College of Education celebrates 50 years

Leading the state in teacher-education programs

by Dottie Barnes

In its earliest plans, Grand Valley State University was intended to be a liberal arts college with little or no professional emphasis. But, in 1965, President James H. Zumberge agreed to add seven undergraduate education courses for “Preparation for the Teaching Profession.”

The initial cohort of students included 45 elementary and 39 secondary candidates. An affiliation with Michigan State University allowed students to continue into the teaching profession.

Grand Valley received approval from the state in 1968 to recommend teachers for certification and the Teacher Education Center was formed. A total of 97 prospective elementary teachers and 77 secondary teachers were enrolled. Four years later, after some opposition, graduate education programs were added.

Built on people, programs and partnerships, the College of Education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and is one of the leading providers of teacher preparation programs in Michigan.

During the past five decades, the credibility and reputation of the College of Education has grown to attract diverse students and faculty members. Administrators have redefined and redesigned programs to prepare educators to teach all over the world.

Partnerships have been key for success. The College of Education now has partnerships with about 220 school districts across the state, including public, private and charter schools. Since 2001, it has received more than $10 million in grant funding.

Strong beginnings

The early programs offered to students used a nationally modeled “Teacher Aiding” program that provided students with classroom experience prior to student teaching. Grand Valley was one of the first to implement the program. Students could complete
a major in general education in elementary or secondary education, or pursue a special education major.

The secondary program was unique in that content courses, like math, science and English, were taught by faculty in those specific departments. That remains true today.

“We weren’t a ‘normal school’ when we began, so content courses are taught outside of the college,” said Linda McCrea, director of Teacher Education. “Faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are engaged in our program.”

Art Culver, student teacher, circa 1970s

Student teacher Art Culver works with students in Muskegon in 1975.

photos courtesy of University Archives

Martha Haveron, student teacher, circa 1970

Student teacher Martha Haveron works with students in Allendale in 1969.

photos courtesy of University Archives

“This requirement was unique to the state of Michigan and the country,” said Jim Grant, professor of Education/Learning Disabilities. “The program offered endorsements in the areas of mentally impaired, emotionally impaired, hearing impaired, and physically and otherwise health impaired. Students were also given the option of adding a third endorsement in learning disabilities, which in the 1970s was a new category in special education.” Grant said because the program required students and professors to spend a lot of time in local school districts, the reputation of the special education program grew.

Tom Ebels, a Grand Rapids Public School teacher and member of Grand Valley’s pioneer class, said, “The College of Education was sending people out into the field that were so well prepared that is wasn’t difficult to get them passionate about the job.”

The beginning of the graduate school of education had an unusual start. In the early 1970s, it was housed in the College of Arts & Sciences. Mary Seeger, then an assistant dean, said: “The College of Arts & Sciences was opposed to the thought of any graduate work — absolutely. We voted down the proposal for graduate work in education.”

Lubbers asked faculty member Faite Mack to seek grants in order to fund a graduate program.

“We had strong support from President Lubbers and Congressman Gerald Ford,” said Mack. “I received nearly $1 million through three grants to train teachers in the Grand Rapids Public School system. At that time, the school district was under a desegregation order and the grant monies provided training for their teachers to work with multicultural populations.”

Mack said the money was used to fund the entire program: teacher salaries, books, supplies and even a building for classrooms. He paid rent for a building on Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids, including electricity, furniture and garbage collection.

1982 computer class

Pictured is a School of Education summer program computer class for K-12 students.

photo courtesy of University Archives

The grants acquired by Mack provided an in-service training program for 200 teachers in Grand Rapids, but the credits had to be purchased from the University of Michigan.

“In order to offer this training program for teachers, we had to offer graduate credit for the graduate teachers. Since Grand Valley was restricted from offering graduate credit, we negotiated with the University of Michigan to purchase the credit,” explained Mack.

“We did all the instruction but the money flowed toward U of M.” Mack said Lubbers went out on a limb and challenged him to write a proposal for a graduate school of education. In June of 1975, it was approved by the Board of Trustees. “I’ve been here 41 years and have had the unique privilege of building a program from the ground up and being able to see its outcome,” Mack said.

