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‘We want to … show them this West Michigan love’: GVSU teams up with HBCU to create pipeline for students

Grand Valley State University creates a pipeline for students at Fort Valley State University and St. Augustine University to finish their engineering degrees at their campus.
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‘We want to … show them this West Michigan love:’ GVSU teams up with HBCUs to create pipeline for students
Posted at 9:10 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 21:54:07-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Valley State University is determined to bring more diversity to their campus and to the workforce in West Michigan. Recently, they’ve partnered with a few Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to help them achieve their goal.

“We are working with St. Augustine University to further add to their academic portfolio by giving them access to ours, especially in the field of engineering. We have multiple engineering programs,” said Vice President of Enrollment and Development B. Donta Truss, who's also a graduate of an HBCU: Alabama State University. “It’s a great opportunity for students who [the HBCU] recruits,  who want to be a part of a Historically Black College or University — that amazing experience that only they can create — but still take advantage of the academic portfolio that we have.”

GVSU first teamed up with Fort Valley State University in Georgia in April and then months later with St. Augustine’s University in North Carolina. The program allows HBCU students, who are studying engineering, to spend the first few years at their school’s campus and then the last few years at GVSU, earning a bachelor’s and master's degree combined.

READ MORE: Science nonprofit aims to bring diversity and representation into the future of STEM

“As director of the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program, I am very happy to have Grand Valley State University’s as CDEP’s eighth partnering university,” said Fort Valley’s Dr. Issac Crumbly via email on Tuesday afternoon. “CDEP is a pre-collegiate/collegiate STEM Pipeline program for high-achieving, underrepresented students. GVSU will assist CDEP in achieving its goal to provide students with opportunities to obtain graduate degrees in STEM.”

One of the opportunities GVSU provides, said Dean Paul Plotkowski, are their internship programs. All students at the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing work before graduating.

“We’ve had tremendous success with that both in providing a richer experience for the students but also helping to underwrite their education because these are all paid internships and work experiences. It makes a big difference,” said Plotkowski during an interview at the school, alongside Truss. “For instance, in the undergraduate level our students earn more in the engineering co-op program during their last two years than they pay in tuition.”

Plotkowski added that GVSU considers themselves to be a “net importer” of talent. Thirty to forty percent of their student population comes from West Michigan. However, 70 percent of their graduates remain in West Michigan.

“We are one of the largest providers of talent to West Michigan, period,” Plotkowski said. “It’s interesting. When I talk to our employers and folks on our advisory boards, my number one complaint is, ‘Why aren’t you producing more fill in the blank: engineers, computer scientists, cyber security specialists,’ and it goes on. The number two complaint is, ‘Why isn’t it more diverse?’”

So, part of the initiative is to create a diverse talent pool for employers, he said.

So far, six students are participating in the program. Both Plotkowski and Truss hope the students will stick around and be a part of it.

“The ultimate goal is that the students coming through this pipeline that they are able to get to a point of success that they aspire to be,” said VP Truss. “If that happens to be here in West Michigan, we celebrate that and we want to support it. But it’s not like we’re saying that they have to stay in this area. But, we want to treat them well while they’re here and show them this West Michigan love, and hopefully they’ll inspire to be a part of the West Michigan family.”

READ MORE: MSU unveils diversity, equity and inclusion plan

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