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.

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