GRCC Named to President Obama's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll

Students from Grand Rapids Community College making the honor roll is not uncommon, but this time it’s the College as a whole that has made the honor roll - The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.   GRCC is one of only two community colleges in Michigan to receive this distinction.

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, launched in 2006, annually recognizes institutions of higher education for their commitment to and achievement in community service. President Obama has pledged to make service a central cause of his administration and wishes to commemorate the significant role that higher education institutions, their students, staff, and faculty play in helping to solve pressing social problems in the nation’s communities.

“Community involvement is embedded in our mission,” said GRCC President Steven C. Ender, “and I give all the credit for this distinction to our Department for Experiential Learning, their dedicated staff and the tireless efforts of more than 2,000 students in helping enrich our community.”  

According to Dr. Mindy Firlan, GRCC’s Director of Experiential Learning, the program (formerly the Academic Service Learning Center), sends students into the community to apply principles they learn in their coursework to real-life situations.  

Over a thousand GRCC students engage in “service learning” every year in conjunction with classroom learning and over 1200 participate in one-day events like Pass It Forward, Earth Day Clean Up, Make a Difference Day and Relay for Life.  “The College provides the model and guidance, but it is the students who do the work and are deserving of this high honor,” says Firlan.

Among the projects Firlan, her faculty colleagues, and her staff cite that indicate the diverse way in which GRCC students work in the community – and which brought GRCC to the national spotlight – are:

• Green Remodeling students build houses for Habitat for Humanity
• Occupational Therapy students assist those with disabilities at Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding
• Psychology students interpret data for the Child and Family Resource Council
• Business students annually prepare taxes for the underserved through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
• Culinary students teach table etiquette to youth from the Baxter Community
• Nursing students provide care at Indian Trails Summer Camp
• Humanities students produce art and enjoy fellowship with people who are homeless and staying at  Heartside Ministries
• Marketing students provide a promotional portfolio for non-profit community partners
• Communication students serve meals at Guiding Light Mission
• Personal Health students serve at the American Cancer Society while learning about death and dying.
• Physical Education students teach PE lesson plans to elementary students and serve as mentors.

“Our students succeed at transfer institutions and in the workforce because they have also experienced learning, not just read about it,” says Firlan.  “GRCC faculty are not just teaching from textbooks within the confines of classrooms – they’re giving students real-life experiences.”  

According to Ender, this GRCC teaching strategy is a conscious choice and “it makes GRCC, our students, and our community distinct.”  

“We believe in bringing the community into classrooms and taking our classrooms to the community,” he said.

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for over 32,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several additional locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.