School News Network Feature: Trailblazing GRCC band director Shannor Shaker advocates for inclusion and access

Shannon Shaker, GRCC’s new director of bands, began conducting “Planet B”.

It’s almost 1 p.m. in Grand Rapids Community College’s Recital Hall and as professor Shannon Shaker takes the podium, she signals her wind ensemble to quiet their instruments for the start of class.

Shaker’s students start tuning their instruments, preparing themselves for an hour and a half of practicing music for their upcoming spring concert.

After warming up, Shaker, GRCC’s new director of bands, began conducting “Planet B,” written by Ukrainian composer Catherine Likhuta. She counted off three intro beats, took a breath and the sounds of trumpets, flutes and percussion swelled.

Third-year GRCC student and percussionist Zane Goldsmith praised Shaker for her growing success as conductor over a short period of time during a break between pieces.

“We experienced a bit of an awkward transition last semester having a new director to get used to, but Professor Shaker is so musically talented,” Goldsmith said. “She picks great pieces, expects a lot more and knows how to get us to grow and produce a higher quality of music.”

GRCC students Jonah Walters, left, and Joe Schimmelmann play alto saxophone in the wind ensemble

Trailblazing Through Music

Shaker is a woman on a mission to make music education more accessible and inclusive at the college level. 

“This position is a dream come true,” Shaker said. “GRCC truly offers high quality music education, and it’s really a place where we can take students as they are and help take them where they want to be, no matter their prior experience.”

As the first female in the role, Shaker seeks to advocate for the inclusion of equitable and inclusive practices into her teaching and research to ensure everyone has access to a high-quality music education.

“This department and the people in this school are seeking out diverse voices and people who are changemakers in their fields,” she said. “It’s great to be in a community where they see the value I bring to the table.”

Student and alto saxophone player Jonah Walters agrees with Shaker that the “end goal of music education shouldn’t be to churn out highly skilled musicians.”

“Studying music is about enjoyment and striving for personal mastery,” Walters said. “We’re iron sharpening iron and sounding really good after (Shaker) only being with us a short time.”

Becoming Professor Shaker

As a high school sophomore, Shaker decided she wanted to be a band director. Despite growing up in poverty, she became a first-generation college student and graduated from Central Michigan University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.

“I am a first-generation student. I’m here with a doctorate now and along that way there were a lot of times when I wasn’t sure I was good enough to pursue my career,” Shaker said. I kept doing the next right step to get there, and if you find the right people, anything is possible.” 

Job searching fresh out of college during an economic recession proved difficult, but Shaker traveled to Colorado for an opportunity to teach music.

“Music teaching jobs were in short supply, so when I was offered a job teaching elementary music, I took it,” Shaker said.

She moved back to Michigan to teach music in Ypsilanti schools, while she researched and applied to master’s programs. She returned to Central Michigan to complete her master’s degree of music in wind conducting.

“I conducted some of (CMU’s) bands, assisted with music education and conducting classes, and I fell in love with working with undergrads,” Shaker said. “I thought, ‘I want to do this at the higher ed level and this is the group I’m really meant to teach.’”

During graduate school, she began noticing the gender bias present in music education.

“I was in my third year of graduate school when I realized I had never programmed one piece of music by a woman,” she said. “I hadn’t taken the time to learn any music by women composers or teach them to my students when I was teaching in public schools.”

Frustrated, she completed a doctorate of musical arts in wind conducting from Arizona State University to eventually work in higher education and increase equity and diversity for future music educators.

“As a teacher, I have full control over the music that my band plays, which means I can choose music that accurately reflects our students and their cultures and incorporates diverse composers,” Shaker said.

Conducting the wind ensemble class at GRCC this semester, Shaker says her students love learning a variety of new music.

“A music education student who only experiences music written by white men will only have those experiences to draw on later when they select the music to teach their own students,” she added.

Shaker also works to diversify the guest artists and clinicians brought into her classes, to provide “a wealth of resources, voices and topics” for her students to learn and one day, incorporate into their teaching.

