There are generally two occasions where the words “dig in” are music to the ears — at a ground breaking ceremony and at a good old fashioned birthday party. While it wasn’t necessarily a full-fledged birthday party, Michigan Budget Director Al Pscholka not only celebrated his 57th birthday Wednesday, he also joined those “digging in” for the ceremonial ground breaking on Southwestern Michigan College’s $9.6-million nursing program expansion project in Dowagiac.
It was certainly appropriate that Pscholka played a role in the ceremonies after helping shepherd the college’s project through the Michigan Legislature, securing $4-million for it while serving as a State Representative from Stevensville and Chair of the State House Appropriations Committee.
Pscholka told dignitaries and others assembled for the ceremony, “Some folks in Lansing think the state line stops at Kalamazoo.” He countered, “(Sen.) John (Proos), myself and (Reps.) Dave Pagel and Aaron Miller wanted to make sure folks realize that’s not true. The other really smart thing I did early on was to hire someone from Dowagiac, Adam Carlson,” now state budget office senior advisor.
Carlson interned for Pscholka while attending the University of Notre Dame.
Speaking of Carlson, Pscholka says, “In 2010, he volunteered on my campaign and started getting to the office before me. He organized my entire campaign, did door-to-door lists, put signs out, did my schedule and wrote remarks and position papers. In the general election, he knocked doors with me every night.” He concluded, “Here’s this young guy from Dowagiac willing to work for nothing with a tremendous work ethic who wants to go to Lansing to ‘fix Michigan.’ He got his master’s degree while he worked for me.”
Regarding the project, SMC President Dr. David Mathews said doubling the 1970 facility on the Dowagiac campus to 29,000 square feet will give SMC’s “truly exceptional nursing program a facility to match its quality. A building does not make a program. People teaching in the program make it, and we have the best nursing faculty imaginable.”
Pscholka lobbied the governor’s office on behalf of SMC’s “nursing program that is one of the best. It’s one of the highest-scoring schools in the country. It’s not the building or the money for the building, it’s what goes on inside the building with people coming here with work ethics like I saw in some kid from Dowagiac that make a difference.”
In looking over the blueprints for the building, Pscholka says, “It’s an investment, not only in our region, but in a profession where we are seeing growth. Nursing jobs available annually, over 100,000 through 2022. There will be 500,000 nurses retiring between now and 2022, which means we need to replace 1.1 million openings in the next five years just to stay even. This investment is so important for this region and this state.”
The college’s President, Mathews says, “Our pass rates exceed state and national averages on licensure exams.” He notes, “This region’s medical facilities are staffed with the 3,000 nurses we have graduated. These are well-paying jobs with benefits that allow them to support their families without incurring tremendous debt. We could do more, but we are limited by the size of our space, so for years we have planned to expand our nursing building and health education programs, allowing us to let in 50-percent more students” — 120 annually instead of 80.”
The school’s CEO reminded those on hand, “Making that a reality has been a long road. Our local legislators were instrumental in supporting us.” He personally recognized Senator John Proos of St. Joseph at the Student Activity Center as well as Abonmarche architects, who are also responsible for Alumni Plaza, Foster W. Daugherty and William P.D. O’Leary building upgrades and campus entryways.
As he introduced from the Board of Trustees, Chairman Thomas Jerdon, Secretary William White and Trustee Beth Cripe, Mathew said, “This is a very exciting time in the life of the college.” He added, “The board for over 50 years has worked singlemindedly to make affordable access to high-quality, transformative college education in our community.”
On August 11th the board awarded a $7,042,435 contract to Rockford Construction Co. of Grand Rapids to add four state-of-the-art simulation labs and a 16-bed skills lab.
The college committed $3 million, with the remaining $2.6 million coming through the SMC Foundation’s first major gifts initiative, to which private business, organization and individual donors have so far contributed more than $600,000.
Fencing rings the site in anticipation of work starting, and classes are expected to begin there in January 2019. In the meantime, Nursing temporarily meets in Mathews Conference Center East.