GVSU, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services partner on program providing nursing students with up to $40,000 in tuition assistance

Grand Valley is the first area institution to enter a partnership with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services that will address the national nursing staffing shortage. 

The Pine Rest Academy offers nursing students financial support of up to $40,000 to each student who qualifies. Grand Valley students who participate in the academy and graduate will then work at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services for at least two years. 

This is the first such agreement between Pine Rest and West Michigan universities. Several other universities and colleges are expected to sign similar agreements.

“We are thrilled to build partnerships with so many local schools for the academy program, offering students both academic excellence and in-person experience in the behavioral health field,” said Bob Nykamp, vice president and chief operating officer of Pine Rest. “The impact that this program will have on our current and future patients, as well as our community, will be instrumental in meeting the growing need for behavioral health care in Michigan.”

President Philomena V. Mantella said this partnership will benefit both institutions and fill a critical need for behavioral health nurses. 

Philomena Mantella smiles.
Lola Coke smiles.
President Philomena V. Mantella and Lola Coke, acting dean of Kirkhof College of Nursing

"We know our nursing graduates will enter the workforce well prepared for patient-centered care. This partnership will positively impact the care of patients for years to come. I'm grateful to the teams that recognized a problem and found a solution," Mantella said.

Pine Rest currently employs over 240 registered nurses who specialize in psychiatric nursing and 20 psychiatric nurse practitioners that help assess, address, and monitor patients’ mental health and behavioral conditions. The psychiatric nurses promote well-being through prevention and education, in addition to the assessment, diagnosis, care and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.

“At Pine Rest, we believe that the best way to develop a knowledgeable and compassionate staff is to offer support and mentorship,” said Gretchen Johnson, chief nurse executive at Pine Rest. “The Pine Rest Academy will not only remove financial barriers for college students seeking a nursing degree, it will also provide hands-on behavioral health training and create a smoother path to employment. This model will ultimately make a big impact on patient care.”

Bob Nykamp smiles.
Gretchen Johnson smiles.
Bob Nykamp, vice president and chief operating officer of Pine Rest, and Gretchen Johnson, chief nurse executive at Pine Rest (courtesy photos)

Lola Coke, acting dean of GVSU's Kirkhof College of Nursing, said the Pine Rest Academy is ideal for second-degree nursing students. 

"Our second-degree students will benefit from this partnership as the financial burden to become a nurse is eliminated," Coke said. "These students often have other financial responsibilities with family and being able to focus on their academic studies and not worry about the cost of their education is truly a gift. We are grateful for this partnership as there is a drastic need in Michigan for behavioral health nurses."

Current Pine Rest employees who are seeking a nursing degree at one of the four participating schools will automatically receive tuition assistance and all students interested in entering the Pine Rest Academy can join at any time after being accepted into a nursing program. Students who complete their nursing programs will maintain active employment at Pine Rest and commit to two years of employment in a full-time capacity (at least 30 hours) at Pine Rest after graduation.