Dec. 28, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After 30 years working as a pet groomer, Jennifer Lotterman needed a beer. Well … sort of.
“Grooming dogs is hands-on and quite demanding on your body,” said Lotterman, 47. “Michigan Reconnect was a godsend because it gave me the freedom to leave my business behind, earn my craft brewing certification at GRCC and, hopefully, fulfill my dream to open a small brewery with my husband.”
Michigan Reconnect is a state scholarship program that provides free in-district tuition for those 25 and older who don’t already have a college degree. This fall, 998 students enrolled at GRCC through Reconnect.
The scholarships are changing the lives of people like Lotterman all over the state.
“I’ve owned and operated a couple of pet grooming salons over the last 30 years and it’s been a good life. But I always wished I’d gotten a college degree,” said Lotterman, who lives in Tallmadge Township with her husband, Geoff.
For years, the couple has brewed beer in their garage as a hobby. When Lotterman heard last spring about the Reconnect scholarship, she decided to combine her love of beer-making with her longing for an associate degree.
West Michigan has more breweries per square foot than almost anywhere in America. So GRCC in 2016 debuted its Craft Brewing, Packaging and Service Operations certificate program — and became the first U.S. college to be licensed to own a campus brewery and pub. The popular Secchia Institute for Culinary Education program has successfully trained students ever since to understand brewing, business and service essentials.
Lotterman just wrapped up her first semester in the program – and earned straight As.
“It’s a great program filled with a variety of people all at different stages of their lives,” she said. “We all went out for a beer after class recently and got talking about how we ended up in the program.
“I guess it’s not what any of us really imagined we’d be doing back when we graduated high school. But we all agreed we’re so glad we’re here.”
If all goes according to plan, Lotterman hopes to complete her certification in six months and, perhaps, earn an associate degree at GRCC one day.
For now, she’s happy taking brewing classes, learning more about the industry by bartending part-time at Trail Point Brewing Company in Allendale, and making beer in the garage with her husband.
“For so many years, I did the same job and never saw a way to do something different with my life,” she said. “Without Reconnect, I never could have taken this leap.”
This story was reported by Beth McKenna.