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From drifting jobs to pursuing a culinary degree: Michigan Reconnect’s impact at GRCC

May 28, 2024

It’s a whole new world for Jeremiah Medendorp — thanks to Michigan Reconnect.

After years of drifting from job to job, the 38-year-old is well on his way to earning a Secchia Institute for Culinary Education degree at Grand Rapids Community College and moving his life in a new direction.

“Michigan Reconnect has probably become one of the most important things in my life,” Medendorp said. “Not only is it paying for my schooling, but it’s also giving me a chance to do something that can help others in life.” 

Michigan Reconnect is the largest effort in state history to ensure eligible Michiganders who do not have a college degree have an opportunity to earn a tuition-free or deeply discounted associate degree or skills certificate. Since launching in February 2021, more than 150,000 Michiganders have benefited from the program.

Originally only available to adults aged 25 and older, the state-funded program was expanded to adults ages 21 to 24 who apply by Nov. 15, 2024.

Medendorp is a West Michigan native who graduated two decades ago from Godwin Heights High School. Unsure about his career path, he enrolled in 2007 at GRCC but dropped out after a few semesters. He worked at a variety of jobs in the ensuing years, got married and had two children.

“I have a lot of different skills that I've learned over the years, but never found a real career,” he said.

He began experimenting with cooking five years ago and decided in 2023 to pursue a GRCC culinary arts degree using the Reconnect program.

“The only way I could go back to school was because of Reconnect, otherwise I couldn’t have afforded it,” Medendorp said.

He attends college part time, works in GRCC’s Financial Aid Department, and also works as a bar cook. He hopes to graduate from GRCC in two years with an associate degree in culinary arts as well as personal chef, pastry and management certifications.

He dreams of one day owning a business that employs returning citizens and specializes in offering a free three-course meal for people leaving prison and returning to their communities.

He says he’s thrilled to attend the Secchia Institute and strongly encourages other Michiganders to explore Michigan Reconnect.

“I’m receiving a top-notch education that will move me forward in life, helping me go places in the world where normally I wouldn't be able to go,” he said. “I feel very lucky.”

This story was reported by Beth McKenna.