GVSU president talks about university’s future role in Muskegon County

As Grand Valley State University President Philly Mantella thinks about the university’s role in West Michigan, she prioritizes three areas: "strategic growth with a regional impact, increasing value and agility, and creating an ecosystem of innovation.”

That is a priority for Mantella and GVSU in Muskegon County, where the school has two major facilities: the decades-old Annis Water Research Institute and the newly built Muskegon Innovation Hub. The university also has a partnership with Muskegon Community College as part of GVSU's commitment to break down barriers to degree completion.

The Lakeshore recently caught up with Mantella for a Q&A about GVSU’s vision for Muskegon County. 

The Lakeshore: As West Michigan’s largest higher ed institution, GVSU plays a key role in preparing thousands of students for their careers. Looking at Muskegon County, how has GVSU pursued that mission and what are its future plans?

Philly Mantella: GVSU has pursued that mission by empowering learners from Muskegon County to pursue their passions, professions, and purpose at a nearby university that provides real-world experiences while developing critical thinking skills, all at a cost that ranks in the bottom quarter of Michigan’s public universities. Our future plans include expanding on these opportunities and offering more ways for adult learners to get the education and skill training they desire to help fill the talent gaps that currently exist.
TL: GVSU’s Annis Water Research Institute was built on Muskegon’s waterfront in 1986. How would you characterize the importance of this facility for both Muskegon and GVSU? 

PM: The Annis Water Research Institute is a great example of how GVSU has grown and made a positive impact on the community over the decades. Since starting in 1986 as a one-person research operation, AWRI has blossomed into a research and education program with more than 60 people. Its importance has been seen in many ways, including its role in helping clean up Muskegon Lake to the point where the lake’s delisting as a Great Lakes Area of Concern is imminent and is a great achievement for the community.

The importance of AWRI will continue, as the blue and green economies are pillars of Michigan’s economic future and AWRI is the centerpiece of our work to produce the talent needed in those areas.

GVSU Muskegon Innovation Hub

TL: Last year, GVSU opened the Muskegon Innovation Hub, which provides funding, support, networking opportunities, and workspace for businesses and entrepreneurs. How will this facility support the Muskegon economy? 

PM: Last November, Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer announced the Muskegon Innovation Hub would receive a $1.7 million grant that will allow the Hub to broaden and deepen its reach around the area and support more innovators, startups, and small businesses.

TL: GVSU is a longtime educational partner of Muskegon Community College. How are the higher ed institutions working together to increase college graduation rates across Muskegon County?

PM: We know that 80% of community college students want to complete a four-year degree nationally, but less than one-third do so in six years. Those who do complete a degree lose on average 43% of their earned credits when transferring to a four-year institution. In our partnership with MCC, we offer a reverse transfer program where students can increase their credentials by earning their associate degree while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Grand Valley, simplifying the path to a four-year degree. We are also increasing efforts to maximize the number of credits that carry over when students transfer. 

The Annis Water Research Institute is located on the Muskegon waterfront.

TL: In the past 25 years, Michigan’s ranking for personal income per capita has fallen dramatically, reflecting that many residents are earning less compared to workers in other states. Experts say that reversing this course requires shifting the workforce toward high-wage, knowledge-based jobs. How is GVSU working to address this issue in Muskegon and across West Michigan?

PM: We are going to address this issue across the state by focusing on growth. Even though Michigan faces demographic challenges, many populations have been underrepresented and never saw a path to higher education. There are enough people in these groups to provide the talent our state needs, and by providing “to and through” pathways to college, we can build Michigan’s talent pipeline.
We are also going to build on the reality that college is a lifetime activity. You can’t go to a health club for four years and never have to exercise again. Learning is the same way. We need to build a love for and commitment to continuous improvement, which will allow our graduates to keep up with the speed of change in the modern world.

Photos courtesy of GVSU.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.