The Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees hosted a focus session on June 28 for students to weigh in on the college’s search for its 11th president.
Board Chairperson David Koetje, Trustee Brandy Lovelady Mitchell, and Board Secretary Kathleen Bruinsma were in attendance. Student Alliance Director of External Affairs Shantasia King attended, as well as President of Student Alliance Pablo Villalvazo, and Assistant Director of Student Life Ashley Fox.
Preston Pulliams, president of Gold Hill Associates, the firm hired by GRCC to manage the presidential search, asked questions of the students and search consultant for Gold Hill Associates Kate Hetherington moderated the meeting.
Pulliams began the session by explaining the purpose of the meeting. “They (GRCC’s Board of Trustees) have also declared that this should be an open search…that means as we’re participating now, we’re having a number of these sessions where we’re inviting folks in to come and talk with us a little bit about their expectation of the next president,” Pulliams said. “We especially want to hear, again, the student perspective…regarding this process.”
He mentioned the draft profile, a checklist of sorts, regarding a new president which outlines the board’s approach to new leadership.
King mentioned that there have been multiple meetings on campus about the climate of the community and she highlighted the importance of “thinking globally, but acting locally.”
“I would love to see the community college having more of a presence in the community of Grand Rapids,” King said. “That way we could…enhance or help the climate, even with the police relationships with the community. If we show that we have that type of balance and that type of structure here in the college, we may be able to see that type of stuff…in the community.”
Villalvazo mentioned that he would like the next president to understand the community in general.
“I wanna make sure that our next president can embrace our community and can find ways to unify people from different areas,” he said.
When asked if there were certain communities that the college needs to have a greater presence in, King spoke about students getting jobs and internships.
“I’m also completing an internship with the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. I come across a lot of great people who tell me they’re looking for interns, they’re looking for young people who want to be active,” King said. “There’s a lot of people out here who are looking for students like us, and there are students like us who are looking for jobs, so if we could close that gap…I think it would be good for our college.”
The discussion around GRCC’s presence in the community continued. “I also served as the president of the Black Africana Student Union (BASU) here at GRCC. Following the Patrick Lyoya shooting, we started visiting high schools, to speak to high schoolers on their feelings and things of that nature,” King explained. “One of the schools we made it to first was Ottawa Hills High School. One thing that we really heard is that they (students) want to be invited to GRCC. They want us to come out to their high schools more often. I definitely feel like having…that type of presence will be good for the community and our college.”
Next Pulliams inquired what the students thought about traits the next president should have. King suggested adding the word “inclusion” to the third bullet point under the Organizational Traits section in the draft profile.
When asked what the new president should do in their first 30 days at GRCC, King said that they should listen. “Great leaders come in and they listen…taking in that knowledge, collaborating with other people here on campus,” she said.
Pulliams asked the students what priorities the next president should have, and posed the question: “what should keep the president up at night?”
“A lot of our students are coming from very, very different backgrounds,” King said. “Some of our students come from well-off families…and some of our students are hungry and they don’t wanna admit that. The police climate…is something that our president should stay woke at night, thinking how we can better that. Overall safety and mental health, mental health is very important.”
One of the last points Pulliams brought up for discussion was the minimum qualifications of GRCC’s next president. The Student Alliance leaders were split on the issue, King mentioned that she would prefer the next president to have a doctorate degree, while Villalvazo disagreed and said a master’s degree was good enough.
After the meeting, Student Alliance leadership answered some follow up questions.
“The board has gone a long way in bringing in student voices,” Villalvazo wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “In the future I would like to see students being brought in for discussions rather than Q&As.”
King had further insight as well. When asked about the fact that this presidential search is open, she explained the benefit.
“To me, this (open search) demonstrates that we, as students, are heard and our opinion matters,” she wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “I don’t take opportunities like this lightly. I aim to speak on behalf of the students of the past and future that would not and did not have the chance to do so.”
When asked about the Board’s effort to include GRCC students through this process, King supported the effort.
“I believe that our Board members really care about the opinions of the students. I don’t think that they are just concerned with finding someone that will look good for the college,” she wrote. “They actually want someone that will come to GRCC and continue to help it grow. Who better to offer internal views than the students?”
When asked about the fact that only a couple students attended this session, King stayed positive.
“There are students with great ideas and vision, but they tend to avoid the politics of things because we fear what we don’t know. We cannot lead the masses, but we can lead the leaders. I believe meetings such as the one held today is a step in the right direction,” she wrote. “The numbers may start small, but sooner or later people will realize the powers that they have and the numbers will reflect that.”
For more specifics on GRCC’s ongoing presidential search, click here.
The Board of Trustees will hold their next work session on July 18 at 1:30 p.m. in the Board Conference Room.