By Kayla Tucker – Managing Editor
An emotional convocation ceremony led by President Steven Ender this morning kicked off the school year for faculty and staff at Grand Rapids Community College.
Nikki Banks, Criminal Justice Department Head, accepted the Academic Excellence Award beside her friends, family, and pastor. Banks graduated from GRCC in 1989 with an associate’s of arts degree and played on the tennis team. She has now worked at the college for 10 years.
After the ceremony, the one word Banks used to describe herself was “humbled.”
“These folks here do such an awesome job,” Banks said. “(I’m) thankful to be apart of the GRCC family.”
Banks’ 14-year-old daughter was one of the surprise guests at the ceremony.
“I think that she deserves it for not all that she does here but at home,” she said, who plans on attending GRCC in the future and majoring in Criminal Justice.
The second award, the Excellence in Education staff award, was given to Amy Autsema Bennett, office manager at the Ford Fieldhouse.
Bennett, who has worked at GRCC for 16 years, said she is “surprised and delighted” to receive the award. Bennett graduated from GRCC about four years ago.
Ender honored the various awards that were given to departments of the college this year, including the Visual Arts department and the FastTrack program. He also noted the decline in enrollment this fall.
“As we think about our students and their success, it would be ridiculous not to mention our ongoing enrollment plunge as our credit enrollment follows 2008 levels, eliminating all the gains that we experienced through the great recession,” Ender said.
Ender went on to recognize the construction that was completed this summer in the Main Building, Student Center, Data Center, Tassel M-Tec building and various signage across campus.
The current construction of the craft brewing equipment in The Heritage restaurant was mentioned, as well as the complete renovation of the Music Center, which will begin in the spring.
Ender announced this morning that the new preschool, to break ground today, will be dedicated to Phyllis Fratzke, founder of GRCC’s Childhood Development Program in the 1970s, who founded the lab preschool in 1974.
The Music building, which will undergo complete renovation in the spring, will be dedicated to former faculty member Albert P. Smith, casually known as “Smitty.”
Laurie Chesley, Provost, was next to speak at the podium.
“No matter our role at the college, we all want the same things for our students and we all want to live in their memories one day,” Chesley said. “Sometimes, we have no idea how much we matter.”
Dean and Vice President of GRCC’s School of Workforce Development, Bill Pink, brought five first generation students to the stage, all GRCC alumni, to speak on their college experience and give advice to the crowd of GRCC staffers.
“Be willing to give us who you are outside of your job,” Sean Smith, GRCC alumni, said. “Because we’re coming to you with everything we have.”