Today, a panel of four Grand Rapids Community College students spoke at the winter semester opening day event in the Ford Fieldhouse to start the winter semester.
Before the students entered the stage, GRCC President Bill Pink spoke to the large audience of students and faculty about the major economic impact that GRCC has on Kent and Ottawa counties.
In the late 2017 fall semester, EMIS, a company that provides economic impact studies and labor market data, evaluated GRCC’s impact on the surrounding community. Pink showed data showing that the college added $413.5 million to the economy in Kent County and added $34.2 million in Ottawa County.
“From an institutional standpoint, and I feel that it’s a big part of my job now that we have to make sure that our region understands and knows who we are and what we are, what we look like,” Pink said. “…This data is data that I want to make sure that our region knows about.”
Next, student panelists Melissa Jones, Marcus Barissi, Elijah Paparella, and Kyezie Bwanangela took to the stage to discuss their journey at GRCC.
Jones, a nursing student, and mother of three is attending GRCC for the second time after taking a three-year break.
Barissi is vice president of Phi Theta Kappa and studying pre-med at GRCC in the hopes of going to medical school.“I never thought I would come to GRCC,” Barissi said. “But for certain circumstances, I came here and I couldn’t be more happy thanks to all of you (faculty).”
Paparella is a computer science major at GRCC as well as a tutor on a range of subjects.
Bwanangela, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a criminal justice major as well the Vice President of Operations for Student Alliance.
All of the student’s experiences on their journey to GRCC were very different. Jones said that she knew that she wanted to come to GRCC because of Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training that was held on campus.
“I liked the atmosphere and it was that moment that I thought ‘oh this will be a good place for me to start pursuing further into my nursing,’” Jones said.
Barissi explained that his path to becoming a GRCC student was the complete opposite of Jones’s.
“I never thought that I would come to GRCC,” Barissi said. “When I was in high school, I quickly dismissed the idea that I would ever go to a community college and now that I’m here, I’ve completely changed that viewpoint.”
During high school, Barissi was diagnosed with several chronic medical issues. Barissi said that he felt that his school didn’t know how to handle this problem which caused him to miss most of his high school career.
“Most people don’t know this, but I actually didn’t graduate high school,” Barissi said. “It was getting better towards the end of my senior year, but my teachers and administration were really frustrated with the situation.”
Barissi recalled that one of his administrators told him that he was never going to amount to anything.
“After walking out, I took the GED and got the highest score the proctor had ever seen in conjunction, came to GRCC and haven’t look back ever since,” He said. “And I couldn’t be more proud of my past because I showed people that I was capable of succeeding.”
Paparella said that his road to GRCC was similar to Barissi’s where he faced obstacles trouble in high school and illness.
“I always learned this differently and didn’t really succeed in high school, and in conjunction with that, my father contracted an illness which put a wrench into the works,” Paparella said. “I didn’t really know where I was going to go or what I was going to do.”
Paparella said that he considered GRCC because both of this parents had attended community colleges. He saw that it worked for his father because he attended law school afterward.
“I realized that a community college is not anything to be ashamed of and it won’t put you back because I saw my own father and where it put him,” He said.
For Bwanangela, his first semester at GRCC was rocky because his English was not up to the administration’s standards.This meant that he had to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes until he knew enough of the English language to be able to enroll in regular learning classes.
“In the year, I wasn’t feeling good because I knew that I didn’t come to learn English, I came to continue my education,” Bwanangela said.
After many attempts to persuade his academic advisor to enroll him in regular classes, he was still denied. Tired of being told to stay in ESL, Bwanangela enrolled himself in a regular math and biology class.
“It was hard in the first month because I couldn’t understand anything,” Bwanangela joked. “I would try to translate the words on tests to English and then back to French and the end of that semester, I made the Dean’s list.”
The panelists also talked about what made GRCC so great and how it has helped them.
“One thing that I was really surprised by was the amount of pride that people took in their work,” Paparella said.
He talked about his experience of working on campus like in the kitchen where he was told to spit out his gum when going into a job interview.
Lastly, the students were asked what they think the faculty doesn’t know about that could help the students even more to build success.
“I think that there should be more open discussions about how things are graded,” Paparella said. “I think that shouldn’t be just a taboo subject to talk about in the classroom.”
On the other hand, Jones said that she wouldn’t want to change anything.
“I just want to say to keep doing – do the right thing and just be there and you guys (the faculty) are amazing.”
Barissi shared similar views as Jones did.
“From the start, it was a shock to go from a high school where the teachers didn’t really care about my education to now where my teachers will make sure that all questions are asked and they make sure that you are doing all of the work so you can to succeed.”
Before the end of the event, Pink let the audience go with uplifting words.
“The patterns that I’ve seen are that each of you has had someone or something try to stop you from succeeding, and what I’ve heard is that when you get (to GRCC), people have told you that you can succeed,” Pink said. “For me, that is so encouraging for our institution and for incoming students. I’d like to thank the students that are here this morning and the faculty who came. Go Raiders! Let’s get off to a good semester.”