Michigan State University is throwing open the doors at its College of Human Medicine’s new $90 million Secchia Center in downtown Grand Rapids.
A private dedication ceremony is planned for Sept. 10, followed by public tours from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 11 and a fundraising gala at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14. Tickets for the gala are $200 each and available by calling 234-2806.
Those events follow the Aug. 29 White Coat Ceremony at DeVos Hall, where more than 1,800 family and friends witnessed this fall’s class of 200 first-year medical students receive their lab coats and heard remarks from CHM Dean Dr. Marsha Rappley.
One hundred of those first-year students started classes Aug. 30 in the Secchia Center, 15 Michigan St. NE. They join 50 pioneering students who started in rented quarters on North Division Avenue last year and now are in their second year, as well as nearly 100 third- and fourth-year students in clinical programs here.
By next year, the number of first- and second-year students in Grand Rapids will be 200, matching the count in East Lansing.
More than half of the class of 2014 is male and 78 percent are from Michigan, according to the medical school. Their grade point averages and MCAT scores are higher than ever, 15 percent are “under-represented minorities,” and some 26 percent were either the first generation in their families to attend college or graduated from a rural high school. They were chosen from nearly 6,000 applicants.
The school has created 76 new jobs, according to Communications Manager Geri Kelley, in addition to any new positions that may have been created by contracts for services such as security.
Recently Rappley sat down with the Business Journal and discussed the medical school and the opening of its new 180,000-square-foot home in Grand Rapids.
Q: What are your thoughts about the new Secchia Center?
A: “It’s really well beyond my expectations. I actually feel physically moved every time I walk into this space. My hope was that we could have one of those spaces where people love to be; this space seems to actually inspire you. Even we didn’t expect to be inspired and motivated by the beauty and the light of the space.”
Q: What sort of relationship has developed between the medical school and the community?
A: “The public helped make this happen. The people of Grand Rapids have been so welcoming to us. All of our students say this, that everywhere they go — the coffee shop, mall, looking for apartments — when people learn that they’re from the medical school, they get a very warm welcome. I myself have experienced this and it is just a great response, such a great thing to know that people are happy to have us here and to have us be learning and growing right here in Grand Rapids. … I want them to know that we are going to get up every morning and do our very best to make them proud of us.”
Q: How has expanding the number of students affected the medical school student body?
A: “Our criteria for admissions remain as rigorous and as high as they have always been. If we look at that whole group of 5,000-plus people who applied for 200 positions, there was some concern they wouldn’t have as good a GPA or as good of test scores. And that has turned out not to be the case. … The GPA has gone up rather than down across this vast group of people. So we are clearly attracting very talented, motivated young people who are interested in coming to the College of Human Medicine.
“Certainly, when we opened up another 100 seats in this college, we created another set of positions for in-state students. … I do a lot of pre-med counseling and I tell students, if you have a choice between any of our in-state medical schools and out-of-state schools, you will get the finest education here in Michigan. You don’t have to pay out-of-state tuition to get that. … We also know that people from Michigan are most likely to continue to live and work in Michigan.”
Q: What has been the reception from the medical community?
“The local medical community has been great. We continue to hear from people. … People stop me in the hospital corridor (and say), ‘I want to be part of this, I want to make sure I can be involved in the teaching.’ I’m very grateful to the physicians of this community for that. It’s not easy to take on the task of working with students … but so many of our physicians find that to be very rewarding.”
Q: What is the economic impact of the CHM in Grand Rapids?
A: “The most immediate level we will have is when we are up at full capacity. By that I mean four years from now, when each class has entered and we’ll have about a little more than 300 more students on the ‘grounds,’ so to speak — in the city and the general area — than we’ve ever had in the past. So those students have places to live, they shop, they eat at restaurants — there’s that first level. They add to the night life, they add all sorts of dimensions. It’s great to have young people in the heart of your city.
“Then there’s the jobs that were created in order to implement the program, run the program. … For example, we hired four new faculty who do internationally recognized research in Parkinson’s disease. Those four people, they brought a team of 30 people. It takes that many people to run their laboratory, for them to engage in this work and be successful. So that’s just one group right there. We’ve done that in women’s health, and we are now planning the other areas where we will bring in similar large teams of investigators and their co-workers.
“As we do that, then, we get interest from people from around the world. … These calls are coming in; these are calls we have received. It’s a whole new level of national and international visibility. People are excited about what’s happening in Grand Rapids and are seriously wanting to consider opportunities for their own career here and for their families.”