GRCC’s Juan Olivarez earns Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker honors for forging partnerships, helping students

GRCC's Juan Olivarez holding an award for Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker honors.

Grand Rapids Community College President Emeritus Juan. R. Olivarez was named Newsmaker of the Year in the education category by the Grand Rapids Business Journal in recognition of new community partnerships forged was serving as interim president.

“Grand Rapids Community College consistently made GRBJ headlines this past year as it added new programs to boost local talent and improve student outcomes,” the news organization wrote in a profile prior to the event, held Thursday at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

Olivarez, who previously served as the college’s eighth president from 1999 to 2008, served as interim president from June 2022 through January 2023 during a presidential search.

“I’m proud to accept this award because it reflects the good work we do at Grand Rapids Community College, and especially the partnerships we have throughout West Michigan,” Olivarez said after being presented with the award. “We also work closely with my fellow finalists, President Richard Pappas from Davenport University and President Philomena Mantella from Grand Valley State University. We work together toward a common goal of providing a quality education for the people of West Michigan.”

GRCC this year helped bolster West Michigan’s health care talent pool through local partnerships. One such significant partnership was with University of Michigan Health-West and will see GRCC students placed at UMH-West upon completion of GRCC’s nursing program.

The college also earned a $2.9 million grant toward its health care program, partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to help students struggling with food or housing insecurities and partnered with Dell and Intel to expand its AI computing programs.

My GRCC Story podcast: Jamillya Hardley says being a first-generation student, U of M athlete helps her support students

Jamillya Hardley sitting in front of a microphone and smiling, with MY GRCC STORY logo.

Jamillya Hardley was a first-generation college student who was determined to succeed as a student, but also as an athlete, playing for the University of Michigan women’s basketball team.

Hardley said she draws on her experiences in her role as assistant director of the Grand Rapids Community College Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Hardley shared her journey to GRCC and how her new role finds her supporting students and planning important campus events including Black History Month activities and next month’s Salute to Women on the My GRCC Story podcast.

Hardley said she faced adversity as a student and an athlete, and was supported by strong mentors who challenged and motivated her. She thinks about the support she received as she builds relationships with GRCC students.

“I’ve sat across the table from many different folks, a wide variety of races, cultures, backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve been able to identify some sort of aspect or trait or characteristic that I’ve seen in myself in the students that I’m working with. I am able to naturally learn and listen and then identify some of those characteristics that we have in common, even though we may not look the same. A lot of the stories and the incidents and the situations college students are going through, I’ve done it. I’m a walking testimony.”

Hardley graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High school. She played sports, focused on academics, and earned a full-ride scholarship to University of Michigan, where she played four years on the basketball team.

“Playing in the Big 10 conference, you are learning every single day,” she said. “You are learning on the court and off the court. You have to be all in. It taught me time management, it taught me to be on a routine, and it taught me family. I’ll never forget those conversations around ‘It’s bigger than us.’ ‘It’s bigger than you as an individual player.’”

Living away from home and going to college was challenging.

“I had to figure it out on my own,” she said. “I had to bump my head. A few times I had to learn from my mistakes. I had to hear rejection, a few nos to learn and shape myself as a student. And even personally, being first generation meant that I had to have it together while learning while I didn’t have it together.”

She is excited about the events planned for Black History Month, with a keynote address from Grand Rapids Pride Center Director Jazz McKinney at 4 p.m. on Feb. 9 in GRCC’s Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center Auditorium, 151 Fountain Street NE.

Details and registration for the month’s events are here.

“What we learn in a text book, it can be beyond that,” she said about the month. “Conversations around different cultures, and identifying African American contributions to the world. And we get to expand upon that, whether it is music, food, clothing, fashion, modern arts. There are so many things we don’t talk about in school or especially when growing up, and we need to have those conversations and learn. The key component is that continuation of learning and being able to find beauty in diversity.”

The My GRCC Story podcast is available here, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other hosting sites.

Health expert, television star Dr. Jacqueline Walters – ‘Dr. Jackie’ – to deliver keynote at GIANT Awards 40th anniversary celebration

Dr. Jacqueline Walters smiling.

Dr. Jacqueline Walters – better known as “Dr. Jackie” – a philanthropist, health expert, women’s advocate, television personality and award-winning doctor of obstetrics and gynecology will be the keynote speaker for this month’s GIANT Awards 40th Anniversary celebration.

The 40th anniversary celebration, hosted by Grand Rapids Community College, will highlight the past GIANT honorees and present a special anniversary award, with recipients revealed at the event.

Since 1983, GRCC has hosted the annual awards recognizing African American leaders and organizations for their exceptional contributions in shaping the history and quality of life in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

The gala is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at DeVos Place’s Exhibit Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. Individual tickets are $100, with eight-seat tables available for $1,000. Both can be purchased online at

Walters is a two-time breast cancer survivor and founded the 50 Shades of Pink Foundation, an organization focused on treating the inner and outer beauty of survivors. The Atlanta resident is featured on the Bravo hit reality series “Married to Medicine” and is a frequent speaker on the topics of women’s health, wellness and self-esteem.

