College of


Secchia Center Grand Opening



A Grand Entrance

September 13, 2010

By Andrew Krietz

Secchia Center opening brings new opportunities to MSU, medical community

Adam Chrusciel hasn’t turned a blind eye to his community nor his future.

For a number of years, the Grand Rapids native and second-year student at the MSU College of Human Medicine noticed the landscape of his hometown gradually changing with each road trip from his home to his undergraduate campus in East Lansing.

The site of the privately-funded $90 million Secchia Center — MSU’s latest endeavor in health education — and Grand Rapids’ “medical mile” was being painted green as time carried on.

“I saw a bunch of buildings here and then eventually they would get demolished,” he said. “And then now, this is the final finish. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is where I want to be.’”

And when Chrusciel received the phone call notifying him of his acceptance to the medical school’s West Michigan expansion, the word “excitement” could not begin to describe his thoughts.

“There were 6,000 people who applied and to be chosen, it was a great honor,” he said. “I was just thrilled.”

The Secchia Center’s mission is to provide a new set of opportunities for research not only in the state but across the nation, complementing efforts made at MSU’s East Lansing campus, said Marsha Rappley, dean of the College of Human Medicine. For members in the Grand Rapids community to come forward and invest in education shows academia now plays a key role in a vibrant society, she said.

“We are partnering with this community in West Michigan,” Rappley said. “They’ve put enormous resources into making this happen. We will provide the best education and the most excitement in medical research and we’ll bring that to people where they need it.”

Strength in numbers

The center’s commemoration Friday was a culmination of cooperation and planning, equating to years in the making, Rappley said.

As a new, seven-story addition to the area skyline, the facility joins the city’s Michigan Street “medical mile” of research and hospital complexes. Grand Rapids area-based Spectrum Health, Van Andel Institute, Saint Mary’s Health Care, Grand Valley State University, Grand Action and The Right Place, Inc. all were named partners in MSU’s initiative.

About $55 million of the center’s cost is covered by Spectrum Health. The remaining dollars came from private donations, with the largest donation from MSU alumnus and former U.S. ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia and his wife, Joan.

“MSU saw the opportunity to expand the medical school in a way that was very important to be a part of the community,” said Jeffrey Dwyer, associate dean for research and community engagement at the College of Human Medicine.

Although not all research will necessarily take place within the center, students will have increased opportunities to study with some of the country’s top scientists in areas including cancer, fertility, Parkinson’s disease and reproductive biology, he said. With the Van Andel Institute across the street, students do not have to look far for those experiences, Dwyer said.

Having one college contain multiple learning environments in conjunction with leaders of medical research makes for exciting possibilities, Rappley said.

“It is really the partnerships that give us strength,” she said. “These health care systems are known for their very high quality and very cost effective delivery. This will be the place for our students to learn to become physicians.”
After the center’s grand opening Tuesday, the city will continue to strengthen its ties with MSU, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said.

“Today it’s about opening the Secchia Center, but it’s about how to use medical education, health care (and) life sciences in ways that bring hope and prosperity to the region and the state,” Simon said.

Studies in the -ologies

No matter which campus a student chooses — East Lansing or the Secchia Center — he or she will have the resources available to challenge themselves further, Dwyer said.

When students are first accepted to the College of Human Medicine, they are asked to give a preference of where they would like to study, Rappley said. For the center’s inaugural year, 100 chose the center while an additional 100 chose East Lansing.

“Some of them like the East Lansing environment — the athletics and the ivy-covered walls. The students who come to (Grand Rapids) choose it because it’s a vibrant, medical-care community,” Rappley said.

The opening of the Secchia Center will allow MSU officials to double the school’s enrollment — to about 800 students in 2014 — and expand its research portfolio, said John O’Donnell, director of pre-clinical curriculum at the College of Human Medicine.

From anatomy to pharmacology, students will learn the basics of science and be able to collaborate with their professors should a research opportunity become available in the future, O’Donnell said.

After receiving her acceptance phone call — on her birthday, of all days — fourth-year student Sarah Mattson hopes to remain within the community as the facility represents what she and other students aspire to do in the future. She plans to go into obstetrics and gynecology and apply for residency in Grand Rapids, she said.

“It really makes me aspire to be the kind of physician who works with students and mentors and is a part of that even when they’ve been a part of my growth,” she said.

West Michigan's pulse

To university and Grand Rapids officials, the Secchia Center fits in with not only the medical landscape at MSU, but the economy of West Michigan.

Since the growth of the medical community in Grand Rapids, Dwyer said each senior scientist can employ three to five additional people who will then, in turn, contribute to the city’s economy.

“You can argue there’s economic benefit to recruiting scientists to come here,” Dwyer said. “They come, bring a family — these scientists are bringing lots of grant funding with them, and while they’re here, they’ll get more grant funding.”

When the center’s lecture halls, study rooms and lounges are at capacity, Secchia said he and the city’s other philanthropists will continue to play a role in the community but step back and watch it grow during the next several years.

“Grand Rapids is a very unusual town,” Secchia said. “People have a vision for a goal and (then) they work at it and by the time it’s over, most people are working on their next one. This (center) is done now. Now it’s time to turn it over to the dean, the president and the students.