Mantella: GVSU proved its mettle in past year, in strong position to lead the way on innovating successful student outcomes

Grand Valley is moving toward a dynamic future from a position of strength, having reaffirmed its spirit and resolve as the university community worked through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Philomena V. Mantella said during her State of the University address.

In an April 28 virtual address to the campus community, Mantella reflected on her pride in how GVSU worked through the constant adjustments from the pandemic, acknowledging the work of every sector, from the Facilities staff members who cleaned 780 million square feet in the last 12 months to the faculty members who "were the backbone of the mission."

GVSU has proven it will approach challenges head on, she said. And true to Grand Valley values, the community put people first and prioritized students by being mindful of the need to reach out to people who are dealing with health issues, economic hardship and other concerns.

The uncertainty brought on by the pandemic included university financial concerns, with Mantella acknowledging the sacrifices everyone had to make for the greater good. But she also said the work of her predecessors allowed GVSU to enter the crisis in a strong financial position, and it is emerging the same way.

"The budgeting for Fiscal Year 2022 is not anticipating budget reductions," Mantella said.

President Philomena V. Mantella delivers her State of the University address.
President Philomena V. Mantella delivers her State of the University address.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

She cautioned that it is critical for the entire university community to work together to ensure students have questions answered about their experience in the fall to meet enrollment expectations.

"We are in a position where we have a 16 percent increase in admitted students with much greater diversity than ever before and with a similar academic profile. Let me say that again, we have a 16 percent increase in admitted students with greater diversity," Mantella said.

Mantella emphasized the need for the university to become more diverse, to elevate all voices and to ensure leadership opportunities are available to everyone. Equity and social justice are a crucial focus of the university's work, she said.

As she discussed what lies ahead for the university, she told the virtual audience that mission-aligned, purposeful growth is about institutional stewardship through the generations. In a state with a relatively low level of bachelor degree completion rates for adults, Grand Valley offers the right pathways to attain such a degree, which she called "the degree of social mobility."

"One of the things that you do when you work at an institution is you recognize that they live on beyond your lifetime, and that our obligation as leaders and educators is to be sure we asked two questions: Is what we're doing today good for our students, and is what we're doing today, good for our enterprise over a lifetime," Mantella said.

President Philomena V. Mantella during her State of the University address
Mantella thanked people across the university for how they answered the challenges of the pandemic.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

In that vein, Mantella said she believes Grand Valley has something to offer the national dialogue on higher education models about ways an accessible university can produce strong outcomes for students by preparing them for the futures they face.

As leaders consider the future for Academic and Student Affairs, Provost Maria Cimitile said during the address that they are assessing what they have learned during the pandemic and what they need to adjust. And the other key is underscoring what the university has done well all along — for a wide range of students.

"Perhaps now we're helping students to understand the relevance of liberal education after a pandemic, when they're very concerned about getting a job. We have to help them understand how liberal education is the key to doing that, along with their career-building curriculum," Cimitile said.

As she closed out the address, Mantella had a heartfelt message for students: "You are my heroes. You kept working. You made every adjustment, because learning is so important to you, even with family and personal and work disruptions. Thank you for that. Thank you for staying with us. Thank you for believing in Grand Valley."

After the address, senior leaders led breakout question-and-answer sessions on various topics pertaining to the university.