First Innovation Fund proposal will increase computing graduate assistants, grow talent epicenter

students looking at a whiteboard
Graduate students from the Applied Computing Institute are pictured in a photo taken several years ago. An Innovation Fund proposal creates a talent epicenter by increasing the number of GAs.
Image credit - courtesy photo

The first proposal to the Innovation Fund, one of President Philomena V. Mantella's initiatives to propel Grand Valley forward, is underway and seeks to increase enrollment in computing programs by annually hiring more graduate assistants sponsored by industry partners.

Jonathan Engelsma, professor and director of the Applied Computing Institute, submitted the proposal and said it offers a great opportunity to scale-up the existing decade-old program that recruits one or two high-aptitude students into the School of Computing and Information Systems then, after graduation, helps place those students in top-tier tech firms like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. 

The Innovation Fund will provide, in the first year, $40,000 to recruit and hire up to 10 graduate assistants who will work within ACI on industry collaborations, Engelsma said. The two-year program's fall 2020 budget also includes $10,000 from ACI and $69,500 from industry partners.

"The GAs will be working with faculty supervision and an industry sponsor on a relevant project," he said. "The industry partners get access to the computing talent of our faculty, and students are learning applicable skills and getting an incredible experiential learning opportunity."

The proposal also includes funding for an undergraduate ACI residency for up to five students. Engelsma said recruitment for both graduate and undergraduate students may be a bit difficult during the coronavirus pandemic but he remains hopeful that current Grand Valley students will see this as an opportunity.

"Some undergraduates in similar majors may see this as a time to become equipped with the skills these high-tech firms demand. Years ago, it was only graduates from top research universities who were recruited by top-tier firms, now students in Grand Rapids are being recruited by Google and others," he said.

This proposal addresses Mantella's fifth commitment to action, creating a Talent Epicenter to attract entrepreneurs and employers to the talent of Grand Valley and expand experiential learning and post-graduate opportunities.

Mantella congratulated Engelsma on the proposal and said it will grow a cadre of GVSU alumni in the tech industry who are staffing and leading organizations that demand a critical mass of computing talent.

Innovation Fund pivots to COVID-19

Mantella also said the Innovation Fund has shifted to address high-impact COVID-19 issues, in addition to supporting one of the Presidential Priorities . Future proposals should address, for example, learning loss and social inequity among K-12 schools, high-engagement online learning, or new forms of integrated work and learning.

"We must at this unparalleled time of change continue to innovate and adapt. We need to focus on important dimensions of where we need to have innovation, creation and solutions to lead us forward," Mantella said.

The Innovation Fund is independent of the university's general fund and includes resources from reserves and donor funding. 

A series of virtual workshops was created to guide faculty and staff members through the Innovation Fund application process. More information about the fund is online at



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