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GVSU President explains Reach Higher Showcase internal and external benefits

Reach Higher 2025
Grand Valley State University
Grand Valley State University
Reach Higher 2025

Grand Valley State University’s Reach Higher Showcase is an interactive, exhibition-style public event celebrating the forward-thinking and cutting-edge work of faculty and staff. The 2024 showcase featured more than 140 projects.

Philomena V. Mantella: What sparked the idea behind it and I should just say and students too. We have student presenters as well. One of the things that sparked the idea is just in all of my interactions with faculty and staff on a day-to-day basis, I would always discover something that people were working on, very aligned with our Reach Higher plan, very creative and I realized that I couldn't possibly be seeing all that was there within our ecosystem. And if I wasn't seeing it, my colleagues and friends were also not seeing it. And in order to really scale innovation, you have to have the opportunity to surface it, collaborate around it, evaluate it. So, I thought, huh, how about a showcase where everybody has an enjoyable time really looking at the range of innovation that's happening at Grand Valley.

Patrick Center: And how does that presentation take shape?

Philomena V. Mantella: So, we sort of take over the DeVos building and all of its many quarters and pockets. There's 400 faculty, staff, and student presenters showcasing more than 140 projects. And we kick it off with commentary not unlike I'm sharing with you today, the sort of why and how we make innovation in education all of our responsibility and not something that we sideline because the work of today can be always ever consuming. But we always make a place for it because the pace of change today requires it for our currency and for our obligation to be sure that students can meet not only today's needs, but tomorrow's needs when they come out with a Grand Valley education.

Patrick Center: You mentioned over 140 exhibits. Is there one or two that really strike you as it blew my mind and I think people need to know about it?

Philomena V. Mantella: Well, I love there are so many, and it was really hard and in my comments today, I am going to sort of single out a few just because we have some that are more mature and some that are absolutely in really the provocation and ideation stage. So, I'll mention a couple. One is a project called Blue Nucleus, which is really associated with our Blue Dot, not only facility but ecosystem we're creating around digital transformation, and not only supporting our students’ learnings but supporting our local businesses and entrepreneurs to be sure they have equipment, co-creation space, and the talents of our faculty and staff. So Blue Nucleus is focused on creating sort of an environment and if you think of it almost like a health clinic, where you could go to, but it's really where digital transformation work, whether it is something in XR or something in AI, can be sourced and supported as a project that a business or industry needs to work on. And we will bring our students' talents to the table. And we're super excited. It's modeled as a evolution of the Applied Computing Institute. And what makes it different than our traditional, let me help you with our student talents, is it can transcend terms and sort of walk alongside a project, whether that project takes a term long, which is kind of the way it's situated in the Applied Computing Institute today, or whether it takes a year or more to really satisfy the client's needs. It'll be affordable and accessible so that, you know, small businesses and entrepreneurs can really get that support at a reasonable rate. So that's super exciting. I'll mention maybe one other Digging Digital Dan, which I think is a really cool one, which is really utilizing new forms of virtual reality and story maps to look into the future of archeology. And really take an academic discipline that was only accessible if you could travel and be in places and spaces and make it more widely available, really more widely understandable. So that's really exciting as well. And I could go on and on, but I'll stop at those two.

Patrick Center: We're talking about all of this high tech and yet the showcase is really about in-person and having that interaction with people. Kind of old school, new school colliding and coming together.

Philomena V. Mantella: Well, I love that you make that observation because I don't think one replaces the other. You know, I often get that question in education. Well, if everything's going to be a bit of content is ubiquitous and people can immerse themselves in environments virtually, what about universities? And, you know, nothing replaces the people factor of really being in relationship, understanding the localized context. But we can do more, we can reach more, we can make it equitably accessible if we leverage the opportunities that the new tech gives us to bring it into our world rather than see it as an either or choice.

Patrick Center: Philomena V. Mantella, President Grand Valley State University, as always, thank you so much for your time.

Philomena V. Mantella: Thank you. Appreciate it. Great to talk to you, Patrick.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.