Grand Rapids Community College’s Opening Day celebration included honoring three employees for their work with students and the community.
The Excellence in Education awards were established in 1989 to honor GRCC employees for their contributions. On Thursday, the faculty award went to Werner Absenger, program director for the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, with Marne Apolo, of the Language and Thought Department, and Victoria Janowiak, executive director of Operational Planning, receiving the adjunct and staff awards, respectively.
In presenting the faculty award to Absenger, President Emeritus Juan R. Olivarez, who is serving as GRCC’s interim president, noted his work on restructuring the internationally respected culinary program’s curriculum to improve access and affordability and on building community partnerships to bring his nutritional knowledge to underserved populations.
“He is innovative, always looking on the horizon for what his faculty and programs should be incorporating in order to best prepare our graduates,” Olivarez said.
Absenger, noting that he usually hates surprises, said, “Without our faculty and staff, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Apolo started at GRCC in 2008 and developed the college’s first online communications course in 2010. Her colleagues call her “the kind of teacher who we all want to be and we all want to learn from.”
Apolo looked back on her career and noted she was excited to have in-person classes once again.
“It’s hard to believe my daughter was five when I started, and now she’s in college,” Apolo said. “She’s hiking in the mountains right now and I wish I could call her because she’d be so happy about this, too. It means a lot. It’s really sweet and meaningful to be acknowledged.”
“Her adaptable approach allows all kinds of learners to reach their potential,” Olivarez said.
Janowiak oversees how the college’s spaces are used and maintained, making sure they are run effectively for students, faculty, staff and community members. That job has proven especially challenging during the past few years because of COVID-19. She worked with all the departments and administrators, along with state and county health agencies, to ensure that students and employees were able to return safely to on-campus instruction after the pandemic shutdown.
“While Vicki’s work has always been outstanding, she has done exceptionally impressive and important work during one of the most difficult times the college has faced,” Olivarez said.
Janowiak noted that she’s written many recommendation letters for others and never expected to receive the award herself.
“Thank you for putting me in such good company,” she told the Opening Day audience.