Graduate fellowship program extends to former HBCU students

Grand Valley graduate students who joined the university through a pipeline program are now contributing to the West Michigan talent pool.

Jourdan Watson and Danielle Patrick both have Industry Sponsored Graduate Fellowships (IGF). Through this university program, participating companies sponsor a student by providing a paid internship and covering the cost of tuition. Watson is working at Gordon Food Service and Patrick at The Christman Company.

Watson and Patrick attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities and came to Grand Valley because of the HBCU/Hispanic Serving Institutions Pipeline Consortium, a collaboration with four institutions: Fort Valley State, Savannah State, Saint Augustine's and Alabama State universities.

three people standing next to each other: Cody Rivers, Jourdan Watson and Ben Nanninga
Jourdan Watson, center, is pictured with Cody Rivers, left, and Ben Nanninga at Gordon Food Service. Rivers serves as Watson's mentor and Nanninga oversees the two IT teams Watson serves through his fellowship.
Image credit - courtesy photo

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said extending the IGF to qualified pipeline students aligns with the mission of the consortium to provide greater opportunities for students and expand the talent pool in West Michigan.

"It really creates value for all three parties: students, the sponsoring companies and the university," Truss said. "This is why we started the pipeline consortium and I appreciate these companies investing in our students."

Watson graduated from FVSU and is now studying electrical and computing engineering. At Gordon Food Service, Watson works for two teams on digital marketing enablement, websites and digital tools for sales. It's a yearlong position that he said is going well.

"It's very beneficial for me to learn new coding languages. I'm collaborating and contributing, and I'm very grateful to be part of this experience," Watson said.

Ben Nanninga manages the marketing technology and sales technology teams for GFS. He said during Watson's interview with the company, his technical skills and initiative stood out, so Nanninga and others decided placing Watson with two teams would broaden his experience.  

It's a win for the company, Nanninga said. "Jourdan comes from outside the West Michigan talent pool, so in addition to getting the fresh ideas of a recent graduate, we benefit from the perspectives of his regional and cultural background," he said.

Danielle Patrick is pictured in a portrait wearing a business suit
Danielle Patrick, who is pursuing a master of business administration degree, works for The Christman Company.
Image credit - courtesy photo

At The Christman Company, Patrick works with the human resources department and also creates presentations and maintains websites. Patrick, also a FVSU graduate, is pursuing a master of business administration degree at Grand Valley.

"I'm the first intern to transition to other departments within the company to see where I best fit," Patrick said. "I'm gaining knowledge while contributing to the company. This is my first scholarship and I am truly blessed to have this opportunity."

Samhita Rhodes, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the graduate engineering program, said the IGF program is a good strategy for Grand Valley.

"We cannot offer a lot of assistantships due to limited budgets but we have great relationships with our industry partners because of our co-op program, so we grew this program and extended it to graduate students," Rhodes said. "It's a win for everyone. The company gets a fully degreed engineer to work on their projects for a year."


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