By Sherry Sokolowski
Most students come to Grand Rapids Community College solely to take classes and then they are on their way to another university or onto their next point in life. However, some students grow roots here, absolutely love it, and then they never end up leaving.
There are many professionals here at GRCC who started out as student employees, fell in love with the world of higher education, and then ended up making their careers here. As a student employee myself, I talked with three individuals who I’ve worked with during my time here – Jose Mora, Tyler Anderson, and Evan Macklin – all who got their foundation here as student employees.
JOSE MORA, New Student Orientation Coordinator:
GRCC was initially Mora’s backup plan when he was applying to universities. As a first-generation college student, he was stepping into the world of higher education without much guidance. He had heard about the negative stereotypes surrounding community college from his classmates and ended up applying to schools all over Michigan. After getting accepted into Michigan State University and realizing how expensive tuition was, he grudgingly made the practical decision to start at GRCC to save money.
At first, Mora’s experience at GRCC started out like any other student’s. He was a commuter student, going to classes and then heading straight home – which didn’t allow him to meet and connect with many people. He was also a naturally introverted person at the time which made things more difficult for him.
Eventually, Mora got his first job in the Enrollment Center and his entire college experience changed.
“I enjoyed the connections that I made, I even enjoyed going to classes more, especially on days that I would have to go to work in the middle of the day,” Mora said. “I always felt more included and I felt like I had a voice.”
Working on campus also brought Mora more confidence, helped him grow out of his shell, and provided him with a unique set of experiences.
“If it wasn’t for those experiences in the Enrollment Center, I probably would have had a decent opportunity of dropping out because I was taking classes that I probably shouldn’t have been taking,” Mora stated. “Without that experience – actually, if I could be honest with myself – I may have been a statistic and may have dropped out.”
Instead, Mora continued to work in the Enrollment Center for some time.
“I just loved the whole experience and the people who worked there and so when the time came for me to graduate, I didn’t even want to transfer. I think I took an extra semester of classes – at least one – just so that I could continue working at the college,” Mora said.
Eventually, the opportunity came up to work in the Financial Aid office. Mora went from there to the Cashier’s office, to the IT department, to the Record’s office, back to the Enrollment Center, and then to Orientation where he is now the coordinator of the program.
“My entire experience was working at GRCC,” Mora said. “It’s always been that the people there keep drawing me back, it feels like a family at times. It just has a good culture and a good environment.”
The Enrollment Center was not only the start of Mora’s career here at GRCC, but it was also where he met his wife and some of his closest friends. Both Mora and his wife worked as student employees together along with his two best friends, Francisco Ramirez and Evan Macklin, both of whom still work at the college. Ramirez actually met his wife in the Enrollment Center as well.
After dating for seven years and graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University, Mora proposed to his wife and got married. They have one four-year-old son together now.
EVAN MACKLIN, Promise Zone Director:
Towards the end of Macklin’s senior year, he was already accepting the fact that he was going to GRCC. He was happy about it – he got to stay close to home and he got a job offer right away. During his new student orientation, he was approached by the director of the Enrollment Center who offered him a job.
“Many times, orientation is seen as a very transactional moment, but for me, it was a very transformative moment, because without that experience, the life I’m living right now would not be the same,” Macklin said.
“I was thankfully offered a position working in the EC as a student employee, and I credit that experience to my success as a student at GRCC. I had somebody always checking in on me, my supervisors, Candy Dykstra and Jodie Wagner, were always checking in on me, making sure I had the resources and help I needed to get through my coursework,” Macklin said.
As a first-generation college student, college was new to Macklin and his family. “Having that student employee position on campus really helped give me the confidence I needed to thrive in a completely new environment where I was meeting new friends,” Macklin stated. “I don’t think I would have been as successful in my college journey if it wasn’t for my student employee experience.”
At first, Macklin’s major was accounting because he knew accountants made good money. During his time working as a student employee over two years, he networked within the college and made connections. His supervisors and eventual mentors accentuated a passion for working in higher education that he had no idea he had. This opened up the world of Student Affairs as a career to Macklin, who at the time had no idea these positions existed.
“It was through those four semesters that I really began to see that what I was doing on a daily basis really gave me great energy,” Macklin said. “It wasn’t about the paycheck, I really thoroughly enjoyed coming to work every day – and back then I can honestly tell you that I did not need an alarm clock to get up because I was so ready and pumped to come in and do what I did to help students.”
Besides the passion behind his work, Macklin wanted to stay with GRCC because of his mentors he met and because of the diversity of students the college serves.
“When you’re involved on campus and you get to learn through other people’s life experiences so it makes me understand that the world is much bigger than the little West Michigan that we live in. That’s been probably the most exciting thing working at GRCC and a community college in general,” Macklin said.
Macklin went on to get his associate’s degree. During this, he was working in his first full-time position at the college in the Academic Advising and Transfer Center. This is where he met his lifelong mentor, John Cowles, who pushed and inspired him to pursue his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
After working in academic advising, he transferred to the Student Life and Conduct office for a while and then moved on to be the new student orientation coordinator. He then worked in the foundation office prior to his current position as the Promise Zone director.
“This Promise Zone position has been a really fun position because I’m working with students that are primarily underrepresented in higher education, and come from backgrounds that are marginalized and underserved in our society,” stated Macklin. “Just like me, I’m first-generation, I was low income at the time when I was going to college, and a male of color. For me, there’s a lot of similarities with the student population that I serve right now and it’s been really rewarding being in this position.”
Macklin aspires to someday become a vice president, but for now, he is taking it a step at a time, absorbing as much information as he can, and growing his network.
There are evident parallels and similarities between Mora and Macklin’s stories from student employees to college professionals. Both entered GRCC’s doors expecting to take their classes, transfer, and move on with their lives. Many students share this mindset – GRCC is typically viewed as a stepping stone for most students. However, as both Mora and Macklin’s stories have clearly shown, GRCC can be so much more than that.