Aug. 28 2013 12:00 AM

Career-focused Davenport University plants its big 'D' in downtown Lansing

One of the best things about a new building is that everything works. Students at career-focused Davenport University’s new downtown Lansing campus may find that some things work too well.

The nursing practice dummies cough, complain, vomit and die. The female unit even gives birth. (She wasn’t allowed to demonstrate that ability at a ribbon cutting and open house last week, because she screams a lot.)

These days, to train professionals in the three fastest growing job fields — technology, business and health — you have to prestress students like concrete. At a realistic “hospital” on the Lansing campus’ eighth floor, teachers can watch students treat “patients” from behind one-way glass.

In the second-floor Cisco network administration-training center, banks of phones and computers have simulated breakdowns students have to fix in real time. The disembodied limbs in the phlebotomy lab squirt red stuff if you mishandle them. God only knows what goes on in the accounting classrooms.

There’s a library in the new building, too, but hands-on experience is integral to Davenport’s $12 million, 55,000-squarefoot Lansing campus at 200 S. Grand Ave.

The capstone went on the nine-story edifice last month, when a big “D,” visible as a Bat-signal on the city’s night skyline, was hoisted on top.

About 800 students are enrolled at the Lansing campus this fall, but the university plans to expand its programs in the near and long term. The new building can accommodate up to 2,000 additional full- and parttime students.

Statewide, Davenport is a growing concern, with 12 campuses and about 11,000 students. It boasts it is the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher learning in Michigan, following Baker College.

Like Meijer, Davenport is an import from Grand Rapids. Its precursor, the tiny Grand Rapids Business College in 1866, almost closed in 1910 due to low enrollment. A hard-charging teacher, Michael Davenport, took over as president, turned the school around, and remained president until 1959.

In the 1970s, the college grew into a university, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, and started adding campuses across the state. The university had another big growth spurt in the 2000s, when the Detroit College of Business and Great Lakes College were consolidated under the Davenport umbrella.

There aren’t any frills on the fall class schedule at the Lansing campus. Courses cluster around job-rich fields like health-care reimbursement and coding, information security, criminology, finance and accounting.

The new building is a significant investment and a boost to Lansing’s growing downtown bustle, but Davenport is looking beyond infrastructure to develop academic pipelines that soak into the real world as fast as possible.

Some of the new programs at Davenport won’t rely on classroom space at all. Next year, Davenport will launch a new College of Urban Education, designed to face the challenge of teaching in troubled cities. When the program is up and running, Davenport students will fan out into school districts across the state, Lansing’s included, to get first-hand experience working in urban areas. “It’s a new world,” declared Andre Perry, dean of Davenport’s College of Urban Education. “We are re-conceptualizing what it means be a college campus.”