General Education - The First Five Years

Grand Valley State College opened its doors to students in September 1963. During the 1963-64 academic year, only one mathematics course was taught, which was Mathematics 1 – Introduction to College Mathematics. In fact, during that first academic year, only courses that were part of so-called Foundation Program were taught. The Foundation Program was a set of nine courses that all students were required to take. The Foundation was considered by its designers as a centerpiece for a public, liberal arts college. The nine courses in the Foundation Program were:

English 1 - The Art of Self Expression
History 1 - History of Greece and Rome
Philosophy 1 - Introduction to Moral Philosophy
Social Science 1 - Problems of Modern American Society
Mathematics 1 - Introduction to College Mathematics
Natural Science 1 - The Foundations of Life
Natural Science 2 - Frontiers of Science
Foreign Language 1 - German, French, or Russian.
Foreign Language 2 - Second course following Foreign Language 1

The key people in developing the Foundation Program were Dr. James Zumberge (the first president of GVSC), Dr. George Potter (Assistant to the President for Academic Affairs), and Dr. W. Harry Jellema (Professor of Philosophy). In June, 1962, they met at Hidden Valley Ski Club, north of Grand Rapids, to develop the core curriculum. Included in the meeting were L. William Seidman (Chairman of the GVSC Board and the person credited with providing the leadership in rallying the public and political support for the creation of GVSC ), as well as consultants from other Michigan public universities interested in developing new directions for higher education.  In the three-day conference, the group debated academic philosophies and curricular matters.   Throughout, Bill Seidman expressed his fervent support for a strong liberal arts curriculum, but he also argued for professional programs, especially in education and business. One result of this planning conference was the establishment of the Foundation Program.

Following is the course description of Mathematics 1 from the first Grand Valley catalog (1963 – 64).

Mathematics 1 – Introduction to College Mathematics. This course will review important steps in the history and development of mathematics, designed to familiarize all students with the logical bases of mathematics and to introduce some simple applications of mathematical concepts.

It was indicated in the catalog that “programmed course materials” would be made available for students needing a review of high school mathematics, but it is not clear if this really occurred. Dr. Marvin De Vries taught Mathematics 1 in 1963-64. He was one of the original 15 faculty members at Grand Valley and started his career at Grand Valley as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Economics. He was, however, an economist and so the original faculty did not have a mathematician. Dr. De Vries has indicated that he really did not feel qualified to teach the history of mathematics and instead, tried to illustrate ideas in mathematics in a way to help students relax and not be so afraid of mathematics. He wanted students begin to think that mathematics was not so bad and that you could talk about some nice subjects. Although he could not remember all the topics in the course, he did indicate that set theory, probability, and decision making were included.

During the first year at Grand Valley, the faculty were supposed to develop the curriculum in their respective disciplines. However, since Grand Valley did not have a mathematician in its faculty, no work was done in developing the mathematics curriculum. Grand Valley hired two mathematics faculty members for the 1964-65 academic year: Dr. Dan Clock and Prof. Don Vander Jagt. (Prof. Vander Jagt completed his Ph.D. while at Grand Valley in 1973 from Western Michigan University.)