Beyond Ideas: Implementing Innovative Structures in Higher Education:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 179 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Dr. Philomena "Philly" Mantella

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 179 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Dr. Philomena "Philly" Mantella - Beyond Ideas- Implementing Innovative Structures in Higher Education
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

31 October · Episode 179

Beyond Ideas: Implementing Innovative Structures in Higher Education

38 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Implementing innovative structures in higher education is not an option; it's a necessity. President Mantella's approach is a how-to guide.

Implementing Innovative Structures

Innovation in higher education is not just about generating ideas; it’s about putting those ideas into action and breaking down structural barriers that no longer serve today’s diverse demographic.

In this conversation with Dr. Philly Mantella, President of Grand Valley State University, Dr. Drumm McNaughton explored how she’s spearheading innovative initiatives to create a more student-centric and business-ready higher education landscape and provide an update on her latest collaboration, REP4, which stands for Rapid Education Prototyping for Change.

The REP4 Alliance is a collaboration among seven higher education institutions designed to accelerate innovation and, at the same time, provide thousands of learners with a transformative experience where they can embrace their own power to set their course and control their own learning journeys.


Innovation Beyond Ideas

Innovation isn’t confined to brainstorming sessions and novel concepts. Dr. Mantella emphasizes that it’s equally important to know how to implement these ideas effectively. This approach shifts the focus from mere ideation to practical, impactful solutions that can benefit students and society as a whole.


Restructuring Higher Education for Today’s Demographic

Traditional higher education structures were designed for a different demographic, and they often hinder institutions from adapting to the needs of today’s students. Dr. Mantella is leading the charge in breaking these structural barriers through strategic plan implementation that aims to expand enrollment and foster progress.


A Student-Centric Approach to Overcoming Barriers

One of Dr. Mantella’s key innovations is adopting a student-centric approach. By placing students at the center of decision-making processes, she’s breaking through barriers that have historically led to low enrollment. This approach ensures that universities are responsive to the unique needs and aspirations of today’s diverse student body.


Building Graduates’ Business-Ready Skills

Innovation in higher education isn’t just about academic knowledge; it’s also about equipping graduates with the skills they need to thrive in the business world. Dr. Mantella’s initiatives prioritize creating graduates who are not only well-versed in their fields but also business-ready, ready to tackle the challenges of the modern workforce.


Redefining the Public Good

The perspective on the public good extends beyond traditional notions of civic engagement. While it includes a commitment to civic responsibilities, it also emphasizes the importance of producing employment-ready graduates with skills that transcend the boundaries of STEM and liberal arts education. This broader view of the public good aligns education more closely with the needs of society and the job market.

Dr. Philly Mantella’s innovative approach to higher education challenges the status quo by focusing on practical implementation, student-centered decision-making, and equipping graduates with the skills necessary for success in the modern workforce. Her vision expands the concept of the public good, ensuring that higher education not only benefits society through civic engagement but also produces graduates who are business-ready and equipped for the complexities of today’s world.


Three Key Takeaways for Higher Education Leaders

Dr. Philly Mantella’s insights offer valuable guidance for higher education leaders seeking to navigate the challenges and opportunities of today’s dynamic landscape. Here are three key takeaways:

Innovation Beyond Ideation

Innovation isn’t limited to generating ideas; it’s about executing those ideas effectively. Higher education leaders should focus on implementing practical solutions that address the unique needs of their student body and society as a whole. Embrace innovation as a means to drive positive change and progress.

Student-Centric Approach

To overcome barriers and enhance enrollment, adopt a student-centric approach. Place students at the heart of decision-making processes, ensuring that your institution is responsive to their diverse needs and aspirations. This shift in perspective can lead to more inclusive and successful educational experiences.

Equipping Graduates for the Modern World

Prepare graduates not only with academic knowledge but also with practical, business-ready skills. Today’s job market demands well-rounded professionals who can navigate the complexities of the modern workforce. Higher education leaders should prioritize equipping students with the tools they need to thrive beyond the classroom.


Final Thoughts

Implementing innovative structures in higher education is not an option; it’s a necessity. This approach serves as inspiration and how-to for colleges and universities looking to thrive in a new era of learning, prepare students for success in their careers, and benefit society. 


