Behind the wheel of a Zamboni: GRCC student Maggie Voelkel navigates life and ice while completing her education

Maggie Voelkel is at Van Andel Arena on a Saturday afternoon, and she is on the move.

Although puck drop for the Grand Rapids Griffins isn’t for another two hours, she’s walking with a purpose through the ground-level labyrinth on the building’s south side, headed toward her favorite of the two Zambonis that are used to make the ice right for the home squad.

There are propane tanks to be checked, water levels that need to be ascertained, maybe a tire or two that needs topping off and, in general, a thorough walk-around to make sure “the Zam” is ready to roll.

She’s one of two drivers at the arena, and on Griffins game nights, the first of her three passes takes place at roughly 6:48 p.m., after both teams have their pre-game warmup, with one more after each of the first two periods. And for Voelkel, a Grand Rapids Community College student on track to graduate in August 2023, nothing is left to chance.

“Driving the Zam is a little like driving a car,” she said with a big smile. “Except it’s a really expensive car. So, you definitely want to double-check and triple-check everything.”

Voelkel first took the wheel of a Zamboni in 2014 when she was hired to keep the ice clean – among many other sundry duties – at Griff’s Icehouse in Grand Rapids. That apprenticeship, of sorts, led to a call-up to the big leagues five years ago when she was hired to do the job at Van Andel Arena.

A new Zamboni runs around $200,000 and, according to the Zamboni website, there are only 12,000 or so in the world. The machines, named after inventor Frank J. Zamboni, resurface the arena’s ice.

The two Zambonis at Van Andel Arena are similar but with some small, subtle differences, and Voelkel prefers driving the Meijer Jolly Green Giant. By now, she said, it fits her like a glove. But she still recalls her maiden voyage on a machine that weighs almost 10,000 pounds when filled with water.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “I was so nervous. It was a Saturday night, and there was a huge crowd. My hands were shaking.”

But just like a player making his professional debut with the Griffins, Voelkel had to trust her training and lean on the fundamentals of her craft.

“I had to remind myself that the rink here is the same size as at Griff’s,” she said. “And the Zamboni is basically the same Zamboni. Once I settled down a little, I was fine.”

In fact, the arena staff gave her a puck from that game, just like a player might get a puck for his first game or first goal.

“I have it in a case by my nightstand,” she said with a laugh. “I’m such a hockey nerd.”

Voelkel comes by it honestly. She grew up playing hockey, still plays in various leagues around town and her husband, Zach Feldt, is a manager and adult hockey league coordinator at Patterson Ice Arena (where Voelkel is an on-call, emergency Zam driver).

She calls driving the Zamboni her dream job, and she gets to live out that dream in five-hour increments 40 nights a year at Griffins home games, plus at other events in the arena as needed.

But she also works full time at HearUSA, a hearing aid center on the north side of Grand Rapids, and she is back at GRCC, taking a class a semester as she works her way toward a degree in Exercise Science.

Like many GRCC students, Voelkel’s higher education path has not been a straight line from her 2014 Northview High School graduation. She first went to Ferris State University with an eye toward a degree and a career in athletic training, but it didn’t work out as she had hoped, with cost being a major factor.

Then came her first pass at GRCC, but she ended up leaving the college four credits short of an associate degree in Exercise Science. Being so close nagged at her, like a little strip of missed ice in the middle of a freshly cleaned sheet – the bane of Zamboni drivers around the world.

So last summer, she returned to the classes and labs of a college campus for the third time. And now she is on track to graduate this year with that degree in Health and Exercise Science. She said she wants to make a difference in the world in whatever ways, big and small, that she can.

“Doing something with physical therapy or occupational therapy would be my dream,” she said. “With my current job, I can make a small difference. But I think it would be extremely rewarding to work with people in a physical therapy session and help them get to where they’re trying to go.”

GRCC has helped her see that her dreams are possible, she said.

“A lot of my favorite classes are the ones pertaining to my degree,” she said. “All of my professors are so passionate about teaching and make sure to let us know that they are available to help. It is nice seeing how they not only care about what they are teaching, but also making sure we succeed as students.”

Her own personal journey and growth has also contributed to her continued success as a student.

“When I first started at GRCC, I was in a toxic relationship,” she said. “My focus was not fully there, and I also worked a lot at that time as well. My focus began to fade, and I had to take time off and build myself back up. Being 26 now, I have gone through and have overcome many life obstacles.”

Voelkel also credits her mom and many other women in her extended family for her growing sense of self and her quiet independence.

“I do not have to work as much as I do, but I do like to make sure money is saved just in case,” she said. “My mom is strong and had to go through a lot. I work as much as I do and want to develop my career, so my life doesn’t have to be as much of a struggle as what she went through.”

Top speed on a Zamboni is just under 10 mph, and it takes time – almost 10 minutes of more or less going in circles for one machine to resurface a typical ice rink. But at the end of those 10 minutes, hacked-up, snowy ice has been turned into a smooth, glistening sheet that’s perfect for skating.

There’s another thing too. When you drive the Zam, Voelkel said, you can’t exactly see where you’re going.

“You really can’t see over the front of it at all,” she said with a laugh. “People don’t realize that.”

Instead, you navigate by looking off to the side, to your left, using little navigational guides like the lines on the Zam and the boards and other visual aids that come to be part of your toolkit over time.

