Through development of recent pipeline and financial aid programs,
Grand Valley leaders have opened the university’s doors even wider to
diverse students and, in turn, helped diversify West Michigan’s workforce.
B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and
Educational Outreach, led establishments of these programs and said he
drew largely from his own experience as a first-generation college
student to create programs that make it easier for students to attend
college. Truss earned three degrees, including a doctorate in
educational leadership, policy and law, from Alabama State University,
one of the country’s oldest Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCU).
“Whenever I enter the room, all of me enters the room: my
experiences, my background as a student of color, my background of
coming from a small area that didn’t have a lot of opportunities,” he said.
“When I’m in a room in a leadership role, it’s important for me to
make sure that I’m advocating for voices that might not be heard.”
Javier Guillen is the first student from FVSU to enroll at Grand
Valley; Guillen joins the cell and molecular biology professional
master’s program. (Amanda Pitts)
In April, Truss and Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of
Engineering and Computing, signed an agreement with leaders at Fort
Valley State University, an HBCU in Georgia, that creates a pathway
for FVSU students to earn a bachelor’s degree from FVSU combined with
a master’s degree in engineering or computer science at GVSU in as
little as five years.
The first FVSU student, Javier Guillen, arrived on Grand Valley’s
campus in June. Guillen stretched the agreement a bit and will earn a
master’s degree in cell and molecular biology. Guillen said his
interest in the field piqued when he asked himself if a scientist
could have done something to keep his grandfather, who had a failed
kidney transplant, alive.
“My family went through these ups and downs with my grandfather’s
health and then he passed. I asked myself, ‘On a molecular level,
would there have been something a scientist could have done?’” Guillen said.
Guillen was one of 12 FVSU students to visit Grand Valley and Grand
Rapids in early May. He had a headstart on his peers as Guillen began
an email correspondence in the winter with faculty members in two
different departments, trying to figure out which graduate program was
the correct fit.
“The courses I have already taken fit right in with the CMB program
and I’ll start the professional master’s program,” he said. “I’ll have
an internship my last semester which will help position me to go into
During the two-day tour, Plotkowski said it was important to fit in
stops at Grand Rapids businesses. “The interest from the community in
this program is very important as it relates to talent recruitment and
diversifying the talent pool in West Michigan,” he said. “Our partners
explained to the students how they will be supported by the university
and area businesses if they participate in the program.”
Jesse Hill is the acceleration manager at Atomic Object, a software
company in Grand Rapids. As FVSU students toured the Wealthy Street
business, Hill explained that diverse workers create a stronger company.
“Teams that bring together different experiences and perspectives are
more creative, and the software they make is more useful to more
people,” Hill said. “Everyone uses software; and the people who make
it should reflect that.”
LuWanna Williams, director of FVSU’s Center for Student Engagement,
said the FVSU students had honest conversations with Grand Valley
students about the cultural climates in West Michigan and on campus.
“They will be moving from an HBCU to a predominantly white
institution and it will look different for them, but it’s also going
to look different when they get into their careers,” Williams said.
Students from Fort Valley State University tour the Pew Grand
Rapids Campus. (Kendra Stanley Mills)
Omar Hall, vice president for sales at NN, Inc., met with FVSU
students and relayed his experience at an HBCU before transferring to
the University of Michigan. “My experience transferring into U-M was
very intimidating as I went from a relatively small student population
to a very large one,” Hall said. “I would not have survived if it
weren’t for the resources U-M provided, which were instrumental to me
being able to navigate the transition.”
Guillen understands what it’s like to be away from FVSU. He
participated in the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program, a dual
enrollment program, and spent two summers at the University of Texas
at Austin, working as a research assistant on a project that measures
moisture in soil. He said his work saved a small farm $3,000 because
the sensors detected soil that was overwatered.
President Philomena V. Mantella said the Grand Valley Pledge, a
tuition-free program introduced in February, will help create
opportunities and advance equity in the communities in which the
university has a presence.