About Our Podcast Guest

Philomena V. Mantella

President Mantella, the first woman and fifth president of Grand Valley State University, boasts a 30-year career in higher education marked by success in expanding universities into new markets, enhancing relationships, and fostering innovation. Her leadership consistently improves student outcomes and market positions. She led Grand Valley State University through the challenges of the global pandemic with a focus on growth and relevance.

In recent years, she expanded the university’s offerings for non-traditional and underrepresented students, streamlined graduation pathways, and championed student voices through a national alliance. Her career spans public and private institutions in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan, with notable achievements at Northeastern University. President Mantella holds a Ph.D. in college and university administration from Michigan State University, along with master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University. Her leadership revolves around integrity and empowering GVSU’s faculty and staff to drive its success.

Dr. Philomena Mantella on LinkedIn → 


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of the Changing Higher Ed® Podcast, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.


Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 179 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Dr. Philly Mantella


Today, we welcome back Dr. Philly Mantella, president of the Grand Valley State University. Dr. Mantella, who became Grand Valley’s fifth president in November 2019, just before the pandemic hit, is an entrepreneur and an educator. Her entrepreneurial disposition and a drive to expand access to the university quickly became evident with the many initiatives she started at Grand Valley, initiatives that have improved pathways for diverse learners across their lifetimes and provide enterprises with higher quality talent.


Philly joins us today to talk about innovation in higher education, including an update on her latest collaboration, REP4, which stands for Rapid Education Prototyping for Change. A collaboration among seven higher ed institutions designed to accelerate innovation and, at the same time, provide thousands of learners with a transformative experience where they can embrace their own power to set their course and control their own learning journeys.


Drumm: Philly, welcome back to the program. It’s great to have you on again.


[00:00:05] Philly Mantella: Thank you, Drumm; it’s great to see you again.


[00:00:07] Drumm: Yeah, and you know, so much has happened in the two years since we spoke last. I mean, we finished the pandemic. You’ve been in your presidency- ship now for, oh gosh, how many years has it been?


[00:00:21] Philly Mantella: I’m in my fifth year.


[00:00:23] Drumm: Fifth year. Oh my gosh.


[00:00:25] Philly Mantella: I can’t believe it’s been two years since we’ve spoken. That’s amazing.


[00:00:29] Drumm: It is, and you know what? In the fifth year, you’re beating the average of the normal president nowadays.


[00:00:35] Philly Mantella: True. That’s true.


[00:00:37] Drumm: Not that I’d have any concern that you wouldn’t, but anyway. For the folks who are going to be listening today, this is the second time I’ve had you on the show, but they may not be familiar with you and Grand Valley State, so if you would just give us a little background on, on you and Grand Valley, because you’ve done some amazing things with respect to innovation there.


[00:00:58] Philly Mantella: Yeah, so thank you, Drumm. It’s a pleasure. My background has been pretty fully in higher education. I’ve worked at virtually every level of higher education, from community college to graduate-only schools. I spent the bulk of my time on the East Coast, at two universities out there, Pace University, and then 20 years at Northeastern University.


Five years ago, I came out to accept the presidency here, at Grand Valley State University, and what really excited me about the opportunity drum was the way in which this institution was founded by the community rallying of the importance of having an institution within their midst, and as a part of the economic development strategy of the region and, a senior institution, obviously, the region had community college support, but they really felt they needed a four year and beyond the institution.


 So this institution has always been at the intersection of high-quality teaching and learning and embraces the opportunity to work with the community to develop the economy and the businesses that are here and drawing new businesses. And it’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Allendale, Michigan, where it is, a part of West Michigan where growth continues to happen and really a state that is, struggling without migration, like many of the northern states are.


So, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s everything that I had hoped for, and I’m just having a really, fun time leading this incredible institution.


[00:02:40] Drumm: And you’ve done so many great things there, so many good things, especially around innovation, I think back to your time at Northeastern, you were there for 20 years, and one of my recent guests who you know very well, Raj Eshambadi, I think I’ve pronounced his name correctly.


[00:02:59] Philly Mantella: Yes, you did.


[00:03:00] Drumm: He talked about you as being the top innovator, Michael Crow aside. Within higher education. I mean, coming from Raj and other presidents, that’s high praise.


[00:03:15] Philly Mantella: It is. And I appreciate Raj’s endorsement because I so value his leadership, and I listened to his session on really how to build a platform and ecosystem in education. And I really valued our years together. He’s an incredible innovator himself.


