Interview with Dr. Steven Ender on the GRCC Music Center Renovation

by Dr. Stephen Barton, ACDA-MI 2-Year College Representative

This following interview is with Dr. Steven Ender, President of Grand Rapids (MI) Community College (GRCC). GRCC is undertaking a renovation of the GRCC Music Center which houses the NASM accredited music program at GRCC. Dr. Stephen Barton, Director of Choral Activities and Chair of the Vocal Department at GRCC, conducts the interview.

During my 6 years at GRCC (Grand Rapids Community College), I have noticed the respect and affection you seem to hold for all the arts programs at GRCC and, of course, our music program. I’m wondering if you have some background in music and perhaps some experiences in music growing up which have informed your thoughts about the arts. Could you tell me a bit about your experiences with the arts growing up?

I didn’t have any experience in the arts at all. I played the trumpet in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade but I wasn’t raised in a cultured family. My main experiences were as a faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). During my time there, I met a lot of arts faculty and enjoyed the experience of interacting with them. I attended music student juries at IUP and found them fascinating. It was cool to see students transform themselves into professional performers. This was the same quality in students with attracted me to intercollegiate athletics. I love to see students perform! My performance is teaching, speaking and counseling. It is hard work for sure.

What is the significance of having a strong music program at the college (GRCC)?

We are one of the first 2 year college music programs in the country to be accredited by NASM. We serve a wide range of students, primarily middle and lower income families. 56% of our students receive Pell Grants. Poor people deserve access to quality educational programs at a price point they can afford. It is part of our obligation to support our arts programs for our constituent student base. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to the same types of high quality academic experiences across all academic pursuits. We also have strong roots as a transfer institution. If we were just a business, the arts would suffer. To sacrifice these programs simply doesn’t fit with our values as an institution. The things we do are to serve our community, not just to make money.

What are some of the significant ways that the music program and the arts in general have benefited GRCC during your time here?

You’ve noticed that we have music groups perform at all of our major public events for the college. The Grand Rapids area is highly cultured and clearly appreciates hearing our students perform in a quality way at these events. Our supporters appreciate the college even more because of its commitment to the arts. The presence of GRCC music groups at our major events completely changes the atmosphere and spirit of those events in a very positive way.

Are there ways that the music program and arts in general could do better in terms of helping college reach its various goals and mission?

The more you can do to reach out to high schools and become engaged with those teachers and students, especially the programs that have traditionally fed into our programs, the better you are serving the college. Recruitment needs to be a strong focus. Once the music building is renovated, I am hoping this will help tremendously in enhancing your recruitment efforts. Our facilities currently do not match the facilities available in some high school districts. We will improve that circumstance in the next year or 2 with our music building renovation. However, it isn’t just recruiting; it is also the relationships we can build with the personnel in those high schools. This is very important! The recruitment event we held for area schools this year was over the top successful. It certainly informed high school personnel who came; it also changed perspectives about who we are and what we can offer to their schools. It was very important that we held that event.

It should not go unnoticed that we were able to raise the money to renovate the music building from 4 families. This would not have happened without a great appreciation from within the community for the work the music department does. You have strengthened our friendship with philanthropists. Philanthropists enjoy giving to causes they believe in. They also want to see the community prosper. They appreciate the work we do at the college.

GRCC is beginning the process of renovating the Music Center.  My understanding is that this is a $6 million dollar or so project and that you have been the primary fundraiser in obtaining the funds for this renovation. I am curious about what you may have said to potential donors to convince them to give.

$7.5 million! I appealed around issues of the length of time the music program has been in existence, the NASM (National Association of Schools of Music) accreditation and the unique position the program holds in the higher education world, the number of full-time faculty and the articulation agreements we have with 4 year institutions. It was embarrassing to have the caliber of program that we have offered out of a building that is almost 100 years old. I wanted patrons of the arts who have known the work of the music program for years and who are also supporters of the Grand Rapids Symphony to support our program. We have several players from the symphony who teach in our music department. The strength of our tie with the Grand Rapids Symphony was very important in our fundraising efforts. In the end, however, the appeal was that our students and faculty simply deserved a better facility.  I brought potential donors through the building after which they were all convinced of the need for the renovation.

Now where you guys could get busy is once that building is renovated, reach out to the alumni who have come through your program and have been successful to help you find students. I have high expectations once we get that building renovated!

What do you see as the main reason(s) that the renovation of the music building is necessary?

A quality program deserves a quality facility. This renovation is long overdue when one considers the consistent quality which the music program has exhibited for an extended period of time. I am also confident that the renovation will help in our efforts to recruit music majors at GRCC.

Based on your ideas about the direction you are trying to take the college, how does the music program figure in enhancing that direction?

I believe we have premier programs across the college and I further believe that we should have articulation agreements with every 4 year college in the state that also has these programs. In the case where we cannot get these articulations or our courses will not transfer, I would like to discover why not. The continued quality of the music program strengthens the college’s efforts in this primary goal of transfer for our students.