Doug Wiersma went to college after high school and quickly decided it was not the right place for him. But now, he spends his days at Grand Rapids Community College teaching students as they start down their own educational journeys, helping them gain in-demand skills.
Wiersma left college to work as an electrical apprentice. He worked his way through the electrical trade from a Journeyman’s to a Master’s License. Eventually he became an estimator and project manager specializing in electrical design-build projects.
Wiersma began teaching at GRCC as an adjunct professor in 1999. He never intended to work in higher education full time. However, colleague George Waite encouraged Wiersma to start a Construction Electrical Job Training program at GRCC.
Wiersma was won over, and soon discovered how much he enjoyed working with students and helping them reach their career goals. He teaches them through hands-on demonstrations and projects.
Job Training programs are unique due to the amount of time instructors and students spend together. Wiersma spends eight-hour days, four days a week with his students, providing an opportunity for students to experience “life in their trade” first hand.
Some of Wiersma’s most memorable moments as an instructor involve watching students discover their passions and grow through the electrical trade.
Wiersma recalls one specific student who came into Job Training frustrated and lost. The student was married, had some life experience, and was looking for an opportunity to change the direction his life was going. Upon graduating he was offered an apprenticeship with a major company.
Wiersma ran into this student over five years later while sitting at the Gerald R. Ford Airport. He heard someone call his name, and when he turned around the student was there with his wife, two daughters, and a new Disney t-shirt. The family was returning from a vacation in Orlando.
“I barely recognized him,” Wiersma said, “His whole face had changed from despondent and lifeless, to cheerful and confident. He went on to introduce me to his family and talk about how much he enjoyed his career as a Journeyman and project manager.”
Moments like this encourage Wiersma to continue to invest in the students in the Job Training program. Many students coming into the program are unsure what direction their career will take. Wiersma encourages students to work hard and make sure they enjoy what they are doing.
Current student Ben Mast said, “I feel like most of the students don’t have any experience when they started. I’m super grateful to have Doug as my instructor. He is super knowledgeable. He’s got an answer for everything and he also makes it super fun!”