I’m a student of innovation, particularly as it’s situated in higher education, and I think part of what I have felt strongly about is higher education struggles with a number of headwinds. How do we keep focused on our mission, which is the public good? Part of that is to share our learning so that we all get stronger, whether it be an innovation or the integration of practice-based learning, traditional pedagogy, or new delivery systems.


There is so much to learn so fast that I think where I have really focused is to find and surround myself with strong peers like Raj and to be in a space where I embrace sharing with others and learning from others, and that’s a lot of what innovation is about.


[00:04:25] Drumm: Oh, so much. and I will say you are the first person that I have ever spoken with when they talk about higher ed being the public good. Which I believe very strongly in, but you also include in their economic growth, jobs, these type of things. And most people, everyone except you, has separated those out as you’ve got the public good, you know, the civics, et cetera, et cetera, and then you’ve also got the economic, the job ready, et cetera. It’s one and the same, aren’t they?


[00:05:03] Philly Mantella: They are one in the same. I think we have a lot of false dichotomies in education. whether it is, are you an institution that educates for liberal education, lifetime skills, or do you educate for a professional discipline? To me, that’s a false dichotomy. Students are going to, over the course of their lives, have many meaningful and significant changes in both career and life phases, stages, things that occur that can’t be anticipated. We need to be educating for both. And I think similarly, maybe it’s my years at Northeastern University and Grand Valley has 73 percent of our students do experiential learning, is the appreciation that learning in essence happens everywhere.


So how do you curate it? How do you support it? How do you create a love of it? How do you coach to it? It’s a dichotomy, think learning can only happen inside a classroom or inside an institutional setting. So I appreciate, thinking about, these dichotomies that have been with us more as a function of history and how we grew up as higher education, that we can challenge today and look for opportunity that comes within that challenge.


[00:06:20] Drumm: Well, when you talk about the dichotomies, and I don’t want to get into the political portion of this, but the dichotomies are there throughout society. and it takes people with vision to look past those dichotomies and say, we’re talking about the same apple, it’s just a different variety of apple.


[00:06:42] Philly Mantella: Yeah, and isn’t that our job? I mean, isn’t one of our roles as higher education, to model, a sense of community where those polarities, don’t,stop us in our tracks ordisable us to hear or listen to someone else’s point of view, and so I think it’s a part of the modeling of the kind of community, that we can and should be in not only our university settings, but in our larger society.


[00:07:12] Drumm: I was interviewed by a press member this week about what’s going on in the Middle East and how university presidents, should they take a stand, and my bottom line to her was at this point in time, you’re going to get shot at from every angle. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You need to take a stand, but at the same time, just know that you’re going to anger some factions because it’s not going to go far enough, it’s going to go too far, etc.


That’s what we’re dealing with in society, and you’re absolutely right. Higher Ed needs to be a role model for these type of things.


[00:07:53] Philly Mantella: A hundred percent. Absolutely.


[00:07:56] Drumm: And so with this view of employers and the public value of higher education, we’ve been stuck in doing it a certain way, from a faculty perspective, it’s always been the sage on the stage. This is the way we were taught to teach, et cetera. And you’ve been there as well. You’ve taught that way. But with all the technology, with all the needs for innovation and the headwinds, I mean, we’ve got the demographic cliff or enrollment cliff coming up, which is real and I’m sure that’s going to affect your institution because being a public institution, regional, we’ve got to be able to innovate to get past this. It’s not that the quality of education is bad. It’s very good. How do we innovate to make sure that everybody gets it or all who want it get it.


[00:08:48] Philly Mantella: Yeah, and you know, I think what we struggle the most with I would say and I don’t know if you find this drum I haven’t you know surveyed your Speakers that you’ve had on here But if we were to do that if we were to go across all the individuals that you’ve had on here that are forward thinking You would see some common themes about what we believe the future is going to be about, right? Maybe universal learning, it may be adaptive learning, it may be multimodal learning. You’re going to see a lot of common themes. So I think what we struggle with in higher education is less about the ideas and more about how do we put them in action when we have a complex system that has been structured for our past and not for our future.


And let me just say a little bit more about that. I mean, in essence, I think our institutions, and again, I’m going to overgeneralize, have been structured more for a dominant student type, in my case, more for an 18-year-old coming out of high school, going directly into college, for a dominant delivery type, more for face to face than fully online or some sort of hybrid or mix or, multi-modal environment, and more for a flow from study to work, or as I like to kid around and say, you know, we sort of complete our work with them and then throw them over the wall to employment and, none of those really fit today’s set of needs, so the question I think, and our first conversation was around REP4, which is Rapid Educational Prototyping for Change, is this notion of how do we put ideas into action when we’re dealing with something as important as education, that by its nature takes six years, seven years to study an outcome if someone’s going through to a degree and into the workforce.

