Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II says Michigan Reconnect has been effective, but there is ‘more work to do’ to improve access to college

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist sitting in a circle with Grand Rapids Community College President Charles Lepper, students, administrators, and faculty members at the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center.

The Michigan Reconnect program has successfully helped residents start or restart a college education, but state leaders “have more work to do” to make a degree or career certificate within reach for others, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II said Monday.

Gilchrist conducted a roundtable discussion with Grand Rapids Community College President Charles Lepper, students, administrators, and faculty members at the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, saying he wanted to hear how the program has been effective, but also how the state can continue to make changes and help more residents.

“We want everyone to be able to determine their own path,” Gilchrist said, noting that additional support services would help the program expand, and help students with financial obstacles and other challenges. “We want to help people finish what they’ve started.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to discuss Michigan Reconnect during her State of the State Address on Wednesday.

The Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs cover the cost of in-district tuition for community college students. Lawmakers last year approved an additional $6 million to help pay for other expenses, such as daycare or transportation.

Reconnect, launched in Feb. 2021, is aimed at students 25 and older who have not yet earned a degree. Frontliners was available in 2020 for residents who worked in essential fields during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown.

The two are part of Gov. Whitmer’s Sixth by 30 goal, hoping to have at least 60 percent of the state’s adults have a college degree or career certificate by 2030.  Gilchrist said the state already is close to 50 percent in just the last two years.

“The pace is good,” he said. “But we have to keep our focus on it.”

Andre Broussard used the Reconnect program to enroll in GRCC’s Computer Support Job Training program. He recently was awarded the first-ever MTEC Leadership Award, which recognizes a student who has gone above and beyond expectation.

“My experience has been very great,” he told Gilchrist. “This took me from being an over-the-road truck driver into now, in IT, as a computer support technician with Magic Steel. This basically gave me a second chance, to redefine what I want to do. This is something I wanted to do since I was a child, and it is coming to fruition now.”

Jodi Holland is a first-generation college student, who came to GRCC at age 58 to gain skills to follow her dreams of being a baker – and also to inspire her grandchildren.

“When I started school, I thought I could become a baker, but now, I’m a pastry chef,” she told Gilchrist. “I’ve learned so much at school. Not just about baking, but about how to manage employees and manage my time.”

Employers have said Michigan’s job market continues to change after the pandemic. Many older students are looking for additional training to advance in their careers, or to start new careers. Employers are looking for people with skills – and also ready to gain more skills by heading back to college.

Michael Welch, vice president of operations for the Grand Rapids-based Magic Steel, said he hopes the state can boost partnerships with employers and colleges.

“As an employer, we sometimes struggle to find people with the right skills,” he said. “This program has helped me get people in the door and be productive, and then we can build from there.”

As of September, 9.5 percent of all state Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners students were at GRCC.

Of the winter semester that started this month, 9, 2,584 students were accepted to GRCC through Reconnect, and 1,141 are enrolled for the winter semester. Others can start in the summer or in the fall.

About half of the enrolled Reconnect students — 556 – are taking classes for the first time. And 464 students are returning after more than two years away to complete their education.

Additional information is available at and

GRCC professor Lauren Woolsey’s love of books and learning leads to a spot on the Library Board of Commissioners

GRCC professor Lauren Woolsey smiling.

A successful run last November for a seat on the Grand Rapids Public Library board fits right in with GRCC professor Lauren Woolsey’s willingness to walk a different path.

After completing two bachelor’s degrees at the University of Maryland, she went on to earn a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics at Harvard. For many academics, the next step would have been some sort of post-doctoral research fellowship. Woolsey had those opportunities, but she turned them down to accept a tenure-track teaching position in GRCC’s Physical Sciences Department.

“I was a teaching fellow for three semesters (at Harvard),” she said. “I had the opportunity to go down a couple of different paths after grad school, but I really like the engagement involved with teaching college students. That passion for teaching drew me to GRCC, and I have never looked back. I am in my dream position.”

She is equally enthused about her new role as member of the Grand Rapids Public Library Board of Commissioners. As a child, she moved a lot, but one constant in her life from state to state was finding the library and “seeing the magic of what was available there.”

“I’ve always loved reading, and I have to thank my parents for using books and trips to the library as rewards,” she added.

So, when she saw there were two empty library commission seats on the ballot last fall, she sensed an opportunity.

“I like to think that I spend some time being aware of societal issues and take seriously how to be a good citizen,” she said. “I didn’t want there to be an empty seat where someone could come in and do some damage, so I asked myself: ‘Do I have the ability, and can I commit to the kind of time it would take to be a good library commissioner?’ I decided that I did, and I am excited to have been elected and to start my work with the board on Jan. 31.”

Woolsey said conversations with GRCC librarian Sophia Brewer helped solidify her decision. Brewer was a GRPL commissioner but had decided to run for a state-level library position — which she later won — so her position was one of the two that needed to be filled.

“It is a positive move for her to be in her new seat, and she was happy that I ran for and won her old seat,” Woolsey added. “And now we have two GRCC people in, hopefully, positions of influence when it comes to libraries.”

