Commencement stories: Graduates reflect on their time as Lakers

Dai'Mion Banks discovered calling as an advocate for patients

A person wearing a cap and gown and wearing a GVSU shirt smiles while standing behind a railing.
Dai'Mion Banks will earn a degree in allied health sciences.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Before arriving at Grand Valley, or any college for that matter, Dai’Mion Banks said she applied for "what felt like 100" scholarships. Turns out, the one she received to enroll landed in her inbox at the last minute.

Banks, who will earn a bachelor's degree in allied health sciences, was a member of the first cohort of students in the Battle Creek Pipeline Scholarship program . Scholarship recipients are graduates of Battle Creek Central High School and typically studying education, nursing, health professions or STEM disciplines. 

The program, now in its final year, provided scholarship recipients with full tuition and room and board. Banks said that opportunity came at the exact right time for her and her family. 

"I very much appreciate receiving the pipeline scholarship," Banks said. "With it, I was not stressed about paying for college. It helped tremendously."

Banks serves as a peer mentor for the pipeline scholarship program. Active on campus, she is also the vice president for Black Student Union, a peer mentor for Black Excellence 365 and a member of You Beautiful Black Woman.

These activities are in addition to her work at Trinity Health Grand Rapids as a patient care assistant. When working at the downtown Grand Rapids hospital, Banks said she strives to "make the hospital feel like a home" for the oncology patients in her charge.

"I do everything I can to provide empathy and add a level of improvement to their quality of care," she said.

That work has inspired Banks to pursue a master's degree in social work as she considers a career in patient advocacy. Fitting, as Banks said she has appreciated the staff at Grand Valley who have helped and advocated for her.

"I'm really big on having people in my corner and have received a lot of support from the Battle Creek Regional Center and Office of Multicultural Affairs," Banks said.

– By Michele Coffill

Maria Gavina Nunez expanding career with degree earned through unique nurse-scholars program

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Maria Gavina Nunez will earn a degree in nursing.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Maria Gavina Nunez will graduate with a bachelor's degree in nursing, finishing the degree in slightly more than one year with the help of funding from the Corewell Health West Nurse Scholars program.

Two years ago, GVSU and Corewell Health announced a unique partnership to address the current shortage of nurses. Corewell Health pledged to invest more than $19 million over six years into the program that will create opportunities for 500 students to pursue a nursing degree at GVSU.

Nunez was in the first cohort of students to receive this scholarship. Recipients must work for two years for the hospital system; Nunez plans to work into the cardiopulmonary unit.

“Receiving this financial support not only helped me pay for part of my tuition but will also lead to a job right after graduation,” said Nunez. “Through this scholar’s program, I was able to attend various Corewell Health council meetings, which exposed me to the different councils I could join as a nurse.”

Nunez earned a bachelor’s degree in allied health sciences and psychology from Grand Valley in 2016. After working for almost seven years, Nunez said she decided to return to school for a nursing degree so that she could follow her passion for caring for others and be able to use the experience from her three degrees.

“Something I left behind a while ago was serving as an advocate for health equity and social justice," she said. "As a nurse, I will be working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized patients. I am excited to incorporate the tools and knowledge that I've gained in this nursing program to help make a substantial difference in the community.”

Nunez said she enjoyed the community outreach that she was exposed to as part of her studies at the Kirkhof College of Nursing. During her clinical rotations, Nunez and other students were placed in an underserved area to assist local residents. Nunez said she was upset by the way some residents were treated during their previous health care experiences. She wants to be the difference that brings positive change to the system.

“I do not want to only complete my daily nursing tasks and then forget about the patient after they leave me," Nunez said. "I want my care to stretch beyond the doors of the hospital. I even have dreams to open a food pantry on the unit that I will work in. This will allow us to help those who might not be able to access or afford the healthy food they need for better recovery and health outcomes."

– Thomas Garrett is a student writer for University Communications. Garrett, a native of Stevensville, is graduating with a degree in writing.

How joining the computing club led to Skyler Ruiter developing the skills and connections to bring future into focus

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Skyler Ruiter will earn a degree in computer science.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Skyler Ruiter wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do after college until he made one life-changing decision: joining Grand Valley’s computing club. 

Ruiter, who is earning a degree in computer science, is now wrapping up his time as the club’s president - which he said has been a rewarding personal challenge, teaching him invaluable leadership skills as he worked to rebuild the group post-COVID. 

“I made a bunch of friends and developed a lot of really good social skills. Most importantly, though, I learned how to be a leader, which is not something I would generally put myself in the position to be,” he said. “I'm not usually the person to take charge and lead everything. I'll just kind of sit back and do my work. But that whole experience has provided me with a lot of reflection on what it means to be a leader and to be part of an organization to help other people.”

Through the computing club, not only did Ruiter gain valuable perspective and leadership experience, but he was exposed to something that’d give him insight into what’s next for him: undergraduate research. “I would say the undergraduate research has been my favorite part of being in Grand Valley,” he noted.

Through connections made in the computing club, Ruiter was introduced to Grand Valley’s Applied Computing Institute and began working with Zachary DeBruine, assistant professor of computing. At the time, Ruiter knew only that he wanted to make a difference and work on a unique project. Flash forward to now, and he recaps his recent visit to the 2024 Data Compression Conference in Utah, where he and DeBruine had the opportunity to share the research they’d spent years working on. 

