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Student-organized college Q&A panel earns high marks

Grandville — For high school students who plan to attend a college or university, choosing which school is one of the biggest decisions of their young lives. And it can be hard to filter out all the admissions jargon to determine which school will be the best fit for personal, career and lifestyle goals.

“The things that colleges will tell you is, ‘Oh, it’s so great here. You want our college because our degree is better, our experiences are better.’ It’s kind of sugar-coated,” said senior Aiden Martin, student council vice president. “It would be great to see not just a one-sided view of things, (but) to see everything from a unique student perspective.”

So he and his peers made it happen. 

With administrative permission, Aiden, fellow senior Karl Kepler, and sophomore and brother Kelvin Kepler created the “Service Project for Educational Development,” a Q&A session open to students from all grades. Featuring a panel of GHS graduates who went to different colleges and pursued different careers, the organizers invited attendees to ask anything they’d always wanted to know about college life. 

“Our goal was to get to know what college is like beyond the numbers,” said Karl, president of the National Honor Society and moderator of the panel. “We know everyone has a lot of questions about college, and that’s one of the reasons I really wanted to do this. I’m going into college, but I don’t know too much about college — I might as well help everybody.”  

Karl took the lead on recruiting alumni for the virtual gathering, while Kelvin worked on promotion and Aiden handled technical and logistical needs. The team ended up with a panel of three GHS alumni: 2018 grad Matt Kocsis, who is pursuing a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Michigan; 2018 grad Peyton Stallings, who earned a degree in finance at Michigan State and now works for United Airlines; and 2019 grad Jayne Vredevoogd, a senior in business administration at Aquinas College.

Three GHS graduates joined a panel virtually to answer student questions about college

Culture Shock & More

Student organizers prepared some questions in advance, and Karl kicked things off by asking the panel, “What was the biggest culture shock in going from high school to college?”

Soon, the questions started rolling in from the 30+ students in the audience. Some wondered about the academic aspect: Why did you choose your college major? Did any of your high school experiences help you in your classes? How do you track your class progress or grades in college?

Others had questions about relationships during the college years: How did you handle tough roommate situations? Is it hard to get one-on-one time with professors if you need it? How often do you see your family?

Still others wondered about practical logistics: Are you allowed to have a car as a freshman? How do you get around campus? How are your classes scheduled and what do your days look like? 

As the session came to a close, Karl asked a final question — one that many were wondering: “Will a degree from a bigger school help you more than one from a smaller school?” The panelists each responded diplomatically, but Peyton also offered this advice:

“Whatever path you choose to go on, putting yourself out there is the most important thing,” the MSU grad told the audience. “You can make connections and find success wherever you end up.”

Student-run for the Win

Pleased with student turnout, how smoothly everything ran, and with many more questions than they had time to get to, student organizers said they’d “definitely” plan another alumni Q&A — hopefully, several more. 

Seniors Karl and Aiden both said the panel gave them several items to think about as they make decisions for next year: items like name recognition vs. cost, making connections and transportation considerations. And although the two of them will graduate this spring, Kelvin plans to keep the Q&As going in their absence. 

“If we let it go on throughout the years, we’ll be able to ask more and more questions, and get more and more alumni to give their input and get different perspectives,” Kelvin said. “And we’ll bring in new freshmen and sophomores, so it keeps the cycle of learning going.” 

The fact that the Q&A is organized entirely by peers provides an intangible benefit that will keep attracting student audiences, Kelvin said.

“Because it’s student-run, it appealed to a lot more people,” he said. “I heard that because teachers weren’t running it, people knew this wasn’t just going to be informational or something you have to sit through. It’s something that students are actually interested in because (the organizers) are my age, they’re in the same predicament that I’m in, wondering about the same college things. They could get more opinions that aren’t so teacher-based, and they knew it was something that’s for their own best interests.”

Kacey Reimink, center, and other GHS students gathered to learn about college from recent graduates
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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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