A love for supporting and helping students succeed have kept Dr. Bruce Ouderkirk, the director of Student Support Services, in the field of higher education for the past 40 years.
With a background in teaching English and a passion for helping students navigate through college, Ouderkirk joined UW-Eau Claire in 2002 as the director of Student Support Services, a program that assists first-generation and low-income students.
What Ouderkirk says he enjoys most about the position is the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with the students in the program.
“One of the things that’s really rewarding for me is to see the accomplishments of our graduates," he says. "The credit of their achievements rests entirely with themselves, but it’s just gratifying to have been a part of their personal history.”
Because of his background, Ouderkirk says he understands the difficulties and challenges that can come with supporting oneself through college.
“I can relate to the students because I came from a large family; I’m from a family of six children. It wasn’t easy to come up with money for college. I spent every summer during college either working at a factory or meat-packing plant,” Ouderkirk says, adding he feels he had it easier back then compared to students now because college was more affordable during his time, and the government provided more educational funding.
Student Support Services is a part of the federally funded TRIO programs. Some of the other TRIO programs, like Upward Bound, get students ready for college while they’re in high school. The role of Student Support Services is then to help the students navigate their way through college.
“If you’re a first-generation student and from a low-income family, it can be very isolating on a college campus," Ouderkirk says. "We provide a lot of services like financial planning, career development and graduate school preparation, but we also focus on getting students together at events and activities so they can build a sense of community.”
The Iowa native, who previously worked at Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says it’s inspiring to hear from former SSS participants about how the program impacted their college journey at UW-Eau Claire.
“Several of the students who were in the SSS program now work at the university, so I see them on a regular basis," Ouderkirk says. "Other students send me updates from time to time. Just in the past month, for instance, I heard from a couple of former students who’ve completed their master’s degrees now and are happy with how their education has turned out.”
Student Support Services is funded by a grant through the U.S. Department of Education and provides academic assistance and professional development to 300 UW-Eau Claire students. Ouderkirk says the grant lasts five years, which means he and his staff must re-apply for funding to keep the program functioning.
“Every five years, we’re back in competition with other federally funded programs across the country. We need to write an effective grant so SSS can continue to be operational and serve its students.”
Ouderkirk believes the success of the SSS program depends on the quality of its staff.
“I wouldn’t be able to do my job as the director of SSS if it weren’t for my dedicated and exceptional staff. We have professionals who work extremely hard every day of the week and often on the weekends and evenings to serve the students.”