GVSU expands pre-university programs with new Pathways to College Office

GVL / Anne Marie Smit

GVL / Anne Marie Smit

Anne Marie Smit

Applying to college is an overwhelming process for many high school students who may feel intimidated by the heavier workload, financial questions and the decision of where to enroll. By recently opening the Pathways to College Office under the Division of Inclusion and Equity, Grand Valley State University hopes to expand its pre-college programs to provide guidance for middle and high schools throughout the state of Michigan. 

Through the Wade H. McCree, Jr. Incentive Program and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), GVSU is striving to connect with ambitious middle and high school students in the state of Michigan and help them achieve their goals and become better acquainted with university life. The Wade McCree program is for students particularly interested in GVSU, while GEAR UP exposes students to GVSU among other Michigan universities.

Bobby Springer, director of the Pathways to College Office, said the office will allow GVSU to connect with a diverse set of students with its programs reaching out to schools all throughout Michigan. By connecting with more communities, GVSU will reach more students and pique their interest in the university. 

“When we’re working with diverse schools and those students come to Grand Valley, the number of diverse students is going to increase,” Springer said. “We want all students to have the opportunity to come to Grand Valley, not just a certain population of students, and to do all the things they need to do to make it happen.”

Under these programs, Springer visits local middle schools and high schools that select students with academic promise and an interest in going to college. Students under the Wade McCree program are assisted with ACT and SAT tests and must satisfy certain academic requirements, such as a minimum GPA of 3.3.

“They have to stay at a certain level in order to make this a reality,” Springer said. “There’s work to be done. That’s why we want those students who will reach for those levels. … We’re here to work with them through this process with group meetings, one-on-one meetings, campus visits, SAT preparation. We’ll do all of those things to make sure that they have the opportunity to be successful.”

Students enrolled in the Wade McCree and GEAR UP programs have the advantage of thinking about and being exposed to colleges early on in their academic careers, beginning in the seventh grade and continuing on until freshman year of college. Students interested in GVSU engage in a university classroom covering similar material to what they are covering in their high school classes.

“When they started high school, they started with biology,” Springer said. “When they visited (GVSU during their) freshman year (of high school), they did an activity with the biology department to connect what they’re doing in high school to college. They got a chance to work with professors here at Grand Valley during their high school years.”

Edith Reyes Justo, a GVSU freshman studying public relations, said she visited the campus every year after being in the GEAR UP program and that the classroom visits especially helped her understand what college entailed.

“We kept making college visits every year, so that’s what made me more familiar with the school,” Reyes Justo said. “The visits were different because we actually went inside the classroom and did labs with them. It was a way for us to know what the difference was between high school and college.”

The financial aspect of college can also be confusing to middle school and high school students. Recognizing this, the Wade McCree and GEAR UP programs introduce financial terms to students early on and build on that knowledge each year, giving students from lower-income families in particular an understanding of the resources available to them and how they can  make a college education a reality. 

Nyasia Montgomery, a GVSU freshman studying social work and women, gender and sexuality studies, said the financial guidance was especially helpful to her when she was enrolled in the GEAR UP program.

“Part of (what helped me) was knowing the difference between scholarships and grants, unsubsidized and subsidized loans,” she said. “Coming here every year and focusing on the different type of financial aid really helped me out. I knew what to expect and what would be better for me in the long run.”

In addition to academic and financial guidance, students in these programs have the opportunity to interact with college students, whom Springer encourages to share their advice with the high school students.

“I’ve always tried to have college students interact with them, to be part of that experience,” Springer said. “Once upon a time, college students were in the same shoes that they were in. I always ask the college students, ‘What would you do differently if you could do this over again?’ That information gets shared with them so they can make adjustments.”

Springer said students in the GEAR UP program have the opportunity to visit universities in Michigan as well as universities all across the country in states like Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. He said despite traveling to those universities, many students decide on GVSU anyway. The direct impact with GVSU year after year, he said, gives students a sense of familiarity.

Montgomery said coming to GVSU year after year helped her feel at home on campus and influenced her decision to enroll. 

“I think it’s the sense of belonging,” she said. “You already know what Grand Valley is, where everything is. It already feels like home.”