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My Story Started at GRCC: Celebrated art educator Le Tran says GRCC's accessibility, affordable tuition made success possible


June 7, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Start at GRCC and go anywhere. Every former student has a story to tell about how GRCC gave them the education and opportunity to be successful.

Le Tran decided to pursue a dream -- and was willing to juggle her studies with her family obligations to do it. She found the flexibility she needed at Grand Rapids Community College, and her degree laid the foundation for a career that blends her passions for art and teaching.

“I was a young mom with three children, and I wanted to return to school to earn my teaching degree,” Tran said. “GRCC’s schedule, tuition and location made it possible for me to complete the courses I needed to advance to a four-year college.

“Earning my Associate of Arts at GRCC gave me the confidence to take the next step.”

For Tran, that meant a Bachelor of Arts from Aquinas College in 2001 and a master’s degree in art education from Kendall College of Art and Design in 2015. 

She then stepped to the front of the classroom as an art teacher at East Kentwood High School. There, she continues to multi-task: In addition to her teaching duties, she serves as advisor to the school’s National Art Honor Society chapter and the Asian Student Union. She also serves on the Michigan Art Education Association’s council. 

Tran herself hasn’t stopped learning. She has received two Fulbright-Hayes Group Projects Abroad Program grants, traveling in 2004 to Vietnam, where she lived until age 10, to study the culture and traditional art of silk painting and to Bulgaria in 2008 to learn about icon painting.

“Both of these experiences enriched my teaching practices, and I was able to share my learning with my colleagues and students,” she said.

Tran has also led students on trips to France, Spain, China and Italy.

Her work has not gone unnoticed by her peers. In 2021, she was named the Michigan Art Education Association’s Secondary Art Educator of the Year as well as the the National Secondary Art Educator of the Year.

“What I have learned from my experience at GRCC is that it’s never too late to go back to college and definitely never too late to earn an advanced degree,” Tran said. “Taking that first step with GRCC opened up a whole new world for me, and I am where I am today because I said ‘yes’ to my community college. I am where I am today because I love what I do: teaching art to high school students and exposing my students to the world through travel -- and learning along with them.”

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