Grand Valley State University’s new president took office July 1 and recently shared her vision for its future.
During her first board of trustees meeting, Philomena Mantella shared her vision, as well as what she sees as opportunities and challenges for GVSU.
The university's fifth president and first woman president said she is speaking with as many people as she can, as fast as she can.
“I started with the presumption when I come into this university that it is so great because you’ve made it that way, so I’m doing a lot of listening and trying to truly understand the essence of GVSU,” she said, adding that her goal is to best understand how to connect GVSU with the best opportunities in a fast-changing world of education.
“Grand Valley is uniquely positioned with its student-centered education, rooted in liberal education and blended with professional studies. But that said, Grand Valley must respond to the dramatic change in the market, the costs that are rising and the student loan levels that are rising.”
A few of GVSU’s ongoing challenges: West Michigan’s increasing demographics; increased costs, students loan debt and talent gaps; the declining public confidence of higher education; and what she sees as an increased need for access to and completion of higher education for fulfilled lives professionally and personally.
“It is truly challenging our human capacity and readiness to adapt,” she said.
To address these issues, Mantella outlined steps she believes GVSU should take going forward.
"We need to continue to drive learner outcomes, relevance and lifetime value," she said, noting the board's recent action to approve new curriculum in microbiology and degrees in cybersecurity as examples of how GVSU is staying relevant for students and the larger community.
Mantella said GVSU also must be distinct and visible to the public and “build a growth mindset.”
“We cannot rely on government funds and student tuition alone for the actions that are consistent with our mission, that are consistent with our long view of stewardship and the urgency of today's conditions,” she said. “We must activate our full community.”
In preparing for her start in the role, Mantella said she and some officers have been meeting with other education professionals and gathering their insight.
She said that on her first day, three teams were appointed to further GVSU’s thinking in three areas: to extend the value in K-12 charter relationships and education in the state; to enable a continued response to the broad demand in health care education; and to explore new opportunities in graduate professional education.
These groups will allow for early discussion of strategy with faculty and staff, she said.
“I believe to speak only to strategy and plans in the conceptual is limiting in both the talent we could unleash to solve these challenges and the opportunities to cease and address these problems today or to eliminate the barriers we confront,” Mantella said.
The trustees chose Mantella, a first-generation college student, to lead the university because of her experience in strategic planning, global market expansion and in the evolving ways successful institutions are delivering education, GVSU said.
She has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, serving as an officer at public and private universities in New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.
She has spent the past nearly two decades at Northeastern University, a private research university in Boston. She has a Ph.D. in college and university administration from Michigan State University and master's and bachelor's degrees in social work from Syracuse University.
Mantella ended her report saying that she made a life-altering move to West Michigan and GVSU because she believes in the university's ability to meet changing needs.
"We cannot preside over our current position, but we must, as GVSU has done so many times in its history, continue to flex, adapt and lead the change,” she said. "I have every confidence that we, not me, but we together, have the potential to set the path, set the pace and the conditions to excel.”
Mantella's investiture ceremony will be held Nov. 15 on the Allendale campus.