GRCC students gaining career skills while learning about the history and impact of GIANT Award honorees

Everyone attending the GIANT Awards 40th anniversary celebration on Saturday will enjoy a chocolate treat created by students and faculty from three Grand Rapids Community College programs, gaining in-demand skills.

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 West Michigan.

The 40th anniversary celebration will highlight past GIANT honorees and present a special award, with recipients revealed at the event. The gala starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at DeVos Place’s Exhibit Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. Details are at

Dr. Werner Absenger, program director for GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, said he recognized the significance of the event, and connected with colleagues in the Manufacturing Department, the School of STEM Mechanical Design department, and the College Advancement team to work on a special project to enhance the celebration.

Faculty and students created about 1,000 chocolate bars with the GIANT Awards 40th anniversary logo, which will be shared with all guests attending the Saturday gala.

Students gained in-demand career skills while learning about the history of the GIANT Awards and how honorees shaped the community.

“The learning experience here is that to mass produce a simple food item, such as a special occasion chocolate bar, we need to have an interdisciplinary approach,” Absenger said. “Mechanical designers conceptualized a mold for plastics engineering students to create, and be used by culinary artists to pour the chocolate into. Communication and planning were the keys to an awesome product.”

Professor Michael Merchant, head of the Mechanical and Architectural Design Department, worked with students and state-of-the-art equipment in GRCC’s Makers Lab to craft the shape of the chocolate bar with the logo, then created a model using a 3D printer.

Merchant then collaborated with professor Scott Lampe, who works with students in the Plastics-Polymer Engineering Technology Certificate program. Lampe used the 3D printed mold and a thermoformer, a machine that surrounds the model in heated plastic, vacuums out the air and creates a reverse image that can be used as a mold for the chocolate.

After a test run, additional models were created to fabricate 66 molds to share with the culinary students in chef Wilfredo Barajas’ pastry class, who used dark chocolate couverture to melt and pour into the molds, then added a golden coating before packaging.

“It’s not a special recipe, but what makes it special is that my CA 204 Pastry students get tons of practice tempering chocolate,” he said. “Working chocolate to have the right crystal formation is advanced pastry. Having 1,000 bars to make has given my students an opportunity to practice and master chocolate tempering. We finished the chocolate bars with edible food-grade gold powder by brushing and, in some instances, we used an air compressor and a spray gun.”

The 40th anniversary logo and packaging was designed by Lisa Kirschner of the GRCC Communications Department.

School News Network feature: GRCC advanced pastry students showcase their in-demand skills in colorful buffet

Jenna Ackerman, sitting behind a display of culinary pastries, smiling.

Jenna Ackerman’s creation looked like a fancy egg on toast, but it was actually something much sweeter.

Ackerman is an advanced pastry student in Grand Rapids Community College’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. The class recently showed off  its colorful array of treats in a pop-up sale in the Foodology Eatery and Café in the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center.

“This pastry buffet is a five-star level; it compares to any hotel or restaurant in the area,” Chef Wilfredo Barajas proudly said of his students’ work. “It might take someone 10 years to learn pastry, but these students learn and master 30-50 techniques in seven weeks.”

Through the Secchia Institute, GRCC students develop baking and pastry skills, and are mentored by instructors who have years of experience in the field and around the world.

Barajas led the seven-week baking and pastry program and prepared his students to create desserts for the pop-up sale, their final project.

“My students may come into this program knowing how to cook, but many of them start with no training or knowledge of pastry,” Barajas said. “When students come to me, I say ‘Let me control you for three to four weeks to build your foundation,’ and then after that they can expand and grow their skills.”

Having trained with master chefs and college-level pastry programs around the country, Barajas said his goal is to prepare his students to go into any kitchen around the world with a well-rounded pastry knowledge and training.

Barajas compared techniques for making pastry to tools in a tool box; if he can give his students all the right tools, he said, they will be well equipped to create desserts with tastes and textures.

More than 2,000 patisseries were prepared by students for the popup and were plated and displayed on a three table-long buffet.

Patrons could choose from chocolate marshmallows, jelly sweets, different flavors of macarons, tiny cream puffs and bonbons of every shape and color to fill their box.

“It was a lot of work,” Ackermann said. “Our class was separated into different teams and each team made a different flavor of macaron and bonbon. That’s how we learned about coloring chocolate.” 

She explained how students used existing recipes and selected their own flavors and colors to create patisseries for the event.

“We learned a lot of new techniques, and it was a team effort to get it all done,” she said.

In addition to their team’s assigned recipes, some students worked on personal projects, like Ackerman’s egg and toast. She created a mango and panna cotta “egg” atop a slice of pound cake to replicate toast.

Even some of the decorations looked delicious. Weeks away from completing her final semester at GRCC, Kat De Vries completed two personal projects to put on display.

“I made a crescent moon and flowers out of pulled sugar and it took two days to make,” she said. “The vase took longer, probably two weeks, and everything is made of fondant and chocolate. Except the flowers on top are gum paste.”

De Vries said she had very little knowledge going into the project of the techniques she would use.

“Now I’ve learned that I can make something like this,” she said.

Previously a Kent Career Tech Center pastry student, De Vries plans to open an online bakery after completing her certification.

This story was reported by Alexis Stark of School News Network.

Tech Tip: MacBook Spotlight

Have you ever found yourself searching for a file or an application on your MacBook that you just can’t find anywhere?

MacBook has a very easy solution to assist with finding things using a keyboard shortcut. Select command + space on your keyboard to bring up the Spotlight menu.

With Spotlight you can find files, open apps, search the web, as well as search for emails. Spotlight can also be used as a calculator and can even make money conversions. 

For more information and helpful tips, please visit the IT Customer Support Portal or contact the IT Customer Support Desk at x4357.

