GRCC History Spots – Highlighting People, Places and Events

by Dave Murray
Grand Rapids Community College
Grand Rapids, MI


It started when crews renovating Grand Rapids Community College’s Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall removed some very, very old carpet and uncovered something special.


There was a magnificent design in the terrazzo, a medallion with numbers between 35 and 44 that we assumed represented years of graduating classes.


Research traced the design back to the venerable building’s original use as Davis Technical High School, which we learned was one of the first vocational high schools in the nation.


Few people were aware the medallion was there, and what it represented. We considered creating a plaque to tell the story of Davis Tech, when we realized there was so much history on campus that people just did not know.


We spend so much time looking forward that we don’t often recognize the impact of the past. We wanted to celebrate our history, and also instill pride in our students, employees and community members.


Community colleges often battle a stigma. We want people attending to be proud, not just of the excellent education they are receiving, but that they are part of something special that started back in 1914.


GRCC is Michigan’s first community college, and so many of its buildings play an important role in local and even national history! We’re telling these stories through GRCC History Spots, highlighting our people, places and events.


GRCC designer Ben Benefiel crafted a mix of historic photos and information for a series of plaques to be placed around campus in places where the history happened. We kept the copy to a few paragraphs to be read by passing students and community members.


Some plaques talk about buildings, noting our Alfred P. Smith Music Building was once Michigan’s first junior high school. Others talk about visits from presidents, civil rights icons and legendary entertainers. The most recent event highlighted is from 2016, when GRCC became the first college in the nation to be federally and state-licensed to own and operate a brewery and pub that generates revenue.


All colleges have a history with stories to inspire, and have opportunities to tell through ambient learning and event social media.


The old Davis Tech medallion was polished and remains uncovered for futures generations to see. And we’ll keep creating GRCC History Spots. We want students to understand the college’s role in shaping our community, and also get them thinking about how they will change the future.


Dave Murray is the communications director at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan. 

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