Muskegon Community College alumna Terri Knoll Tchorzynski (tor-ZIN-ski), a counselor at the Calhoun Area Career Center (CACC) in Battle Creek who was named the nation’s 2017 School Counselor of the Year, has been chosen as MCC’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
Tchorzynski will be honored on Monday, May 1, at the Alumni Awards Dinner on campus and will address this year’s graduates on Wednesday evening, May 3, at the 2017 MCC Commencement in Walker Arena.
Established in 1998, the award is the highest honor that MCC bestows upon outstanding alumni whose professional achievements, community service, and advocacy of higher education exemplify the foremost ideals of their alma mater. The honorees are selected by the MCC Alumni Relations Committee.
During a White House ceremony in January, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Tchorzynski with the national award from the American School Counselor Association. Tchorzynski, the Michigan Counselor of the Year, was chosen over nominees from the other 49 states. The First Lady praised Tchorzynski for her efforts that has led to 75 percent of seniors at the CACC now taking key college application steps.
“Under Terri’s Leadership, more students than ever before attended workshops, resume writing, and FAFSA completion,” Obama said. “And all of this is just one small part of what Terri does for her students each day.”
Tchorzynski, a 1999 Muskegon Community College graduate who was an all-conference softball and basketball student-athlete for the Jayhawks, had the opportunity after speaking to introduce the First Lady at what would be her last official public appearance. As a part of her Reach Higher campaign, Michelle Obama recognized a School Counselor of the Year for helping students prepare for post-secondary education.
“A lot of times it’s very easy to get centered in on the students who come to your office all the time or the students that are very outgoing,” Tchorzynski said in a National Public Radio interview. “They’re the ‘A’ students that just want additional support.
“But there’s a large population of students that just don’t know to ask for help. Maybe they are first-time college-goers and so they don’t even know what they need to know in order to go to school. So I think it’s so important for counselors to think about the students that maybe don’t have a voice. It’s my job as a counselor to make sure that all these students, regardless of race, ethnicity, income or what kind of backgrounds they come from, have the same support.”
She began working as a counselor at the Calhoun Area Career Center in 2010. Operated by the Calhoun Intermediate School District, the center provides technical education in 18 programs to primarily 11th and 12th grade students who range from special needs to the academically gifted. They attend the center for half of their school day and their regular school for the other half.
Four years ago, Tchorzynski created a Student Leadership Team at the CACC to provide students with service opportunities in Calhoun County. Over that span, the students have raised more than $5,000 while donating their time and collecting clothing, food and personal hygiene items to support local shelters. Tchorzynski also established an annual CACC Golf Outing that had provided more than $15,000 for student scholarships.
The Muskegon, MI, native graduated from Orchard View High School in 1997. Tchorzynski earned an associate’s degree from MCC, a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University, and a master’s degree in counseling from Spring Arbor University. She taught English at Yale (MI) High School from 2003-05 and at Union City (MI) High School from 2005-10.
“For me, MCC was the right choice because it offered me an opportunity to continue competing in sports, but more importantly, it offered me the start I needed for my college education at a low cost that was close to home,” recounted Tchorzynski, who was named the MCC Athlete of the Year in 1999.
“I truly wasn’t ready for a large university after high school and at that point in my life I still was not 100 percent certain as to what type of career pathway I wanted to pursue. MCC allowed me the time to mature and figure out what direction I would like to take with my learning. By the time I finished my two years at MCC and earned my Associates, I knew I was ready to venture out on my own and start my journey as a future educator and school counselor. MCC helped me lay the foundation of my learning that I can honestly say acted as a springboard as to where I am today.
“When I work with seniors now in my role as a school counselor, I always encourage my students to explore this route to see if it is right for them. Too often, high school seniors overlook the option of community college because they feel as if they are ready to live on their own and they love the appeal of a large university, but in my experience I have seen too many students return from those large universities after only a semester in because they were not ready or the cost is too great. Community college is definitely a path that students need to learn more about so they can make informed decisions as to what is right for them.”