Jan 25, 2024 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – School was never William Staples’ thing … until Grand Rapids Community College, that is.
Now a GRCC honor student, Staples is graduating in May, interning full-time at a top-notch Grand Rapids engineering firm, and planning to seek a bachelor’s degree.
It’s a journey he never dreamed of taking.
Staples grew up in Grand Rapids, barely graduating, he said, from Innovation Central High School in 2016. After a string of jobs, he eventually found his niche working for local heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) mechanical contractors.
“Five years ago, I would have said I didn’t need college,” said Staples, now 25 years old. “I was making good money working in the trades and life was good for me. But as I got older, I started thinking more towards my long-term goals and realized that education is what would help propel me toward those goals.”
He approached GRCC with the thought of earning a one-year Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning/Refrigeration (HVACR) Technology Certificate. The first in his family to attend college, Staples said he was hesitant when he started the program in 2022.
Staples was surprised to find that college was a great fit and decided to pursue an associate degree in HVACR Technology.
“I’ve seen myself getting better and better academically and just learning and applying myself and making new connections; really using the benefits of getting an education,” he said.
Flexible scheduling made it easier than expected to balance college classes and a full-time job, he said. His professors were a big help, encouraging Staples to pursue an engineering degree at Ferris State University after graduating from GRCC.
And he’s ready for the challenge.
“For the first time in my life, I’m having fun learning and really digging deeper into my education,” said Staples, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society for the last year.
Staples will graduate debt free thanks to a series of scholarships from the GRCC Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Rees Scholarship Foundation, which supports the HVACR industry. When he turned 25, he also qualified for financial aid from Michigan Reconnect.
Last summer, Staples began working full-time at dbHMS in Grand Rapids as a commissioning engineer intern. He loves it.
One day he hopes to be leader in the engineering industry and inspire a new generation of students — especially in minority communities.
“I’m definitely leaning toward the leadership and engineering aspect of HVACR,” he said. Staples credits GRCC for changing his life’s trajectory.
“It’s just crazy how times have changed for me: Now I have a vision and goal for my life and I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
This story was reported by Beth McKenna.