Follow me! GRCC professor Jesse Crandall guides bicyclist who is blind on challenging, cross-country rides

Shawn Cheshire rode across the country on her bicycle, depending on Grand Rapids Community College professor Jesse Crandall to guide her every bit of the two-month, 3,700-mile trek.

Cheshire is a Paralympian who is blind and competes in a variety of sports at the international level. Through a friendship with the GRCC chemistry professor, she has added bicycling to her activities, traversing the country, meeting and inspiring people all along the way.

Crandall said both teaching and guiding are about helping others through obstacles.

“For many students, introductory chemistry is something they have no experience with,” said Crandall, a GRCC associate professor of chemistry. “So, when I’m teaching, it helps to think about my experiences coaching my friend Shawn, who is totally blind. Then I try talking about the lesson in a language that, hopefully, everybody can understand.”

That gift for guiding students was born of a longtime friendship — and many record-breaking escapades — with best friend Shawn Cheshire, an Army veteran, Paralympian and renowned adventure-seeker who is blind.

Following her years in the military, Cheshire became an EMT/paramedic. During a 2009 snowstorm, she slipped while treating a patient in an ambulance and sustained a traumatic brain injury that resulted in total vision loss.

Sports and physical challenges ignited her competitive spirit and helped her confront her blindness, she said.

“You have to want to live,” Cheshire said. “For me, I wanted to be someone I could be proud of.”

Crandall and Cheshire have been skiing, climbing, running and bicycling together for the past decade. They met in New York when Cheshire, in search of greater independence, decided to learn cross-country skiing.

“Here was this woman who was blind and had never seen someone cross-country ski because she grew up in Texas, where you don’t find much snow,” said Crandall, a top skier and former ski coach who was in Syracuse earning his doctorate in chemistry. “She had no way to visualize cross-country skiing or recall seeing someone else do it.”

But that never stopped Cheshire — or Crandall.

Cheshire not only learned to ski, she earned a spot on Team USA and was the first blind woman to compete in biathlon (skiing and rifle shooting) for the U.S. Paralympic Nordic ski team. She has since competed for Team USA in both summer and winter sports.

Since the Rio Olympics in 2016, Cheshire has focused on competing in awe-inspiring athletic feats to challenge social norms for the blind.

Instead of her eyes, she relies on her ears — and on Crandall to show her the way.

In 2018, the pair and two friends faced the steep terrain of the Grand Canyon, completing a rim-to-rim-to-rim double crossing in just over 24 hours. As they walked 42 miles through the night, Cheshire listened for warnings of obstacles from Crandall and the other guides, as well as the noise of the bell the lead hiker wore, which sounded as they walked.

“There was lots and lots of climbing and lots and lots of descending,” Crandall said. “She did it in just over 24 hours, which is the world record for any blind person doing it.”

In 2021, Cheshire set another world record by riding her own bicycle — not a tandem — from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The cross-country trek took 60 days and covered 3,700 miles.

It wasn’t easy.

“We had two-way radios in our helmets, and I had a speaker on the back of my bike; I would give her directions and describe road conditions — if we were moving right or left and any hazards — and she would follow my sound,” Crandall said.

They are accompanied for a portion of the trip by Steve Martin, a U.S. Army veteran who lost his legs below the knees in an explosion in Afghanistan.

Last year, Cheshire biked the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile mountain bike race along the mountain passes and windswept valleys of the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada, to the Mexico border with Crandall and another friend. It was the worst weather in the history of the race and more than half of the riders who started the race dropped out, according to Cheshire’s website here

They finished the race in 50 days, cycling through snow, mud, hail, rain, freezing temperatures and triple-digit temperatures. With this feat, another world record was set.

And now? Cheshire is training to summit both Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse, the highest and fourth-highest mountains in the world. If she completes the back-to-back expeditions this spring, she would be the first blind woman in history to summit Everest and one of the first blind people to attempt this double summit.

But this time, Crandall won’t be joining her in the Himalayas.

He’ll be at GRCC, guiding his students as they navigate the often-overwhelming world of chemistry.

At least for now.

“I don’t know what our next adventure will be,” Crandall said. “We’ve talked about skiing across Antarctica … I do know that with Shawn, there are no limits.”

This story was reported by Beth McKenna.

Spotlight on Professor Keith St. Clair

Professor of Political Science, Keith St. Clair, smiling.

Professor of Political Science, Keith St. Clair, will be a guest lecturer at Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning over the next three Thursdays: Feb 2cd, 9th and 16th.

