My GRCC Story: Alena Visnovsky came to GRCC for volleyball, and discovered so much more

Alena Visnovsky wouldn’t be at GRCC if not for volleyball.

She played two years at Sparta High School, and also played club volleyball. It was through club play that she got connected to longtime GRCC volleyball coach Chip Will, who recruited her to be a Raider.

She’s had a great time the past two years as a middle blocker on Will’s conference-champion squads — the Raiders were 24-7 overall last year and 14-0 in conference play — including earning national and conference all-academic honors. Indeed, she carries a perfect 4.0 GPA and last year was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association All-Academic First Team.

But as she heads into her third year as a student, she said her GRCC experience has become about so much more than varsity volleyball.

For one, her classroom experiences have been amazing.

“Gender Studies, taught by Derek Bolen, was one of my favorites,” she recalled. “I took it my first semester. That class opened my mind. Photography classes with Filippo Tagliati. I’m planning on majoring in photography, and his classes helped me create some of my favorite photos. And journalism with Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood. I’m also majoring in multimedia journalism, and her class advanced my writing skills.”

Now, as she heads into her final year at GRCC – with plans to next year transfer to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree and play volleyball – she’s thankful that Will recruited her and opened her eyes to the beauty of the community college experience.

Homeschooled for most of her life, she said with a laugh that her parents’ emphasis when she was growing up as the second oldest of five kids was “academics, academics, academics.” But Visnovsky also loved volleyball. Loved the competition, loved being part of a team, loved the thinking side of the game, loved the multiple ways volleyball allowed her to be introspective and ponder improvement.

So, when Will recruited her, she saw the chance to both continue with volleyball and answer her parents’ call to excellence in academics. But she admits that it took a little bit for her to get past some of the stereotypes she had about two-year colleges.

“In high school everyone, me included, judged community colleges,” she recalled. “It’s not cool to go to a CC. I’m not sure I even knew GRCC existed. I came here for volleyball. That was the only reason. But once I got here, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so cheap, and it’s so nice.’ Now, I am so proud to be a GRCC student. That’s a little cliché, but it’s true.”

That includes her work for The Collegiate, GRCC’s student newspaper, where she’ll head into her final year on campus as the new editor-in-chief. She first got connected to the paper last year, thanks to a pair of influential journalism classes, and quickly became the news editor.

In fact, this past spring, an editorial she wrote, “Inherent classism continues to impinge community colleges and their students who choose to invest in these low-cost educational options,” was named a first-place winner by the Michigan Community College Press Association in the Best 2022 Editorial category.

“We work really hard to highlight issues that matter to students,” she said of The Collegiate staff. “Journalism has a long history of exposing things, uncovering what is hidden or what people want to stay hidden. As editor that’s exciting. But I’m also looking forward to thinking through how I communicate with the staff, how do I motivate them, how do we work together as a team. I really believe that we go further together.”

This story was reported by Phil de Haan.

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