Skip to main content

My GRCC Story: Jodi Holland uses Michigan Reconnect to start college at 58, plan a career as a baker

Dec. 9, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It all started with a turquoise Easy-Bake Oven.

“My parents bought it for me when I was 7 and I baked everything with it. It was the coolest gift I ever had,” said Jodi Holland, now 58.

Never in a million years did that little girl dream she’d one day be baking at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College.

“It never occurred to me to go to college,” she said. “I’m the youngest of eight children and while our parents never discouraged college, they never really encouraged it either.

“Then earlier this year a friend posted something on Facebook about the Michigan Reconnect program and I knew this was a golden opportunity for me to do something I should have done a long time ago: get a college degree.”

Michigan Reconnect is a state scholarship program providing free in-district tuition for those ages 25 and older who don’t already have a college degree. This fall, 998 students at GRCC are enrolled through Reconnect.

Holland enrolled at GRCC this summer and is working toward an associate degree in culinary arts with a baking and pastry arts certificate.

“I’m so lucky not to be racking up a bunch of student loans at my age. I’ve paid for a few books, but that’s it. Reconnect has taken care of everything else,” said Holland, who’s worked her entire life, often just earning enough money to get by and raise her three children.

But she’s not pursuing a college degree just for herself. She also hopes to inspire her 15-year-old grandson, Gavin Lietz.

“I think it’s one thing to talk to somebody and say, ‘You should do this.’ But if I can say, ‘I’ve done it. Let me walk along beside you and help you,’ that’s a lot different,” she said.

Holland says she’s grateful for the support in navigating the world of college, which can be very intimidating. Her husband, Fred, cheers her on, her oldest daughter taught her how to use Microsoft Word and her grandson taught her PowerPoint. Because she’d never been on GRCC’s campus, a young friend who’s a student showed her around, where to park, and how to find the culinary building.

“I feel like a pro now,” she said. “lt has definitely been a group effort all along.”

Last spring, Holland started getting her feet wet in the culinary arts by working full-time with her husband at an adult living facility in Spring Lake. She does all the baking and her husband, a retired chef, does all the cooking.

“We do everything from scratch, and I just love it. It’s the most wonderful job I’ve ever had,” said Holland, who also sells real estate. 

Once she graduates, the Hollands dream of opening their own restaurant.

And that Easy-Bake Oven from the 1960s? Her husband surprised her three years ago with one just like it from an antique shop. It sits in a place of honor in their dining room.

“Believe it or not, Gavin and I still bake with it.”

Learn more about how the Michigan Reconnect program can help you start or restart your college education and change your life at grcc.edu/reconnect.

This story was reported by Beth McKenna and photographed by Andrew Schmidt.

Media Contact
Transfer