Walters has been featured on HLN, the “STEVE” talk show, ESSENCE, Glamour,,, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Rolling Out. She speaks frequently around the country on women’s health, wellness and self-esteem.

Local media personalities Jamal Spencer, Eddie Rucker and Jennifer Moss will serve as emcees.

The event is being planned by a community committee that includes Vanessa Greene, Larry Johnson, Tempy Mann, Darius Quinn, Faye Richardson-Green, Misti Stanton and Shannon Wilson, and facilitated by GRCC President Emeritus Juan Olivarez and GRCC leaders.

The annual GIANT Awards, last presented in October 2022, salute 11 leaders. Each award is named after a local person who has demonstrated excellence and serves as a perpetual memorial to those notable contributions.

Honorees have made meaningful contributions to Grand Rapids in a variety of areas, including justice, education, religion, medicine, humanities, business and labor.

The Junior GIANT Award, named in honor of GIANT founders Dr. Patricia Pulliam and Cedric Ward, are presented each year to students of African American heritage who have demonstrated leadership, community involvement and impact. The Milo M. Brown Scholarship is presented to at least one male and one female African American GRCC students returning as full-time sophomores for the following fall semester.

Now Open: GRCC Online Store

The GRCC Online Store is open once again!

We are actively stocking our shelves with all kinds of great equipment. The Online Store sells replaced computer equipment and more back to the community at hugely discounted pricing.

Head to the link below to see what’s in stock.

New walk-in store area opening Feb. 22!

The Online Store now has a store front located on Devos Campus, Sneden Hall, Room 115. We will be doing a soft opening for all GRCC students and employees on Feb. 22, 2023. The store will be open from 12pm-5pm.

Come shop in person or just stop in to say hello.

IT Notification: Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation

On Saturday, May 6th, between 9am-11am, GRCC IT will be updating Blackboard to incorporate the new Ultra Base Navigation. This new navigation has a sleek, modern look and feel, and will save you time with simpler workflows and easier access to important information.

What is Ultra Base Navigation?
It is a more modern, intuitive navigation menu that provides quick access to the most critical information from across all courses in Blackboard Learn. It creates a more engaging, efficient, and enjoyable experience for students and instructors, without having to change courses.

What does this mean for me?

  • Your courses will not change. They will look and operate exactly as they do now.
  • Starting May 6th, you will see the new navigation as soon as you sign into Blackboard Learn.

How will this enhance your efficiency and experience?

  • Modern, intuitive user experience. 
  • Works well on mobile devices. This navigation is designed to work well regardless of which device you’re using.
  • Aggregates important information. All your course and organization information like calendar, messages, and grades, is now consolidated into one global view, minimizing the time spent navigating into each individual course.
  • Only one click away. See something that needs your attention? Just click on it and you will be taken directly there, minimizing clicks and saving time.  
  • Optional Ultra Course View. With the Ultra Base Navigation, interested faculty will be able to pilot Blackboard’s new course interface, the Ultra Course View. Please contact us to learn more.

How can I check it out early?

You are able to check out Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation prior to May 6th in our Blackboard Staging site located at In addition, the Blackboard Staging site was refreshed with all your course and organization data as of 1/15.  Please note any changes in our Blackboard Production site ( after 1/15 will not be reflected in the Blackboard Staging environment, since it was a one time refresh.  

Where can I find more information?

We’ve provided some links below to Ultra Base Navigation references to get you started.  In addition, the Teaching, Learning, and Distance Education (TLDE) area will be offering several Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation learning opportunities in the coming months. 

Please check out their upcoming events and registration page for more information. TLDE also has created a Ultra Base Navigation transition page that has plenty of information and resources available for you to reference. 

Please contact TLDE with any questions you may have regarding Blackboard Ultra Base Navigation at or (616) 234-3205.



GRCC In the News 02/09/2023


2/8/23 Community College Daily (American Association of Community Colleges)

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-Michigan) toured Grand Rapids Community College’s Tassell MTEC and discussed federal funding for the new GRCC Center for Automation. (Photo: GRCC/Steve Jessmore)

‘We’re scrambling to catch up:’ Black residents say river restoration engagement efforts fall short

2/8/23 MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — With plans underway to spend millions on park and trail improvements along the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Black community leaders spoke Wednesday about the need to ensure all residents benefit from and share in those investments.

… In addition to the equity framework discussion, there were breakout sessions during Wednesday’s meeting to teach businesses about contracting opportunities tied to the river restoration. Another session, led by Grand Rapids Community College, provided information about skilled trades training, officials said.

Reminder that nominations for the Salute to Women Awards are due Feb. 17

25th Annual Salute to Women Awards logo in fancy blue script.

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) wants to send out a friendly reminder that the 25th Annual Salute to Women Awards is right around the corner.

The deadline for all nomination submissions are due Friday, February 17, 2023.

The award celebrates the accomplishments of women and gender equity advocates who impact the GRCC community.

The award is open to all GRCC stakeholders regardless of gender or gender identity.

The nomination form is available on the ODEI Salute to Women website.

The awards recognition ceremony will take place Wednesday, March 29 from Noon to 1 p.m. in Sneden 108.