it is,” Morrin said. “The technology can move much, much faster than we can move personally. It’s our preconceived emotions, our biases, our behaviors.

“We’re working with startups. Very rarely is the technology the problem. It’s the inability of the market, the business model, or whatever it is to absorb the technology.”

Winright praised Start Garden for its work with Seamless, Start Garden’s coalition of major industry investors and enterprises to help startups.

The area’s collaborative spirit is what helps a lot of business heat up and invigorates the area’s entrepreneurial spirit, she said.

“We have an amazing amount of humility and collaboration here, and I think it has bred collaborative innovation,” she said.

“If you stay in your industry silo, you’re missing too many observations.”

Herman Miller places plenty of emphasis on technology to stay competitive, Anderson said, adding that his company’s appetite for risk is appealing.

“I think there’s one thing holding (our business community) back, and that’s generally a corporate culture of risk aversion. … If you look at the big companies in town, the folks that started them have a bigger appetite for risk than the cultures that evolved around them over time,” he said.

“If there’s one thing that’ll set this place off in a differentiated way beyond any other place I’ve seen, it’s social innovation… We’ve got the second-highest giving per capita in the nation. And so we can all work together.

“For me, that’s where I see endless opportunity on the horizon.”

Summer camp

This past week a group of 55 girls, ages 9-15, from the Grand Rapids area participated in a day camp where they learned about their own health as well as how to take a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse and respiratory rate.

The girls were part of the first HEALTH Camp (Health Education and Leadership Training for a Hopeful future) hosted by the Calvin College Department of Nursing.

Barbara Timmermans, associate professor of nursing at Calvin, said the program was a result of a request by several of the girls’ mothers who previously had taken a pre-conception education class.

“Many of the women said ‘this is great information for us, but please teach this to our daughters,’” Timmermans said. “The idea of HEALTH Camp began because of this response from women in our communities.”

The free camp was targeted to girls from low socio-economic and diverse racial backgrounds in Grand Rapids.

Campers learned about future health care careers as well as basic health concepts related to nutrition, exercise, reproductive health, mental health, genetics and cancer education.

“At every general session at the start of the day, an expert from the different health professions — nursing, medicine, speech and audiology, biology, and public health/social work — presents about their profession to the campers,” said Adejoke Ayoola, associate professor of nursing at Calvin.

The campers also visited Calvin College Health Services for a hands-on learning opportunity.

Ayoola said campus safety officers and medical students volunteered as patients. The girls practiced taking their vital signs.

“We believe that being able to help care for an officer of the law, a medical student or a public servant at this early age would have a great effect on these girls and would change the way they think of their vocation in life,” Ayoola said.

Ayoola said camp participants will be tracked for the next six to 12 months to measure the camp’s impact.

“We also plan to continue the HEALTH Camp in the future and would like to contact the participants and invite them to be part of future camps,” she said.

The Calvin College Department of Nursing has had a relationship with four Grand Rapids neighborhoods for the past 15 years: Baxter/Madison, Burton Heights, Creston/Belknap and Heartside.

“During their first semester in the nursing major, students spend five weeks in one of these neighborhoods, and during their last semester in the nursing major, they spend six weeks back in that same neighborhood,” Timmermans said.

“We engage the neighborhoods in various ways, doing blood pressure and blood sugar screenings at food pantries and homeless shelters, doing health teaching in neighborhood schools, leading exercise classes and walking programs, providing foot care for people, teaching and facilitating support groups for women about depression and anxiety, and working with elderly clients in neighborhood retirement communities (and) nursing homes.”

To help build relationships, Calvin also has hired community health workers from the neighborhoods.

Timmermans said those relationships were leveraged to help recruit HEALTH Camp participants.

Cup runneth over

Who better to celebrate World Refugee Day in Grand Rapids than the refugees who call it home?

Bethany Christian Services, a global nonprofit that works with many refugees in the area, celebrated World Refugee Day on June 18 with its third annual Refugee World Cup.

The 12 teams, which consisted of refugees from Bhutan, Bosnia, Burma, Congo, Iraq, Latin America, Somalia, the United States and Vietnam, were put together by Bethany.

In the end, the Grand Rapids Thundercats, made up of Burmese, Bhutanese, Nepali and Vietnamese refugees, earned the title.

“Refugees bring beautiful diversity to our community,” said Kristine Van Noord, manager of Bethany’s refugee adult and family programs. “Their courage and tenacity make for strong employees and entrepreneurs.”

The event also was sponsored by the American Red Cross and Michigan Turkey Producers, which draws about one-third of its workforce from former refugees.

Since 1975, Bethany has helped resettle about 6,000 refugee adults and children.

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