Indiana University of Pennsylvania received $2,097,074 from the federal Department of Education for the Hawks SOAR Program at IUP—Student Opportunity for Achievement and Readiness.

This funding will come to IUP in this academic year and continue for four additional years.

A group of students standing in a circle and talking in the Oak GroveVice Provost for Student Academic Success Amber Racchini is project director, working closely with Strategic Advisor to the President for Student Success Paula Stossel and members of the Student Success team, on implementation of the project.

This grant supports two broad goals, both focusing on student success for specific populations: improving retention and persistence rates for IUP’s Pell-eligible, first-generation, and underrepresented minority students by expanding upon a student success outreach model; and improving institutional structures and campus culture to be more proactive and responsive to the diverse needs of students. Pell-eligible students are primarily low-income with financial need who have not already received a post-secondary degree. 

This grant funding will augment established initiatives within IUP’s Student Success Infrastructure, launched in summer 2023.

The Student Success Infrastructure addresses the primary goal of the university’s Strategic Plan: transforming the culture at IUP to enhance the student experience by fostering exceptional student-centeredness. The infrastructure is designed to provide data-driven, proactive direct support to all students in all programs, at all levels, and at all sites.

Providing this direct support are Navigators, who are frontline, full-time staff members who work with faculty, staff, academic advisors, and other campus resources, including the newly established advising center in the University College, to assist students with their personal and academic journey.

“We are already encouraged to hear stories from students, university staff, and faculty about the positive impact of the Student Success Infrastructure, including our navigators,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said.

“The Student Success Infrastructure was developed after extensive university-wide discussion and research about best practices, and it also reflects a university-wide willingness to change the culture to focus on becoming a more student-centered university,” he said. “The infrastructure, and our approach to student success in its practices and tactics, was the basis of this competitive grant application.

“Being selected for funding at this level reinforces our approach to the critically important work of retention and persistence of our students and affirms that we have an effective plan in place for new and expanded programs that will assist these specialized populations of students to achieve success at IUP. I congratulate Dr. Racchini, Mrs. Stossel, and all of the team members involved in this grant proposal,” he said.

In addition to the navigators, Stossel, and Racchini, the Student Success Infrastructure team includes Executive Director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment Chris Kitas; Student Success Data and Technology Specialist David Luke; and Director of Academic Advising Meghan Erwin.

“The navigators are doing an incredible job building connections and providing support to students,” Racchini said. “The data team is providing good, proactive information to the navigators and the team members, and the advising center in the University College is being utilized by students on a regular basis,” she said.

The grant will fund projects and programs that complement the Student Success Infrastructure. Within the goals of the grant, there are three primary objectives, all directly relating to the IUP Strategic Plan and ongoing efforts to create an environment centered on students and their success, Racchini and Stossel said.

These objectives are: 

  • Increase first- to second-year retention of Pell-eligible, first-generation, and underrepresented minority students;
  • Increase these students’ sense of belonging through the Summer Bridge Program and by educating and training IUP employees to provide holistic and culturally responsive support; and
  • Improve faculty pedagogy and active learning strategies to close equity gaps in student achievement, especially in foundational courses.

The grant will provide funding for three navigators who will be assigned Pell-eligible, first-generation, and underrepresented minority students. The navigators will work closely with these students to proactively address barriers that we know prevent them from being successful and graduating.

Professional development programs funded by the grant will focus on faculty teaching foundational courses in disciplines like English and mathematics to strengthen pedagogical methods. Additional professional development includes training on how to utilize life design principles when teaching and advising students, and training for faculty and staff on IUP’s early alert and communication platform, IUP Advise.

After training faculty and staff on the life design program, it will be integrated into coursework completed by students in the University College.

The Summer Bridge Program will begin in summer 2024. Its goal is to prepare students to enter IUP with a solid understanding of the program’s three main components—academics, campus resources, and social development. 

Each June, all incoming IUP students must take an Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) math placement test and an English mastery self-guided survey. The Summer Bridge Program will focus on students with low placement test scores. They will take foundational coursework in English in mathematics so that they begin the fall semester on the right track. This program will be free to students.

“This commitment to student success is university-wide, and we see incredible buy-in and positive energy related to this critically important work,” Stossel said. “It’s not only our priority, but also what we owe to our students, to be focused on student-centeredness and doing everything within our power to help them to be successful.”