April 22, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Dr. Nkechy Ezeh says Grand Rapids Community College “opened the door” for her to embark on a career of advocating for children and training educators around the world, especially those working to help families overcome the effects of poverty.
Ezeh has been named GRCC’s 2020 Distinguished Alumna. She will receive the award during the college’s 103rd Commencement, which will take place later this summer.
“Dr. Ezeh is a shining example of adult learners in West Michigan coming to GRCC to take the next step in their academic journey and ultimately transforming their lives,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “GRCC had an impact on her, and now she is having a tremendous impact on our community.”
“GRCC started it for me, opened the door for me, and made my life now possible,” Ezeh said in a 2017 interview.
Ezeh was new to Grand Rapids in 1986 and liked to take long walks to explore the city. When she found herself in the GRCC library, a brochure for the Child Development program caught her eye.
"I wanted to learn about babies," she said. "I was pregnant at the time and without my family here, I knew that I needed help."
She decided to study child development at GRCC and found an extended "family" of support.
"I remember all too well the day I finally went into labor for the birth of my first daughter," she said. "I was taking an exam in my psychology class and it soon became apparent that something very different was happening with my body. I quietly spoke with my professor, who was more than willing to excuse me from class. I wouldn't leave until he also promised that I could finish the exam at a later date! The whole class was so supportive and that meant so much to me!"
After earning her child development degree at GRCC, Ezeh was hired by Messiah Baptist Church to work with a program that served vulnerable children in Grand Rapids.
"It was there that I saw firsthand how much impact poverty can have on the early development of children," she said. "It also became very clear to me that parents all want to do their best for their children, but sometimes the reality of life circumstances gets in the way.
"It was then and there that I decided to get as much education as possible so that someday God would use me as an instrument to do something that would ultimately make a difference for families struggling against the effects of poverty."
Ezeh completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Grand Valley State University and then earned her doctorate in child and youth studies, with a specialization in curriculum development and systemic change, from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
She became an associate professor of education and director of the early childhood education program at Aquinas College. She was also named a Fellow with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and then became the founder and CEO of the award-winning Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative.
Her understanding that unless you provide support to both the children and the family led her to develop Empowering Parents Impacting Children, a unique two generational approach to early childhood education in which family coaches support parents to fully assume their roles as change agents for their children.
Ezeh has assisted several schools and nonprofit agencies as an education consultant, providing curriculum and evaluation expertise. She conducts professional development and parent education workshops all over the world.
Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 — Michigan’s first community college — and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.