His topic is the history and politics of Turkey. Congratulations Keith on sharing your knowledge and experience with others! 

St. Clair has also been featured in GRCC’s Learn from the Best: Learn from the Best: Keith St. Clair’s travels to the Middle East enrich his GRCC political science classes

For more information about the lectures, contact Stacy Herrick at 

Mental Health First Aid is back

Head with a heart bubble that has a yellow plus sign in it.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course (divided up over two days) that teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in adults (ages 18 and older). The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or is experiencing a crisis.

The next chance to participate in this learning experience is March 21 & 22.

Participants in past MHFA trainings had this to say about their experience:

“This training required the participants to step out of their comfort zone and have somewhat uncomfortable but necessary conversations regarding mental health. Conversation and sharing helped me realize that my own experiences were not that different than those of others in the group.” 

“I took this workshop to be sure I was using the correct verbage and steps necessary to assist a student appropriately in a crisis situation.  I had always wondered if I was saying the right things to them and was I taking the right steps to assist a student in a crisis. I was glad to find out that I was saying the right things and taking correct actions and I was also able to practice a discussion with a pretend student in a suicide crisis. Which I found it was not easy for me, but now I know what I must say and take action.”

“The Mental Health First Aid training is a valuable opportunity for all employees at GRCC. The training is beneficial for the work we do at the College as well as within our personal lives.”

“I’m glad to see training provided on another facet of first aid. If training exists for first responders to physical crisis, it makes sense that we are trained for those in mental/psychological crisis.”

Lunch will be served on both days.

Register for this opportunity via your Online Center account.

Employee Wellness Tip: Sitting is the new smoking

Blurry picture of 13 people walking.

Check out this article about sitting at work and try to incorporate the practice of frequent “move” breaks.

Even small amounts of activity can make a big difference. According to the Columbia University Medical Center study, a five minute walk every half hour is able to offset many of the harms of sitting. 

Aside from the physical  benefits to people, short breaks can help uplift one’s mood and help you feel less fatigued. “The human body was not designed to sit for eight hours at a time.”

Upcoming Professional Development opportunity: Technology

IT and Human Resources are offering a new course this academic year as part of Professional Development. This training is designed for supervisors and leaders of the college to learn more about the technology and tools offered by IT to help make your job easier. The course will cover: 

  • IT Service Portal
  • Network Account Provisioning forms
  • Equipment procurement and replacement processes.
  • Approving/denying timesheets and delegating access 
  • Overview of performance reviews
  • How to handle when an employee leaves or transfers
  • Google Resources
  • And more

The next session is Thursday, February 2. To sign up, please register via the Online Center.

HR is conducting a poll for interest in Weight Watchers at GRCC

HR is exploring the possibility of GRCC being a community WW site — providing space for a weigh in location and in person WW staff led workshops.

We’re curious how many GRCC employees would take advantage of this. This would be somewhat different than WW at work has been in the past. 

Please respond to this short poll to indicate your interest.

Thank you! We’ll keep you posted.

Virtual Police Academy information meetings

Criminal Justice Department will be offering Police Academy virtual information sessions in February for those who are interested in learning more about GRCC’s Police Academy. 

Informational Meeting Dates and Times (meetings last one hour):

  • Wednesday, February 1 at 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 2 at 10 a.m.

If you are interested in attending, click on the link below and fill out the form. We will then send you a Zoom link..

GRCC Police Academy Information Session – February 2023 

The link is also available on the GRCC Police Academy website on the Application and Boot Camp Information webpage

If you have any questions, please contact the Criminal Justice Department at

Teaching, Learning, and Distance Education News

GRCC Communications Wants to Tell Your Story (Cross-post from GRCC Today)

We’re proud of the people who serve our students and community at GRCC. Telling your stories helps show potential students the experience and expertise we have, and makes them aware of the resources and opportunities available to them.

Will you help us share your story? 

Every week a new faculty or staff story is shared in GRCC Today, on the GRCC homepage, and on GRCC social media. Faculty are highlighted in “Learn From the Best” stories, and staff are featured in “Here to Help” stories. 

Please fill out this form. We will reach out if we need additional information.

Thank you for your help!

