SMC attracts more than $4 million in grants

DOWAGIAC — During Sept. 8’s regular meeting on the Dowagiac campus, the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees enjoyed three presentations on SMC landing more than $4 million in grants, opened bids for renovating the gymnasium in the Charles O. Zollar Building, and received more than $284,000 in donations. Trustees referred the four bids to the administration to accept the lowest bid meeting specifications.

As part of his President’s Report, Dr. Joe Odenwald introduced three staff members to provide updates on “Excellence at SMC.” Maria Kulka, Director of Educational Talent Search, presented the five-year renewal of SMC’s 30-year-old ETS grant worth $365,010 annually, or $1.825 million by Aug. 31, 2026. ETS provides opportunities for 750 students in grades 6-12 in Brandywine, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Marcellus to reach their maximum potential.

“ETS at SMC is in its 30th year and long ago we decided to wage our own local war on poverty.  Thousands of students locally have had their lives changed thanks to this vital grant,” said Chairman Tom Jerdon.

Dean Dr. Karen Reilly of the School of Business and Advanced Technology reported on the $2 million MiLEAP and the federal Carl D. Perkins V Grant, $149,800 awarded based on student course loads in occupational programs. The latest formula shifts fund use away from capital equipment purchases to its original intent serving nine special populations.

MiLEAP — the Michigan Learning and Education Advancement Program — was awarded for three years to a consortium of SMC, Lake Michigan College and the Berrien-Cass-Van Buren Workforce Development Board facilitated by tri-county Michigan Works.

Dean of Student Development Katie Hannah said SMC was one of only five community colleges awarded an $82,000 Michigan College Access Network grant that will enable creation of a career-development office managed by Melinda Stockwell to build student resources for career exploration, coordinate already-established community connections with career-centered advisory boards and create workshops to prepare adult students for job searches.

The board accepted 11 gifts totaling $231,717 and acknowledged eight gifts to the SMC Foundation for $52,870, for a one-month total of $284,587.  “This is an especially outstanding month for our development team headed by Dr. Odenwald.  SMC giving is on the rise, especially with reconnected alumni.  We can attribute this to the new organizational restructuring of the department and the desire now to give to athletics,” said Jerdon.

Trustees also approved a new member of the SMC Foundation Board of Directors, appointing former Whirlpool, MTD Products and Amerisun executive Tom Ellspermann of St. Joseph, an All-American with SMC’s second and third NJCAA cross country national champions. After graduating from SMC, “Elly” – the nickname given him by Coach Ron Gunn — ran for the Michigan State Spartans before moving to Chicago. He appreciates SMC for developing his academic regimen as well as athletics with its caring culture, saying “I wouldn’t have made it at MSU right away out of high school.”

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