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State of the University: Ross announces partnership with Quicken Loans and Ford in addition to expanded leadership opportunities


President George Ross stands in front of Sarah Opperman, left, and Midland senior Anna Owens, Student Government Association President, right, as he delivers the State of the University Address on Sept. 13 in Plachta Auditorium.

Central Michigan University President George Ross made it clear during his State of the University address: CMU graduates leaders.

After 125 years, Ross said CMU will continue to expand its leadership efforts in the state, nation and world.

Ross made several announcements during his address in Plachta Auditorium on Wednesday — exactly 125 years to the day 31 students first attended class in downtown Mount Pleasant.

More than a century years later, Ross announced CMU students will see an increase in leadership programs. He also announced CMU’s first premier business partners — Ford Motor Co. and Quicken Loans.

Both Ford and Quicken Loans had representatives in attendance Wednesday. 

Ross said CMU’s capital campaign is expected to make an announcement on that front in April 2018. 

“Fire up for Excellence: the Campaign for Central Michigan University,” the capital campaign Ross said started over two years ago, was in a quiet phase. A team led by Vice President for Advancement Bob Martin secured more million-dollar gifts for CMU this past year than in university history.

Ross touched on three aspects of CMU: those who make CMU what it is, the evolution of CMU and where the university is going and bold news as CMU looks to its future.

Last winter, CMU unveiled Leadership Standards Initiative – a leadership program created by Harley Blake and Kevin Smart of Human Resources. Approximately 97 percent of supervisors have participated in workshops that emphasize students and a passion for CMU.

Under Dan Gaken, director of the recently renamed Sarah R. Opperman Leadership Institute. CMU will formally submit leadership experiences as part of the journey for each CMU student, which includes programming and volunteering.

“Leadership is something that all CMU students should acquire,” Ross said. “This is who we are. This is who we’ve always been.”

Ross declined to say how much Opperman and her family have donated to CMU.

Birgit Behrendt, vice president for Global Programs and Purchasing Operations of Ford, postponed her trip to Europe to celebrate with CMU. She said more than 900 CMU alumni are employed at Ford.

“We have a very close relationship with faculty here,” she said. “CMU has incorporated a formal leadership program for every student and that is an important thing that differentiates CMU today and for the future.” 

Jim Livingston, vice president of talent acquisition at Quicken Loans, was present for the company, along with Buddy Henika, university relationship manager. Ross said 420 alumni work in the Quicken Loans family of companies and 56 CMU interns worked this past summer for the company in Detroit.

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with CMU. We have a lot of vice presidents in upper leadership and management that have graduated from CMU and are alumni,” Livingston said. “We know that Quicken Loans is honored to be part of the CMU family and partner together to foster a relationship, help future graduates find careers and discover their passions in life.”

Henika, a 2014 alumnus, said Quicken Loans works closely with the sales program at CMU.

“(CMU) is a great partner in letting us do unique events on campus and helping us find the best talent on campus,” Henika said.

Student Government Association President Anna Owens welcomed the hundreds of people in attendance to the address. She then spoke of Ross and referenced the $1 million donation he and his wife, Elizabeth Ross, gave to medical school, business and vocal music students earlier this month.

Ross was welcomed with applause from the crowd. Struggling with a cough, did not speak from the podium, but moved across the stage throughout the hour-long speech, which discussed the past, present and future of CMU. 

He said that on Sept. 13, 1892, the first 31 students of Central Michigan Normal School started their studies in small campus based in downtown Mount Pleasant. That campus has grown to 25,000 students and 2,600 employees, in addition to graduating 250,000 alumni.

“Here we are, upholding the legacy one student at a time,” Ross said.

The president said there is a strong sense of culture and community at CMU.

“Our people set us apart,” he said. “It’s simply who we are. It’s simply what we’ve always been.”

Ross referenced the alumnus Lem Tucker, a 14-time Emmy-winning journalist who covered the Iranian hostage crisis and the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

In 1959, Tucker was elected as the first African-American student body president in Michigan. Ross led the crowd in a chanting of “Fire up, Chips.”

“He was concentrated on making an impact – and folks, that’s our spirit,” Ross said of Tucker.

Ross also mentioned Tracy Nakajima, director of International Student & Scholar Services at the Office of International Affairs. Ross said international enrollment has increased 80 percent in the past decade and there were 1,200 international students enrolled on campus in fall 2016 from 60 countries.

“(Nakajima) knows inherently that our visiting student lives are changed – and so are ours,” Ross said.

Ross continued to discuss the history of CMU. He said in 1939, Charles Anspach became the fifth president of the school, then known as Central State Teachers College. Anspach knew the school and there was a need beyond teaching K-12 schools, Ross said.

Anspach, who became president after the Great Depression and before World War II, prioritized due to financial resources around him. Twenty years after Anspach took over, the school became known as CMU.

“It showed the academic strength and fiscal strength of a university,” Ross said.

Ross used this as a prelude to the university’s priorities today. He said there have been arguments that CMU is a liberal arts university and there are concerns that CMU doesn’t support the liberal arts.

“But we absolutely do,” he said. “CMU embraces the liberal arts.”

Ross added that in order to thrive, CMU most evolve with the needs of employers and of students. Students choose what they study, and Ross said those choices are usually centered around careers that are most plentiful.

“We are already a recognized leader in (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), healthcare and business. CMU will continue to expand leadership in those areas, the president said twice.

“This reflects the world in which we live.”

Ross said CMU has increased its programming in these areas. He said employers, the state and nation need them.

“If we want to remain world leaders, we all need to remain cognizant of that,” he said.

Ross said the liberal arts still play a role in CMU — it’s a foundation. He said the liberal arts teaches skills such as communication and team-building. 

“It is these qualities that make CMU students and graduates highly sought-after by employers,” Ross said.

The president said continued success will require “nimble and courageous leadership” and challenged everybody in the room Wednesday to be engaged in the leadership of CMU. The Academic Excellence strategic plan allows the university to reorganize itself and for students to graduate in four years, Ross said.

The president ended his presentation with bringing everybody he mentioned or was part of it to the Plachta stage.

“(One-hundred twenty-five years ago today, those 31 students who wanted to be teachers, and they were mostly eighth-graders, they started all this,” he said. “The faculty that taught them started all this. In over a century and 25 years, we have taught and prepared over 250,000 alumni. From that little school in downtown Mount Pleasant.

Ross reiterated that at the end of the day, CMU graduates leaders.

“Happy anniversary, Central Michigan University, and fire up, Chips,” Ross concluded.

The speech closed with a band and choir performing the “Alma Mater,” with nearly everyone in attendance standing. A reception followed the address.

Editor-in-Chief Jordyn Hermani and Staff Reporter Greg Horner contributed to this story.


About Evan Sasiela

Evan Sasiela is the University Editor at Central Michigan Life and a senior at Central Michigan ...

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