Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) has just been awarded a Title V grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. Over the next five years, SWAU will receive around half a million dollars each year, for a total of just over $2.5 million, which will be used to improve student outcomes through “Pathways to Student Success.” SWAU was one of about half a dozen schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to be selected as recipient of this competitive grant. The funding went into effect on October 1, 2020.
The university is proud to be a Hispanic-serving institution, with 48 percent of the student body being of a Hispanic or Latino background. The funds are inclusive for all students and the initiatives made possible through the funds from this grant will benefit not only its Hispanic population, but also the entire student body.
“We saw a need. We knew a large portion of our students were the first in their family to attend college and would benefit from a strong support system," shares Renata Ocampo, director of the Southwestern Adventist University Center for Academic Success and Advising, who was part of the team that drafted the grant application. "We sat here and dreamed of all the things we could do if only we had the money, and now we have the opportunity to make those things happen.”
Donna Berkner, vice president for academic administration; Marcel Sargeant, assistant vice president for academic administration; and Tom Bunch, grant manager, were also part of this same team. They identified three focus areas for the grant, including improving retention rates, graduation rates, and employment rates post-graduation.
Thanks to “Pathways to Student Success,” the Office of Student Success has been created to serve as a space where students can seek guidance and learn skills that will prepare them for life after college. This office will collaborate with the Center for Academic Success and Advising, also known as CASA, as they oversee the grant’s four elements: first-year experience, internships, and both academic and career guidance.
The Four Elements of the Grant
The first-year experience program will guide students through their first two years of higher education. Led by CASA, this program will work in tandem with student success coaches and will be supported by the faculty who teach the general education courses needed by first-year students. This will allow for students to have a successful experience during their first two years, as they will have more resources available to them.
In order to ensure academic success, students in any stage of their college career will be able to benefit from academic coaching and study sessions facilitated by CASA. Currently, academic coaching/tutoring is available at CASA, and its collaboration with the Office of Student Success will give students more resources to address both their academic and career needs.
Data-driven decision making will help formalize career fairs, help students with the job search process and bring guest speakers to ensure career readiness for SWAU students. The Office of Student Success will facilitate a variety of workshops covering topics such as how to write a resume, how to dress for an interview and how to look for employment in the current global market.
Lastly, the Office of Student Success will help students who are seeking internship opportunities and guide them through that process. The Office of Student Success manager will collaborate with academic departments to review current available internships and develop relationships with other entities to provide more internship opportunities for students.
There are several goals SWAU hopes to meet by 2025, including an increase in four-year graduates, institutionalizing academic support services on campus, and expanding career development.
“This really is such a blessing,” says Berkner. “When we heard we were recipients of this grant, we were so grateful! This is truly an answer to prayer, and it will open so many doors for our students.”