Students from Grand Rapids Public Schools now have a place to make an educational game plan with the help of college representatives. Courtesy GRPS
Area education and municipal leaders said they are concerned not enough Grand Rapids Public Schools students make it to and through college — which means the region’s talent pool is not as strong as it could be.
That’s why the city of Grand Rapids, GRPS and nine area colleges and universities have teamed to create a space for students to come with their questions and concerns about college — a place where they can learn how to apply to college, how to make it through financially and academically and whether they should pursue vocational or technical training in lieu of college.
The space the partners have created and opened this month is called Grand Rapids Center for College Success: T2C Studio, which is on the third floor of the Grand Rapids Public Library’s main branch, 111 Library St. NE.
T2C is an extension of a three-year-old initiative called To College, Through College started by the city and GRPS’ Our Community’s Children office. The initiative was created in response to a challenge from former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and aims to bolster the postsecondary success of all students but particularly students of color and first-generation college students.
Establishing T2C Studio as a brick-and-mortar space where students can come for advice was a logical step toward reaching those goals, organizers said.
Shayla Willis is the To College, Through College coordinator and, so far, the sole full-time staff member at T2C Studio. She said T2C was needed to create “a network to best assist the students.”
“We provide a personal and professional experience to figure out what college is for students and how they go about navigating that process and then keeping in contact with them in college to make sure they make it through to their degree,” she said.
Willis said T2C offers one-on-one appointments or drop-in conversations with a Ferris State University representative from 1-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, “to provide a level of genuine service for students and to assist them with questions, whether they want to go to Ferris or another college.”
Omar Gonzalez, coordinator of recruitment, community relations and regional recruitment at Ferris, is the first representative providing counsel in the T2C Studio.
Gonzalez said his job is about providing a certain level of steadiness students can look up to.
“Some of the challenges are that a lot of these students might be the first in their families to consider … college, so having the patience to break it all down, and also calm nerves, is important,” he said. “It’s not like high school where all you have to do is show up. There’s the application process, finances, resources for you to be successful, and if you don’t have time to study, who are you going to see if you need help with homework?
“If I’ve done my job, a student will be able to apply to any postsecondary institution and make a wise, conscious decision about going to school afterward. For some students, school might not be for them. They might want to go to a trade school or the military or something like that. If someone comes in, and I’m able to get them applied and accepted (to college), that’s a good day for me.”
Willis said while Ferris is the first higher education institution to set up shop at T2C, it won’t be the last. The studio receives strategic and financial support from Aquinas College, Calvin College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and Western Michigan University. The plan is for each school to eventually have reps on site offering guidance to student visitors.
“Monthly, the partners come around the table to figure out the best ways to do this work,” she said. “Although they are not here yet, they are planning on being here. This is going to grow into a space where they will all be involved.”
As T2C grows, Willis said she hopes it can offer a more complete array of services, such as “hosting events and workshops, like from Michigan Works! and Grand Rapids Urban League, hosting field trips, and getting students in the space and getting them acclimated.”
Willis said all of their activities keep forward momentum in mind.
“We want to assist in the pipeline from diploma to degree to career,” she said. “We want to provide opportunities for students to envision themselves in the careers they’re seeking, so we can ensure they make it through the postsecondary experience and through college.”
T2C aims to attain nonprofit status in the next few years, Willis said.
“We received funding from the Lumina Foundation, the National League of Cities and our higher education partners,” she said. “And also K-Connect, a countywide initiative comparable to a college access network. And Our Community’s Children serves as the fiduciary and supporting organization for the studio.”
T2C Studio hours of operation are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and Friday and Saturday by appointment.