2019 - 2020 Year In Review

The West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology provides a culture of opportunity for people to make social and economic progress in their lives and community. We support families in pursuing new opportunity pathways through career training, and arts + tech engagement.

A Look Back

The 2019-2020 program year for WMCAT was marked by perseverance and success for our students, exhaustion and anxiety as we all navigated the sudden onset of the pandemic, and reflection on the rewarding and challenging work of community prosperity. Through it all, I was continually inspired by the creativity and tenacity of WMCAT’s students, the innovation of our partners in social justice, and the support of our donors and friends. When the pressure of seeking justice knocks you off balance, you lean into the work to recalibrate. That is what WMCAT accomplished this past year — leaning into our mission of equitable access to opportunity. I am honored to share with you this WMCAT year in review for 2020. Thank you for all you do to sustain the work.

Daniel Williams, EdD
President + CEO
West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT)

Special COVID-19 Response

WMCAT was and is committed to providing a safe and inclusive space for young people and adults to pursue opportunity. That commitment meant we were and we still are vigilant about the safety of our students, staff and community. Following the extended “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order given by Governor Whitmer for the State of Michigan in response to COVID-19, WMCAT suspended all on-site programming and remained closed until June 2020. 

During that time, WMCAT staff contributed ideas, resource options, and worked with their connections from around the community to help build this resource guide for our students and their families. It provided opportunities and organization for families during a chaotic time as they focused on staying healthy. 

Teen Arts + Tech staff continued to connect with students remotely through a variety of approaches when Michigan was shut down due to COVID-19. Several studios completed collaborative projects on which work had begun pre-COVID, while others shifted to less-studio-specific activities using resources easily accessible in students’ homes

No matter the content or platform used for connection, we centered most of their efforts on supporting teens’ social-emotional needs. In conversations with parents, many expressed that the impact of quarantine on their teens was especially difficult. We recognized early on that many students simply needed a space to connect with peers to process the sudden changes and uncertainty of the global health crisis.

Workforce Development prioritized continued access to learning, exam preparation, health and well-being, and maintaining momentum in the career journey. 

We quickly transitioned to remote learning, extended emotional and financial support to students and families, curated experiential learning, and enhanced social capital by connecting students with professionals in the field (including alumni). 

Specifically, we:

  • Provided immediate financial support to adult students and families (mortgage/rent, car repair, essential home supplies).
  • Leveraged additional financial support through the Kent County Relief Fund for 5 students.
  • Encouraged students to prioritize their mental and emotional health. Seven (7) students met with our Arbor Circle therapist during the pandemic.
  • Held a “Drive-thru Graduation” so families and staff could celebrate students safely.

WMCAT along with the program participants were disappointed that we were not able to complete the program in person, but the program continued virtually with classes and online meetings with industry professionals, in addition to 1-on-1 phone calls between instructor and students. We were able to connect students to additional financial support through the WMCAT Fund and Kent County Relief Fund.

We were able to quickly adapt our content in order to facilitate online/ virtual sessions. By utilizing Zoom and transferring our typical sticky-note ideation process to Mural, an effective online whiteboard platform, we maintained the quality of work and connection to clients.

Ambrose at WMCAT was closed according to Michigan’s executive orders. Once possible, the print shop opened with reduced capacity–production capabilities. We were available to our clients through email, phone, and video calls the whole time. We launched a pilot project, Bound As One during the spring and were able to raise $3,884.41 for local businesses.

Bound as One — supporting small businesses

Social capital is important to Juan Garcia, manager of Ambrose at WMCAT. As the pandemic forced the closing of businesses in his community, Juan wanted to help his neighbors. This led to Bound As One, a project that encouraged patrons of local businesses to purchase our custom-designed and hand-screen-printed t-shirts and tote bags to support their favorite neighborhood spots. With 50 percent of the proceeds of each purchase going to the featured local business, Bound as One created an immediate impact. 

Cyber Hub at WMCAT was able to quickly provide a free resource, “Teach Yourself InfoSec” that connected individuals with opportunities to either begin their career pathway or learn more about the technology industry itself. Summer camps for middle school and high school students went virtual and we were able to host community events through Zoom to keep the cyber community connected.


Adult Career Training Program: Literacy Center of West Michigan and WMCAT continue partnership to engage adult second language learners in preparing for career training as pharmacy technicians.

Literacy Center of West Michigan and WMCAT continue partnership to engage adult second language learners in preparing for career training as pharmacy technicians.

