The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

REP4 works to change higher education’s future

Courtest | GVNext

REP4, which stands for Rapid Education Prototyping for Change, Learners, Community and Equity, is a program that calls on higher education institutions to involve future students in the making of their education. At the end of the 2023 fall semester, participants and leaders of Grand Valley State University’s REP4 initiative gathered for a watch party of the program’s national convention.

The summit highlighted REP4’s programs and engagement in 2023. The work displayed in the watch party demonstrates REP4’s presence at GVSU and its growing presence since its pilot year.

As one of the eight founding partners of REP4, GVSU spearheaded the first group prototype in the Midwest just a few years ago. While they are now headed into their fourth year, GVSU’s introduction of the initiative began with a pilot group under the careful direction of Mei Mah, Associate Director for the Center for Educational Partnerships, College of Education and Community Innovation (CECI) at GVSU.

“At the invitation of the President’s Office, I helped develop the first learner summit in the summer of 2020 and (it) was a jumping off point for the conceptual development of REP4,” Mah said.

Though it started off completely virtual for its first year, participating students were soon able to visit GVSU’s campus for a day of experience filled with tours and attend presentations about how to make higher education more accessible for the next generation.

Another key individual in the REP4 programming is Marlene Kowalski-Braun, the Associate VP & Chief Inclusion and Equity Officer for the Division of Inclusion and Equity. Kowalski-Braun works on the regional summit, alongside Mah, Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury and other professionals dedicated to improving higher education. 

“The REP4 regional summits provide opportunities for high school learners to see themselves as empowered change makers who can influence the future of education for themselves and their peers,” Mah said . “It is a powerful way to innovate the learner’s experience in higher education, by centering the viewpoints of those who have historically been underrepresented on university campuses.” 

Kowalski-Braun and Mah serve as co-chairs for the GVSU chapter of the alliance, while Bailey-Fakhoury, the Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at GVSU, serves as Outreach Coordinator. One of her responsibilities includes working with community partners, such as schools and nonprofits, that select their own cohorts of students, who will then become a part of a greater community with REP4.

Participating high school juniors and seniors are given the chance to work with not only adult leaders, such as Mah, Kowalski-Braun and Bailey-Fakhoury, but also with student mentors who are currently attending GVSU. Through this, students not only get to bring their lived experiences to the table for future higher education design, but also get to feel a greater sense of connection to GVSU. 

“In their own words, students walk away feeling more self-confident,” Kowalski-Braun said. “The challenge of the liberatory thinking design is one that really keeps them on their toes. All of them conclude with a presentation and I think they’re always amazed at their own work. I think they are surprised and really feel valued in the way higher education views what they know.” 

As education evolves, GVSU works to look at techniques and initiatives like REP4 as an opportunity to create unique and positive experiences for students.

“We get to be better. We get to be more future-oriented, we get to be more responsive to the students who are coming to GV,” Kowalski-Braun said. “We get to (honor) the lived experience of these students.”

Mah said REP4 has been an integral tool for the GVSU community in initiating change for the generations to come in how individuals perceive access to higher education.

“REP4 has been a very powerful and positive opportunity to push mindsets in a traditionally slow-moving sector,” Mah said. “Positive change isn’t always easy, but the challenges fade away when you see the impact and innovation.”

As the REP4 continues to expand and develop, the program’s approach to higher education aims to not only transform mindsets, but also pave the way for a more inclusive and student-centric future.

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