 ‘You Don’t Have to Be the Best’ 

Shaker envisions living in a “society of musicians” at GRCC where people “never have to stop playing their instrument” because of money or because they do not wish to pursue music as a career.

“Not everyone needs to major in music, but having those opportunities provides more people in the community with a place to come and experience really wonderful music education,” she said.  

Next fall, GRCC is bringing back their campus band, designed for non-music majors who would like to continue playing a band instrument in college or music majors performing on their non-major instrument, after a hiatus during the pandemic. The band will meet one day a week in the evening, making it more accessible to students and community members who work or take classes during the day.

 “You’re not here because you’re perfect; you’re here to learn,” Shaker said. “So often, if a student is struggling in a competitive field, it can be really hard for students no matter how much talent they have.”

Access to music education during their primary schooling years is beneficial for musicians to succeed at the secondary level, she said.

“If a student at a low-income school has their music program cut, they’re not going to pursue it at university level,” Shaker said. “(Music education) needs to be something that doesn’t get cut when times get tough. If we have good, relevant music education in all levels of schools, it encourages all students to keep doing it.”

In addition to her teaching responsibilities at GRCC, Shaker is on a mission to be a music education resource through workshops and presentations.

“Giving middle and high school teachers concrete things they can do translates to more diverse and equitable band rooms,” Shaker said. “We are part of the community and we are serving the community.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

This story was reported by Alexis Stark and photographed by Dianne Carroll Burdick of the School News Network.

Here to Help: Jeff Byrd helps GRCC Job Training students learn about their options

Jeff Byrd wearing a brown shirt and smiling.

Always remember, at GRCC, you are surrounded by people who want you to be successful and are ready to walk with you on your educational pathway. We are here to help!

Meet Jeff Byrd. Jeff  is here to help GRCC students realize a new dream or career path. Which is both satisfying and challenging work. 

“Working with a diverse group of students keeps it very interesting,” Jeff said. “Understanding their different backgrounds, and the journey for them to get to this point, and then helping them figure out their life path or change of career is very rewarding for me.” 

As an educational training specialist and career coach, Jeff helps GRCC Job Training students learn about their options. He helps them explore the skills they’d like to develop and the career they’d like to begin. Then he helps students choose a Job Training program that will get them the type of entry level employment that will help them reach their career goals.

Jeff is someone prospective students and their parents can really talk to. “As a coach I enjoy talking with the students to understand what their experience was before they came to us, and try to understand where they want to go,” said Jeff. “With this information, hopefully I can recommend an educational pathway that will be successful for their future.”

The students Jeff coaches learn quickly that he is dedicated to helping them pick the right path. They also know that they can rely on him. Jeff holds himself accountable to his students because he expects the same in return. 

“I will work with them and support them to achieve all of the educational goals that they desire,” said Jeff.  “I want students to be dedicated and accountable for their educational goals, and to take their education seriously. I am my student’s biggest supporter but will also hold them accountable for not following through.”

“Communication is a very important part of a career coach and student relationship,” said Jeff. “So, I encourage my students to communicate so that we can eliminate any misunderstandings.  Connecting this way, I believe, helps with a better experience.”

Jeff attended GRCC to take one class as a guest student while earning his bachelor’s degree. “My experience here as a student was great and the staff were very helpful,” he said. “GRCC has always been very helpful in the community, and so I am very proud to say that I work for an organization that cares for its students and community.”

Jeff earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Ferris State University and then a master’s degree in business from Davenport University. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to work in various careers, from local government work, k-12 education, manufacturing and back to education,” said Jeff. I have always been in careers where I am helping people and that is something that I truly enjoy.  Helping someone realize their potential and dreams is a satisfying thing for me.  So, I hope to continue this journey helping others.”

Learn about GRCC Job Training programs can lead to a rewarding career in the skilled trades in a relatively short amount of time at

My GRCC Story: Corey Wright says determination and scholarship support helped him find success after difficult start

Corey Wright smiling.

It takes determination to start again – especially when you’ve already failed once. Sometimes it also takes extra help from supporters you didn’t even know you had.

Corey Wright spent a lot of his life moving from place to place with his mother, three sisters and three brothers. Focused on helping his family, school wasn’t really a priority for him.