Lubbers said the reputation of the College of Education continued to grow. “School districts around the state, and particularly in our area, preferred to have Grand Valley graduates,” said Lubbers. “And, if you look at it today, we are one of the largest teacher
education suppliers.”


A push for increased partnerships came in the mid-1990s. College of Education Dean Elaine Collins said the number of districts the college serves has exploded over the years and partnerships have increased in both longevity and depth.

“Schools that have really worked to craft strong connections with their partners are going to be the schools that will do amazing work,” said Collins. “We have so many more tools available to us than we had 50, 30, 20 years ago. So we are at the cusp of a lot of new and exciting initiatives.”

Collins said while the college has had a long-standing partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, she believed it was critical to extend and expand on efforts. “We are working with GRPS in a way we never have before, actually teaching Grand Valley classes in K-12 buildings as one example. We have continued to build a strong, critical involvement,” she said. “It really feels like a partnership now. We are all working together to raise the educational capacity of our community.”

The Center for Educational Partnerships office was created to facilitate partnerships between education programs and the local community and the Student Information and Services Center was created to facilitate admission and advising of students.

The TRiO Educational Talent Search and TRiO Upward Bound programs joined the College of Education in 2010. Both programs help students from traditionally underserved backgrounds reach their potential by earning a college degree.

Collins said faculty were part of a team that planned an International Baccalaureate (IB) Elementary/Lab school in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district that opened in the fall with an arts-centered focus. The work was done in collaboration with Grand Rapids arts organizations.

“My dream is that Grand Valley students will be able to choose a particular focus of experiential opportunities they wish to explore — like a design-thinking orientation, an inner-city experience, a school district that specializes in technology or a co-teaching model,” said Collins. “These partnerships exist currently and can really help students make meaningful connections between theory and practice.”

President Lubbers and faculty members

Then President Arend D. Lubbers (seated far left) and Faite Mack, professor of education (seated far right), are pictured with members of the first class of graduate education students.

photo courtesy of Faite Mack

The future of education

Many changes for teacher certification have occurred during the past 50 years, primarily mandated from the state. In 2007, the state of Michigan required all colleges of education to meet a new set of requirements for elementary teacher certification. That meant revising the entire elementary teacher certification program at Grand Valley. The College of Education received an exemplary performance rating that year and has every year since.

Collins said challenges for the future include keeping up with technology, providing globalized instruction and changing modes of delivery. She said the college can stay competitive by offering options, like increasing hybrid and online courses and moving away from traditional degree programs to providing more alternatives.

“We are working to provide a variety of certificate programs to allow pre-teachers and teachers to specialize in areas to meet specific needs before them,” said Collins. “For example, an interventionist certificate to assist those who don’t have a special education background deal with issues or accommodation for special education, even though they don’t have a full degree in it.” Other certificate programs are being developed, like one focusing on environmental education and another on globalization, to provide unique specializations that can benefit teachers and even non-teachers.

Collins said forging new and unique partnerships are key for the future of education. In September, the college formed a partnership with WGVU and PBS LearningMedia Custom Service to have access to a media-on-demand content platform designed to support technology and digital resource integration into the classroom.

In fall 2015, a museum school will open in Grand Rapids, a collaboration among the College of Education, Grand Rapids Public Museum, City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kendall College of Art and Design.

“We have always been about making a difference for students, families and the community,” said Collins. “The changes for the future of education are exciting, not threatening.”

Rising Star Camp

Rising Star Camp
The camp has been offered on the Allendale Campus since 1983 for children with learning disabilities.

TRiO Upward Bound

TRiO Upward Bound

Prepares underserved and/or first-generation college-bound students in grades 9-12 for success in high school and enrollment in college.

Groundswell project


The program helps teachers and their students collaborate with organizations to study and address environmental issues and practice problem-solving and citizenship.

Literacy Center

GVSU Literacy Center

Established in 1995, the summer program matches Grand Valley graduate students with students in the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools for tutoring in reading and writing.

For more information on the 50th anniversary of the College of Education, including a video and timeline, visit

Page last modified April 24, 2017