How do we innovate in that space responsibly so that we can try to seed some of our ideas in action, evaluate them, pivot, adjust, and then move forward? 


And so where I’ve tried to spend some time is that very question like how do you create the alignment between the ideas and the actions within an institution and REP4 that we discussed, which for the audience that perhaps, did not hear the first, podcast that we did together was really about, a set of institutions, seven soon to be ten, that have come together all diverse in their charter and mission, all from different parts of the country and said, let’s innovate on giving students greater agency than we do in most every educational setting for their educational experience and give them more agency for educational reform in our setting. 


So that has been about not six and seven, ten institutions with great ideas. That is true, there’s some great ideas our students have brought forward, but how do we situate those ideas in our institutional setting to make change, and how do we share that change so we can accelerate it, for the public good? Again, I’m going to use that language, more quickly. And I think that’s where we have to do some deep dive and deep study around what works to seed innovation and action inside of education.


[00:12:23] Drumm: Well, that makes a lot of sense to me because we believe very strongly people support what they help create. This is part of it. But then you’re going to see many folks, the naysayers saying, “wait a minute, you’re going to ask students who aren’t even there in your institution what they want for an education?” How are they even remotely qualified to give you an answer?


[00:12:48] Philly Mantella: Yes, and that is the most common question and I usually answer this way. Absolutely, that’s exactly what we’re going to do because they haven’t been inculcated in the way we work with them. And their fears Concerns, apprehensions, inability to see themselves in education fully, or see the possibilities for themselves is all the work that we need to do.


If we believe that human promise is distributed equally, it’s what has been our lived experience. What are the barriers that we have to confront? What are the support systems that aren’t there? And that’s honestly where these students have been spending time. They’ve been spending less time, if you will, in, I think you teach engineering wrong, X course should come first versus Y course. It’s not that. It’s saying, “How do I show up when I have a problem? How do I challenge a convention? How do I find my basic needs being met? Where do I get support if I’m feeling unsure? How do I, when I recognize I didn’t have the literacy that I thought I had, how do I walk back without penalty?”


It’s all of those sort of structures and questions that students are advancing. Students are smart cookies. They know what they don’t know. They’re not going to offer to change things they haven’t been situated in yet, but, they will have ideas and foresights, concerns and fears, that if they surface them, will give us really incredible insights into where we need to spend time and energy to really map to where they are at.


And then if you draw even further and say, “Given the way you live, given the way you work, given the way you communicate, how do you think we best attack this issue with you?” And allow them to take it even further. And the one example I would give you, Drumm, is the work our students have been doing on financial literacy, which they lovingly call FIN-LIT. And, the FIN-LIT prototype, if you take a look at it, what they have done is they’ve said, yes, all of this budgeting’s important, understanding money, and my relationship to money is important. 


But if you sit me down in a class prior to taking out a loan or through the curriculum when it’s not real time and I’m not signing my first leafs or preparing my first budget for college, it’s not going to resonate. You and I would say that as well. If somebody was, educating us on tax code changes for the next tax return, 12 months from now, we’d say the same thing. 


So what they have done is they have situated the FIN-LIT in more real time and snippets of content and information. And they’ve done it through the use of animal personalities, that represent money personalities that students can evolve from. They’ve done it with tarot cards. Now would you or I think about that as a way to connect with students? We just wouldn’t.


[00:16:05] Drumm: Not even close.


[00:16:07] Philly Mantella: And they have sought counsel on the content, the subject matter experts being faculty from psychology, faculty from finance. But their insight, wisdom on how students relate to us, we can’t replicate that without giving them some autonomy to bring it forward.


[00:16:27] Drumm: And just so that we’re clear, this is all part of bringing people together and helping them to design their own curriculum, how they’re going to go through the program.


[00:16:39] Philly Mantella: It’s really about helping them, design our institutional setting, so it may or may not be curriculum specifically. This happens to be how I get the financial literacy. I need to manage money in college. Could be in a form of a curriculum and we actually have some of our Seidman College of Business faculty, working very closely with them, adopting some of these, practices within the context text of a course.


