GRCC student overcomes obstacles in path to degree



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications

(616) 234-4213

April 27, 2015 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Support from faculty, staff and her peers helped a Grand Rapids Community College student overcome the fears and setbacks that stood between her and a degree.

Christina Karas had worked as a hair stylist since the 1990s until drugs and alcohol took over her life. After overcoming her addictions in 2004, she worked as a peer specialist in drug and alcohol treatment programs. In 2011, she decided that in order to take the next steps in her career, she needed to return to the classroom.

“There was no doubt in my mind that community college was the place to start,” she said. “Being 40, I had some fear and concerns about things like financial debt. Could I even operate a computer for school when I could just barely operate Facebook? As I am taught to face my fears, I enrolled at community college for nursing.”

But Karas’ life — and her career plans — changed abruptly in 2012 when she was hit by a car while crossing the street.

“I lost my short-term memory and could not even focus or read a sentence,” she said. “And there were a lot of physical side effects.”

She took the fall 2013 semester off, but on the advice of a therapist, she decided to give college another try. She took two classes during the winter 2014 semester “to see how it would go.” Even attending classes for 90 minutes Monday through Thursday proved to be draining.

“My professors and classmates are a huge reason I made it through that semester, as I am not the only student with struggles or an overwhelming schedule,” Karas said. “By April, something ‘clicked,’ and I actually remembered parts of a lecture, which with my brain injury was a huge success. I ended up with a 4.0 (grade-point average) that semester at school and getting better was my only focus.”

In addition to her instructors and classmates, Karas found help at GRCC’s Counseling and Career Center.

“At times, students just need someone to bounce ideas off of or to use as a sounding board to help them make decisions,” said Lynnae Selberg, director of counseling and career services. "Christina often knew what she needed to do, but we would talk it through until she convinced herself she could make it through.

“Sometimes we all just need someone to believe in us, to help shine that light at the end of what seems like the long tunnel to graduation. That’s why we are here in the Counseling and Career Center — to help the students find and keep moving along their path to graduation or transfer.”

With support, Karas found classroom success and a new major: criminal justice-corrections.

“Christina is — in a word — phenomenal,” said Nikki Banks, associate professor and head of the criminal justice department. "She exudes all that we seek to instill in our students within the criminal justice department in terms of humility, integrity, honor and valuing community.

“I am thankful that she chose our criminal justice program as her launching pad into the field. Because of her, GRCC’s light shines brighter in our community and the expectations of employers are raised even higher for our students because of the talent that she brings to the table.”

Karas will receive her Associate Degree in Applied Arts and Sciences-Corrections and Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Certified Criminal Justice Profession certifications during GRCC’s commencement at 7 p.m. May 1 in the Van Andel Arena, 130 Fulton St. W.

Karas, a foster-care case aide with D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s, plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Ferris State University.

“After that, I may pursue child protective services investigation, or the reintegration of adult prisoners back into society as there are so many new programs to help reduce the recidivism rates for the state of Michigan,” she said. “I also am considering law school, as one of my internships was at Dodge & Dodge P.C. — which was an amazing experience.”

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.