Adult Career Training Program

7th Annual Purple Event hosted at WMCAT engaged cybersecurity professionals, students, and community members with live hacking competitions and VR experiences.

Cyber Hub at WMCAT 

Teens in Idea Lab, an eight-week paid creative experience, worked with Project 1 by ArtPrize to collect video interviews of Grand Rapidians on the topic of belonging.

Teen Arts + Tech Program

FALL 2019

Teen Arts + Tech program kicked-off and engaged 147 students throughout the program with representation from all eight GRPS high schools. 100 percent of students felt that WMCAT promotes a positive learning environment and that staff care about them as a person.

Teen Arts + Tech Program

Teen artists from 3D Game Art, Ceramics, and Illustration studios collaborated to create original characters and a Pokémon-Go experience at John Ball Zoo. The installation was canceled due to COVID-19, but digital renderings are online.

Teen Arts + Tech Program 

Adult Career Training kicked off with students in medical billing, medical coding, and pharmacy technician and an average attendance of 90 percent. The retention rate for the program was 81 percent despite transitioning to remote learning during the shutdown.

Adult Career Training Program

WMCAT pilots Workforce University with partner Strong Beginnings with 8 parents focused on personal leadership, career exploration, and social capital experiences.

Workforce University

Adult students attended the Mix-n-Mingle event in December with local professionals as a way to build social capital and network within the healthcare industry.

Adult Career Training Program

Cyber Hub at WMCAT trained 32 people in bootcamps, and workshops, and focused on cybersecurity while becoming a CompTIA Authorized Academy Partner and Cisco Networking Academy.

Cyber Hub at WMCAT


Cyber Hub at WMCAT hosted 15 community events and professional meetings connecting the cybersecurity sector in WMCAT’s neutrally-located space.

Cyber Hub at WMCAT

Students from GRPS middle school classrooms participated in STEAM learning through WMCAT’s Daytime Studios and collaborated to create original projects while using video production, ceramics, game design, and more.

Daytime Studios

Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards honored a record 75 award-winning entries by WMCAT teens. One student, Esteban Clark-Braendle won a national gold medal in photography for his submission titled, “False.”

Teen Arts + Tech Program

Pharmacy technician students were celebrated at the annual Blue Coat Ceremony as students were ready to take the next step and begin their retail externship.

Adult Career Training Program 

A new cohort of Step Year launched with 12 young adults – doubling the program from the prior year. One student in the cohort found the program after working and living on his own after high school and utilized the program for self-exploration. He is now attending Kettering to pursue a degree in engineering.

Step Year at WMCAT

Medical billing and pharmacy tech students began externships at local employers, gaining hands-on experience when they were disrupted due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Adult Career Training Program

WMCAT’s annual gala iBall was held on March 5 and honored Urban Core Collective, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and former teen student, Joshua Peoples. The event raised funds to support the mission and marked the last-in person event for many before COVID-19 shutdown Michigan.



Teen artists in the Advanced Video Production studio were working on an original sketch-comedy project when COVID-19 forced remote learning. The students quickly pivoted and revamped their launch to be completely digital. It premiered on April 30.

Teen Arts + Tech Program

Arts + Tech staff were in communication with students and parents throughout the spring as they wrapped up the semester. Several parents noted the importance of the program in their teen’s daily life.

Teen Arts + Tech Program

Teaching artists mailed kits to home students to continue creativity despite being remote. In lieu of a Spring Exhibition at WMCAT, students compiled their work and a digital gallery was created and shared with students and their families.

Teen Arts + Tech Program

Adult learning moved online to ensure students could finish coursework. Emotional and financial support was provided to students and families, curated experiential learning at home, and enhanced social capital by connecting students with professionals in the field (including alumni).

Step Year

Adult Career Training Program

During the shutdown, students in the pharmacy technician cohort were able to access Meijer’s certification exam which licensed students to work in any pharmacy in Michigan. Seven of our eight students passed Meijer’s certification exam.

Adult Career Training Program

The annual graduation ceremony in June became a “Drive-thru Graduation” so families and staff could celebrate students safely. The community also helped create special videos to encourage students on their journeys.

Adult Career Training Program 

Ambrose launched pilot program, “Bound As One” that raised $3,884.41 for neighboring businesses during the crisis by selling custom-designed and hand-screen-printed t-shirts and totes. Fifty percent of all proceeds were donated back to the participating businesses

Ambrose at WMCAT

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