But we also have in Michigan, a, mandate, from our governor that says, students in the ninth grade should be started down a course of financial literacy, and we have a lot of high schools struggling to get the right relatable content so we can be providing that back, increasing our pipeline, increasing the resonance of this content. So it could fall into. 9 -12 curriculum, or life skills, or in our curriculum. But the whole purpose is have the students see the possibility for themselves, have them take more agency, and be open to their ideas.


[00:17:46] Drumm: This reminds me of a couple of things. One, our good friend Russell Lowery Hart, who when he took over at Amarillo, he asked enrollment, what do you need to be more successful? And, understanding the demographic he was working with, give us laptops because we can’t expect the students to come out to us at the campus. We go to them so that we can talk to them as well as their families.


[00:18:12] Philly Mantella: Absolutely.


[00:18:14] Drumm: That is meeting someone where they are.


[00:18:17] Philly Mantella: Absolutely.


[00:18:18] Drumm: Dual enrollment. You’re doing a little derivative of dual enrollment and getting that. The other one that really strikes me is Madeline Atkins from Lucy Cavendish College, the University of Cambridge, did you listen to that one? Doing a bridging week, they’re working with high schools, and amazing that Lucy Cavendish Is the first of the Cambridge universities to get 90 percent of their enrollment from public institutions. 


I mean, that’s unheard of for institutions like Cambridge and Oxford. So they work with them throughout high school that the ones that show promise and want to do this, and then they bring them in a week early to get them in acclimated to the college. This is how we do examinations. This is how we do classes. This is where everything’s located. And it gives them, and this is before orientation, it gives them that sense of belonging, which when you’re dealing with first gen students, like you are so often, they’ve got to believe that they belong there.


[00:19:31] Philly Mantella: Absolutely. Yeah, 100%.


[00:19:34] Drumm: So REP4 is, taking off. you’re about to have 10 institutions, but there’s other things that are going on in innovations that you’re working with as well. Would you share some of those with us?


[00:19:50] Philly Mantella: You know, I’ve, I was thinking and knowing this conversation was going to be on innovation and we’ll come back to like, how do you structure for this? I’ve been dissecting, if you will, some of the work we’ve done. And I think the first sort of principle is we are trying to use challenge as a place to surface opportunities.


And so I will use the example of a program, we call K 12 Connect. So K 12 Connect was, really started during the pandemic when everyone had returned home and our undergraduate students and our faculty and staff were saying, “What can we do to help our community? And we were hearing regularly about the struggles in K 12 of students showing up, particularly in the urban schools.


And I asked of our community for individuals to volunteer on a kind of a homework help tutoring line. What we found is several things. One is we have student across discipline that became inspired to be educators. Great outcome, right? We had students, I think we’ve done over 90, 000 tutoring sessions now. We had tutoring that was done, andthe K 12 Connect is now our largest part time employer on our campus, so students were gravitating towards this really meaningful work, and now we’re studying the impact of tutoring, and we are learning that four months of tutoring in this format can if you will, almost a year’s learning loss.


And so we’re finding these great outcomes. So K 12 Connect is becoming an entity. I think at our last board meeting, we indicate an intention to have K 12 Connect be a subsidiary of Grand Valley State University, and will continue its work, and why we’re doing that is we now could scale, if our own employees, faculty, staff, and students are the limiting factor to growing K 12 Connect, we have to have a broader,palette in order to grow the workforce, if you will, for K 12 Connect to make an even larger impact.


[00:22:06] Drumm: So that’s one example. Question on that. So this is the students at Grand Valley working, partnering with faculty to help out folks in K 12.


[00:22:18] Philly Mantella: So, it’s the students in Grand Valley working with our Educational CoLab, which is another space of innovation. So they are educators that work largely with K 12 coming out of either our College of Education, faculty out of College of Education, or our Charter School Authorization Office, and they prepare these students to be tutors in the CoLab and then send them out to work with students in K 12 connected to the teaching in K 12. 


There’s a number of independent tutoring arms, but this one sort of connects what’s happening in the schools, the struggle in the classroom in a K 12 classroom with prepared tutors and tutoring and we’re studying it right now through Allendale to see, the efficacy and impact on the field of education, on how much gain one can get through this tutoring methodology and we’re preparing to expand it so that all the tutors don’t have to be Grand Valley affiliated. They could be from, far beyond our community, to stand up a larger tutoring workforce.


