Name: Gregory Butts
Works at: Lansing Community College as a professor and as lead faculty in Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Programs.
Lives in: Williamston
Keep an eye on him because: Following retirement from General Motors, Butts decided to go back to school — as a professor, using his background in manufacturing and engineering to prepare the next workforce.
Tell me a little about yourself and what you do.
Most of my career was spent at General Motors. I started right out of high school working on the assembly line, and found it wasn’t what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I got into an apprenticeship program for skilled trades through GM. My first stint in skilled trades was as a machine repair machinist, then I took another apprenticeship to become a toolmaker and worked as an experimental machinist for several years. Then I actually went back to machine repair to stay in Lansing. I got my associate’s degree somewhere in there, I got my bachelor’s degree when I was about 32 and then got my master’s. I acquired a position at GM in the manufacturing engineering department and spent my last nine years there before I retired from GM in 2008. The retirement was great, but I was too young to be fully retired. I took a position at the Capital Area Career Center in Mason (now called the Wilson Talent Center) as a lab technician. I really liked teaching, so I got my teaching credentials and took a full-time position as a teacher there. Did that for about eight years and then a position opened up here at LCC. So I’ve been here for the last three years as a professor.
What do you do on a daily basis at Lansing Community College?
I schedule the classes for the next semester and assign what classes the faculty will teach. Most of the classes we develop are based on the needs of manufacturers in the area. We have an advisory group with outside manufacturers that tell us what they’re looking for in an entry-level employee. So I’ll work on that as well and make those courses available. That’s my non-teaching time, then the rest of my time I’m teaching.
What is the best part about your role?
The great part about manufacturing is you can take an idea or sketch on a napkin and turn it into something real you can hold. When students do that, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. They’re actually able to apply the skills they’ve learned. That’s where my biggest satisfaction is, the success of the students.
What are the challenges of being a professor?
After I retired, I was looking for something that would fill up my spare time. Once you get here, you become quite passionate about what you do. I feel I have a responsibility to give these students the best education. You have to make that connection individually with a student. You have to be ready when they send you a text at 10 o’clock at night and ask questions. You’re on all the time. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I absolutely love it. I never thought I’d be doing something that actually affects the way people live their lives, but that’s what this does.
More: ‘Need is greater than supply’: Why technical education is booming in Greater Lansing
Name: Jillian Johnson
Attends: Olivet College as a junior majoring in psychology with a minor in business administration
Keep an eye on her because: Johnson is a Lansing Promise scholar, a 2016 graduate of Everett High School, who wants to help other Lansing students see college as an option and persist to graduation.
What stands out to you about your experience as a Lansing School District student?
I really liked the diversity, not only in terms of race but in culture, economic and social background. It’s something a lot of other people don’t get to experience in school.
How has the Lansing Promise affected your life?
The Lansing Promise is like a savior for me. Without it, I’d probably be unable to attend Olivet. (Thanks to the Promise) I don’t have to worry about the finance part of it. It’s important to invest in the futures of children, especially ones that don’t come from great backgrounds. It shows someone is believing in them, and hopefully, others see that investment and start to see students’ education as an investment.
What are your plans after college?
I want to get an entry-level position in human resources while working on a master’s degree in industrial psychology. I also want to start an enrichment center for Lansing students, a safe haven where they can get resources not otherwise available. School counselors are stretched and can’t do everything for every student, so I want to fill the gap and provide guidance to first-generation college students.
What impact do you want to have in the Lansing region?
I definitely want to increase the number of students going to college. Retention is also sometimes getting lost and we have to prepare students by saying “Hey, this is college, it’s great you’re here, but what are you doing to keep yourself here?”
Name: Karlin Tichenor
Works at: Lansing School District
Keep an eye on him because: Tichenor leads the Lansing School District’s Office of School Culture, which is working to reduce traditional barriers to education by focusing on positive discipline and reinforcement.
Tell me a little about yourself and your work for the Lansing School District
I received my bachelor’s degree from Denison University in 2009 in communication and psychology. After that, I began working at Michigan State University as part of a summer research project – The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program – targeting students who were first-generation college students, inviting them to do research with a mentor in one of the departments. From there, I got my master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and began to connect to education-based programs and grants involving research. I then got my Ph.D. in human development and family studies, and during that time I was working for the Lansing School District developing programs that started with the behavior intervention monitor program.
What is the goal of the Office of School Culture?
(The Lansing School District) started this office in July of 2016, with the decision of the Board of Education and the superintendent to create an office focused on improving school culture while integrating mental health and other resources. In our work, we try to be more proactive around identifying practices to help schools improve their culture to create predictable and positive environments that are conducive to students.
What’s been the impact of the Office of School Culture and its focus on alternatives to traditional disciplinary practices?
We’ve seen a reduction in our expulsion rates. Attendance is up in some categories, and we’re seeing kids be more engaged in school. Staff members are also more understanding of the holistic child, who they come to school as and the challenges they have. We’ve also seen a reduction in violent and aggressive behaviors and staff and students have stronger relationships as part of our new approach to conflict resolution, though there is still more work to be done.
What ongoing efforts will make the biggest impact on student’s education in the coming years?
I think we have to target chronically absent students with focused support at certain grade levels and a coach who has expertise in truancy. We will also continue with our conflict resolution services, so we can have a more expansive approach within classrooms and hallways, responding with restorative conversations between students, staff, parents and community members. What we’re trying to really do is highlight the importance of restructuring education so social-emotional learning alongside behavior and mental health are at the forefront rather than an afterthought.