John Helmholdt

Public Relations Professional – John Helmholdt

A longtime public relations professional, john helmholdt is the executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools. He also co-owns a political consulting firm.

The district eliminated school uniform policies this year after a survey of students, teachers and parents showed that nearly 70% said they were against them. It’s a change Helmholdt said is an effort to empower scholars and give them a voice in their education.

Early Life and Education

John Helmholdt was born in Potsdam, Germany, and grew up with a strong intellectual heritage. He was influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and the naturalistic approach to science that flowed from their work.

He earned a medical doctorate in 1842, and served as an army surgeon while working on his research under Johannes Muller. He made frequent trips to Berlin, where he worked in Gustav Magnus’s laboratory and discussed his research with fellow students of Muller, including Emil du Bois-Reymond and Ernst Brucke.

In 1845, he joined the Berlin Physical Society, which du Bois-Reymond and Brucke founded with the express intention of banishing vitalism from scientific research. It was this relationship that eventually led to the publication of his famous book The Handbook of Physiology, which became an essential reference guide for students and researchers worldwide.

Professional Career

Currently the executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, he has been in the school business since 2007. Prior to that, Helmholdt co-owned a political consulting firm called Strategic Communications Group (formerly Jones, Gavan & Helmholdt). His community involvement includes being on the SmartZone local development authority board, the city’s NIA centre and advisory panels related to Montessori education.

The most exciting part of the job is seeing how much his students learn, even as they progress from preschool to a college degree and beyond. As for the work he does with his colleagues, it is a combination of fostering learning by design, identifying gaps in the curriculum and providing the necessary support to help bridge them. The most exciting challenge is ensuring that students get the best possible education, in the best possible environment.

Personal Life

Born in Potsdam to a family of educators, John Helmholdt was raised on a rich intellectual heritage that included classical philology, philosophy, and literature. He was also greatly influenced by the work of philosophers Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

After graduating from the gymnasium he received a government grant to study medicine at Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm Medical Institute. His tuition was free, but he had to serve eight years as an army doctor after graduation. During this time he attended physics lectures, studied the standard textbooks of higher mathematics, and took up playing the piano. He also spent a lot of time traveling to Berlin and working in Gustav Magnus’s laboratory. During this time he met several fellow students of Muller, including Emil du Bois-Reymond and Ernst Brucke.

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