A building with the words 'Shape Corp Innovation Design Center' and the GVSU logo is pictured framed by bushes and trees.

A partnership for the future of engineering

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“Business exists for the betterment of the community.” For the Verplank family, this instilled belief has been passed down from generation to generation. 

As a founder of the West Michigan-based company Shape Corp., Gary and Vicki Verplank saw Grand Valley as an opportunity to invest in the education of their future employees and make an impact on the community. Today, their children, Shape Corp. executive chairs Tony and Kyle Verplank, are continuing this mission. 

“Both Mom and Dad believed that a strong local university was key to a vibrant West Michigan,” Kyle said. “They were strong believers in Grand Valley from the beginning and their passion for its success was heartfelt and genuine.” 

Shape Corp. was founded in 1974. As the company grew, the need for talent accelerated and the company’s platform for giving back expanded. 

“The relationship with Grand Valley started in the 1980s and has been evolving ever since. Many of the key people who have made Shape a success are proud alumni of Grand Valley,” said Kyle. 

People walk around a big open room with concrete floors and a high-tech look.

Attendees at the August 9 naming ceremony are pictured inside the facility. (Kendra Stanley-Mills)

Thanks to Tony, Kyle and the Shape Corp. family, the relationship with Grand Valley continues to grow, and the tradition of giving back is shared with a new generation. 

“The values my parents instilled in us are the greatest assets they could have passed on. The success of the company has allowed us to exercise those values to invest in others and the community around us,” Tony said. “Passing these values on to our own children is one of the greatest opportunities in front of us.” 

With Shape Corp.’s recent gift, a significant endowment was established for the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing to promote innovation and meet the greatest needs for engineering students. In celebration of this gift and their longstanding commitment to engineering students, Grand Valley named its Innovation Design Center in Shape Corp.’s honor. 

“Learning to apply creative thinking to real-world challenges is one of the best ways to prepare future generations for success,” said Tony. “The Shape Corp. Innovation Design Center is uniquely qualified to offer students that experience. We’re proud we can be a part of that effort.” 

Four men in suits smile standing in front of a blue background

Pictured at the August 9 naming ceremony for the Shape Corp. Innovation Design Center are, from left to right, Mark White, Midge Verplank, Tony Verplank and Kyle Verplank. (Amanda Pitts)

What impact do you hope Shape Corp.’s most recent endowment to the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing will have on students?

Ed: We believe the unique interaction between industry and academia offers a real-world opportunity to bring classroom learning to the field, which is essential for a true application experience that will ground students as they head into the workforce. Students gain hands-on learning that you simply cannot get in the classroom alone. 

How do Grand Valley students stand out amongst industry peers?

Mark: Grand Valley students continue to demonstrate strong values. They are humble, hardworking and intelligent. We typically experience tremendous cultural alignment. Technically speaking, the students come into the workplace with great applied learning experiences that provide them with a higher level of preparation for their careers. 

What do engineers need today, and what advice would you give prospective students?

Mark: Naturally, engineers need to be prepared with technically sound skills in their discipline. At the same time, it’s critical to complement those talents with what we often refer to as the soft skills. Communication, leadership, the ability to influence are all keys to successful individual growth that lead to a powerful career. As students navigate their classes and extracurriculars, I highly encourage them to advance their leadership capabilities beyond the technical space. 

What is your projection for the future of manufacturing engineering?

Ed: The future is bright. Everything has to be manufactured somehow, someway and what is exciting about manufacturing is how we can now use technology to drive capabilities and efficiencies that were never achievable. Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, big data are all examples of technology that will accelerate manufacturing over the next several years. 

What excites you about West Michigan’s future?

Mark: West Michigan is flourishing, and we can attribute much of that to the diversity of our community. We are building upon our long-standing history of entrepreneurialism and manufacturing. From this foundation we are welcoming different types of industries that are expanding or establishing in our region, which is attracting diverse talent and promoting continued growth. 

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