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GRCC celebrates its future

Published by Cathleen Manville on Thu Feb 3, 2005 8:08 pm
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The Grand Rapids Press
By Ben Cunningham

GRAND RAPIDS — On a night celebrating the school’s history, Grand Rapids Community College couldn’t help but look to its future.

As part of its 90th anniversary celebration Wednesday, officials unveiled a 45-foot-long mural in the foyer of the campus’ Main Building that welcomes visitors to the newly dedicated Student Enrollment Center. On hand and delivering a speech after the unveiling at nearby Fountain Street Church was Mike Melvill, pilot on the $10 million X-Prize winning flight that made him the first private citizen to fly in space in June 2004.

“This brings us up to date, makes us better ready to face the times,” said GRCC President Juan Olivarez. “The mural is full of energy and helps us capture what we have been through time.”

Spanning a wall above what Olivarez calls “the front door of the college,” the colorful Diego Riveraesque mural was produced by artist Robert Barnum, who is a Ferris State University professor. It depicts students and faculty in a variety of settings including studies, recreation and in vocational activity.

Barnum calls the oil on canvas work “the visual equivalent of a hint,” alluding to the fact that it was hard to sum up GRCC’s history in a painting.

“It is my attempt to describe something that has longevity,” he said. “It is designed to have an impact for many years.”

GRCC’s new Enrollment Center is expected to be fully operational by next week. It integrates all the college’s admissions, counseling, financial aid and registrar services in a single location.

Following the evening dedication ceremony, Melvill spoke to a large crowd at the nearby church.

“I think they asked me to speak because of their emphasis on innovative thinking,” Melvill said. “We were able to do a pretty innovative thing, something that a lot more people will be emulating.”

Melvill told the story of SpaceShipOne, the vessel he piloted last summer on its first trip into space. Five days later, a fellow pilot was the second to do so and their company, Scaled Composites, won the $10 million X-Prize, a contest created to jump-start commercial space travel.

A 21-year test pilot, Melvill called the trip “awe-inspiring” and a “pretty wild ride.” Scaled Composites now is partnering with Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson to develop commercial flights to space.

Melvill, 64, hails from South Africa and lives in California.

Complimenting GRCC’s new facilities, Melvill said: “I wish there were schools like this when I was studying. When I went to school, it was more like a prison.”

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