The Grand Valley Pledge awards full undergraduate tuition (renewable
for four years) to qualified students from six Michigan counties:
Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, Grand Traverse, Calhoun and Wayne. Students
must be admitted to Grand Valley. Beginning with the Fall 2021
semester, students must be admitted to Grand Valley and have a family
income of less than $50,000.
Through June, more than 600 students have been admitted through the
Pledge program. Truss said the program aligns with the university’s
strategic enrollment management plan.
“GVSU educates learners to shape their lives, and the Grand Valley
Pledge ensures that many of these learners will not be left out,”
Truss said. “This is a great start to eliminating equity gaps at GVSU.
By removing financial barriers to college, deserving students can
enroll and be ready to start their path to a degree.”
B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and
Educational Outreach, makes an announcement about a pathway
scholarship to GVSU at the Detroit Achievement Academy eighth-grade
promotion ceremony, much to the delight of audience members.
Eighth graders at the Detroit Achievement Academy celebrated their
promotion from the K-8 charter school with news that they qualify for
a new pilot program at Grand Valley designed to encourage college
enrollment and assist with their success upon admission.
Truss made the surprise announcement at DAA’s promotion ceremony on
Belle Isle June 3. The school, which opened in 2013, is authorized by
The Detroit Achievement Academy Pathway to GVSU is a pipeline
program that will grant automatic admission to GVSU for DAA students
if they meet certain criteria. Students must graduate from a Wayne
County high school with 2.8 GPA to qualify, and they must complete
college-preparedness workshops offered by GVSU.
An agreement with another charter school, Detroit Edison Public
School Academy, was announced in mid-June. DEPSA students who attend
New Paradigm High School will be offered admission to Grand Valley if
they meet certain requirements.
Truss told DAA students they can attend any college they please, but
stressed Grand Valley would be “an amazing opportunity” as students
would be successful because of the resources and support they would receive.
The resources begin even before DAA or DEPSA students reach campus.
Tutoring, mentorship and financial aid counseling will be available to
students as they progress through Detroit high schools.
Mantella said: “Pledges and promises are not enough to close the
gaps in pathways to college for students from diverse backgrounds. We
want this pilot to be a model for the future of college admissions,
with Grand Valley leading the way.”
High school students address equity, access through unique platform
From early mentoring before entering college to addressing mental
health and food insecurity, high school students from across the
country on August 5 virtually presented to higher education and
business leaders ways they believe will help all students thrive on campus.
They made their presentations during the national event for REP4, the alliance of
six colleges and universities across the country that launched in May
to address the pressing concerns in higher education faced by many
REP4, which stands for Rapid Education Prototyping, puts the power of
establishing equitable systems for public higher education in the
hands of learners. The movement has attracted interest from 54
countries and every state. Nearly 1,400 voters cast more than 8,200
votes for the proposals seen during the national convening.
The next step is for experts at colleges and universities to work
with the best ideas from the 12 proposals presented to determine where
they're tested and how they progress.
"What we have become is a learning lab for the future, a place
where thousands of ideas shaped by diverse students come to life
through their lived experience," said President Philomena V.
Mantella said during the event.
Grand Valley was the convener of REP4. The five other founding
institutions are: Amarillo College, Boise State University, Fort
Valley State University, San José State University and Shippensburg University.
During their presentations, students described, sometimes from
personal experiences, the challenges with food insecurity, mental
health, financial struggles and more that fueled their ideas for change.
And as the REP4 movement continues, higher education leaders and
other partners agree that keeping students at the core of the effort
"At the core is the student, and that's where everybody's
attention should be," said Mona Morales, Microsoft U.S. higher
education industry executive who is an advisor and served as an event
panelist. "This is unique. This isn't everywhere. This is really
truly something special."
Paul Jones, president of Fort Valley State University, said
continually finding ways to incorporate student voices is key to the
effort's success. "We have to be very courageous. This isn't the
way we normally do business. But it is the way we should be doing this
work," he said.