Spots Still Available!  Winter Read: Learning Circle on Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks

As we reflect on our pedagogy, our teaching philosophies, and our methods to build engaging classes that serve our diverse student population, it becomes essential to learn from many voices and consider a wide range of perspectives. Gloria Jean Watkins, under the pen name bell hooks, spent decades transgressing unwritten societal defaults of how a classroom should run and sought freedom of learning for students. This transformative collection of essays offers bite-sized wisdom and pushes educators to be the best versions of themselves. This learning circle will focus on selected essays and the connections we can make to create a transformative pedagogy that encourages all voices to be heard in the classroom.

Lauren Woolsey will be hosting a Learning Circle through TLDE during February, March,and April. Order your book now. Space is limited to 20 participants. Contact or Toy McNeal ( or 616-234-3205) to sign up and place your book order.

AI Articles & Resources
Here in TLDE, we’ve been having a lot of conversations about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT.  We’re continuing to update this Google document with articles and resources for those interested in learning more.  The Resources page of the Educational Technology Organization of Michigan also has helpful links.

Reminder – Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation: Stay Tuned for More Details!
In the coming weeks, you will hear more about Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation.  Stay tuned for more details via college-wide IT Notification emails.  We have also organized the learning opportunities noted below.

Featured Upcoming Workshops/Events/Information:

  1. Information Session: Quality Matters Peer Reviews – Friday, February 3, 10 to 11 a.m., Virtual
  2. Introducing Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation – Friday, February 24, 10 to 11 a.m. – and Tuesday, February 28, 2 to 3 p.m., Virtual
  3. Understanding Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation – Tuesday, March 21, 10 to 11 a.m. and Wednesday, March 22, 2 to 3 p.m., Virtual
  4. Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation Q&A – Wednesday, April 19, 10 to 11 a.m. and Thursday, May 4, 2 to 3 p.m., Virtual
  5. Winter Semester TLDE Faculty Liaison Office Hours, Virtually: Tuesdays 1 to 3 p.m. (email to request a virtual appointment).  
  6. TLDE Office Information: The TLDE office location is RJF 373.  TLDE staff are available Mondays – Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist you!  Please stop by the office, email, or call 616-234-3205 and we will be happy to assist you!

Please visit the CTE’s Calendar and Programming webpage for the current listing of all Winter 2023 Professional Development opportunities being offered by TLDE!

HR is conducting a poll for interest in Weight Watchers at GRCC

HR is exploring the possibility of GRCC being a community WW site — providing space for a weigh in location and in person WW staff led workshops.

We’re curious how many GRCC employees would take advantage of this. This would be somewhat different than WW at work has been in the past. 

Please respond to this short poll to indicate your interest.

Thank you! We’ll keep you posted.

My Story Started at GRCC: New York attorney Steven Van Iwaarden says GRCC professors helped him gain confidence, focus

Steven Van Iwaarden smiling.

Steven Van Iwaarden lives in Manhattan with his wife and dog and works at a prestigious New York law firm. He has law degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of California-Irvine and helped launch a first-of-its-kind law journal. 

It all sounds like a dream come true, but Van Iwaarden didn’t believe it could happen to him – not at first.

“For various reasons, my high school career was less than stellar, and I did not attend college for years after graduating high school,” he said.

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.

When Van Iwaarden decided to finally get serious about his education, he enrolled at GRCC. He found knowledgeable and understanding professors and uses many of the skills he learned in those early classes – College Writing, Principles of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, and Fundamentals of Public Speaking – in his career today.

“In my first semester at GRCC, I entered – and ended up winning – the ‘One Book, One College’ essay contest,” Van Iwaarden said. “The prize for this was getting to attend a dinner with the author of the book that was the subject of the contest, Josh Sundquist, and then getting a front-row seat to his keynote speech later that evening.

“Winning this contest really put wind behind my burgeoning academic sails. It was through this experience that I realized my talent for reading and writing could lead to great things, so long as I put the requisite effort into developing it.”

Another turning point: a GRCC-sponsored bus trip to Ann Arbor to tour the University of Michigan.

“That ended up being an important factor in me thinking I could actually attend that university after graduating from GRCC,” Van Iwaarden said.

After receiving his associate degree in 2016, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics in 2019 from U of M, where he served as an ambassador to transfer students. He earned Juris Doctor degrees from the University of California and, most recently, Michigan.

He gained experience working on employment discrimination claims as a clerk to Administrative Judge Thomas Harward of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s hearings unit in Los Angeles. He also helped a group of law students and doctoral candidates launch the Michigan Journal of Law & Society, which brings the humanities and social sciences into legal scholarship.