Voelkel said her higher education journey has been a little like that. Though it might appear she has been going in circles, she’s making progress and her degree is in sight. The view out front has often been imperfect, but leaning on the little things in her life that stay constant has helped her understand that she’s making progress, going in the right direction and getting to where she needs to be.

That it took a community college to make it happen is something she wishes she had known more about a decade ago.

“A four-year degree is not something everybody needs to do,” she said as she watched the Griffins warm up just a few feet away. “It’s not for everybody. GRCC has been great for me. It’s maybe taken me a little longer to get to where I want to be, but I’m getting there.”

Like a fresh sheet of ice, her future awaits.

This story was reported by Phil de Haan.

GRCC hosting adjunct recruiting event for people willing to share their expertise, help the next generations

Are you ready to change lives? Grand Rapids Community College is hosting an adjunct recruiting event where you can learn about the job and how you can help change students’ lives through education.

The recruiting event runs 8 a.m. to noon March 18 at GRCC’s Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE. Following presentations on the hiring process and resources for adjuncts, department heads and current adjuncts will be available to answer questions. A light breakfast is included, and help will be available for the application process. 

Please RSVP online by March 15.

While those who specialize in any subject are welcome to attend, GRCC is primarily interested in adjuncts for:

  • Applied Technology.
  • Biology.
  • Construction Electrical Apprenticeship.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Mathematics.
  • Psychology.

‘Darwin Never Saw This Coming’ lecture by Dr. Forbes March 23

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 March 23 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Calkins Science Center Auditorium, room 348. Doors open at 6:40 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

Michigan Humanists host local and national guest lecturers on a wide variety of topics related to their mission. Topics often include: science, religion, philosophy, social issues, politics, atheism, humanism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, evolution, morality and ethics, secularism, rationalism, psychology, and others.

GRCC In the News 03/14/2023

GRCC ATC Secchia Piazza team wins 2023 WCA Pyramid Award

3/13/23 Granger Construction press release

Monday, March 13, 2023 | Congratulations to the Grand Rapids Community College ATC Secchia Piazza project team as they were honored with a Washtenaw Contractors Association 2023 Pyramid Award on Friday, March 10 for Best Project Team for projects $3 – $25 million.

Workforce development leaders seek state funding for community, short-term training


GRAND RAPIDS — West Michigan workforce development leaders say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget proposal should include a greater focus on short-term training programs and community organizations currently excluded from state-funded talent initiatives.

You can also call them coach

March 2023 Golf Course Industry

The men and women who spend their lives maintaining and improving golf courses have an abiding passion for their work. They also share an affection for the game of golf. And some are sharing their love of the game by serving as high school coaches, and helping their players grow and mature, not just as golfers but as people.

… An Iowa native, (Steve) Hammon started playing golf at age 7. After his family moved to Michigan, he played high school golf and spent a year competing for Grand Rapids Community College before enrolling in the two-year turf management program at Michigan State.

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.

IIPD Grant applications due March 17

The GRCC Grants Department is accepting applications for the Instructional Improvement & Professional Development (IIPD) Program. The purpose of the award is to support faculty professional development to ensure continued growth, develop new avenues of instruction and curriculum, and to enhance the professional lives of faculty for increased student learning, achievement and success.

Awards are for amounts up to $5,000 and the deadline is Friday, March 17, 2023 at 4:30 p.m. The IIPD application packet and guidelines are available on the Grants Department webpage at 

Please note that applications must include a signed Dean’s Approval form and Department Head approval form, a budget form, and budget documentation. If you have any questions about IIPD grants, please contact Julie Blaszak at Good luck!

Member Purchase Program exclusive deals with Dell

It’s coming soon: Twice a year tech exclusives! Dell’s Semi Annual Sale starts 3/9.

Sale runs 3/9 – 4/6, accessible on your exclusive member page:

     Sale Highlights and limited-time pricing:

  • Alienware x17 R2 Gaming Laptop – $3,199.99 (save $1,350) – sale ends 3/23
  • Inspiron 14 Laptop – $649.99 (save $300) – sale ends 3/23
  • XPS 15 Laptop – $1,499 (save $400) – sale ends 4/6

Young adults with computers.

Deadline Tomorrow:  Over $1,000,000 in scholarships available to students from the GRCC Foundation  

Student interacting with Kristi Welling.

The priority deadline is tomorrow, March 15, so please remind and encourage the students you teach and support to complete the GRCC Scholarship application.

They can fill out a single application to be considered for over three hundred scholarships!

These scholarships can provide them with free money to help cover 2023-24 GRCC tuition, books and fees. 

Students should apply for GRCC scholarships on our Scholarships webpage.

In order to maximize scholarship opportunities, students should also complete a 2023-24  FAFSA.

English Department ‘Spring Reading’ March 23

Please pass this along to our students.

Thursday, March 23 from 7:00 – 8:30 PM

In the GRCC Library and Learning Commons, 2nd Floor

7 PM – Poetry & Prose Readings by GRCC English Department faculty

  • Susan Davis
  • Katie Kalisz
  • Mursalata Muhammad
  • Nora Neill

7:45PM – Q & A: On Writing and A Writer’s Education

Event Details: Reader Bios & additional information on the English Department Spring Reading webpage.