Editor’s note: The following article was published in July in Kellogg Community College’s Summer 2012 edition of CareerFocus magazine with the headline, “From police cadet to senator: Senator Mike Nofs realized his dream … with help from KCC.” View the full CareerFocus publication online at kellogg.mycareerfocus.org or pick up a print copy from the newspaper racks on campus.
When the commander at the Michigan State Police’s Battle Creek Post left his hat in his office one night years ago, Mike Nofs tried it on.
The young trooper working midnights was acting on a dream he had to one day serve as the post commander at his home post, a dream which would later come true.
Nofs, since retired from the state police and now serving as senator for Michigan’s 19th District, gives some of the credit for his realizing his dream to Kellogg Community College, where he graduated from with a degree in criminal justice in 1974.
“Because of what I was able to accomplish, I ended up being the post commander my last six years at the Battle Creek Post,” Nofs said in a recent interview. “I was able to realize my dream, and KCC was a significant portion of my accomplishments that helped me obtain that dream.”
In addition to his 30-year career in law enforcement, Nofs also served on the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners and in Michigan’s House of Representatives before being elected to the senate in 2009.
An early advantage
Nofs grew up one of eight kids on Arlington Drive, in the Orchard Park neighborhood not far from KCC’s North Avenue campus. He began his education at KCC in 1971, selling his electric guitar for his first semester’s tuition because at the time, he said, money was scarce.
He spent a year studying computer science, but found his niche in law enforcement after getting to know the city police while working security at the Kmart on Capital Avenue, who told him they had an opening for a new cadet.
Nofs enrolled in KCC’s Criminal Justice Program his second year and never looked back. The college at the time was one of the first in the state to offer what was called a Police Mini Academy, which allowed recruits to be certified as officers before being hired and did away with the need for the weeks-long recruit school that was previously required.
“It gave me an advantage when I walked in the door to a police department to say, hey, you’re not going to have to spend the money to send me to recruit school, I’m already certified,” Nofs said. “I’m hirable on the spot.”
Indeed, as soon as he graduated, Nofs was hired by the Marshall Police Department and was a police officer on the streets of Marshall at 19 years old.
“KCC was on the forefront of offering a Police Mini Academy where other community colleges weren’t,” he said, “and because of that they helped me immensely.”
An important role
Nofs early experiences at KCC – in addition to taking classes he was also active on campus, swimming on the swim team and serving as captain of the tennis team – were just the beginning of his relationship with the college.
In later years, as Nofs moved up the ranks and eventually became a Michigan State Police trooper, he returned to campus to teach law enforcement classes in accident investigation, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management from Spring Arbor University in 1990 through classes the college offered on KCC’s Battle Creek campus.
Finishing his bachelor’s degree was something Nofs had always wanted to do, he said, and it was something he wanted to show his five kids, now grown and through college themselves, they should aspire to.
Nofs has even been the commencement speaker for a number of police academy graduations at KCC, which required a capacity for speaking in front of groups that Nofs said his experiences teaching classes at the college gave him the confidence to do more effectively.
“I was very shy when I was young and wouldn’t get up in front of groups,” he said. “But doing that, becoming a trooper or police officer and then turning around and getting up and instructing in front of a class … I think it actually led to going into politics and not being afraid to get up in front of a group and speak.
“So KCC’s had an important role throughout my whole life, even my adult life.”
‘My adventure through life’
Nofs positive experiences at KCC have shown him the value of a community college education, which he praises for being especially affordable and accessible. He’s even put that support behind a house bill introduced by Rep. John Walsh that would allow two-year institutions to offer four-year degrees under certain circumstances.
“I just think that we have a gem here in Battle Creek,” Nofs said. “Without KCC we wouldn’t have the standing that we have in the regional area, I believe, and we wouldn’t have the opportunities for people living in this area that KCC offers us to fulfill our dreams.”
Nofs realized his dream, which began with a cutting-edge program offered by a forward-thinking institution and came true the first time he put on his cap as a Michigan State Police post commander. Now as a senator he’s working to expand that access afforded by community colleges so that others can benefit as well.
“They were like my mentor all along,” Nofs said of KCC. “I started out here, obviously, wanting to realize my dream, and actually my dream came true, and a lot of it was because of my adventure through my life with KCC involved in certain parts of my life.”