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UW-Eau Claire receives $3 million-plus for Student Support Services programs

RELEASED: Aug. 17, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has received notification from the U.S. Department of Education that it has been awarded five-year TRIO grants totaling more than $3 million to provide funding for its Student Support Services programs.

Nearly $2 million will support the general Student Support Services program, which offers supplemental services to improve the retention and graduation rates of 300 participants who are first-generation students, are eligible based on income or have disabilities. A second grant of more than $1 million will allow UW-Eau Claire to develop a separate Student Support Services project to improve the retention and graduation rates of 100 students with disabilities.

The general Student Support Services grant will provide $390,620 for the 2010-11 program year and a five-year total of more than $1.95 million. The grant for the new project for students with disabilities will provide $220,000 for 2010-11 and a five-year total of more than $1.1 million.

The Student Support Services program is an important component of the university's retention and diversity efforts, said Dr. Bruce Ouderkirk, Student Support Services director and writer of the grant proposals.

"We try to serve as an equalizer for the students who participate in the program," Ouderkirk said. "We try to ensure that, despite their socioeconomic background, our program participants have the same opportunity to succeed as other students on campus."

The program serves a very diverse group of students, Ouderkirk said, with approximately 45 percent being students of color.

Ouderkirk said that the student support services grant competitions have become increasingly challenging in recent years.

"It's harder to get these grants now because more institutions are competing for basically the same amount of resources," he said. "Our prior success in meeting the mandated objectives of the program gave us a competitive advantage."

Services provided by the Student Support Services program include intensive advising and academic planning, career counseling, tutoring, mentoring, cultural enrichment and financial planning. The program encourages students to develop leadership skills and assists students to prepare for postbaccalaureate education. It also helps foster a sense of community among participating students by offering shared classes and social activities, Ouderkirk said.

Laura Peterson, a senior psychology major from Eagan, Minn., has participated in the Student Support Services program since her freshman year and currently serves as president of the Student Support Services Advisory Board, an official student organization on campus.

"The Student Support Services program has made huge differences for me as an undergraduate student," Peterson said."From the time I was a freshman, the SSS program has helped me adjust to college life through its peer mentoring program. SSS also has helped me develop my leadership skills through the student advisory board, for which I went from being a voting member to the social chair and now president."

Student Support Services staff also worked with her on writing a resume and obtaining an internship, and provided a graduate school preparatory class and career counseling, Peterson said.

"The Student Support Services program has been paramount in my current and continuing academic success," she said.

Chee Yang, a senior business management major from Port Edwards, also has been a Student Support Services program participant since his freshman year. Yang recently created a Facebook page for students in the program.

"SSS helped answer questions I had about registering for classes, and it takes me out of my comfort zone to interact with other students," Yang said. "The program also helped me find a major of my interest. The SSS program has given us a chance to travel to the Twin Cities every year, and they give us a chance to become mentors to incoming freshmen."

Dale Gibson, a 2009 UW-Eau Claire business management graduate, said the Student Support Services program made a major difference in her college experience. Gibson currently works as a human resource assistant at Fort McCoy and is co-president of the Student Support Services Alumni Network.

"I was one of few students to meet all three of the requirements to be in the program: I have a learning disability, I was the first person from my family to go to college and my family is considered low income," Gibson said. "The staff gave me the strength and courage to stay in college when things seemed to get too hard for me to handle. With their help I was able to find a new major and get on the right career path. Also, the staff encouraged me to develop my leadership skills and to get as involved as possible. Some of my closest friends were made while being in SSS."

Ouderkirk said he wrote the second grant proposal to enable more students with disabilities to benefit from Student Support Services.

"Our current SSS project is limited to 300 participants, and there are approximately 1,500 eligible students on campus," he said. "There are so many first-generation/low-income students who are eligible for the program that we have not been able to serve as many students with disabilities as we would like. This grant will make a significant difference."

The new project will provide retention services that are specifically designed to improve the academic achievement of students with disabilities.

"The services will be similar to those offered through a conventional Student Support Services project, but adapted to best meet the needs of students with disabilities," Ouderkirk said. "The project will be able to hire staff with expertise in working with students who have a variety of disabilities."

Ouderkirk noted that as part of the grant competition, existing programs can receive up to 15 extra points for success in achieving their previous objectives relating to student persistence, good academic standing and graduation. UW-Eau Claire met all of its annual objectives during the last four-year grant cycle, putting it in the position to receive the maximum 15 points.

"This is a tribute to the work of the entire Student Support Services staff," he said.

In addition to Ouderkirk, UW-Eau Claire's Student Support Services staff includes Earl Shoemaker, academic advising coordinator; Laura Rubenzer, career development coordinator; Patti See and Patricia Stoffers, tutoring coordinators; and Cynthia Welch, program associate.

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BO/JP/DW

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