Grand Valleymay have celebrated an anniversary, but it’s campus community members who received the gifts.
The university marked its 60th anniversary in 2020-2021 by asking students, alumni, faculty and staff members to tell their Grand Valley stories. President Philomena V. Mantella sent a call out last fall for people to add their memories to the university’s rich history.
“Grand Valley has been built by many untold stories. People of all backgrounds contributed in all different ways to make this university what it is today. We wanted to recognize those stories and the people who told them,” Mantella said.
People told stories of what Grand Valley meant to them. For Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, associate professor of education, it was the hospitality offered to her following her campus interview. First-year student and Laker track and field athlete Paige Johnston talked about being part of a Laker family legacy. Kevin Howell, who gets the mail delivered to all campuses, recalled a trip to the Upper Peninsula with a crew from the mailroom.
Student Life leader: ‘Common thread for students’
Celebrating an anniversary during a pandemic meant, of course, there were not any large gatherings or events to mark the occasion. Nor were there retirement farewells for people who have worked at the university for much of its history and have played key roles in its growth.
Bob Stoll is one example. The start of the Winter 2021 semester was the first time in 38 years Stoll was not on campus; he had served as associate dean and director of Student Life until his retirement in August.
Stoll served under four university presidents; when he was hired in 1983, enrollment was 6,710. In previous interviews, Stoll had said the student experience in the early ’80s was mostly to come to campus for class then leave.
Enrollment grew, as did activities for students and athletic programs. The Office of Student Life, under Stoll’s leadership, expanded to oversee club sports, Student Senate, Greek life, student organizations and more.
While campus activities certainly looked different and socially distant this year for the 23,350 students enrolled, they could choose to participate in any of the more than 400 student organizations.
Andy Beachnau, associate vice provost for Student Affairs, said Stoll served as the common thread for many students. “Often Bob was the first person you saw when you arrived on campus during orientation and the last person you saw when you left GVSU at commencement,” Beachnau said.
“Bob has led the student experience for almost four decades by providing programs, events and activities that matter to Lakers.”
Moving forward: physical presence
Since the university’s 50th anniversary in 2010, Grand Valley has expanded its physical presence in Grand Rapids and Michigan.
By opening a regional center in Battle Creek in January 2020, the university increased its outreach in southwest Michigan. The catalyst behind opening the Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center was a partnership among W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek Public Schools and GVSU established in 2019.
Mantella said it was time to think of Grand Valley beyond its physical office space, which in Battle Creek is a storefront office suite near WKKF. “I would encourage people not to think about the university’s impact as they might have in the past, in terms of acreage,” Mantella said. “In today’s digital age, our impact is greater than the outreach center. Think about Grand Valley as a small but mighty partner to help build this community.”
Since that opening, nearly 20 students from Battle Creek Central High School have received full scholarships to attend Grand Valley.
The university expanded its Health Campus in 2018 when Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall opened, north of I-196 in Grand Rapids and near the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. At the dedication ceremony in 2018, President Thomas J. Haas called Finkelstein Hall an example of what deep collaboration can accomplish and a game changer for students studying health professions.
Expanding the Health Campus became a reality, Haas said, because of the partnership with the City of Grand Rapids and Belknap neighbors. Joe Jones, who represents Grand Rapids’ Second Ward on the City Commission, agreed.
“I want to thank Grand Valley for the wisdom to listen, for empathy and discernment,” said Jones. “We all worked together from the beginning to create a greater sense of community. Our membership has expanded to include Grand Valley.”
The third building on the Health Campus, the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health, opened in mid-May and serves as the flagship Grand Valley building on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.
Partnerships and opportunities have grown on the state’s east side since the opening of GVSU’s Detroit Center in 2013. The three-story building at 163 Madison has become a central hub for university activity in Detroit. It’s in the heart of Detroit’s downtown next to Comerica Park and the Detroit Athletic Club.
Four years after the Detroit Center opened, the university became a full partner in the Detroit Promise, a program funded by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation that ensures Detroit students who graduate from a high school within the city will have a tuition-free path to a college degree.
Moving forward: inclusion initiatives
Expansion means more than physical space. Many people have contributed to the university’s inclusion efforts in the last 10 years.
More than 1,150 Grand Valley students are able to attend college thanks to Detroit couple Bob and Ellen Thompson. The Thompsons established the university’s largest scholarship program in 2011; the Thompson Working Family Scholarship (TWFS) targets working families who struggle financially to send their children to college.
More than 1,000 Grand Valley students have received funds from TWFS since the program’s inception. In 2017, the Thompsons expanded the reach by offering $5,000 annual scholarships to 125 students, including 25 transfer students from Michigan community colleges.
Landyn Teachout, a writing major from Grandville, is a sophomore who earned a TWFS that she said will greatly reduce her college debt. “During the summer months I work at Target full time and during the school year I am a resident assistant,” Teachout said. “The Thompson scholarship will go a long way to help pay for school. It has always been my goal to pay for the majority of my college experience through working and obtaining scholarships.”
The Division of Inclusion and Equity, under the leadership of Vice President Jesse Bernal, has led efforts at Grand Valley that have made the university a national model by implementing best practices to create a welcoming campus for everyone.
In 2019, Grand Valley was one of nine colleges and universities — and the only one in the Midwest — to receive the Seal of Excelencia from the Washington, D.C.-based organization, Excelencia in Education. The award recognized Grand Valley’s efforts to serve Latino students successfully. Latino student enrollment increased 16.2 percent since 2015-2016, and Latino graduation rates have increased more than 16 percent in the same time period.
The model used to provide resources and services to Latino students has since expanded to support Black, Native American and Asian American students.
From Blue Connection to My Blue Laker app
University leaders honored Lynn “Chick” Blue for what would end up as more than 52 years of service by naming a building on the Allendale Campus, the Connection, in her honor. At the naming ceremony in 2019, Haas said, “In many ways, Chick’s story ‘is’ the story of Grand Valley.”
When Blue started working at Grand Valley in 1968, the college had, one year prior, celebrated its first graduating class of 138 students. Blue did clerical work initially and has said, at that time, all records for Grand Valley students fit into one file cabinet.
Blue would go on to hold five other positions in 11 departments, retiring as the first vice president for Enrollment Development. She was instrumental in creating a one-stop service for students, integrating registration and financial services into one system.
It was fitting to name the Connection for Blue, as in one facility it houses dining space, classrooms and study spaces, and Disability Support Resources.
When Mantella recognized Blue’s tenure publicly at a Board of Trustees meeting last summer, she did so by naming a mobile app in her honor, again showing the university’s progression. The MyBlueLaker app is a virtual assistant for students and can answer questions about homework due dates, registration, dining account information and more.