If you have a suggestion or a Technology Tip you think can be useful, you can submit them by emailing 

GRCC In the News 02/24/2023

Student story: Reconnecting with a childhood dream

2/21/23 AACC 21st Century Center (American Association of Community Colleges)

For Shamarri Key, cooking is love.

“I can vividly remember cooking with my family, all of us laughing and joking together,” said Key, a 27-year-old enrolled in Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC’s) culinary arts program. “I felt the overall presence of passion and perseverance that gave me the enthusiasm to thrive for a bigger purpose.”

‘He had a heart for people:’ Grand Rapids to mull naming street after late prominent pastor

2/21/23 MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The beloved, late Bishop Dennis J. McMurray was someone who tried to help people be the best they could be, his son told city leaders Tuesday.

… McMurrary is credited with making significant contributions to the Grand Rapids community and beyond. In October, he was named the 2022 GIANT Among Giants for his contributions in shaping the history, culture and quality of life in the Grand Rapids community at the annual event hosted by Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC).

Dr. Malinda Prince Sapp: Grand Rapids educator, pastor, women’s and community advocate

2/22/23 95.7 FM

All month long, the Grand Rapids Historical Society and I will be sharing Black History facts that have taken place right here in Grand Rapids.

… Blessed with the gift of teaching, MaLinda was a National Board Certified Counselor, a licensed psychologist, and taught classes as a psychology professor at Grand Rapids Community College. 

Patisserie pop-up

2/22/23 School News Network (Kent Intermediate School District)

Macarons, cream puffs and bonbons, oh my.

On their last day open for the semester, campus lunch spot Foodology hosted a pastry pop-up for the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education’s advanced pastry students to showcase what they’ve learned over their seven-week program.  

Multiple schools close Wednesday, Feb. 22, as winter storm bears down on West Michigan

2/22/23 MLive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Multiple school districts across West Michigan have closed Wednesday, Feb. 22, as a winter storm, bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain, is expected to make driving conditions hazardous.

… Aquinas College, Calvin College, Grand Rapids Community College, Kyper College and Muskegon Community College are also closed but some has classes online. For a complete list of closings, go to WZZM-13 school closings page.

KConnect se asocia con expertos en políticas regionales y estatales para abordar desigualdades

2/22/23 El Informadora USA

KConnect, una organización de impacto colectivo local centrada en la equidad, se ha asociado con la Liga de Políticas Públicas de Michigan y los expertos en políticas locales Kathleen L. Bruinsma y John Helmholdt para abordar la necesidad de una agenda política común para el condado de Kent. KConnect también incorporó a la Dra. Shayla Young para que dirija el trabajo como becaria postdoctoral de la comunidad centrada en la participación comunitaria y la política y defensa.

… Kathleen Bruinsma es abogada de Grand Rapids y fideicomisaria elegida de Grand Rapids Community College. Ha realizado análisis de políticas y defensa de organizaciones sin fines de lucro, pequeñas empresas y coaliciones comunitarias a lo largo de su carrera. Para Kathleen, la política pública es tanto una profesión como una pasión porque es esencial para hacer justicia.

(KConnect, a local equity-focused collective impact organization, has partnered with the Michigan Public Policy League and local policy experts Kathleen L. Bruinsma and John Helmholdt to address the need for a common policy agenda for Kent County. KConnect also brought on board Dr. Shayla Young to lead the work as a community postdoctoral fellow focused on community engagement and policy and advocacy.

… Kathleen Bruinsma is a Grand Rapids attorney and an elected trustee of Grand Rapids Community College. She has conducted policy analysis and advocacy for nonprofits, small businesses, and community coalitions throughout her career. For Kathleen, public policy is both a profession and a passion because it is essential to getting justice done.)

Colleges close, modify classes for icy blast

2/23/23 FOX 17

WEST MICHIGAN — Several Michigan universities and colleges are closed Thursday after icy coated much of West Michigan, others are restarting or going remote to avoid students braving conditions.

CLOSED THURSDAY: Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kalamazoo College, Aquinas College, Grand Rapids Community College, Davenport University’s Grand Rapids Campus, Montcalm Community College, Tulip City Beauty College, and Kendall College of Art & Design of FSU.

Morning News

2/24/23 WZZM

(GIANTS Awards.)

Greenville graduate Brock Kohler signs to continue basketball career at Cleary University

2/24/23 The Daily News (Greenville)

Brock Kohler’s journey to college basketball hasn’t been conventional, but going against the grain is what has put him in the position he’s in today.

Kohler graduated from Greenville High School in 2018 and was originally going to continue his basketball career at Grand Rapids Community College the following season. He was unable to enroll, however, due to financial issues, but found his way back to GRCC in 2020, when he started his college basketball career.

Commencement Volunteers Wanted

Dear Colleagues,

The event of the year is here, along with an opportunity for you to play a part in our students’ BIG NIGHT.

Commencement is the happiest time of year in higher ed as we see the students we’ve supported over the years achieve their degree and celebrate their accomplishments.

If you are not faculty or a Dean that needs to participate in the academic procession, please volunteer your time to support this event and the achievements of our students on this special occasion.

Please sign up here by March 1.

The Commencement planning team

Join GRCC’s Older Learners at the movies

Join GRCC’s Older Learners at the movies to see 80 for Brady starring Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Rita Moreno, and Lily Tomlin!

This is open to students, staff, faculty, and the general public who are 60 years old or older.

We will be meeting outside the Rivertown Celebration Cinema movie theater at 11:00am on Monday, February 27, 2023.

Lunch on your own at the food court (we can sit together!)

either before or after the movie depending on the scheduled showtime*

Tickets for the movie are $10 or less**

Registration appreciated at