Bill Pink was surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers on his first day as Ferris State University president a year ago.
The crowd outside the Timme Center for Student Services on July 11, 2022, included students, employees and community members. But Pink said from that point forward, they were all family.
“What this community has done for my wife and my daughter has helped all of us to feel a part of this family, what I call the Ferris State family. It has helped us all settle in,” Pink said.
Pink’s first year as the university’s 19th president was filled with celebrations, championships and building relationships on campus and throughout Michigan. He’s excited about what lies ahead, including expanding the university’s reach through hub located across the state, helping older students connect and gain a life-changing education.
Pink said he was overwhelmed by the reception on that first morning.
“Walking out of this building that day and seeing how many people were standing out in the parking lot on the sidewalk, to say, ‘welcome.’” That was so overwhelming. And I use the word ‘overwhelming’ because, No. 1, I didn’t expect it. No. 2, to see how many people were interested in the new guy was amazing. People made the journey from outside the city. Some came across campus, on campus from our building, to be there to say, ‘Welcome, welcome to Ferris State. We’re glad you’re here. Here’s where we are; here’s who Bulldogs are.’”
That warm welcome set the tone for a relationship that blossomed as Pink, his wife, Lori, and their daughter, Lydia, now a Ferris student, settled into their new home at the university.
Pink is a Texas native who came to Ferris after five years as president of Grand Rapids Community College, a longtime partner.
“This central Michigan area is where my wife grew up,” he said. “And then we have a daughter who is coming to a fresh new place, fresh new campus, new start. This past year has been so valuable for them in getting acclimated. In my wife’s case, it’s getting re-acclimated to central Michigan and getting connected to this community and this university.”
Pink immersed himself in Ferris’ culture, greeting current and future students and their families during summer orientation sessions. He then joined faculty, staff, returning students and others to help move students into their residence halls and campus apartments and kick off the academic year with two weeks of Bulldog Beginnings activities.
“When I’m able to interact with students, that is a constant reminder of why we’re all here,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a selfie to take with them. Sometimes, we sit and talk. I’ll buy a cup of coffee for some students and break bread. Whatever it is, it’s vitally important for me that our students know and feel like they have some level of relationship with the president. And then, for the community of Big Rapids, the same thing. For people around Mecosta County, it’s the same thing. It’s not about me. It’s about the university and our relationships that make us all stronger, working together.”
Pink on October 8 was inaugurated as the university’s 19th president, and the first African American president. The audience included state leaders, past and present university leaders, delegates from other colleges and universities, family, friends and community members.
“Inauguration was an amazing experience to celebrate with family and friends. And that, to me, that’s truly what it was. It was a celebration,” Pink said. “It meant a lot for me because that week had different activities built around this institution. It was important to have people from the community, faculty, staff and alums, all who were part of that ceremony. Having student groups perform at that ceremony means a lot to me.”
Ferris’ biannual commencement ceremonies are also significant to Pink. He hosted the fall semester ceremony on Dec. 17, the day the Bulldog football team won its second-straight NCAA Division II National Championship. Then, a larger ceremony in May.
“Commencements are the best days of the year. You can have national championships and have all these cool things happen on campus in many ways. But to me, the best day of the year is when we celebrate students completing what they came here for,” Pink said.
Pink is looking forward to a future of collaborative opportunities – locally, regionally, statewide and beyond.
“I think because of some of the things we’ve seen happen over the past year in terms of programs, our workforce development work we do with partnerships with companies is critical,” he said. “How do we continue to build up partnerships with our local and statewide industry companies, industry entities and education entities? We know partnerships matter. Partnerships are how you get things done better and more smoothly. Sometimes a partnership helps our students have more options. Those are valuable.”
Also, looking ahead, Pink sees Ferris playing a larger role supporting local communities in and around Mecosta County.
“We do some incredible work with our students. We want to explore how Ferris can help our local community members,” Pink said. “What does that look like? Suppose we can get in on some of that work. In that case, I think we now set a framework where the university is helping to build our region’s socioeconomic status from a programmatic and offering standpoint. So, I’m really curious about that regional conversation.”
Now, in year two of his presidency, Pink is excited about strengthening opportunities for people across the state to access a Ferris education.
The university in June announced the launch of Student Success Hubs across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
The Northern Michigan center is based in Traverse City, East Michigan is based in Flint, West Michigan is based in Grand Rapids, Southeast Michigan is based in Detroit and Southwest Michigan is based in Kalamazoo.
Ferris is embedded on the campuses of more than 20 community college partners. Hubs will now provide students with a streamlined, more well-rounded experience by bringing critical services closer to home, advancing Ferris’ mission of education opportunities for all.
“I’m really excited about what we’re pushing forward statewide right now,” he said. “Those hubs will be so focused on our adult learners who might be coming back to school after having stopped out or hadn’t been to school. Our hubs can say, ‘Hey, come on, let’s get something going here. Let’s get something down the road for you.’ When it comes to higher education, I think our Student Success Hubs can be a strong answer to many people across the state."