[00:23:30] Drumm: Wow. that is amazing. you use outside funding for this?


[00:23:34] Philly Mantella: We started it with our own, you know, much of what we have done, Drumm, has been seeded by our own innovation fund, which was one of my first acts with the Board of Trustees is to say that we need to think about innovation in the way we think about deferred maintenance. There always has to be a fund to support its continued growth, and that fund should replenish when we have some success.


So we seeded it through our own innovation fund, but then the pandemic drew a number of funds at both the federal and state level of how are we going to support where students had learning loss from the pandemic. So the school systems could contract for structures and supports that could help them bring their student population current.


So that sort of converged at the same time we’d created this design. And, we do think there’s always, as if this is a very strong complement to in class learning in K 12, and a school system embraces it, that there will always be funds to support it. it’s gone from a seeded innovation to a contracted service, if that makes sense.


[00:24:52] Drumm: Oh, it makes total sense. And from a business perspective. That’s exactly what you would expect it to do. You invest money upfront to get things going, and then you create the demand and while it takes off was this created, under the framework of REP4, or was this just another innovation?


[00:25:09] Philly Mantella: No.


[00:25:11] Drumm: shouldn’t be just another innovation.


[00:25:13] Philly Mantella: It’s a great innovation. REP4 was seeded in a very similar way, but it started with, both some, innovation fund dollars and then, some seed funding from our, philanthropic community where we said, we want to try this experiment. And it sits side by side, if you will. And there are a number, and I want to talk, cause you asked about employers, I want to talk about just a couple that touch our employers, because I do think that that’s a really important question today is, just as We so appreciate the voice faculty bring to the quality of our education, and it’s central. We’ve elevated the student voice through REP4 and other means, you know, and how we’ve designed our strategic plan. 

And we’ve elevated our employer and community voice. And I want to give you two examples, because we’ve talked about… our university and our faculty, and we’ve talked about our students of how we’ve brought in, our university community and our employer, enterprise, profit and non profit, into the conversation. So I’ll give you two examples. One is one we’ve done with Michigan’s actually largest employer. It’s called Corwell Health. Was a merger of two health systems on the east side. And, like all health systems, they are in desperate need for nursing talent coming out of the pandemic. So we sat down with Corwell Health and said, let’s brainstorm, let’s innovate on how we can solve this problem.


And in assessing, the dilemma they were in, a lot of traveling nurse premiums that they were paying out, a lot of search premiums. We said, what if we move that investment upstream because we have more students that want nursing than we can serve today. and, move it upstream, share it between scholarship and infrastructure for more faculty in the program, and then ask the students to knowingly become Corwell scholars, and make a two year commitment. on the other end post graduation to Corwell Health. And Corwell made a 19 million investment, a very generous investment that went directly to students and to faculty support.

We increased our nursing program by 500 over five years, and, we have made a commitment to sustain that size, and so that’s another example of co creating with employers. And it sounds like it’s just finances, but it’s not, because we had to solve for the way in which clinicals were constrained, on both sides. We had to integrate what happens to orient a nurse with what happens in their clinical experience. We had to be sure, these are young lives, if a student made a different decision than to meet the commitment post graduation, that we had a safety net for Corwell dollars and we had a safety net for the students.


So we had to work through all of these issues in order to come up with a program framework that was, really well grounded and exciting and could hit the mark on the problem we were trying to solve. And if you’ll allow me just one more example, I will, yeah, I will talk about another one, because one of the interesting things is because we admit students into our nursing program, after their sophomore years of, college, is it really was a two year turnaround, not a four or five year turnaround until we could start getting nurses into the hospital system. 


So looking at this question of time, we similarly did what we call the Laker Accelerated Talent Link. And we have still today, about half of our students graduate art, the arts and sciences, and half of our students, graduate from the professional schools. And when you talk to a business leader about their talent needs, they would say, first and foremost is the human skills, critical thinking, ability to work in teams. You’d hear all of this, and then you would hear, really understanding and interest in my business, and then you would hear some other and, it might be and digital analytic skills and the ability to manage complex projects and an understanding of cyber security.


So we went to the five employers and we said, how about this, if we embed in the final year of an arts and science students program, a core competency, your last and, we already have students with great human skills. We’ll embed them in your company in the last year, so they will have that experience of really understanding the business acumen and we’ll build, we’ll stack into their final degree, you know, their last year, a, core competency certificate that you demand, that you want, and, those students will give you a year of experiential learning, and a year afterwards. And similarly, we ask for investment to start up the pilot. pass on the resources and scholarship funding for the student, and for them to be employed in a paid experiential learning.


