My Story Started at GRCC: Steven Polega, U of M Health – West’s senior vice president-chief nursing officer, says GRCC is about life-changing opportunities

Steven Polega says GRCC is about a “life-changing opportunity.”

He has evidence to support his claim.

Start at GRCC and go anywhere. Every former student has a story to tell about how GRCC gave them the education and opportunity to be successful.

Polega signed up to join the Navy during his junior year in high school, so he didn’t pursue college prep courses his senior year.

“When I got out of the military in the early 1990s, I was ill-prepared for some of the basic skills needed to pursue advanced education,” he said.

He enrolled in some entry-level classes at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College to get “up to speed” and connected with the student employment office to find jobs while he attended classes.

“I worked as a home health aide for families with profoundly autistic children,” Polega said. “I worked as a certified nurse’s aide in a nursing home. In each of these roles, I was exposed to some of the hardest work that I have ever done – but also some of the most rewarding. I loved connecting with people and having the feeling that I was making a difference and helping.”

As he worked toward his associate degree in Nursing, he also learned from his co-workers.

“I remember being super impressed with what they do and the complexity of the work,” he said. “As I was finishing my nursing degree, I worked at a local Grand Rapids hospital as a patient care tech and was exposed to many specialties.”

Polega eventually earned bachelor’s degrees in health science and nursing from Grand Valley State and Andrews universities, respectively, and a master’s in health care administration from Ohio University. He has worked in the hospital and health care field for more than 25 years, the past 10 with University of Michigan Health West (formerly Metro Health).

He’s been the senior vice president-chief nursing officer for five years and also serves as board president for the West Michigan chapter of the American Heart Association.

“I would describe my work toward my associate degree at GRJC as foundational to every future degree that I have earned,” Polega said. “I remember feeling a little out of place as an ‘older’ student, but the faculty was welcoming and competent. I was challenged to learn and enjoyed the diversity of classes that were available.

“I think one of the best things about GRCC now – and then – is that they have numerous programs and paths to meet learners where they’re at.”

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