Provost finalists will visit GVSU in upcoming week to present to campus community

GVL / Courtesy - GVNow
Dennise Cobb (left), Stephen Esquith (center), Jann Joseph (right)


GVL / Courtesy – GVNow Dennise Cobb (left), Stephen Esquith (center), Jann Joseph (right)

Jess Hodge

After months of searching and narrowing down about 75 candidates, three finalists to possibly fill the position of Grand Valley State University’s next provost and executive vice president for student and academic affairs have been chosen. 

Denise Cobb, Jann Joseph and Stephen L. Esquith will all vie for the position in the upcoming week. All three are tasked with giving a 25 minute presentation to community members at GVSU that is related to student and academic affairs. The entire campus community is invited to sit in on the presentations. All sessions will be held on the Allendale Campus, but will be simulcast to multiple locations on the Pew Campus. 

Cobb’s presentation will be Thursday, Jan. 12 from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Grand River Room. Joseph’s presentation will be Tuesday, Jan. 17 from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Grand River Room and Esquith’s presentation will be Thursday, Jan. 19 from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Grand River Room. 

Cobb is the current interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Joseph’s current position is Indiana University South Bend’s executive vice chancellor. Esquith hails from much closer as the dean of Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

After 15 of years in the position, provost Gayle Davis announced in 2016 her plans to retire at the end of the academic year in 2017. The search quickly started to find someone who could take over her spot and continue to grow GVSU as Davis had for the past decade and a half. GVSU enlisted the help of Isaacson Miller, a firm specializing in recruiting leadership for institutions such as GVSU. 

In addition to Isaacson Miller, GVSU formed its own search team consisting of co-chairs Teri Losey and Jon Jellema, and 11 other members some of which include the student senate president Ella Fritzemeier, the director of admissions and more.

Jellema said each candidate demonstrated some of the key qualities they were looking for in different ways. 

“(We were looking for) someone with appropriate experience who understands and appreciates GVSU’s culture, values, and goals,” he said via email. “(Also) someone who is student-centered, someone who listens carefully and whose style is collaborative (and) someone who has supported innovation and is a decision maker.”

Ultimately, they were looking for someone who was familiar with GVSU’s Strategic Plan for the future years and who wants to help implement it in upcoming years. Each of the candidates showed exactly that in their own unique way. 

As part of the search team, Fritzemeier offered a student’s perspective on each candidate. She said although narrowing down the candidates to three finalists was difficult, once she heard statements from a select amount of candidates, it was easy for her to decide who she thought the finalists should be.

“(The) statements helped us to kind of understand what their philosophy was and what appealed about Grand Valley to them so we could really find a match for our set of values and our commitment to our liberal education philosophy (and) other things that matter to Grand Valley,” she said. 

One thing Fritzemeier personally thought was important for each candidate to have was a focus on students.

“It’s not that we (students) don’t get to really work directly with the provost, but that’s our person, they stick up for us in every decision that they make so having somebody that does that in every decision is really important,” she said. 

Fritzemeier believes each of the the three final candidates who are visiting GVSU has a student-centered focus.

Speaking of students, those who attend the presentations by the candidates are asked to give their thoughts and feedback to the search committee. Jellema hopes everyone forms their own opinion about the candidates and shares their thoughts via a Survey Monkey survey, which can be found at

“The 3 candidates share many characteristics but are quite different from one another,” Jellema said. “We hope students will show up at the open venues and share their opinions about the candidates.”

Jellema said after the three candidates visit, GVSU President Thomas Haas will make his final decision no later than Tuesday, Jan. 31.