REP4: National alliance of institutions, convened by GVSU, puts learners at the forefront of designing paths to transform education

Leaders of the REP4 alliance at a virtual news conference
The leaders of the six institutions that have formed the national alliance for the REP4 initiative.
Image credit - Elizabeth Lienau

A national alliance of six colleges and universities formed to address equity and access in higher education has been publicly launched, setting in motion on a larger stage a movement that was seeded at Grand Valley, the convener and organizer of the initiative.

President Philomena V. Mantella was joined May 13 by leaders from the five partner institutions for a virtual news conference to introduce REP4, an initiative that engages learners to craft solutions to the pressing challenges of higher education.

The other five founding institutions are Amarillo College, Boise State University, Fort Valley State University, San José State University and Shippensburg University. In total, the founders serve more than 100,000 students.

REP4 stands for Rapid Education Prototyping for Change, Learners, Community, Equity. One of the key, and innovative, features of REP4 is including learners as lead designers of the education prototypes for actionable solutions to improve outcomes and remove barriers. The best ideas will be scaled nationwide through the alliance to maximize impact.

President Philomena V. Mantella
President Philomena V. Mantella
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Mantella said during the news conference that REP4 places a strong emphasis on working within the community to carry out this work. She said it was apparent early on that Grand Valley needed collaborators, such as these institutions, to help realize the vision of having students design their learning.

"The objective is simple: Accelerate innovation and at the same time, allow thousands of learners a transformative experience where they embrace their power to set their course and have control of their own learning journey," Mantella said.

The leaders from the other institutions all talked of their excitement to be part of REP4 and the value they see in engaging learners to help chart a path forward that leads to more equitable access and educational opportunities.

Mary A. Papazian, president of San José State University, emphasized during the news conference how REP4 can be a tool in counteracting the marginalization that so many students experience in an educational setting. Ensuring equity and inclusivity in education will "nurture the creativity and brilliance of all learners."

"For decades we in higher education have been tinkering around the edges providing patchwork programs and Band-Aid solutions. But our core educational systems continue to perpetuate inequity and injustice," Papazian said. "We’re excited to partner with and learn from these incredible diverse institutions with different histories and located in different parts of the country, but who share a mission to really ensure that we bring about the kind of change we need."

Paul Jones, president of Fort Valley State University, a Historically Black College/University -- which also recently entered an agreement to create a pathway for FVSU students to earn a bachelor's degree from FVSU combined with a master's degree in engineering or computer science at GVSU in as little as five years -- said REP4 helps underscore his institution's motto: "To empower the possible."

"As an HBCU and land grant institution, we’ve been doing this work for a long time," Jones said. "But I think what's so important about this alliance is it allows us to expand this work."

Julian Sanders works with a student.
Julian Sanders works with a student.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Julian Sanders, a GVSU political science major and REP4 mentor who has been involved with its early stages, said this opportunity for learners to help guide the educational system they use is invaluable.

"This is a huge deal for students. This is something that is new, this is something that is unique and I think it really enhances their drive to want to learn," Sanders said.

The parameters for REP4 started taking shape in 2019 when Grand Valley hosted a first-of-its-kind education summit that brought together education, business and other leaders from across the region and nation. Subsequently, the learner summit seeded the initial concept while the NextEd Accelerator houses the work at GVSU.

Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, GVSU associate professor of educational foundations, said it is inspiring to consider the potential innovation that comes from tapping students to craft solutions to a challenge that lead to expanded access and equity. 

"As faculty, what is exciting about REP4 to me is the power and the magic that takes place when student voice is centered," Bailey-Fakhoury said.

Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury
Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills


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