From the employer perspective, because it was a year, not four years program. It was a reasonable investment to request of them. From our perspective, we were improving and enhancing our liberal arts and science degrees, understanding what those core competencies, that would make someone extremely employable in a particular area was.


So it became like a win, win, win. You know, the faculty that are close to it say, well, we’ve learned so much sitting side by side with the employers. The employers have appreciated that our arts and science students are amazing students. They’re not saying, well, major in psychology, we’re not interested, you know. So it’s been just a win in so many ways, and on October 30th, we’ll be showcasing it to a broader set of employers and inviting others to move from our pilot stage now into an ongoing program. So those are three examples of, in addition to Rep 4 that we have been working on.


[00:31:44] Drumm: Yeah, it was, you showcasing it to a public private partnership in such a different way than is typical. And you’re doing it. All student focused.


[00:31:56] Philly Mantella: Well , I just would like to bottle that sentence and use it again on my website. Thanks, Drumm.


[00:32:02] Drumm: Please go ahead, and we’ll get your transcript so you can do it.


[00:32:05] Philly Mantella: That’s great.

[00:32:07] Drumm: Philly, this has been just amazing. I knew it was going to be. Normally when, I sit down with a new guest. It’s okay. What are we going to talk about? I didn’t worry about that at all because I knew we’d come up with a great thing extemporaneously.


Thank you.


[00:32:23] Philly Mantella: Thank you. I always enjoy talking with you. You’re such an inspiring leader, consultant, and supporter of higher education. So thank you for that as well.


[00:32:33] Drumm: Thank you. That’s very kind. As we always do, our two final questions. This is not Jeopardy. We don’t answer questions with questions. Three takeaways for higher ed presidents and boards. Whatever you think is important for them to really know.


[00:32:50] Philly Mantella: I think the first is, and people say it often, but let’s turn these challenges into opportunities. These are hard jobs. Let’s have some fun with what’s possible. I think the second, let’s meet our obligation for shared learning. And that’s the way I see it is: we are obliged to the public. Let’s serve them even better by sharing rather than Hubbarding what we’ve learned so that we can all advance faster. I think there’s room in higher education, particularly if we make the right shifts and the right adaptions. And the last thing I would say is think about innovation in the way you think about campus planning, physical campus planning.


It’s got to be present. It has to be structured in, it has to have a routine of evaluation. You have to acknowledge it, and make it a part of, not a sideline to how you think about, organizing the institution.


[00:33:46] Drumm: Oh, those are great takeaways. Thank you. What’s next for you?


[00:33:52] Philly Mantella: Well, I always say, you know, it’s been a fabulous year. I mean, it was a tough, you know, you come in as a new president, you’re almost immediately in a pandemic.

It takes a little, that year coming out of the pandemic, I think people were feeling sand was shifting under them a bit. And so I really felt like this year felt entirely different. And we have historic enrollment results, the highest-ever, entering class, the most diverse entering class.

And I could go down the highest number of veterans, the highest, honors program. It’s really been quite historic, our outcomes for this year. So what I like to say here, that’s great, let’s celebrate, but one year is not a trend, let’s make it a trend. We can buck the demographics and, by allowing more participation, the innovation gives us more spaces for participation and education.

So I’m going to try to do all I can, Drumm, with this fabulous institution to continue moving against the headwinds and, seeing that some of these have trends and outcomes that can be evaluated and supported so that there can be more of a flywheel for positive change.


[00:35:09] Drumm: Well, thank you, Philly. I so much look forward to seeing all of the great things that you will continue to do there at Grand Valley, and I really look forward to the next time I get to have you on the program.


[00:35:21] Philly Mantella: Thank you so much.


Thanks for listening this week, and a special thank you to this week’s special guest, Dr. Philly Mantella, president of Grand Valley State University, and for sharing with us the details behind REP4, other innovations that are driving Grand Valley to where it is today. Join us next week when we welcome Catherine Friday, Ernst & Young’s global education leader, who will be speaking to their recent white paper entitled, How Are You Balancing the Books for a Digital Future?


This paper talks about four things that high-performing higher ed institutions are doing, both here in the U. S. and globally, to ensure their financial stability in the 21st century.


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