A black and white portrait of B. Donta Truss

Q&A: B. Donta Truss

Making connections, developing pipeline programs, opening Grand Valley's doors to students

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B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, arrived at Grand Valley two years ago and has been on the move since. Truss has been busy introducing university initiatives like the Grand Valley Pledge, which offers free tuition to qualified Michigan students, collaborating on partnerships with Historically Black College/University (HBCU) institutions. He has forged connections in Detroit and strengthened ties in Grand Rapids. Sitting down for a few minutes with Grand Valley Magazine, Truss explained how these programs fit the university's strategic plan and enrich its campuses.

How does being a first-generation college student (first in family to earn four-year degree) yourself inform and influence your daily work?

It forces me to make sure that we are doing the work needed and not leaving anyone behind. Learners who are first in their families to go to college have no reference points. We need to be very clear with what services and resources are offered to them and ensure they understand them.

These students are breaking the norms in their families. Rather than going immediately to work after high school, they are taking another path and going to college. They are being bold and they are trailblazers, and the path for them needs to be accessible.

What's needed to make sure first-generation students are successful and graduate?

We need to bring everyone at Grand Valley along for these opportunities. Each learner should be connecting and engaging with their Grand Valley family members. They should connect with faculty and staff members, mentors, advisors, student success coaches and career navigators, and also engage in the community. These are people who can best assist these students. On campus, we need to make sure we have a culture that is welcoming and receptive to these students. We must become a student-ready campus instead of asking if students are ready for us.

“We must become a student-ready campus instead of asking if students are ready for us.”

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach
Truss laughing in an audience

B. Donta Truss smiles during a presentation at the Black Boys and Men Symposium in June. The two-day conference in Grand Rapids drew K-12, community and higher education leaders.

The university will soon operate a TRIO Upward Bound program in Detroit.

Yes, it adds to the robust TRIO offices in Allendale and Grand Rapids. Grand Valley now has the most TRIO offices of any Michigan university. It's exciting to announce that the university received a $1.4 million federal grant to focus college pipeline efforts on ninth-12th graders in the Detroit area. The Upward Bound program focuses on creating a college-going culture with those students, and next year they will come to the Allendale Campus for intensive summer classes to better prepare them for college. This creates a greater opportunity for these students to enroll and graduate from Grand Valley.

Three agreements have been signed with Historically Black College/University institutions. This is another initiative you developed. How many more agreements will there be and how does this initiative benefit Grand Valley?

There are 100-plus HBCUs and I would like them all to participate in the HBCU/HSI Pipeline Consortium if it makes sense. Students who attend HBCUs receive an amazing education at schools with a rich tradition. By coming to Grand Valley for their master's degrees, we are helping those students continue to do amazing things.

This is how higher education will operate in the future, through partnerships and similar articulation agreements. We are not competing with these great colleges, rather we are complementing what they offer to students. In turn, we are helping to diversify our campus and the workplaces in our community.

We are doing all these things but still continuing to serve the majority population of students. We have added these initiatives to enhance the educational experience and increase diversity. The best organizations are diverse organizations.

And there is a similar type of program focused on making stronger connections with West Michigan's faith community, correct?

The GVSU Faith Connect Initiative, engaging with Grand Rapids and Muskegon clergy members, started in January and we continue to meet with West Michigan pastors and have good discussions. This continues to advance GVSU’s nationally recognized commitment to engaging in interfaith dialogue. We want to build a relationship in which these two institutions, the church and the university, work together to build a stronger future for the communities of color.

Your division oversees enrollment. What do you want prospective students to know about Grand Valley?

Grand Valley offers an exceptional education at times and locations that are convenient for every learner. And at an amazing value.

What is the Southeast Michigan Ambassadors program?

Following a kickoff program last August at the GVSU Detroit Center, we are continuing to recruit alumni and other influencers to help us build a stronger community for Grand Valley in southeast Michigan. This program will follow the "Be a Laker, Bring a Laker" program and help us build relationships with people in the community there to help us recruit learners and expand our brand in that area.

The Grand Valley Pledge, a program you introduced in 2021, has expanded to all Michigan counties.

Right, now any qualified Michigan student who wants to enroll at Grand Valley can do so. The program offers free tuition to qualified students with family incomes of less than $50,000. It's making a difference in their lives now. We're helping students get beyond financial hurdles and opening our doors to them.