Suanna Parker – Collegiate Staff
Recently Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink stopped by The Collegiate office for an interview with the student journalists. During his classroom visit, Pink discussed his motivation for becoming president and how coaching affected his career in academia. He also offered advice for the student body as a whole.
Pink, 51, the youngest of five children, was born and raised in Abilene, Texas.
Like many students, Pink found joy in playing sports, namely basketball. He played basketball throughout high school and then went on to play at Oklahoma Christian University before becoming a college basketball coach himself.
Pink, who coached college basketball for eight years, was first asked about coaching.
How has coaching influenced your educational career?
“One thing coaching taught me is the importance of being a team. Whatever the team is, whether the team is a group of men that I was coaching or whether the team is my executive team on this campus, that’s a team to me. So, in my regard, the question becomes, ‘how can I help them work together as a team for the betterment of our college and how can I motivate them to do their best work?’ because their motivation and their excitement and their teamwork are going to trickle down into everyone else who works at this institution. So, if I can take that team and I can help us work cohesively as a team then the trickle down effect of what their leadership and what my leadership means, means a lot in terms of the success of this college.”
What encouraged you to become President?
“For me as a lifelong educator, you can’t really complain unless you do something about it. That’s my premise in life. I don’t want to complain about it, whatever it is, unless I’m willing to do something about it. So, if I’m going to complain about education, you know, I wish college was more x, y, and z. Instead of just sitting around complaining about it, why can’t I get into the leadership position so now I can help chart that course? Work in my career to become president and now let’s do what I believe is good in terms of moving education and moving an institution to where I believe it could be.”
What is your number one priority as GRCC’s president?
“For me at GRCC that number one priority has many tentacles to it. My predecessor Dr. Ender did an awesome job with getting this college to the place where we are financially as well as a college in general. He did a great job of taking that baton and carrying it to a great level. My main focus is to make sure that in all facets of this college that we are able, under my presidency, to move it to the next level. What does that mean? Well, I believe that means our impact, not only in Grand Rapids, but our impact in West Michigan, and our reputation nationally. That we are able to continue to build the brand of Grand Rapids Community College.”
As you look to whatever your next is, whether that next is a university, whether that next is a job or both. The more I can do that as a President in putting this college at the best level and the highest level possible. It’s gonna make it all that much more better for our students.”
How many high schools do you work with to have students come and shadow you and why is that so important to you?
“So far it’s been two. I’m trying to work with as many (Grand Rapids Public Schools) as possible. I wanna take men like you see back there, and give them an opportunity to see what a CEO role looks like. A CEO at an institution like GRCC. So, that they can ask all the questions that they need to and so that they can also see what their possibilities are. I was just like them. I was at a high school that, it was a great high school that I went to, good education, but as far as my background is concerned and growing up the way I did, and where I did. I had two awesome parents, four siblings, youngest of five, but we grew up in poverty, and I was hopeful that one day I could go to college, but I wasn’t sure if that was a possibility.
I want to make sure that as many students as possible can walk around a campus like this, ask as many questions as they want to, see what I do, and say ‘I can do that one day’ because they can. I want to make sure that I can give them as many tips and tidbits as possible. I don’t want to force it on them, but I want to make sure they understand ‘here’s what your possibilities are’ and you can get to this place as well.’ I was in no better situation than any of the kids that come in here.
“I just wanna make sure that I’m doing all I can for our community in general.”
With you being the first African American President in GRCC history do you take significant pride in that, or not really pay attention to it?
“If I pay any attention to it at all it’s mainly from the standpoint of trying to be encouraging of the African American community, to the point I made earlier, you can accomplish. So, if there’s anything that I really take that for, it’s outwardly for people to be motivated. As far as I’m concerned I wanna believe that I became president here because of what I bring to the table that isn’t color-based, and so for me personally, while I appreciate it, I want to make sure that my leadership isn’t about the color of my skin that it’s about what I am to bring to the table as a leader. So, that’s where I really stay focused in that regard.”
What advice would you give to students who are moving on from here to a university or to a job?
“A couple things, number one, ask questions… Questions in terms of your instructor, questions in terms of people who you encounter, questions as far as just what you are looking at. Never walk out of the room and have questions that aren’t answered. Find out information. Don’t be afraid to ask.
