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UW-Green Bay GPS program helps freshmen navigate college, improve retention

GPS. They are three simple letters, but they mean so much to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and to the 160 new freshmen who started their college journey as part of the GPS program in September.

The only program of its kind in Wisconsin, GPS – or Gateways to Phoenix Success — is a free, high-impact, year-long experience for first year students that provides a fast pass to college success. This year also included a downtown Green Bay tour.

This year’s cohort of 160 students has been placed into seven “GPS teams” of up to 25 students. In these teams, GPS students work closely with faculty mentor, peer mentor, and an academic advisor for the entire first year, in courses, advising, and co-curricular and service engagement. More than 70 percent of this year’s cohort comes from a historically underrepresented background — first generation, low income, and or students of color.

The goal of GPS is to eliminate gaps in academic achievement, engagement and graduation for these groups. The program does so by focusing on the student as a whole person — helping them become true stakeholders in their educational experiences and building their sense of belonging at UW-Green Bay.

The GPS program has proven to have a significant positive impact on important student outcomes:

  • Freshman to sophomore retention rates are 16 percent higher for GPS students than for other underrepresented students.
  • Year three rates for those who participated in the program are 18.4 percent higher than students who didn’t participate. Director of Student Success and Engagement, Denise Bartell, said to put this figure in context, one should consider that a 6 percent boost in retention is typically considered a highly effective retention program.
  • The GPS program effectively eliminates the equity gap in retention, GPA, and engagement for underrepresented students who participate.

There’s more. Compared to their peers, GPS students…

  • have significantly higher GPAs
  •  are more on track for four-year graduation, completing a greater percentage of attempted credits and declaring majors earlier
  • participate in significantly more resume-building high impact experiences (e.g., undergraduate research, internships, peer mentoring), and participate earlier in their college career. These experiences not only boost career success, but increase retention, grades and engagement.

Students complete a first-year seminar together. They attend small classes with high impact experiences that involve challenging assignments, support to develop skills necessary for academic success and social opportunities. These students — some leaving home for the first time — are less likely to feel isolated. Students are also highly encouraged to take advantage of free services, like the weekly biology study sessions offered through GPS. Students who attend these sessions are twice as likely to earn an A or B in Human Biology 101 than those who don’t.

GPS students work from day one to build their sense of being “stakeholders” in their education. Stakeholders are defined as those who:

  • Feel a sense of ownership in their education, and take the wheel to drive the course of their college experience.
  • Understand that they possess skills, experiences and perspectives that are a valuable asset to their college; and feel a sense of responsibility to use these assets to benefit the community of faculty, staff and students that are a part of it.
  • Value how the knowledge, skills and perspectives they develop in college will help them make a positive contribution to their families, careers and larger communities.
  • Embrace challenges and seek out opportunities to grow and even to fail.
  • Seek opportunities to explore new ideas and engage with diverse individuals in order to expand their perspective on the world.

This year, during Orientation, the GPS students worked in small groups to design an experience to help all UWGB students become stakeholders. The groups pitched their ideas to panels of judges (GPS faculty mentors, peer mentors, teaching assistants and advisors), and the finalists pitched to the entire GPS group (all 160 students). The winning idea was to create a type of “course fair” where students could get info on UWGB classes from current students.

“The objective,” says Bartell, “will be to hear directly from students which classes they learned the most in, which stretched them out of their comfort zone, and which were the most pivotal in their major or career decisions. They will be able to get high quality information from the valid and authentic source of actual students. I think it’s a great idea!”

New this year:

On Wednesday, Sept. 21 the GPS Program — through efforts in conjunction with Downtown Green Bay Inc. — UWGB students were provided free transportation and tours to help them explore downtown. The event showcased all that Downtown Green Bay has to offer and included a walking tour of student favorites and free samples from Polito’s Pizza, Nectar Juice bar, coupons and a night at the Farmer’s Market on Broadway.

Click thumbnails to enter slideshow view or view the album on Flickr.

– Photos by Dan Moore, Marketing and University Communication