Incoming president Mantella attends State of the Union address


Courtesy / Matt McLogan

Rachel Matuszewski

Following her Jan. 22 appointment as the fifth president of Grand Valley State University, Dr. Philomena V. Mantella filled her role as guest to Michigan Sen. Gary Peters at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Feb. 5. 

“This was my first opportunity to attend a State of the Union address,” Mantella said. “I was surprised and delighted when Sen. Gary Peters personally called me to extend the invitation to be his guest.” 

Mantella said she saw the event as an opportunity to meet members of the Michigan congressional delegation and increase the visibility of GVSU. She said she was impressed by the majesty of the House chamber with the members of Congress, the Senate, the Cabinet and leaders of the government all in one place at the same time. 

During her trip, Mantella interacted with a variety of Michigan-rooted politicians, including Sen. Peters, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Bill Huizenga and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, among others. 

“The delegation was impressive and supportive and welcomed me warmly, which I take also to be a reflection of their respect for Grand Valley,” Mantella said. “I’ll be engaged with (those I met) on education issues in the months and years ahead.” 

Peters said he chose to invite Mantella knowing she will continue to champion efforts that are important to universities, which will help to prepare students to succeed in today’s workforce. 

“Moving forward, I hope that Democrats and Republicans will work together on several critical issues, growing our economy in a way that helps Michigan workers and families, repairing and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure and securing our nation’s northern and southern borders in the most efficient and cost-effective way,” Peters said. “I’m also committed to helping close the skills gap, a challenge I hear about constantly from businesses across Michigan.” 

In his address, Trump acknowledged the year’s accomplishments regarding the rise in wages for blue collar workers, the lowest rate of unemployment in half a century, the tax cut for working families, the end to estate tax and the United State becoming the top oil and natural gas producers in the world.

Trump also discussed the success in the increased amount of women in the workforce, concern with passing the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, our troops overseas and immigration. 

Yet, Peters said he wished Trump would have outlined a plan to help modernize roads, bridges and ports and expand rural broadband networks, especially in states like Michigan. He was also disappointed the president did not highlight ways to strengthen the education system so that students have the tools to pursue their dreams, whether that’s through a four-year college degree or a career and technical education.

Regardless, Peters said he is dedicated to working with Trump on these issues. Through her visit, Mantella said she acknowledges the need to continue bipartisan work in Congress and with educational leaders 

“I recognize that president’s use the State of the Union address to prioritize their agenda,” Mantella said. ”Of course, I think education needs always to be on the list. Education and innovation are central in our national agenda and are an investment in our future — a future that’s already here.”