A trip to Free College Day is an annual event for the Kay family, but things get a little different every time they visit the Washtenaw Community College campus.

This time around, Jen Kay wasn’t able to replicate the two-year-old photo that hangs on their refrigerator of her children with the college’s mascot, Alpha. Her son, 12-year-old Griffin, was a little too old to want to be in that photo alongside his sisters, 9-year-old Calyn and 6-year-old Camryn.

Gwen Hooks and her daughter, Jocelyn, of Belleville, observe Washtenaw Community College faculty member Susan Dentel during her Free College Day class, “Behind the Scenes: A Backstage Pass to the STEM Labs.” (Photo by CJ South)

Previously, the Kays would typically “just do the fun, kid stuff” at Free College Day. On September 29, that meant carnival games, an escape room and lots of sweet treats to choose from.

But this year, Griffin being too old to pose with an oversized wolf coincided with him being old enough to want to take one of the more than 30 classes being offered.

He has a natural interest in how electrical systems work, so he enrolled in “Don’t be Shocked! An Overview of Basic Electricity” taught by WCC faculty member Robert Carter.

Held each spring and fall since 2014, Free College Day originated as an opportunity for adults in the community to see what’s happening in the college’s classrooms and labs.

It has steadily evolved into a popular family event as local teens get a preview of college life and parents expose younger children to the higher education system.

The core element remains the classes led by the college’s faculty and staff and select community partners.

This fall, titles ranged from the educational (The Amazing Great Lakes and Their Islands and No Driver Necessary: The Influx of Self-Driving Cars) to college prep-focused (College Financial Aid: Get the Facts and How to Prepare Your Child for College) to first aid-related (Seconds Count! Stop the Bleeding! and Save a Life! Adult CPR and AED Training) and many more.

Ypsilanti Township resident Shawn Mackay ended up not making it to the class he was interested in attending because he got wrapped up in activities inside the college’s Occupational Education Building, where the Advanced Manufacturing, Auto Body, Auto Services, HVAC, Motorcycle and Welding & Fabrication labs were open for interactive tours and a progressive lunch.

Mackay spent most of his time in the Welding & Fabrication lab, where visitors were invited to create a WCC-branded cell phone holder.

After watching the piece be cut out on a plasma cutter, Mackay ran it through a grinding station, sand blaster and a metal break to create the final product.

“It feels good to see people out here making and creating things with their hands,” Mackay said. “That’s what we were meant to do. The ability to make and create things is what separates us from other animals.”


See more Free College Day photos on Flickr.