Although she ran unopposed, Woolsey still campaigned, including creating an information-filled website.

“I wanted to make sure that voters were actively informed,” she said. “Having information does make a difference. I believe that information is key, and that’s why the public library is key.”

That philosophy is imbued in her approach to all of life. One of her hobbies and interests outside of teaching is board games and game design. She has designed two card games and one board game.

“I’m not trying to make money with my games,” she noted. “But to have made something that people enjoy is quite a lot of fun.”

She also is a regular at Grand Rapids Unpublished Boardgame Society meetings, where attendees play and critique board games in process.

She said she enjoys the give and take of a typical GRUBS get-together.

“We play and test each other’s games,” she said. “It’s really about giving feedback and finding the potential and the positive things in these games that are still developing.”

She said her skills as an instructor lend themselves to what she does at GRUBS and that what she does with the group probably helps her as a GRCC instructor. Indeed, she said the unique nature of a community college is something she still appreciates after almost seven years at GRCC.

“One of the reasons I like teaching so much is the wide range of our students,” she said. “The diverse community we have at GRCC allows me to learn from my students even as they are learning from me.”

This story was reported by Phil de Haan.

GRCC In the News 01/24/2023

Miles of Smiles, public defender among social justice award winners


More than 37,000 patient visits, 22,000 filings, and 21,000 sealants have reduced dental disease for young Miles of Smiles patients.

… Miles of Smiles received the health services award. The Miles of Smiles mobile dental unit run by the Ottawa County Department of Public Health provides on-site preventive and restorative dental services for financially qualifying, uninsured, and Medicaid insured Ottawa County residents. Services are provided at schools, migrant camps, Head Start Centers, and Ottawa County Department of Public Health clinics via a 40-foot mobile unit equipped with a waiting area, laboratory, two operatories, digital x-ray and a wheelchair lift. A volunteer network of more than 100 dentists, hygienists, and Grand Rapids Community College dental hygiene students work as dental healthcare providers. Through Miles of Smiles, kids can get quality dental care right at school, so they don’t miss school days, and the families can depend on good and safe care without having to miss work.

Business Journal recognizes Newsmaker finalists

1/23/23 Grand Rapids Business Journal

Shaking off the effects of a worldwide pandemic, the West Michigan business community moved ahead on firmer footing last year as plans that were dormant for several months finally came to fruition.

… For now, though, here is the first look at the finalists in each of the categories for Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2022 Newsmakers of the Year.


… Juan Olivarez, Grand Rapids Community College

(GRCC alum and trustee Salvador Lopez and alums Preston Sain and Eva Alexander are also finalists.)

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist hosts roundtable in GR on Michigan Reconnect Program

1/23/23 FOX 17

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II was in Grand Rapids on Monday to discuss the impact of the Michigan Reconnect program.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist joined Michigan Reconnect students, Grand Rapids Community College officials, and business leaders at a roundtable to discuss the impact the Michigan Reconnect program has had on creating good-paying jobs around the state and how an expansion of the program would grow Michigan’s economy even further.

Michigan Reconnect program helped 18k Michiganders go back to school

1/23/23 WZZM

Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor visited Grand Rapids Community College today to talk about the success of “Michigan Reconnect.”

Whitmer likely to talk gun violence at State of the State

1/23/23 WOOD TV

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said this week’s State of the State address will likely include comments on legislation aimed at tackling gun violence.

… Gilchrist was at Grand Rapids Community College Monday for a roundtable discussion on Michigan Reconnect, which covers tuition for an associate’s degree for people 25 and over. Gilchrist talked with students and instructors about the program’s successes and what he would like to see continued and expanded, also suggesting we may hear more about that in the governor’s speech.

Lt. Governor Gilchrist to hold roundtable in Grand Rapids ahead of State of the State Address

1/23/23 WILX

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WILX) – Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II will be joining Michigan Reconnect students, Grand Rapids Community College officials, and business leaders on Monday at a roundtable.

Grand Rapids, GRCC offer ‘Water Pool-ooza’ events to promote sustainability, conservation, careers

1/24/23 MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Grand Rapids Community College and the city of Grand Rapids are teaming up to help families learn more about drinking water during two events called “Water Pool-ooza” in February and March.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist visits GRCC to discuss impact of MI Reconnect Program

1/24/23 WZZM

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Ahead of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s annual State of the State address on Jan. 25, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist visited Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) on Monday to speak with faculty and staff regarding the impact of the state’s Michigan Reconnect Program.

Nominations being sought for 2023 Emeritus Faculty Award

You are invited to nominate a GRCC retired faculty or administrator for the Emeritus Faculty Award.

This award was established in 1985 to honor those instructors and administrators whose dedication and creativity have left an indelible mark on the lives of students and colleagues at GRCC.  During their tenure at GRCC and since their retirement, they have continued to promote GRCC’s “Commitment to Excellence.”

Please submit online nominations by noon on Friday,  February 10, 2023. For more information, please visit the Emeritus Award webpage.