Federal $2.2 million grant to help GVSU close equity gaps, boost career-connected educational opportunities

A $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help Grand Valley State University leaders address equity gaps and increase the number of students engaged in a high-impact education.

The five-year grant was awarded to the Center for Experiential Learning in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The center was created as a hub supporting the CLAS Voyage , a program set to launch in 2025 that ensures every student studying a CLAS major engages in multiple hands-on, career-connected educational experiences, from internships to intensive research projects.

Some key uses of the grant include creating a fund to support student access to hands-on learning, developing data dashboards to provide real-time information for faculty to help foster student success, hiring for two positions and funding for faculty members working on course designs and revisions.

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"We are building on strengths and assets in the college and the core values of our faculty to embed high-impact practices into courses, and what we know is that is intense work," said Jennifer Drake, CLAS dean. "In order for us to meet our goals around equitable access for all students to experiential learning, we need to build structures to support our faculty and our departments so they can provide those experiences. This is a critical investment in faculty work that centers our students."

Funds from the grant will also help launch high-impact learning opportunities that were already developed but needed financial support to implement, said Kris Pachla, director of the CLAS Center for Experiential Learning.

"We recognized there was a lot of work that has happened at the institution that led us to this point," Pachla said. "This has really given us the opportunity to advance a lot of the great ideas that our faculty and staff have come up with over the course of many years, and to fund them in a way that accelerates us toward our goal of launching the Voyage in 2025."

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The CLAS Voyage will ensure every student studying a CLAS major has multiple experiential learning opportunities, such as research projects.

The grant, which specifically supports institutions building the framework and capacity to ensure student equity and a quality education, will help fund numerous initiatives, including these: 

Seeding $250,000 for an endowed fund, which must be matched by CLAS and university fundraising efforts, to support student access to hands-on learning. An example of this use might be increasing the number of paid internships available to students.

Building a data dashboard that allows faculty members teaching courses that particularly pose challenges to students to quickly identify those issues and seek support on how to keep students on track academically.

Hiring a faculty member to lead Voyage curriculum development and assessment as well as a faculty data analyst to work with people across the university to use data for developing best practices around student retention, student success and other goals. 

Funding faculty work on developing curriculum and designing courses that align with the Voyage program.

Piloting an effort, in collaboration with the Tutoring and Reading Center, to embed peer mentors into courses to determine what activities best support student success in first-year classes.

While the CLAS Voyage program will directly impact a large segment of the GVSU student population – the college has about 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students studying a CLAS-based academic program – the entire university will benefit from the grant-funded practices and opportunities, Drake said.



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