For Terri Handlin-Mulligan, so much started for her at Grand Rapids Junior College.
She’s made plans to ensure that GRCC continues to give students a good start on their education and career goals.
Handlin-Mulligan’s first role was GRJC student.
“A stay-at-home mom who was a friend wanted to go back to JC,” she said. “Another friend also wanted to return to college. So we all said, ‘Let’s go together.’ It’s an incentive to return when you are enrolling with friends.”
She majored in general business and received her associate degree in 1974. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a teaching certificate from Western Michigan University and then master’s degrees in career and technical education from the University of Michigan and in educational administration from Michigan State University.
Handlin-Mulligan went on to spend 30 years in classrooms, as a teacher and administrator in Forest Hills Public Schools. She taught business classes, developed mentorships and created volunteer programs for high school students. She also served as director of Adult and Community Education, assistant principal at Forest Hills Central High School and director of Career and Technical Education.
“Every step was so rewarding, and I know I made a difference in many, many lives,” she said.
In 1991, she stepped into a major role during a key moment in the college’s history: After 77 years of existence, Grand Rapids Junior College separated from the Grand Rapids school district and became Grand Rapids Community College. Handlin-Mulligan was part of the first group of 25 Kent County residents to run for seven positions on the newly formed board of trustees. She won that first election and remained on the board until 2013.
“It has been a life-changing experience to see this college grow over the years,” she said. “It became the center of our city -- the place to begin your college education. Our work programs were also well-respected in the Kent County community. Many students came for technical training and grew into careers that provided Grand Rapids a leading edge in manufacturing and technology.”
While Handlin-Mulligan enjoyed representing GRCC and meeting and working with community and national leaders, one event was a consistent highlight.
“The biggest high for me was graduation every May,” she said. “Such a rewarding position to be in -- shaking the hands of people young and older who valued education. I knew they were making a change in their lives that would better not only their economic status but family and community status.”
Handlin-Mulligan, the 2015 Distinguished Alumna, has taken steps in her estate planning to ensure that GRCC continues to serve West Michigan.
Handlin-Mulligan, who was among GRCC’s first Salute to Women recipients in 1999, especially wants to assist women students.
“I would not have had all the opportunities that I had if GRJC had not helped me get my educational start,” she said. “Many of us are on the other side of careers. It is truly our responsibility to help others achieve their goals. Now it is our chance to give back to the institution that gave us that first step.”