When administrators asked Turner Sytsma to help a younger student who was facing struggles in school and at home, the East Grand Rapids High School senior stepped up.
“I’ve been meeting with him to keep him on track and give him support and guidance. He’s a cool kid, a great kid,” said Turner, who has gotten to know the student by regularly spending time with him.
“He’s now engaging more. His schoolwork is picking up more too,” Turner added. “It’s very rewarding for me to see others achieve.”
Turner’s willingness to reach out to peers has caught the attention of teachers and administrators, and is a reason he’s featured here as part of the School News Network Student Leaders series.
Along with helping students with schoolwork, Turner, son of Michael and Kristen Sytsma, is captain of the EGR High School boys’ crew team, He serves on Interact, a Grand Rapids Rotary youth group, volunteers at Degage Ministries, and welcomes host families at Trinity Lutheran Church.
“I want to leave a positive influence on the people I meet and interact with,” he said. “I guess my hope would be that I’ve positively influenced my peers, both seniors moving onto college, should they choose to do so, and also the underclassmen, hoping maybe they will find themselves being leaders to others too.”
Math teacher Mary Elderkin said Turner has left an impression on the student body.
“Turner is a very kind, polite, caring individual,” Elderkin said. “The other students have genuine respect for him. He is the student who is nice to everyone and is a role model for the Be Nice campaign,” which educates students about mental well being, anti-bullying and the importance of treating others with civility.
“Turner positively influences his peers by being kind to all and living a life with a mission to help others,” she added. “But what I like most of all about Turner is that he makes me smile every day. He leaves class each day with ‘Have a great day Mrs. Elderkin.'”
Getting Everyone ‘In Sync’
His respect for others transfers to leadership on the crew team, where Turner said he’s seen collaboration lead to success.
“With rowing, it’s not so much about being an athletic person,” he said. “It also has to do with how you work with others. It’s so crucial when you row that everyone is in sync, that you’re all rowing with each other. It’s a very cool team-bonding experience when you finally get a good boat together and it fits perfectly. That’s when you really start pulling ahead.
“It’s a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different gifts and abilities,” he added. “To get them all focused on one goal is rewarding.”
Pursuing His Passions
Sytsma plans to pursue engineering as a college undergraduate, then medicine to become a doctor specializing in neurology or cardiology. His top choices include the University of Notre Dame, the University of Michigan and Miami University in Ohio. He explained, “I’m really passionate about engineering and I’m really passionate about medicine, but in case medicine doesn’t work out I will have something to fall back on.”
In Interact, he brainstorms with four other East Grand Rapids students and other Grand Rapids area students on ways to serve the city. “We get to converse and share ideas on how to make Grand Rapids better,” he said, noting they get to connect with a wide range of professionals.
He’s also gifted in art, as a sculptor, and as a bassist in jazz band. Art teacher Terry Szpieg said Turner goes out of his way to assist other students in the classroom, studio and athletic arena.
“Turner is a mentor, role model and model citizen– routinely going above and beyond expectations,” Szpieg said. “Turner is thoughtful, intelligent and willing to do what he knows is right, even when his actions go unnoticed. He conducts himself with dignity and respect.”
Turner always takes what he learns a step beyond the classroom.
“I love learning new things and finding out about new stuff. I’ve always had a strong curiosity.” The sciences especially intrigued him, and even as a young child he would read science- and engineering-based magazines.
“I loved reading through those and seeing the advances and thinking, ‘What else can you do? What more can you think? What else can one contribute that would be helpful and new?’ “