High school students stand behind a podium gesturing while giving a presentation.

Nerves give way to ideas, opportunity at REP4 summit

Nerves were high in the hallways of the Kirkhof Center on the morning of July 27. Groups of high school students stood in circles, some with phones in hand, others with handwritten note cards, all practicing the presentations they were about to give. These students were participating in the Midwest Learner Design Summit, a program with the REP4 Alliance where they pitched ideas on how to improve higher education.

REP4, which stands for Rapid Education Prototyping for Change, Learners, Community, Equity, is a national alliance founded by GVSU and other universities across the country. It is designed to empower students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to take their education into their own hands. 

A person holds a phone recording a video.
REP4 student mentor Asia Colton, records a video on her phone during a presentation on July 28.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Prior to the two day summit, these 187 high schoolers, coming from over 20 high schools across the state, met their groups virtually. They interviewed incoming GVSU students about their challenges and pain points they felt when navigating their college experience. From those interviews, the groups then collaborated with college student mentors to think up solutions to present in front of their peers. After the presentations, each group then received feedback from a panel of current GVSU students and REP4 program leaders.

‘The pitch was so nerve wracking at first,” said Ayzjah Jackson, a student at Godwin Heights High School in Grand Rapids. “My part came and I was like, ‘I have to say this!’ But it was good because everyone listened, and the feedback they gave us was really good. We were able to work together as a team for something bigger than us and where we are in life.” 

Two of the presented prototypes will be chosen to be featured at the 2023 REP4 national convening in October, where all REP4 Alliance partners will come together and expand upon proposed ideas.

A person sits in a crowd touching their chin while listening to a presentation.
President Mantella spoke to attendees after lunch on July 27.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
A person holds a microphone while speaking.

President Philomena V. Mantella spoke about the other Alliance partners at lunch on the first day of the summit, and shared that most of the presidents from the founding partners are first-generation college students. It is perhaps because of that fact, she said, that “these are the institutions that step up and say ‘I want to do this.’ We have a sense of what that journey is like if you’re not supported.”

Many of the students participating in REP4 are also first-generation college students. Being exposed to the world of higher education helped many discover possibilities that they’d never considered for themselves.

“I had ideas of going to college before, but REP4 has shown me that there’s so many opportunities,” Jackson said. “It’s not just a one-type thing: go to college and be done. You can like what you’re learning, and find a good career that you can actually enjoy.” 

Three cell photos held by three different people show the results of a survey.
Students hold in their hands the results of the survey they took in a prototype of the Financially Lit app. The idea for the app was started by Hailey Bos, a student who participated in REP4 two years ago.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Hailey Bos said that the connections forged with the Grand Valley community during REP4 also made her transition from high school to college easier. She was a REP4 participant two years ago, and her cohort's idea was chosen to be featured at the national summit. Since then, that germ of an idea has grown into a prototype called Financially Lit with a team of Lakers working to develop it into an app that teaches students financial literacy. 

Though she was only recently made aware of the progress her prototype has made, Bos said that seeing the people she connected with through REP4 on campus as a freshman made the whole experience easier. “I felt way more confident coming in,” she said, “because it’s scary going to a university where you don’t know anyone. Having all those connections was a big help.” 

Three people wearing goggles stand in a chemistry lab smiling after and experiment surprises them.
REP4 participants react to an experiment during a chemistry lab campus experience the afternoon of July 27.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
A person wears a virtual reality headset.
A REP4 participant uses a virtual reality headset and controllers the afternoon of July 27.
Image credit - Lauren Seymour

Tired, but still smiling, at the end of the day students were asked to provide their feedback about the summit, and what it has taught them. 

Some said they felt more comfortable with public speaking and receiving feedback, while others expressed their excitement at attending college where before they had never considered it a possibility. 

Mi’ara Johnson, a high school student from University Preparatory Academy who was attending the REP4 summit for a second time, saw ideas from the previous year turned into actions this year. “It’s so cool to see,” she said, “because it’s like, ‘wow, y’all are taking these ideas and actually doing something; y’all are actually trying to change, and not just listening.’” 

When asked if they would recommend the experience for future high school students, participants responded with a resounding yes. Learn more about REP4 at rep4.org.

People stand in front of a crowd in a classroom during a presentation.
REP4 participant Kailonnya Carpenter, from Battle Creek Central High School, presents a prototype with her group on July 28.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts


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