GVSU to host REP4 national event: Student leaders pitch ideas to change higher education, college leaders listen

Grand Valley will host on Aug. 5 a virtual national event where high school students will pitch to higher education leaders ideas for making education more equitable and accessible.

The event is the next stage of REP4, the national alliance of six colleges and universities across the country that launched in May to address the pressing concerns in higher education faced by many underserved students.

The innovative and central tenet of REP4 is mining fresh ideas from today's students on how to improve equity in higher education, then working with the experts at colleges and universities to determine where they're tested and how they progress. 

A student types on a computer while another student speaks.
Students work on ideas at the Midwest REP4 summit.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

High school students across the country have been gathering this summer at regional summits to develop their ideas. One proposal designed by students in Pennsylvania suggests measuring the grit of students applying for college as a way to look beyond transcripts and other conventional, standardized evaluations when assessing readiness for higher education.

In fact, they call it a GRIT score. They propose developing an app that records daily activities and uses an algorithm to formulate a score that represents students' goals, passions and time commitment. Admissions teams could use that score to more fully evaluate students' potential for success.

Leaders from the alliance schools will review live presentations of 12 proposals -- including the GRIT score -- by the students who created them. GVSU is the convener of REP4. The other five founding institutions are Amarillo College, Boise State University, Fort Valley State University, San José State University and Shippensburg University.

Part of the selection process includes voting beginning Aug. 3. Students are encouraged to vote. To see the Aug. 5 presentations and to vote, register here.

A crucial part of students' involvement is voting on the ideas that speak to them, helping to ensure their input plays a central role in the future of their education," said Grand Valley President Philomena V. Mantella. 

Jennifer Drake, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said this project-based, change-making learning shows the powerful connection between liberal education and liberatory education.

"I am excited about the way that the REP4 project is creating a national alliance of institutions committed to centering diverse student voices as we innovate toward equity and inclusion in higher education," Drake said.

This national event is part of an ongoing initiative to encourage students to lead the design of solutions to barriers to higher education. REP4 leaders believe that student input is crucial to bring about real change.

The work of REP4 to help get society closer to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education is critical to the future of the country, said Jaime Casap, former chief education evangelist at Google and a key advisor to the initiative.

He noted that as a first-generation American and the only one in his family to have an advanced degree, education is the reason for his successes.

"This effort will help us design and implement solutions that will broadly expand the opportunity of higher education to students growing up as I did," Casap said. "I believe this work will fundamentally transform the structures of higher education and provide opportunities for students never thought possible in the past. I can't wait to see what these students design and build and I am lucky to be part of the effort."

A booklet with the words, "hosted by Grand Valley State University"
Students at summits hosted by Grand Valley and the other five alliance schools nationwide have generated innovative ideas for changing higher education.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Enthusiasm is high from those who participated in the regional summits. 

Donte Martin, a student participant from Pennsylvania, said the experience created a family-like atmosphere on his REP4 team. 

“We didn’t know each other, and we came together to create something beautiful,” Martin said. “We’re here to make change, to speak up, so we can be heard for generations to come.”

The adult leads who worked with the high school students agree the REP4 experience will continue to benefit students, educators and the future of higher education.  

“REP4 has been an amazing experience allowing students to find and solve problems in a real-world and innovative way,” said Dominique Brown, from Battle Creek Central High School in Michigan. “As a teacher in special education, it gave me pride in the hard-work and passion my students put into the summit, and it gave me a new confidence in leading students towards a better and more inclusive future.” 

Tomee Call from Mountain High in Kaysville, Utah, led a student cohort through the process at a regional summit and said she was moved by how powerful the REP4 experience is. 

“Students are working together learning lifelong skills,” Call said. “They are learning to think deeply, analyze, problem solve, collaborate, reach goals, support, listen and communicate in new ways. This is a true teamwork and leadership experience! I have seen students light up with excitement as they tackle real problems and produce legitimate solutions. As an educator, this is invigorating to me, and it is exactly what I want for my students --  an amazing opportunity to come together from all over the nation and work toward solutions that will benefit education, society and our futures.” 

Maaike Muddle, a youth impact coordinator from the Muskegon Intermediate School District in Michigan, called the learning experience exhilarating.

"Rep4 has engaged students every step of the way in the liberatory design process,” Muddle said. “As an adult leader, I have felt empowered to coach my cohort to shape innovative ideas for equity in education."

Mei Mah, associate director of GVSU's Center for Educational Partnerships, worked with Marlene Kowalski-Braun, GVSU associate vice president for Inclusion and Student Support, as co-leads for the Midwest REP4 summit. Mah said that the six summits across the nation were full of creativity and a dedication to equity and inclusion.

"While all unique, each regional summit sparked the minds of learners, leaders and experts to think about the challenges students confront in college," Mah said. "Acknowledging and valuing each of these diverse voices is the launching pad for innovation and transformation in higher education."

 For more information, visit rep4.org.