“[DeBruine] is a bioinformatics professor who is familiar with genomic and genetic data, so that's the type of stuff that we were interested in compressing: data that looks or feels like genetic data, where it's really big and really sparse,” Ruiter described. “There are a lot of duplicate values. We created a library for general scientific use and put it out in the public for everybody to use.”

The opportunity to participate in undergraduate research helped Ruiter find his path, even if he found it later than some of his peers. “My coworker, he knew he wanted to go work for NASA. He knew he wanted his doctorate. I didn't know I wanted to do that until late in my junior year,” He said. “Research made a huge impact on my ability to perceive where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. It gave me the confidence to say: 'I am capable.'”

His advice to other Lakers? Get involved, and forge your own path. “You get to make your own experience out of your education. You can do impactful research as an undergrad. I set myself up for a whole career that I didn't know I even wanted until I started doing research.”

Ruiter has no plans to slow down following his graduation. Following Commencement, he’ll head to New Mexico for a summer internship with the Department of Energy, where he’ll be working in Sandia National Laboratories. After his internship wraps up, he’ll begin working toward his doctorate. 

“I’ve loved Grand Valley every step of the way. I have made the best of my experience here.” 

– By Sarah Dudinetz

GVSU empowered Elizabeth Schanz to study dual passions

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Elizabeth Schanz will earn degrees in multimedia journalism and dance.
Image credit - Lauren Seymour

For Elizabeth Schanz, college was less about discovering her passions, and more about honing the ones she already had. 

“I always say I’ve known who I was since I was really little,” said Schanz, who pursued a double major in multimedia journalism and dance after being impressed with both programs and seeing no reason to drop one love for the other.

“It’s been really nice to grow with the organizations I came in with and build a lot of my friendships with people who share the same interests,” said Schanz. “I’ve met a lot of really amazing people who made my four years so special.” 

Between long hours in the dance studio and full Sundays dedicated to the Lanthorn , where she worked her entire college career and is currently editor-in-chief, Schanz has had ample time to find her community among fellow students and professors. 

“They see you grow so much, and you develop close relationships with them,” said Schanz, who said knowing your professors and knowing they have your back was a benefit of the small size of her majors.

Grand Valley helped her grow in more ways than she expected, Schanz said. “In dance, we’ve had so many opportunities this semester alone. We performed at Frederik Meijer Gardens , and have had many outside experiences that were not only great memories, but great networking opportunities,” she said. “I also got to choreograph a full-length piece for myself and a cast of dancers last semester. That was probably one of my favorite experiences, putting on a show with seven of my best friends.”

With journalism too, she said, “So much of the Lanthorn has helped me become a better writer, listener, communicator and leader.” 

Schanz will carry those lessons with her after graduation, where she will intern at Crain’s Detroit Business . With many publications moving to more online content, the variety of experiences she got at Grand Valley with not just print but video and audio helped her prepare for the shifting landscape of journalism. 

In 2023, Schanz got to combine her passions of dance and journalism when she studied abroad in Florence, Italy, where she wrote a story for a magazine class about the Florence Dance Festival. “I interviewed coordinators and attended two performances while working on it. That was amazing to see both my passions in another country, especially when I didn’t think it would be possible to study abroad at all. But it was really fun, and I felt supported during the entire process.” 

Schanz will be the student speaker for her commencement ceremony on April 27, representing the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I’m really excited to share my experience with the community, and touch on how impactful college can be,” she said. “There are lots of highs and lows: Not everything is top-notch all the time; you have stressful moments, you have tears, but in the end, there’s a lot to look back on. I’m excited to highlight that.” 

— By Julianna Schrier

International student Jowei Yek found second home in Grand Valley

A person wearing a cap and gown smiles while looking off into the distance. Buildings are in the background.
Jowei Yek will earn master’s degrees in business administration and social innovation.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Half a world away from his hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jowei Yek found everything he wanted in an American collegiate experience in Grand Valley. Yek arrived in Allendale in 2017 and left his mark as an international student in numerous ways. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations with a minor in psychology from GVSU in 2020, Yek is set to graduate with master’s degrees in business administration and social innovation.

“The most important thing I think I learned is that the relationships that you build are the most valuable thing at the end of the day,” Yek said. “A lot of the hard skills, and some soft skills, you can develop as you go.

“But, there's usually a smaller window of opportunity to create and make these good relationships with others. I was fortunate to have to be able to make all these connections with international students who bring their little part of the world to me through friendship.”

Yek’s odyssey to Grand Valley began at a meet-and-greet with a GVSU international recruiter at his school in Malaysia. Grand Valley met a lot of his requirements — affordability, diverse academic experience, immersion in arts — when he was searching internationally for a university. But he was particularly drawn to the prospect of being the lone Malaysian student on campus, he said. 

I understood that if I went to a school with a lot of people who look like me from the same place as me, I would be very inclined to just hang out with them,” Yek said. “I knew that I wanted a challenge. I wanted to be uncomfortable.” 

Once he was on campus, Yek was heavily invested in the international student community, building friendships to last a lifetime, he said. One student group in particular was instrumental to that process.

Bringing Together the World, a student organization designed to foster community among international students, played a large role in Yek’s integration onto campus and eventually led to him becoming president of BTW. 

“I got a really rich experience at GVSU because I never said 'no' to a lot of these networking opportunities,” Yek said. “Becoming the president of BTW also allowed me to show this to other students because of the value that I got out of it. The experience was so immense that I wanted to make sure that no one had any excuses to not step out of their comfort zone and make more relationships.”

— By Brian Vernellis


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