Dec. 7, 2023 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – George Muyskens didn’t always picture himself with a college degree.
After graduating from Whitehall High School in 2010, he attempted community college twice but was unable to finish his degree either time. He then entered the Air Force, hoping for a bit of direction in his life.
“You don’t always know what you want to do right out of high school. I certainly had no clue,” he said with a smile.
But now, thanks to Grand Rapids Community College and Michigan Reconnect, he is able to look at the future differently. Currently, he is on-track to graduate this spring with an associate degree in computer programming, something he is extremely proud of.
“It’s been a long process, but I’m here,” he said. Muyskens first became interested in computer science during his time in the Air Force, where he served as a radio frequency technician.
“My main purpose was helping to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), otherwise known as a drone,” he recalled. “We would remotely take pictures of different areas all across the world. I would be sitting next to the pilot and sensor operator, setting up the take-off, landing and communication between the different components of the drone.”
The skills he learned while serving in the military paid off in a big way when he decided to re-enter civilian life and landed a position as a systems test technician at Gentex Corporation last fall.
“Not many people learn the things I did while in the Air Force unless they have a college degree. That gave me what I needed to get here,” he said.
At Gentex, Muyskens is responsible for testing products and apps during various stages of their development, and computer programming is a big part of the job. Soon after starting there, his superiors began encouraging him to pursue more education in the field.
He considered several local colleges, but none could meet his needs the way that GRCC could. And the tuition assistance he received through Michigan Reconnect sealed the deal for him, he said.
Michigan Reconnect is a scholarship program funded by the state that provides eligible Michiganders with free in-district tuition at a Michigan community college, helping them earn an associate degree or skill certificate.
As a nontraditional student, Muyskens said the flexibility GRCC gives him is invaluable.
He is able to take a wide range of classes either online or in-person at one of GRCC’s conveniently located campuses.
“It’s really flexible with my schedule, since I’m a parent who works 9 to 5,” he said. “When I needed to take an algebra class, I was able to pop out of work on a break and take it at the Lakeshore campus. And doing homework after my kids go to bed has kind of become my ‘me time.’”
One of his favorite parts of his studies so far has been learning different programming languages, something his professors at GRCC have made easily accessible.
“I took a class recently on Python. The professor’s lessons were actually grounded in real life, and he really made sure you understood the material before moving on,” he recalled. “It’s been such a good starting point for jumping into other areas of programming.”
Muyskens says that the more of computer programming he studies, the more he wants to learn, and that this is what motivates him to finish GRCC on a high note before transferring to Davenport University to complete his bachelor’s degree in computer programming.
After that, he plans to stay with Gentex and grow within the organization, which his education has helped make possible.
“Going to school at GRCC has opened the door for future roles there, after I finish,” he said.
With a degree from GRCC in sight, Muyskens’ future looks a whole lot brighter, and he recommends this path to anyone, especially fellow adult learners.
“GRCC really has so much to offer, and the Michigan Reconnect Program makes it so easy to get there. I tell everyone that they should do it too,” he said with a laugh.
This story was reported by Alissa Griffin