Van Andel Institute Graduate School receives institutional accreditation


Grand Rapids, Mich. (Nov. 19, 2013) –  Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) has received institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for its Ph.D. program in cell, molecular and genetic biology of human disease. The innovative inquiry-based curriculum of VAIGS combines translational and biomedical research with professional mentorship by the scientists of Van Andel Research Institute, with further advice and evaluation from faculty members at other research institutes and universities.

VAIGS was granted candidacy in 2011 after a formal review by the HLC. Candidacy for institutions seeking accreditation is usually a four-year process, but VAIGS was able to halve that time through rigorous examination of its mission, formal education activities, administration, financial stability, student services, institutional resources, student learning and institutional effectiveness. After a second review in 2013, the HLC granted VAIGS initial accreditation, which provides a public certification of acceptable institutional quality.

The accreditation represents affirmation by the larger academic community that we meet their standards and expectations,” said Dr. Steven Triezenberg, President and Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School. “It reinforces that the innovative and creative way we went about developing this program is appropriate.

VAIGS focuses on developing students to become scientists and research leaders early in their career by teaching them to think and act like scientists. The problem-based curriculum developed by VAIGS is unique; to Dr. Triezenberg’s knowledge, no other program like this one currently exists. VAIGS graduate students work alongside experienced researchers and receive valuable one-on-one training. On average, only one graduate student is placed into each lab.

The program is still relatively small, and that’s by design. “We don’t strive to be the largest, but to be among the best,” said Triezenberg. Currently twenty-two students are enrolled at VAIGS and another six are expected to be accepted into next year’s incoming class.

“I want to commend the students who put their confidence and faith in us when they signed up for a graduate program that wasn’t tested,” Triezenberg said. The first students joined VAIGS inaugural class in 2007. Last year, two of those students graduated with Ph.D. degrees and accepted postdoctoral positions at first-rate university labs.

“I was warned before I accepted a position at VAIGS that I was taking a risk if I chose to attend an unaccredited institute for my graduate work, especially one so distinctly different from most other programs,” said Laura Westrate, VAIGS student who joined the program during its second year of existence and is graduating in December. “However, after interviewing at Van Andel Institute I felt the risk seemed minimal. The training program was, and still is, uniquely designed to effectively transition students to scientists.”

The Higher Learning Commission is responsible for accrediting degree-granting institutions of higher education, and is part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States.


About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent research and educational organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process.  Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research arm, is dedicated to studying the genetic, cellular and molecular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. This is accomplished through the work of more than 200 researchers in on-site laboratories and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Find out more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting www.vai.org