Former governor speaks at GV

GVL/Spencer Miller
Govenor John Engler (left) Gleaves Whitney (right)

GVL/Spencer Miller Govenor John Engler (left) Gleaves Whitney (right)

Lucas Escalada

Focusing on education, reworking immigration and fostering innovation are key elements to the future of the nation, said former Governor John Engler at Grand Valley State University on Monday.

Speaking at the final Peter F. Secchia breakfast lecture at the L. William Seidman Center, Engler shared his thoughts on a multitude of topics with GVSU students, faculty and members of the Grand Rapids community.

Engler, who served as Governor of Michigan from 1991 to 2003, said the nation has not made the right kind of investments. A lot of time and money has been spent on higher education, and while he still believes those investments are paying off, improvements need to be made in the elementary school levels.

“We spend $700 billion a year but, nationally, 36 percent is the number that can read proficiently after four years at the end of the third grade,” Engler said. “That’s just unacceptable – we can’t make it with that kind of performance.”

After four years of school, Engler believes there should be 100 percent reading proficiency. He sees that as an important measurement: if schools cannot teach students to read, any kind of conversation regarding what to do in science or math is not going to work.

The value of human capital is set through education. If West Michigan really wanted to set itself apart from the rest of the state, it should invest heavily in education, Engler said.

Engler added that education needs to get to a point where every student who graduates high school can go to college without the need for remediation. He believes too much money is spent on remediation – students should be prepared for college when they leave high school; it is not helpful to try to prepare them when they are already at a university.

Engler said students need to be prepared for a more global world – that in 20 years, many CEOs may not be U.S. born. Bringing the best businessmen and businesswomen to run these companies is important, and if one wants to be a part of these businesses, one must think globally.

“It can’t be the policy of the United States that sports teams get to have the best players in the world, but companies don’t get to have the best engineers, the best scientists, the best chemists for the world,” Engler said.

A crowd member asked the former governor if he had any advice or thoughts for aspiring innovators in Michigan. Engler said there is a lot of talent and innovation in the state, but they need help in order to succeed.

Companies need to create a winning culture, Engler said. He added that plenty of innovators have the ideas necessary to succeed, but one of the most important parts of companies is their attitude when they tackle their businesses.

He also spoke of CEOs, saying leaders are not just captains of a team. They need to get involved and become a part of the success story.

GVSU President Thomas J. Haas thanked the former governor for his investments on the university when he was in office. Haas said those investments in infrastructure and attracting good students are paying off. This year, 56,000 graduates will join the workforce and 86 percent of them will stay in Michigan, Haas said.

The Seidman College of Business, on behalf of the Peter F. Secchia breakfast series, will contribute a hybrid water filter in Engler’s name to Pure Water for the World in Honduras.

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