“I suffered academically growing up because I did not take school very seriously, which I regret fully,” he said.

After graduating from Ottawa Hills High School, he enrolled at Arizona State University in 2018. He didn’t have a firm plan and randomly chose to follow in his father’s footsteps by majoring in electrical engineering.

“Prior to this, I had no clue what electrical engineering even was, so you can only imagine what happened once I started my classes that fall,” he said.

“It was terrible. I failed five of my classes that year – not because I could not learn the material, but because I got caught up in the wrong crowd of friends. Along with failing five of my classes that year, I also had a past-due balance of $12,000 on my student account. Combining the wrong group of people along with bad grades and a past-due balance, it caused me more harm than I could have ever imagined.”

Wright returned to Grand Rapids, disappointed in himself and mad at the world. He felt like he had failed his family and friends.

After a while, Wright decided he needed to give college another try, but this time, he was going to approach it differently. His first step: enrolling at GRCC. His next step: majoring in astronomy, a subject he was passionate about.

“Attending GRCC throughout the years has turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made,” he said. “This college has shaped me into a better thinker than any other college could have done. The faculty and staff are friendly and supportive of everyone’s needs, which can make anyone feel like they’re at home.”

Wright especially credits GRCC’s academic tutoring labs with helping him succeed.

“This year has been academically challenging to me because I had to take multiple calculus and physics courses,” he said. “These courses have made me consider majoring in physics, but I’m still a big fan of astronomy.”

Wright, who graduates this spring with an associate degree in mathematics, has mapped out a plan to combine both his interests: After graduating from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s in physics, he plans to attend graduate school at Michigan State University for a degree in astrophysics.

A scholarship from the GRCC Foundation played an important role in helping Wright persevere in his second attempt at college.

“By receiving this scholarship, it has helped me to remember that there are people out there that are watching and rooting for me to make it through college,” he said.

Wright plans to eventually help students like him succeed: “I hope to accomplish this goal by becoming a professor who will be able to convey the materials of science in a way that anyone will be able to understand.”

You can have an impact on a student’s life by donating to a GRCC Foundation scholarship at

Photo by Andrew Schmidt.

Wellness Champions: Disposing of unused medications in a safe way

Expired or unwanted medicines can be dangerous, but the Grand Rapids Community College Police Department can help you get rid of them.

Be a champion! GRCC is helping students and employees focus on all areas of health and wellness as we emerge together from the pandemic.

Wellness is a full integration of physical, mental and spiritual health. That includes physical health, but so much more. During the next year we’re also looking at emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environmental and occupational health, and how we all can work to help ourselves and each other.

There are many resources at GRCC to help all of these types of wellness. Each week, we’ll introduce you to people and places here on campus ready to support you on your wellness journey.

This Saturday, April 30, is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

America’s substance misuse crisis is a public safety and public health emergency that threatens the well-being of individuals who misuse drugs as well as their families, communities, and, ultimately, the nation.

A secure drop box has been installed at Campus Police headquarters, 25 Lyon St. NE, where you can anonymously drop off unneeded and expired prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, pet medicine and medicated ointments and lotions. Collected items will be incinerated.

GRCC’s Student Life office funded installation of the drop box in 2018. Before bringing your medicine to the drop box, block out all identifying personal information on the prescription — but do not remove the name of the medication. Medications can be packaged together in small baggies for disposal.

The SafeMeds drop box can be used by GRCC staff and students — and anyone in the community. It is for residential medications only and cannot be used by businesses and pharmacies.

Supporting the field in addressing this epidemic is one of the U.S. Department of Justice’s top priorities and, at the center of this response, is the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program.

GRCC In the News 04/29/2022

Provost John Selmon chosen as Muskegon Community College’s next president

4/28/22 MLive

MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon Community College’s provost and vice president has been selected as its next president “for the morale” of the college.

… (John) Selmon previously served as executive dean of student services at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and in student services at Kennesaw University in Atlanta. He also worked 18 years for the Davenport University Educational System, including as group vice president, and started his career with Grand Rapids Junior College.