GRCC support services guide student to success



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications


April 29, 2014 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A network of support services turned a rocky start into smoother sailing for Grand Rapids Community College student Sean Smith, who now looks forward to graduation on May 2.

Smith, a Rogers High School graduate and first-generation college student, ended up attending GRCC a year later than he planned. The reason? He didn’t know about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form.

“I know it may sound silly, but I just didn’t have a clue about certain things like that,” he said. “In the beginning, the whole idea of going to college was intimidating because I didn’t know who to go to for advice — no one in my family had ever been that far, so I was forging a new pathway all on my own and it was frustrating at times.”

But then he became part of GRCC’s TRiO/Student Support Services program. TRiO’s staff is experienced in handling the questions and concerns that first-generation college students face. Smith said everything changed once he began working with TRiO adviser Anna Maria Clark.

“Sean’s academic achievement and academic ability can be described as the incredible journey of a TRiO student into the world of academia,” Clark said. “He began this journey full of uncertainty, without a stronghold he could call for support. Since he joined our program, I have seen Sean transformed — he has taken in all of what we have to offer in Student Support Services, and at GRCC, and put it to work.”

Smith added, “All my worries came to an end when I got involved in that program, and because of Anna Maria and TRiO, I have gotten many opportunities and my college experience has been much smoother in the second half.”

With a support system firmly in place, Smith felt free to take advantage of the college opportunities that came his way. Last summer, he participated in the Community College Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the University of Michigan. He was selected by his peers to participate in the program’s closing symposium, where he presented his research — “School Clubs and their Influence on African-American Male Education” — to an auditorium of students, faculty and guests. He also served as a peer mentor for TRiO and is a member of Alpha Beta Omega, GRCC’s leadership development program for African-American males. He also volunteered his time with the Diversity Lecture Series; the Race, Ethnicity and Identity Conference; and the Latino Youth Conference.

GRCC’s 2014 commencement will take place at 6 p.m. May 2 in Ford Fieldhouse, 111 Lyon St. NE. Tickets are required to attend.

Smith plans to get a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Michigan and then pursue a post-graduate degree in social work.

“I am leaning towards activism,” he said. “Specifically? Poverty, race relations — not just in black and white, but minority versus minority — immigration and food deserts.”

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for more than 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.