A fond farewell

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Dean of students Bart Merkle speaks at student senates Last Lecture Nov. 19 at Grand Valleys Mary Idema Pew Library.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Dean of students Bart Merkle speaks at student senate’s Last Lecture Nov. 19 at Grand Valley’s Mary Idema Pew Library.

Audra Gamble

Over 30 years ago, Bart Merkle walked on to the Grand Valley State University campus as the brand new dean of students. On his first day, he stepped out of his car in the Fieldhouse Arena parking lot and the cold West Michigan winds nearly knocked him to the ground. His heart sank. What did he just sign up for?

Three decades later, Merkle has adjusted to the many blustery days on campus. Many things have changed since that first day on campus, including a multitude of new buildings, programs and clubs. The biggest change Merkle has experienced during his time at GVSU is the expansion of the Laker student population.

“I came as the dean of students in 1984, and I never expected to be at Grand Valley for so long,” Merkle said. “In four or five years, I thought I’d be off on my next challenge. It didn’t work out that way.”

At the end of this semester, Merkle will step down from his role as dean of students and join the faculty of the college student affairs leadership program. While he is proud of many things he and his staff have accomplished since his start at GVSU, one of his most significant accomplishments is setting up robust residence and student life programs. As Merkle finishes his last semester in his current role, there are more than 400 registered student organizations and more then 6,000 students living on campus.

“My perspective on the work that I’ve been doing, it’s hard for me to frame it in a last semester,” Merkle said. “It’s been part of a larger effort. I feel very fortunate to have been a part in developing all that.”

Merkle also celebrates the growth of the various student support centers on campus, including the Counseling Center, the Women’s Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center. According to Merkle, the Counseling Center’s role in offering mental health resources to students is more important than ever.

“(The Counseling Center) is now an APA accredited program that has graduate students,” he said. “I feel very good about that. They’re embedded in the university. Our Counseling Center is a vibrant agency.”

Though Merkle has accomplished a great deal during his tenure as dean of students, he knows the work isn’t done yet. Responses from recent Campus Climate surveys revealed that not all members of the GVSU community feel as welcome as others on campus.

“Not everyone feels like ‘this is my university,'” Merkle said. “Until we get there, we’re not done.”

After 32 years as an integral part of the GVSU family, Merkle is confident that his work will continue after he steps down into his new role. The reason he’s so sure of the future success of the university? The students.

“We have great students here,” he said. “They’re talented, they’re going to do great things.”

His hope for students at GVSU is that they find their way and grow into confident members of society.

“I would say to Grand Valley students that you’re better than you think you are,” Merkle said. “Our students are really good, but they don’t truly understand just how good they are. I hope Grand Valley helps them flourish.”

At Merkle’s Last Lecture in the fall, he highlighted the value of working hard for something he is passionate about. Merkle said all the work he and his staff have put in to the university over the years is incredibly rewarding.

“I feel so fortunate and honored to have landed at Grand Valley and all that we’ve been able to do,” he said.