Sept. 19, 2023 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – As she looks ahead to graduating from GRCC next year, Karen Savage, 43, said she’s excited about starting a new life and, in her words, “moving forward instead of settling.”
Kenneth Culajay, 45, is equally eager to see what the future holds for him after his anticipated winter 2024 graduation from GRCC.
Both students came to the college having not pursued higher education after their high school graduations. And both are working toward their degrees while also juggling numerous other responsibilities, including parenting.
They thus have a first-hand appreciation for National Student Parent Month, but they are even more appreciative of the many ways in which GRCC supports their goals and aspirations.
“Without the GRCC team, I would not be a year from graduating,” Savage said. “Megan (Downey) with the Occupational Support Program has been an ear to listen, a cheerleader when I didn’t think it could happen and a magician to help with the numbers.”
“GRCC makes it so easy to work and study at the same,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be hired by the orientation team here at the school. They work with my school schedule and no weekends, so I have enough time to help my daughter and still have time to go over my schoolwork.”
Downey said it’s been a privilege to walk beside Savage and Culajay and the many other GRCC students who also balance their studies and parenting.
“Parenting students coming to GRCC want to create a better life for their family and they want the possibility of turning a GRCC degree into a career with a higher wage,” she said. “At GRCC when we support parenting students, we support their commitment to their family.”
That support takes many forms, including assistance searching for on or off campus childcare; connecting students to on-campus funding sources, including financial aid; and coaching students through the new balancing act of being a parent, student, worker and more.
“Most of our students are navigating school along with family commitments, tight finances, work schedules and complex lives,” Downey said.
Culajay, who grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, has a 25-year-old and a 13-year-old daughter.
“It can be difficult at times trying to manage the time it takes to do my schoolwork and also helping my 13-year-old with her homework,” he said. “But I feel that I am setting a good example for both my daughters that it is never too late to pursue your dreams.”
Those dreams include finishing his degree at GRCC, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and then either opening a resale shop after he graduates or seeking a management position with one of the big pharmacy chains (his first job after high school was at a pharmacy in Manhattan).
Savage is in the GRCC Radiologic Technology program, a field she said she chose after she rolled her ankle and had to have surgery to repair torn ligaments.
“I had to have x-rays and one of the technicians just really had an impact on me,” she recalled. “She seemed to love her job and be happy in her choice.”
Savage is a mother to a 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter and said juggling many responsibilities can sometimes get difficult but that the journey is also incredibly rewarding.
“I am more appreciative of what it takes to reach a goal and the grit it takes to keep pushing when it is hard,” she said. She added with a smile: “Schedules can get tricky. My son is in football, band and wrestling, and my daughter is in the choir and band.”
Like Culajay, Savage said she wants her children to “know what it is like to push for your dreams.” She’s also trying to set an example for them in the classroom.
“In high school my grades were barely passing,” she said. “Now I am making the grades that I wish I did in high school thanks to GRCC.”
Culajay feels the same way.
“They have so many ways here to help students succeed,” he said. “I have used them all, and it is awesome. Down the road, I would like to work helping people in some way, shape or form, like the staff here at GRCC helps students reach their academic goals. They make a difference in people’s lives. I know they made a difference in mine.”
This story was reported by Phil de Haan.