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UW-Green Bay wins $161k grant for new approaches to first-year achievement

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With a grant award of $161,504 for the “Phoenix GPS Program,” UW-Green Bay is one of more than two dozen institutions across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa receiving support for new initiatives meant to keep students in college and on track academically, socially and financially.

Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation is distributing a total of $4.5 million in grants this fall.  The non-profit company favors initiatives that serve students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and those who are first in their family to attend college.

The Great Lakes grant to the Phoenix GPS Program will enable UW-Green Bay to create a year-long support community for a group of 125 first-year students, placing them into small groups of 25, each with a faculty mentor, a peer mentor, and an academic adviser. Over the course of the year, students will:

— Complete a first-year seminar course together — The first-year seminar courses are designed to offer a small-class, high-impact learning experience that involves challenging assignments, support to develop the skills necessary for academic success and an introduction to the interdisciplinary mission of the University;
— Participate in TOSS study sessions — These workshops have been found to eliminate the achievement gap in UW-Green Bay’s Introduction to Human Biology course, and the weekly, hands-on study sessions will be offered for GPS students;
—Participate in Student Success Workshops – These workshops provide students with opportunities to develop skills essential to academic success including time management, to polish relevant life skills such as financial management, to begin work on academic-major exploration and career planning, and to learn about the resources and services the University provides to support student success;
— Engage in co-curricular and social activities — GPS students will meet regularly with program staff and other students, including monthly dinners;
— Consult regularly with faculty mentors and academic advisers — GPS students will meet regularly with faculty mentors and academic advisers in order to identify and address any problems early, receiving individualized support if necessary; and
— Complete a service learning project together.

The activities aim to improve retention and persistence by helping students develop academic success skills, become familiar with campus resources, develop helpful relationships with mentors and peers, and connect to the campus community through co-curricular and service involvement.

The “GPS” in Phoenix GPS Program is an acronym for Gateways to Phirst-Year Success.

“The choice of a GPS as a metaphor was quite intentional,” says Denise Bartell, an associate professor of Human Development and Psychology who guided development of the proposal. “The Phoenix GPS Program is designed to help students navigate their first year of college, anticipate the roadblocks, and chart a course to first-year success.”

Bartell is director for the Students in Transition Center at UW-Green Bay, and has been active in promoting programs and teaching practices that are intended to improve graduation rates and year-to-year retention. Bartell wrote the Great Lakes grant proposal in collaboration with Michael Stearney, the University’s dean of enrollment services.

Attention to retention is especially important at UW-Green Bay, Bartell says, where nearly two-thirds of students are from one or more of the three historically under-represented constituencies. In a given year, roughly 60 percent of UW-Green Bay students are first generation, 40 percent are eligible for federal Pell Grants and 10 percent are people of color.

“Since these students often have a more difficult transition to college, they are statistically more likely to leave before completing their degree,” Bartell says. “The Phoenix GPS Program offers these students a comprehensive array of services intentionally designed to increase student success in the first year by addressing the specific barriers to success our research indicates students at UW-Green Bay face.”

“Success for a first-year student certainly includes getting good grades in their first semester,” Stearney says. “But success is also about building deep and supportive relationships with fellow students, faculty and staff, developing the skills and habits of a successful college student, growing in self-confidence, and getting connected with the Green Bay campus and community.”

The Great Lakes grant also supports more academic support to first-year students in the form of additional assistance from staff members in the University’s Academic Advising office, student tutors and peer mentors.

Bartell says total funding for the project is more than $260,000, which includes a match of approximately $100,000 by the University to the Great Lakes grant. She says more than 20 faculty and academic staff members and students from across campus will be involved in implementing the program.

“It’s very important to all of us at UW-Green Bay that all students who enroll at our University are given every chance to succeed,” Bartell says. “The funding from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation allows us to develop a sustainable program to ensure that historically under-represented students succeed and thrive in college.”

“The programs being funded by this round of College Success grants are providing services proven to help students make progress toward their degree,” said Richard D. George, Great Lakes’ president and chief executive officer. “Each program has been thoughtfully designed to address the challenges known to keep students from graduating, helping them to develop connections to their campus, peers, faculty and staff and overcome financial obstacles. We look forward to seeing the impact of each of these programs in helping their students persist toward graduation.”

Along with UW-Green Bay, Wisconsin institutions receiving Great Lakes College Success grants are Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Mount Mary University, Marquette University and UW-Milwaukee in Milwaukee, College Possible of Milwaukee, Madison College, St. Norbert College in De Pere, UW-Eau Calire, UW College-Marathon County, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Parkside.

To see the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation news release and details on all of the projects, visit the webpage here.

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