GVSU offering free tuition, academic support to Battle Creek Innovation Center 8th graders

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series. 
BATTLE CREEK, MI — A new pathway to college has been opened for some students attending the Battle Creek Innovation Center.
During a promotion ceremony on May 29 for these eighth-grade students, they learned that they would have the opportunity to attend Grand Valley State University tuition-free dependent upon family income.
“You are the first group from Battle Creek Public Schools to be inducted into the Eighth Grade Pathways to GVSU program,” Danny C. Velez, Associate Vice President of Admissions & Recruitment, told the students, parents and family members gathered inside the McQuiston Learning Center. 

“This offers you early admission. We want to support you every step of the way. You’ll have access to your own mentor in high school. This program provides you with academic supports and study skills, all free of charge. You’ll also be invited to participate in outreach activities and sporting events at GVSU.”
The Eighth Grade Pathways to GVSU Program aligns with the Grand Valley Pledge, a tuition-free program for Michigan students from families with incomes less than $50,000. 
“Addressing the academic and career readiness in underrepresented populations remains a critical challenge in our society. We address this challenge, and the challenge of overall student success by providing them with opportunities to gain awareness and knowledge about higher education,” Velez says. 

John GrapDanny C. Ve´lez, Ph.D, Associate Vice President for Admissions and Recruitment for Grand Valley State University, tells eighth grade graduates and their families at Battle Creek Public School’s STEM Innovation Center.“When we break down the barriers in front of students and connect them to supportive people early on, they gain the tools to become successful leaders on the Grand Valley State University campus.”
Velez’s announcement was met with cheers and applause from those gathered at McQuiston.
“I was shocked when he said that,” says Tori Richardson, a member of the graduating class. “It gives me a good opportunity on top of the Bearcat Advantage.”
Richardson says she knew she was going to have to pay for college and says this latest opportunity has eased that burden for her.
“This will be really helpful for schooling and everything like that,” she says. “I want to be a doctor."
Since Pathways launched in 2021, the program has grown to more than 1,000 students who attend from eight schools and three community organizations across Michigan, Velez says.

The GVSU 8th Grade Pathways program was established to prepare students early for the academic and personal challenges of high school, provide career exploration opportunities, support their development, promote equity and access, and strengthen community ties, he says.
“Often students are not told early enough that they can attend college, that they can make it. We focus on the 8th grade because it is a pivotal moment in their lives when transitioning to high school,” Velez says. “This way they are not burdened with wondering what’s next after high school.”

Christian Manley, principal of the Battle Creek STEM Innovation Center, said the Pathways program gives BCPS eighth graders a "direct connection to college" during what can be — for some — a difficult transition to high school.

John GrapChristian Manley, Principal at BC STEM Innovation Center, talks with students and families during eighth grade graduation ceremonies."Middle school students are very nervous about high school," Manley says. "We work really hard to prepare students to know what to expect. Having workshops dedicated to students and led by university staff is an amazing opportunity for our students to have a space to connect and grow. They will walk into high school with a direct and real connection to college."

Velez says high school students today need more support than ever.
“The EQPD K-12 Connect program stands out by offering a unique one-to-one mentorship opportunity. This will allow students to learn, grow, and develop with a mentor who will walk alongside them the entire academic year,” he says.

In addition to Velez, B. Donta Truss, GVSU’s Vice President for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, has delivered many of these announcements about the program's benefits during eighth-grade promotion ceremonies. He says while he addresses the parents and supporters in the room, he keeps an eye on the students.

"I really want students to know that Grand Valley is here for them, starting now," says Truss. "We will begin to walk alongside these students after they complete the eighth grade and include them in programming designed to increase chances of enrolling in college and, hopefully, they will select GVSU at that time."

Velez says family support is vital to this initiative, ensuring students receive the encouragement they need to succeed.
John GrapFamilies celebrated the announcement of GVSU's eighth-grade scholarship program.“We include family supporters in all communications with eighth-grade Pathway students and encourage them to be active supporters,” he says. “We do not ask parents and supporters to sign on to a contract because we have found that they have been committed to ensuring their student participates.”
GVSU’s commitment to the Pathways program and the students and parents who are and will be involved is to provide the necessary funding to ensure the opportunity to attend college.
Velez says the Pathways initiative greatly enhances the GVSU community by bringing in a diverse group of motivated learners from Battle Creek Public Schools. 

These students, he says, “contribute fresh perspectives, unique experiences, and a commitment to academic and personal growth. Their presence enriches our campus culture, fosters a more inclusive environment, and strengthens our community.

John GrapFamilies celebrated the announcement of GVSU's eighth-grade scholarship program.Additionally, their involvement in our programs and activities helps build stronger ties between GVSU and the broader community, promoting a spirit of collaboration and mutual support.”
Before turning the stage over to Manley, Velez told the students, “You’re already high achievers. We want to be with you when you are achieving your very best.”
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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.