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DeVos, Social Entrepreneur and ArtPrize Founder, to Receive Honorary Doctorate from Ferris

Rick DeVosRick DeVos wants to empower, expand and enlighten conversation.

The social entrepreneur from Grand Rapids, Mich. is doing just that, and Ferris State University is acknowledging his efforts.

DeVos will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Business and Industry from Ferris during commencement ceremonies at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 5 in Big Rapids. He is best known for launching ArtPrize, the international art exhibition and competition focused on expanding the conversation about art and spurring economic growth. Last year, the event drew more than 200,000 visitors to Grand Rapids.

The event, which has created global interest in West Michigan since it began in 2009, boasts the world’s largest art prize decided by public vote. More than $470,000 in prize money was awarded to artists last year. A total of $560,000 will be awarded following the fourth run of the competition Sept. 19-Oct. 4, including a $20,000 prize for Best Venue.

Ferris’ Kendall College of Art and Design serves as a venue for the competition and also hosts the ArtPrize speaker series. This year, elements of ArtPrize also will be held at 148 Ionia Ave. – commonly known as the Old Federal Building – a location Ferris has extensively renovated to enable Kendall to expand its campus into 91,000 square feet of new classroom, studio and gallery space.

“I’m most familiar with Ferris through Kendall and our relationship there,” DeVos said. "But I see so many of their programs offered statewide creating opportunities for students to expand and develop skills to excel and pursue their goals and passions."

Ferris’ commitment to Grand Rapids, through Kendall College of Art and Design, the College of Pharmacy and Ferris at Grand Rapids Community College, is an extension of the DeVos family’s legacy.

“A commitment to downtown is key to the future of the city, the region and the state,” said DeVos, whose family has been involved in major philanthropic efforts in the Grand Rapids community. His grandfather, Richard, co-founded Amway, and his parents, Dick and Betsy, have dabbled in politics. Dick ran for governor of Michigan in 2006 and Betsy once chaired the state Republican party.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation provided the venture capital to launch ArtPrize.

DeVos, a 2004 graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids with a degree in Communications, also is behind other ventures, including Pomegranate Studios, a business development lab focused on Web-enabled business, social entrepreneurship and empowering individual voices through technology.

His work nurturing entrepreneurship includes establishment of Momentum, a business accelerator for companies focused on Web-based technologies, and “5x5 Night,” a pitch event that gives five presenters the opportunity to share ideas for a chance to receive a grant of up to $5,000.

Members of Ferris’ Entrepreneurship Institute have traveled to Grand Rapids to compete in “5x5 Night.”

“It’s a great opportunity for the student community,” DeVos said. “I’m fascinated with creativity. My real goal is to provide a platform for people doing interesting work. I want to provide the framework for people to show their ideas, create new businesses. What can I do to empower them? I take joy from that.”

Pomegranate’s most recent endeavor is “Start Garden,” a venture capital fund that will invest $5,000 in two business ideas each week. Ideas that take root have the opportunity to get additional funding.

Also, in support of non-profit organizations, he started, an online network that helps connect volunteers to groups that are a match for their skills and interests.

DeVos, who lives in Ada with his wife, Melissa, and their daughter, Clara, also is a board member of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

He was thrilled to receive the recognition from Ferris for his work.

“It’s a great honor; I was totally surprised,” DeVos said. “It’s wonderful to be recognized.”

More than 1,300 of 1,700 Ferris students who are candidates for degrees will participate in spring commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5 in the Convocation Center in the Ewigleben Sports Complex.

Graduates will be honored during five ceremonies: On May 4 at 3:30 p.m. for the College of Allied Health Sciences and at 7 p.m. for the colleges of Arts, Sciences and Education, Pharmacy and Professional and Technological Studies; and on May 5 at 9 a.m. for the Michigan College of Optometry and the College of Education and Human Services, 12:30 p.m. for the College of Engineering Technology and 4 p.m. for the College of Business.

Also receiving Honorary Doctorates will be Brent Knight, president of Lansing Community College in Lansing, Mich., and JoLaine Draugalis, dean of the College of Pharmacy, The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Both are Ferris alumni.

Among his many service efforts, Knight served as chairman of Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. during its inaugural year, helping to raise $20 million for its construction.

Ferris’ Kendall College of Art and Design will hold its commencement ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5 at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. About 270 students will receive degrees.