Fresh faces

Introducing the seven new Ferris Foundation Directors

(From left to right) Matt Bissett, Jenifer Cutter, Denise Graves, Dana King, David Pilgrim, Christine Visner and Russ Visner join the 28-member appointed Board of Directors for the Ferris Foundation. Graphic by: Cassidy Jessup | Multimedia Editor | Photos courtesy of Ferris State University

The Ferris Foundation, Ferris’ philanthropic board of directors, welcomed seven new directors in December.

The new directors include Matt Bissett, Jenifer Cutter, Denise Graves, Dana King, David Pilgrim, Christine “Chris” Visner and Russ Visner.

Kimberly Erickson has been the Ferris Foundation Assistant for the past 16 years, and she is the direct contact for the 28-member board of directors.

She explained that the Ferris Foundation is made up of a diverse group of individuals that represent various industries.

“The new directors bring with them connections to individuals, corporations and foundations that will continue to help students and faculty at Ferris State University and Kendall College of Art and Design. This group has displayed energy and interest in moving Ferris forward and is committed to providing connections for financial support for the University,” Erickson wrote in an email to the Torch.

According to Erickson, the process by which the new directors are confirmed is relatively simple. The current directors and others can suggest individuals who could potentially be good candidates. Once the individual has been vetted by the committee, they are then invited to join. If the individual accepts the invitation, they are voted on by the Ferris Foundation board and approved by the board of trustees.

To welcome the seven new directors, we would like to briefly introduce them.

Matt Bissett

Matt Bissett received his Bachelor of Science in surveying engineering from Ferris. From there he took on roles within Atwell LLC, and today he is both a partner and senior vice president there.

“I have real thankfulness, since Ferris gave me a foundation for success,” Bissett said in a university press brief.

This isn’t Bissett’s first time being involved with Ferris since his graduation. He received the Distinguished Alumni award in 2014. Additionally, according to a university press brief, Bissett encouraged Atwell LLC to endow scholarships for surveying engineering students and those in the Associate of Applied Science degree for surveying technology at Ferris.

“I am still learning about The Ferris Foundation and its mission,” Bissett said in a university brief. “My early impressions are that this will be a great way to help the university improve the support that can be offered to students, faculty and staff in their pursuit of excellence.”

Jenifer Cutter

Jennifer Cutter graduated from Ferris in 2000 with a degree in hospitality management.

She was recommended to the board of directors by sport, entertainment and hospitality management associate professor Amy Dorey.

“I graduated from Ferris and have stayed connected, specifically through my program, the hospitality program,” Cutter said.

She stayed in touch with students through the program and is excited to make a further impact now that she’s a director with the Ferris Foundation.

Cutter further added that higher education has undergone a lot of changes, and she’s excited to explore ways to make Ferris more attractive to new students. This could mean doing more with virtual learning, adding more certifications or adding other new options for students.

“I think the next era of higher education looks probably quite a bit different than what the previous decades have looked like, or even the last five years,” Cutter said.

One of Cutter’s biggest goals in her new role is to use her platform to create awareness for Ferris and educate people about the work that Ferris is doing.

Denise Graves

Denise Graves graduated with a Bachelor of Science in accounting in 1989. A university brief explained that she is currently a university relations director in entrepreneurship and innovation for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Because of this role, she often interacts with Ferris’ Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Like many other new directors, she is excited to use her new platform with the Ferris Foundation to help Ferris in any way possible.

“I view The Ferris Foundation board as a great opportunity to do important work for students and to assist the faculty and staff of the university in moving forward. So, I am proud and honored to join such an esteemed group,” Graves said in a university brief.

Graves further added that once she has begun work with the foundation board, she is open to serving the university in other ways as well.

Dana King

Dana King is an Emmy award-winning television broadcaster turned sculptor. She graduated from Ferris with a Bachelor of Science in marketing in 1982.

The Jim Crow Museum is what originally brought her back to Ferris. She is involved with the Jim Crow expansion project as a member of the Jim Crow Museum Campaign Cabinet.

Now, King is a director with the Ferris Foundation and is also receiving her honorary Ph.D. from Ferris in May.

“I am so honored, like tears honored,” King said.

King explained that she is excited to pay it forward and help the university in any way possible. She views herself as an ambassador for Ferris, regardless of where she is or what she is doing.

“Everyone should know about the Jim Crow Museum, and everyone should know about Ferris because it’s an institution that has been driven by its mission to educate any and all people since the very beginning. To me, that’s what higher ed should be about. It shouldn’t be an exclusive space that keeps people out and is intimidating; it should be a welcoming space where people feel a sense of belonging, and that’s exactly what Ferris is,” King said.

David Pilgrim

David Pilgrim has been a member of the Ferris community since 1990.

He explained that he took this new role to make a positive impact on the University.

“These are challenging times for Ferris State and most universities in Michigan and the nation. But we can do something special here—and I want to be a part of that ‘something special,’” Pilgrim wrote in an email to the Torch.

Pilgrim further explained that the Ferris Foundation mirrors many of his values in terms of diversity, inclusion and equity. He is hopeful that together, with the other directors, he can help the university in any way possible.

“Together we can continue to advance the mission and vision of the University—and we can do it in a way that builds a campus that belongs to all of us as much as it belongs to any of us,” Pilgrim wrote.

Christine “Chris” Visner

Chris Visner has joined the directors of the Ferris Foundation beside her husband, Russ Visner.

As reported in a university brief, Visner graduated from Ferris with a Bachelor of Science in secondary education. While at Ferris, she was the first woman to serve as All College Student Government President and was Ferris State College’s Woman of the Year in 1972.

Her father was also involved in the Ferris community, and she is excited to continue to use her abilities to benefit Ferris and its students.

“I can hardly wait to begin my service on the board, as my dad also lent his talents and energy to areas like the Residence Hall Association and Student Government,” Visner said in a university brief.

Visner also explained that she’s excited to be taking this role alongside her husband.

“This is an exciting time to serve [and] support the intentions of the board of trustees and be among the attributes available to the next president of the university. We are very much looking forward to it,” Visner said.

Russ Visner

Russ Visner received his Bachelor of Science in accounting from Ferris, then he became a CPA. He worked for 36 years at Etna Supply Company. During his time there, the plumbing, water system hardware and fire suppression implement distributor grew into a multi-state operation. He retired as both the CEO and owner.

Visner expressed excitement over this opportunity to give back to the university after Ferris has given so much to both him and his wife.

“We thought about our time together at Ferris, which means so much since it allowed us to do as we had hoped, which now includes serving our alma mater together,” Visner said in a university brief.

Visner has an extensive background in community service and professional organization leadership. He hopes his contributions through the Ferris Foundation can be of benefit to the students, faculty and staff at Ferris.