A student stands in front of a projected screen with a word map. The word "connection" is large and inn the middle.

Grand Valley student-centric programs featured at second annual Kent ISD State of the Student

The Grand Valley-led REP4 Alliance , which seeks to center student voices in the future of higher education, was among the programs featured at the second annual Listen. Learn. Lead. State of the Student summit on October 30. 

Organized by the Kent Intermediate School District, the event at the Eberhard Center on the Pew Downtown Campus focused on ways student voices and priorities can be elevated to the forefront of creating educational experiences.

REP4, which asks students to use design thinking to envision the future of higher education, took center stage during a portion of the program along with other GVSU programs like Project Grand Path that seek to empower students to shape their futures.

Grand Valley President Philomena V. Mantella spoke to the group of students and educators from across Kent County, highlighting several ways the university is working to provide more equity, access and opportunity in higher education.

“Grand Valley is working toward that shared commitment to meeting student needs,” Mantella said. “The ‘how’ of that in my mind is to enable the student voice. You’ve all been talking about that today: listening carefully; really understanding our students. But the ‘why’ behind that is the higher level of individual success students will have when their voice is empowered; when they have agency for their own learning.”

President Mantella speaks to the room behind a podium.
President Philomena V. Mantella talks with a roomful of educators and students during the Listen. Learn. Lead. State of the Student event held at Eberhard Center Monday.
Two students in Grand Valley shirts pose together and hold their hands in an anchor up sign.
GVSU students Chloe Duncan, left, and Emily Par pose for a photo after speaking at the Listen. Learn. Lead. State of the Student event held at Eberhard Center Monday.

REP4 accomplishes this goal through regional summits where high schoolers build prototypes and work through design-thinking solutions. Project Grand Path offers Grand Valley students the opportunity to work with emerging technologies like extended reality (XR) and incorporate them into their education.

Two GVSU students were invited to read letters they’d written at a past REP4 summit, reflecting on their experiences with the program and how it helped them bridge the gap between high school and college.

Emily Par had never been exposed to higher education before participating in the program.

“I did not even know what the word ‘college’ meant until I was like a freshman,” she explained. “So it was a big leap for me. But the more I talked about it, the more I asked questions, you know, I felt heard. It let me know what I wanted with my education.” 

“I think that college is all about finding yourself,” said Chloe Duncan. “And being a part of REP4, that’s definitely helping me figure out who I am.”

Par and Duncan are now sophomores at GVSU, and are T4 Scholars , a program that provides full-ride scholarships to traditionally underserved students. 

The event also featured a panel discussion with four students from high schools throughout Kent County. They provided insights about what students are looking for in their education and how schools can best prepare them for college or other paths after graduation.

Some talked about needing space in their day to develop a vision of who they are as individuals, and the need for college-prep and other programs to help them get a better idea of what they want to do after high school. Others talked about the need to remember high school students need emotional support, too.

“Remember what it was like when you were our age,” said panelist Micah Nagel, a student at Caledonia High School when asked what advice he would give the adults in the room. “We don’t always want to talk about ‘what did we do in school today’; ‘what homework do we have’... I just want a hug sometimes.”

Four students sit in chairs on stage and listen to the moderator ask them a question.
A panel of high school students answer questions during the Listen. Learn. Lead. State of the Student event held at Eberhard Center Monday. Ron Gorman, Kent ISD assistant superintendent, moderated the discussion.


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