“Second thing, not being afraid to ask for help. It’s okay. It’s alright to say to someone, ‘hey, I really need advice on, or I need help on.’ Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help because people who’ve been through it before can give you really good advice and can help. So, never being afraid to ask for help.
“Thirdly, be the best critical thinker you can possibly be. The best critical thinker because chances are what your associate and bachelor’s degree teaches you today, chances are the job you have 10 years from now may look a whole lot different than what it looks like today. The training that you get today, and it doesn’t matter what school you do it at, you can’t run from it, you can do it at Harvard, but the truth of the matter is what you’ll be looking at with your craft, 10 years from now, five years from now, may look a lot different. We are in a world that information and technology are truly pushing us, and if you don’t follow it you get left behind.
“It’s important to us that as we and as you guys stay at this thing called college that you are truly life-long learners because if you aren’t it’s easy for you in your profession to find yourself behind.”
Why the promotion and perpetuation of the Honors Program, and how at GRCC is it important to you, personally?
“Several reasons, one, people have to understand Grand Rapids Community College it’s not your mother’s, or your father’s, or your grandfather’s community college. And here’s what I mean by that: One thing about GRCC, this institution has had a great reputation in Grand Rapids for a long time. But with honors, what I mean with all of that, is that whether you’re in honors or not, this is an institution that truly prepares people for the next school, or for jobs, or for both, and it does a good job at doing so. It’s not that community college that some of us think, in terms of, ‘Oh well, if you can’t do anything else, you go to CC.’ You can’t think that way here because when you get here you’re gonna be challenged. It’s not one of those as though it’s an easy way out. No, it’s a higher education experience. So, with Honor’s what it means to me, is that it is another signpost for this community to know that not only do we provide this incredible education, but we provide honors programs just like the four-year school does.”
What can GRCC actually do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and students affected by it?
“I think what we do is continue to help all of our students. Our DACA students as well as those students who are not under DACA. To continue to feel that we are going to do all that we can to help them continue their education and to feel like they belong here. Because I want all of our students to feel like they belong here. I think the more that we continue to do from my office, from our board of trustees, and how we continue to put things out there in support of encouraging our legislatures to make decisions on this that are favorable to the people who this is the only country they really know. Obviously, we are just like any other public institution where we’re bound by law, but we want to do all we can to push in terms of helping those students to not only understand our support for them but also to help our community understand how much in support we are.?
Do you have any notable mentors from your life? What earns the stamp of mentor for you?
For me, mentorship meant a couple things. Those folks who weren’t afraid to sit down and tell you the good and the bad. It could be the good and bad about you. Able to say okay, you need to get rid of “this” whatever “this” is, and not be afraid to say it to you. It does me no good if all you say is “oh, you’re so great”. It’s like no, just tell me the truth. You can’t get better without that. So, those folks who tell me the truth, those folks who can say here’s what I did and it didn’t work and here’s what I did that did work. Cause if it doesn’t work I don’t want to do it again! So, I need to hear that, but I also need to hear why it did work because sometimes it’s just that you didn’t do it right or you have a different way of doing it. But mentorship to me means it’s someone I can look to and can give me the good and the bad about what I’m doing, or the good and the bad about my idea. I can go, ‘I really think I can do x, y, and z, and they say ‘x and y is a good idea, but stay away from z!
“That someone who can give me that honest feedback is vitally important.”
President Pink ended his Collegiate visit by echoing some of the sentiments shared during his investiture ceremony.
“We have the power of education, we have the power of training, we have hope. We give people hope. We looked at data from last year and over 40 percent of our student body comes to school hungry, haven’t eaten. A large percentage of our student body has housing insecurities. They may stay somewhere tonight and stay somewhere different the next night, but they’re still trying to get school done.”
“So, how is it that you come to school hungry, or really hadn’t had a good night’s sleep and then we ask you to learn. How hard is that? “But I will tell you that many of our students persevere and end up, and it may not take them two years friends, it may take them five or six to finish an associate’s degree, but you know what, they finish. And when you hear some of the stories. These situations make me want to scream: How do we help? How can I make sure that you are successful? How can I just grab you and carry you across the finish line? But that’s what we do here. That’s the power of the community college.”
“We are about hope, we give people a chance, we change poverty cycles. We change that cycle. It’s so much of a cycle that if we can truly be the changer in that. Then we have done something in terms of advanced our whole community. We have that kind of opportunity.”