Three Grand Rapids Community College trustee seats are open this November, and five community members are vying for them. All of the seats are six year terms, two of them are currently held by 19-year trustee Richard Verburg and 25-year trustee Ellen James. The third seat is currently held by trustee David Koetje, who was chosen to fill the seat after the death of former trustee Richard Ryskamp.
A forum will be held from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. today in 108 Sneden Hall, DeVos Campus, 415 East Fulton Street.
Kenyatta Brame was born and raised in Grand Rapids. He attended City High School, took
some classes at GRCC and attended Wabash College, where he studied political science and psychology. He later earned a law doctorate at the University of Michigan and a MBA at Michigan State University.
Brame has been the executive vice president for Cascade Engineering since 2006. Before that, he was an attorney at Miller Johnson Attorneys and the senior vice president of operations and marketing at Sisco Foods.
“As a business person, I understand the training and the skills that the school can provide to help us be successful,” Brame said about both technical skills and general education. “I think that community college is a gateway to success for many people in our community.”
As a trustee, Brame wants to make sure anyone who wants access to GRCC, gets it.
“I want to make sure the community college is fair and is providing opportunities to those that need it,” Brame said. “I want to make sure it’s affordable. I want to make sure the college is available to the citizens of Kent County. They’re doing a great job so far and I want to see that continue.”
“I think I can be a connection between business and the college, making sure that we’re providing those needs to businesses.”
Kathleen Bruinsma was born in Madison, WI. She went to Providence College before attending The University of Notre Dame Law School.
For the past 19 years, Bruinsma has been a business attorney in Grand Rapids. She said her experience in her current career would benefit her as a trustee.
“My experience as a lawyer has trained me to be very precise with language and it’s a policy-based board,” Bruinsma said. “I also have a lot of connections in the community that are fresh.”
Bruinsma, 46, has two kids – a high school sophomore and a seventh grader – who will be looking at college options in the next couple years.
“I am starting to look at price per credit hour, college options for both of my kids,” Bruinsma said. “My husband and I are going to be in that in two to three years, so I think that is a perspective that is going to be very valuable on the board.”
Bruinsma also has a nephew who is currently attending GRCC.
Koetje started as a GRCC trustee a year ago. He said he decided then that he would run
again, a year later, to stay in the seat.
“(GRCC) is a collection of some really wonderful people,” Koetje, 66, said. “And I’m just honored to be apart of that group.”
Koetje is from West Michigan. He began his career in education as a teacher, and moved his way up into administration. He retired as President and CEO of Christian Schools International.
Koetje said the future of the community college relies on how well its governance functions.
“What I bring to that table is both a scholar and a practitioner around issues of governance,” Koetje said.
Koetje hopes to get elected to stay on the board.
“Serving this board for me is my way of trying to give something back to the community,” Koetje said.
Koetje’s campaign website is www.koetjeforgrcc.org.
C.J. Shroll grew up in Grand Rapids, attending Creston High School and then Michigan
Technological University. When he decided that he didn’t want to be an engineer, he came back and took classes at GRCC. He eventually got a bachelor’s of science in education at Western Michigan University.
Shroll, 72, started his career as a teacher at Ottawa Hills High Shool. After that, he worked in a family construction business for becoming a job training professor at GRCC. A year and a half later, he became the Junior College Occupational Training Director, overseeing what is now done in the Tassel M-TEC.
Shroll said the main role of a trustee is to be a communicator, between the community, taxpayers and the college.
“It’s very important and valuable to everybody if the college is aligned with what’s going on in the community,” Shroll said. “It’s about keeping the community and the college together, that is what I really looked at when I was here, the college being very involved in economic development.”
Shroll went for Ryskamp’s seat last year, that ended up going to Koetje. Since then, for the past year, Shroll has been at almost every board of trustees meeting and retreat. Shroll said being up to speed sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I can’t imagine that the other candidates haven’t been here,” Shroll said.
Additionally, Shroll worked at GRCC during presidential transitions, so he said his experience in that will help him as a trustee with the new president to be hired next year.
Keith Wakefield was born and raised in Grand Rapids. He graduated from Grand Rapids Central High School and spent two years at Grand Rapids Junior College before transferring to Wayne State University with a degree in education.
In an effort to help pay off his loans, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard for what he planned to be a short time. Thirty years later, Wakefield retired as an officer and came back to Grand Rapids, where he continued to work as a civilian for the U.S. Coast Guard until 2011.
In the summer of 2012, Wakefield went back to GRCC and decided to finish up an associate’s degree. He graduated in 2014.
Wakefield said his experience as a veteran would give him a good perspective as a trustee.
“One of the things I can bring to the table is my experience outside of Grand Rapids,” Wakefield said. “I’ve traveled a lot … I think my military background gives me an overview that might not be on the board.”
Wakefield, 67, also said he is relatable to students because he is a recent graduate.
“I’ve eaten the tacos in Winchester Alley,” Wakefield said. “I’ve fought the parking ramp situation. I know what it’s like to have your card not work at the gate when you’re trying to get out of here on a cold February day.”
As a trustee, Wakefield wants to reach out to veterans in Grand Rapids who might not know about all the opportunities at GRCC. He also wants to reach out to “older,” non-traditional students as well. Wakefield also added that he supports free college tuition, that a four-year degree should be free.
Brame, Bruinsma and Koetje are running together, as they were the first to file earlier this year and joined campaigns.