Jenifer Pui, education engagement program administrator at GVSU's Burma Center, conducts a session with students during a REP4 conference in 2021.

Key educational foundations invest in REP4 and the future of education

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Three foundations committed to innovation in education are investing in REP4, a program designed to put student ideas at the center of the future of education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Meridian Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation together are investing in the effort that is in its second year to make sure it can scale up its prototypes and be replicable across higher education. The grants are different in their amounts and their intentions, but the combined gifts will fund the immediate and long-term needs of REP4 and its student participants. 

REP4 is a unique alliance of six varied institutions across the country bonded together by the belief that learners are at the center of solutions and impact in higher education. The unique and central tenet of the program is that it mines fresh ideas from today’s high school students on how to improve equity in higher education. Students then work with experts at colleges and universities during regional summits to determine where and how the ideas can be prototyped and tested.

Grand Valley State University is REP4's founder and Midwest partner. The five other partners are: Amarillo College, a community college in Texas; Boise State University, a Research II university in Idaho; Fort Valley State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in Georgia; San Diego State University, an HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution) and AANAPISI (Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution) in California; and Shippensburg University, part of the state system in Pennsylvania.

The new gifts from these foundations total $1.5 million to enable current learning summits, long-term operations and growth across higher education.

The Gates Foundation explains in its funding documents that REP4 is compelling because it is made up of a “consortium of institutions across the U.S. that have self-organized in a shared innovation effort that privileges student voice.” The goal is to support the program so it can be sustained, grow and become a model for institutions around the nation. 

“This initial investment by the Gates Foundation gives us the ability, the space and capacity to scale and make REP4 sustainable and replicable,” said Grand Valley State University President Philomena V. Mantella. “The Gates Foundation brings with it intellectual capital to keep REP4 moving forward and putting it in a position for broad adoption across higher education. This grant is one more illustration that elevating underrepresented student voices and giving them an opportunity to grow as individuals, in addition to influencing innovation in education, is a worthy cause that is building momentum.”

REP4 has attracted several grants from the Meridian Foundation. These funds will go toward operations, particularly in technology, strategic partnerships and directly to students in the form of scholarships. The current gift will support the long view of REP4 in new modes of delivering content.

Photo of Adriana Rios and Naomi Solis presenting "UB Brilliant" at the REP4 National Convening on August 5, 2021 in downtown Grand Rapids.
Photo showing hands of high school students working on an exercise at a REP4 conference in 2021
Photo of Vanessa Peltoniemi presenting her idea during the REP4 national convening in 2021.
Investments by three educational foundations will help continue the work pioneered at 2021's REP4 summit.

Anthony Manganaro of the Meridian Foundation has long supported education causes that focus on students who otherwise might not have access to college. 

“This investment in REP4 is all about access to education, bringing the best learning environments to the students through new technologies,” said Manganaro. “This program is unique because it empowers students to take the lead in their learning journeys.”

The Steelcase Foundation is located in West Michigan and is dedicated to finding place-based solutions to systemic injustice and increasing access to quality education. Its funding will support the Learner Design Summit held at Grand Valley State University as part of the REP4 programming. 

Steelcase Foundation President Daniel Williams said Grand Valley’s work with REP4 is an attractive investment because educational institutions have a responsibility to gather feedback, listen to those they serve and respond to what they learn.

“The Steelcase Foundation is thrilled to support GVSU and its work to build an educational ecosystem that is rooted in what students and community identify as their pressing needs,” Williams said. “Grand Valley, its faculty/staff and students are working with a diverse alliance of institutions, centering learner and lived experience to challenge their own assumptions and working toward the creation of a higher education system that disrupts historic racism and classism. Toward that end, we are pleased to support both the local and national learner summits, GVSU’s role as a convener, and the development of tools to support the implementation of innovation at GVSU and throughout the alliance.”

Grand Valley will host this year’s Midwest Learner Design Summit in July. The other five alliance partners are also planning summits during the summer. The REP4 National Convening involving all six alliance partners will be held Sept. 22.

“The work of REP4 begins with high school students,” Mantella said. “These three foundations are investing in the hypothesis that early work with young people that allows them to take a lead role in their own educational journey will positively change the outcome of their college careers. When they use design thinking, develop prototypes and see them take root, it will change their journey for the better.”

A prototype emerging from the inaugural REP4 summits is a multimedia platform that leverages peer-to-peer driven content to engage learners in a robust and meaningful way in understanding the financial education process. The working title is the REP4 Money Smart Digital Studio. Grand Valley is offering a course in the 2022-2023 academic year that will be answering the need for financial literacy that was identified by students participating in last year’s summit. 



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