GVSU leaders pledge supported, flexible learning experience for admitted students during virtual town hall

Grand Valley leaders conducted a virtual town hall.
Grand Valley leaders conducted a virtual town hall.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Lienau

Grand Valley leaders are confident about the quality of the learning and living experience students will receive in the fall, all stemming from a commitment to provide personalized attention to students.

That was the overriding message delivered during a virtual town hall May 6 with more than 1,200 new Lakers and their supporters.

President Philomena V. Mantella emphasized that education is the way for students to fortify their futures and change the world, and that they need to remain steadfast on that path even during this time of uncertainty. 

"Don't let anything stop your learning journey as an individual," Mantella said, adding, "I hope the message you received is that we're here to support you and your individual circumstances."

Mantella noted that leaders are developing three learning options for courses for the fall: in-person instruction, fully online and a hybrid model.

Maria Cimitile, provost and executive vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, said all possible learning modalities are supported and that faculty members are involved with professional development to make sure all courses are engaging.

She said the planned academic sessions reflect the different circumstances students may face because of the pandemic.

"We are preparing our academic schedules so you have choices and opportunities," Cimitile said. "We are planning for a very flexible schedule so you have options." 

In reference to questions about the COVID 19-related safety of campus, Mantella and other university leaders said Grand Valley's grounds and facilities are particularly conducive to providing a safe atmosphere.

She said the average class size is 26 students and less than 1 percent of Grand Valley's 4,400 class sections have more than 100 students; most of those are broken into smaller labs and sections of 30 students or fewer.

Also, Grand Valley's relatively new and modern housing and other facilities will allow for a smoother transition to operations reflecting social distancing protocols, officials said.

For instance, with housing, "A lot of our inventory is new because we’re a young institution. Over 80 percent of our inventory is suite style or apartment style," said Mantella, adding administrators are confident they can work out safe solutions for the remaining units.

Students were also encouraged to sign up for housing; the signup deadline was moved to June 1. For more information about living on campus, visit www.gvsu.edu/housing.

Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration, also noted the more modern temperature control systems in buildings will allow for optimized air flow patterns, which, coupled with enhanced and more frequent cleaning operations, will allow for a more healthy environment.

Student support is also robust even during these trying times, town hall participants learned.

One change for incoming students that was brought on by pandemic-related public health guidelines is a one-on-one online registration appointment with a professional advisor rather than a large orientation gathering. 

Matt Boelkins, director of first-year advising and registration, said so far about 120 students have participated in the individual appointments and they went "remarkably well." He urged students to sign up, which can be done at www.gvsu.edu/admissions/orientation.

The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships is aware of students' shifting financial situations and stands ready to help, administrators said. Both that office and the Admissions office also understand the unique challenges for high school students this semester and have adapted financial aid and admissions operations accordingly.

A question about possible changes to clubs, athletics and the student life experience struck a chord with Mantella. 

"I love this question because we miss what you are asking about," she said. She pledged a vibrant student life experience and said social distancing needs may present opportunities to do more things in small groups, for instance.

Loren Rullman, dean of students, said the recent virtual commencement is an example of the creativity that faculty and staff have shown to ensure students remain connected. He also encouraged participants to view a student-led virtual tour to see the possibilities that await them.