Last year, Van Iwaarden, who passed the New York State Bar exam in July, accepted an offer from Latham & Watkins LLP to become a lawyer in its New York office.

Van Iwaarden credits the success he’s seen to the support of his family and friends, as well as his willingness to take advantage of opportunities offered to him, like the Ann Arbor bus trip. 

For him, GRCC means two things: hope and opportunity.

“I view GRCC as a place offering hope to prospective students who don’t fit the archetype of the over-achieving high schooler who goes straight to a four year university,” he said. “GRCC is an institution that serves an invaluable social goal: a gateway to prosperity for those who didn’t have it handed to them. 

“I would not be where I am today without GRCC.”

Start your GRCC story today here.

GRCC men’s and women’s basketball teams cruise to victory over Kirtland Community College

GRCC women's basketball team playing another team, with a GRCC player taking a shot.

The Grand Rapids Community College men’s and women’s teams dominated in their games at Kirtland Community College on Saturday, both by more than 30 points.

The women’s team bounced back from a tough loss at Muskegon Community College on Wednesday, cruising to an 85-51 win while getting two career performances from players off the bench.

After scoring a season-low 35 points in their previous game, the Raiders offense lit it up for a season-high in points, including 30 in the second quarter.  The team also set season highs in overall field goal percentage, with 45.2 percent; and three-point field goal shooting, with 60 percent.

Alyssa Katerberg was on fire from behind the arc, totaling five threes for a career-high 15 points while adding five rebounds. Dual sport athlete Karissa Ferry scored a career-best 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting while grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds, including 12 on the offensive end.

Sally Merrill led GRCC with 20 points and Grace Lodes added 15 points, helping the team improve to 9-6 overall and 3-2 in MCCAA Northern Conference play.

The men’s team led by just seven points at the half, but erupted for 62 points in the second half on 65 percent shooting, to cruise to a 98-59 victory, the team’s 14th of the season.

“Incredible effort from the guys in the second half,” head coach Joe Fox said. “We really locked into the scout and played with incredible energy. Brockton Kohler was a steadying force, and Jack Scrimshaw really helped us close the game out. Feels great to string a few wins together on the road.

After an 11-0 start, the team dropped four in a row. But now it is riding a three-game win streak to improve to 3-2 in the conference.

GRCC had a total of 12 players score on the night, led by Kohler who scored 16 points on 5-of-8 from the floor.

Just as it did in its previous game, GRCC led in every statistical category, including only turning the ball over 10 times against 23 for Kirtland, and blocking five more shots.

Danyel Bibbs scored 14 points and Chris Coleman, JaJuan Walker and Myron Brewer all added 10 points.

Both teams will be back on the road on Feb. 1, visiting Delta College.  The women will tip-off first at 5:30 p.m. 

GRCC In the News 01/30/2023


1/27/23 Community College Daily (American Association of Community Colleges)

… In Michigan, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II visits Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) for a roundtable discussion with GRCC President Charles Lepper, students, administrators and faculty members about the successes of Michigan Reconnect, a program launched in 2021 that serves students 25 and older who have not yet earned a degree. 

GRCC Communications wants to tell your story

We’re proud of the people who serve our students and community at GRCC. Telling your stories helps show potential students the experience and expertise we have, and makes them aware of the resources and opportunities available to them.

Will you help us share your story? 

Every week a new faculty or staff story is shared in GRCC Today, on the GRCC homepage, and on GRCC social media. Faculty are highlighted in “Learn From the Best” stories, and staff are featured in “Here to Help” stories. 

Please fill out this form. We will reach out if we need additional information.

Thank you for your help! 

‘Darwin Never Saw This Coming’ lecture looks at population biology and more

As part of the national Darwin Day celebration, GRCC Biological Sciences will partner with the Michigan Humanists to offer a public lecture presented by GRCC professor Greg Forbes.

The lecture, “Darwin Never Saw This Coming; A Human Population Beyond 8 Billion!” will be a discussion of population biology, evolution and the future of Earth’s ecosystems.

The event is planned for 7-8 p.m. on Feb. 7 at the Calkins Science Center Auditorium, room 348. Doors open at 6:40 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

February 6, 2023 Economic Club of Grand Rapids opportunity for GRCC students

The Economic Club of Grand Rapids has gifted us with the opportunity to have GRCC students participate in an upcoming luncheon FOR FREE.

The next event is with Governor Gretchen Whitmer (“Building a Brighter Future”) on February 6. 

Limited seats are available so please complete this google form and get more information here: