President's Message to Campus - October 26, 2018

A Forum for (Enrollment) Change

This week, as part of Disability Awareness Month, the Liaison Committee for Students With Disabilities hosted “A Forum for (Enrollment) Change.” This event brought students, faculty, staff, employers and community organizations together to discuss ways in which we can work together to increase enrollment of students with disabilities at Ferris.

The keynote address presented by Liz Plachta, CEO and co-founder of Texas-based non-profit Ruby’s Rainbow, discussed the importance of inclusion to those with disabilities and how her non-profit is helping young adults go to college. Ms. Plachta shared her own personal story of raising a daughter with Down syndrome and how she dreamed that not only her daughter, but all who have Down syndrome, would have every opportunity to learn, grow, flourish and become an important contributor to society and the community.

The forum was inspirational and provided a unique look at the ways in which students with disabilities strive for inclusion, independence and an education. Franklin Hughes, from the Diversity and Inclusion Office, provided opening remarks, which were very powerful. They provide a historical insight into our institution, much of which was unknown to me. I believe these may also be of interest to you. With his permission, I am pleased to share them with you:

“From its inception, the Ferris Institute has always been different than other schools. In the School’s first catalog it states, “The Industrial will therefore, continue to appeal to all young men and women, regardless of their ages, regardless of their mental attainments, regardless of their present positions, who desire to make themselves stronger and better."

Our first class in 1884 included 10 men and five women and our institution was welcoming to international students from Finland, Armenia, Mexico, China, Ecuador and many more – all prior to 1900.

In 1902, the first alumni association of Ferris brought Booker T. Washington to campus to speak to an enthusiastic and packed crowd. African American students were welcomed as early as 1900 – including dozens of individuals from the Hampton Institute (from Hampton Virginia) who went on to play vital roles in the history of the United States.

Our institution’s history has always been about inclusion – and although it’s not widely known - that legacy includes persons with disabilities.

We know that Mr. Ferris and Vice President Gerrit Masselink would read excerpts to students at morning exercises from many different authors. Authors such as W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, but they also read from Henry Fawcett’s “A Beacon for the Blind” and from NC Hanks’ autobiography, “Up from the Hills.”

In fact, Mr. Ferris was so moved by the story of NC Hanks, who had lost both hands and eyes in a mining accident, that he brought him to campus on a number of occasions and considered him a good friend.

In 1906, long before the advent of special education provisions, Mr. Ferris said, "The only kind of student who receives special favors, is the student who for any cause has gotten behind his age. He is intellectually hungry, and consequently is anxious to be fed. However backward, he is carefully and patiently looked after."

As governor of Michigan, Mr. Ferris established institutions for treating tuberculosis and epilepsy, and authorized state funds to be used to build the first School for Crippled Children in Michigan in 1916.

Also in 1916, Mr. Ferris wrote a public letter printed in a number of publications entitled “To the Crippled Children of Michigan.” It was a letter of encouragement to the children and wished them a special Merry Christmas.

Mr. Ferris was also a supporter of the Reed School for Defective Speech Therapy in Detroit. He sent a number of students and professionals to the school.

Although the terms used in 1916 are now outdated and considered offensive, these actions were at the time, revolutionary. Through his efforts, Woodbridge N. Ferris created an environment within The Ferris Institute that encouraged our students to have a spirit of compassion and idealism.

It was in fact one of our very own Ferris graduates, Charles Morris Elliott, who is credited as one of the primary founders of the first Special Education teacher-training program in the country. The program was created in 1923 at the Michigan State Normal College of Ypsilanti (Now Eastern Michigan) and was the beginnings of the Department of Special Education of Michigan. The program was wildly successful, so much so that by 1936, there were 118 Special Education programs spread throughout the United States and Canada, each one a copy of Elliott’s original program.

There are many, many other stories about Ferris grads using their education to “Make the World a Better Place.” This is Mr. Ferris’ legacy and what The Ferris Institute was designed to do.”

The charge from our founders remains clear – to ensure we continue to provide opportunities to all who seek an education and make the world a better place. Thank you to everyone who came to the forum and to the panelists who shared their experiences and expertise: Liz Plachta, Katrina Sanders, ThinkCardinal program coordinator at Saginaw Valley State University, Rick Campbell, Sr., owner/operator of Campbell Industrial Force, and Emily Garlick, master’s degree seeking Social Work student.

Foundation for Excellence Benefit

The Ferris Foundation will host the 20th annual Foundation for Excellence Benefit in downtown Grand Rapids on Friday, Nov. 2. Inside the DeVos Place Convention Center during the pre-event reception, Ferris friends and supporters will have the opportunity to see first-hand some of the exciting educational programming offered at Ferris through a variety of interactive displays. A few of the displays featured include viewing how body cameras work for police officers, swinging a golf club with TracMan, and listening to a SimScope to hear the sound of a heart murmur.

The evening’s keynote speaker is Ferris alumnus Tim Murphy who graduated in 1983 from the College of Education and Human Services with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Mr. Murphy has had an exceptional career and was most recently the deputy director of the FBI under Robert Mueller. He is a recognized leader in the global law enforcement, intelligence and business communities, and we are excited to hear the story of his time at Ferris, the education he received and how it prepared him for his extraordinary career.

This is sure to be a remarkable evening that celebrates our University, its people and programs, and helps support our students and faculty. Tickets can still be purchased online, with special ticket pricing for faculty, staff and emeriti. I look forward to seeing you there.

Mamma Mia!

Next week Williams Auditorium will be filled with the musical sounds of ABBA during the Mamma Mia! performances scheduled for Nov. 1-4. This musical comedy, performed by Ferris State University Theatre students and directed by Katherine LaPietra, uses the music of ABBA to tell the story of Donna, a former lead singer of a 1970s disco/pop group and her daughter, Sophie, who is planning her perfect wedding, but encounters a few twists and turns along the way. If you enjoy musicals, this is a show you will not want to miss. For more information about the show or to purchase tickets visit the Williams Auditorium webpage. Please come out and support our talented students.


Football is home this weekend with a 1 p.m. kickoff on Saturday against Wayne State. Our team, currently ranked second in the nation, is 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the GLIAC following a 28-14 win at Saginaw Valley State last Saturday. This weekend the men’s hockey team will face-off at home against Alaska-Anchorage at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association home opener.

Volleyball and women's soccer teams are both ranked second in the latest NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Rankings. The volleyball team, which is 19-4 overall and unbeaten in the GLIAC at 12-0, ranks just behind Drury (Mo.) in the Midwest Regional Rankings with two weeks remaining in the regular-season. Women's soccer is ranked second behind Grand Valley. The team finishes up the regular season with a chance to tie the all-time school record for single season victories as they play Northwood today at 3 p.m. in Midland.

Saturday our men's basketball team, which won the 2017-18 NCAA Division II National Championship, will take on the Duke Blue Devils at the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. at 4 p.m. This game features two of the nation's top teams, as the Blue Devils are ranked fourth in the country in the USA Today Division I Coaches' Preseason Poll. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are ranked #15 in the Division II Bulletin Preseason Poll. This is a fantastic experience for our coaches and team, and we wish them the best, along with safe travels.

Our student-athletes are setting a standard of excellence in their respective sports and in the classroom. We have much to be proud of, and I thank all our coaches for their leadership and our student-athletes for their hard work and dedication both inside and outside of the classroom.

David L. Eisler, president