High school students gain work experience, math skills as GVSU consultants during summer jobs

Haylee Smith is pictured in a photo taken outside, she is laying on the grass with an open book
Haylee Smith was among the high school students who earned work and college experience through a city of Grand Rapids summer program.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

Eight West Michigan high school students learned more about college and gained work experience as consultants to President Philomena V. Mantella through a City of Grand Rapids summer program.

The university was a GRow 1000 partner, answering a call from city officials to hire youth who live in zip codes disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Mantella made a commitment in June to strengthen the university's commitment to the city as part of her action steps for racial equity.

Beginning in mid-July, the students met virtually for 20 hours per week participating in a Learner Experience Challenge and helping to design a national youth summit on education on reimagining the future of learning. Several Grand Valley students served as mentors and faculty members who teach design thinking were involved. 

Marvin Colbert, a junior at Northview High School, enjoyed his summer job and said the program helped him get back into a school routine. Because Marvin is deaf, Grand Valley's Disability Support Resources and Information Technology offices provided him with an interpreter and the other technology necessary for daily Zoom meetings.

Marvin Colbert, a junior at Northview High School, signs to his interpreter during the GRow 1000 program.
Marvin Colbert, a junior at Northview High School, signs to his interpreter during the GRow 1000 program.
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Pam Colbert, Marvin's mother, called his exposure to the program priceless and said she appreciated its inclusivity. "We don't want to put limits on Marvin considering his disabilities, we always try something first and then may have to figure it out," Colbert said. "I really appreciate the interpreters, I think it challenged him more to think and that is a good thing."

The students spent four of the six weeks in a Math Advantage pilot program. The online program was introduced in May by Provost Maria Cimitile as an initiative to assist students who lost instructional time last spring because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order to stay at home. All high school students were able to reserve Chromebooks and hot spots.

Firas Hindeleh, associate professor of mathematics, and faculty colleagues modified course content for the cohort. Hindeleh said his vision for the course was to provide algebraic topics inspired by real-world problems. 

"For example, we looked at the CDC growth charts, those graphs are familiar to students from their annual pediatrician visits. We talked about the stories that those graphs tell us, and compare them to similar graphs in different parts of the world," Hindeleh said. "Students learned how to create amortization tables, realize the impact of debt by observing the numbers. They also talked about basic budgeting and personal financing."

Math Advantage may be offered next summer. The full course provides students tools to be successful in an online class, while learning college math and earning four credits.