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First-year students adjust to college life through the Shepherd Success Academy

The first year of college can be difficult for students coming out of high school. There’s a sense of newfound freedom and a need to learn how to navigate in unfamiliar territory.

A group of Shepherd University freshmen had an especially good transition from high school to college during the 2017-2018 school year through a new program designed to give extra help to those who need it. The Shepherd Success Academy boasts an 88 percent persistence rate of helping students continue their education into the spring semester and is gearing up to help even more students when the 2018 fall semester starts in August.

The Shepherd Success Academy was designed to provide additional support and services to students who have been identified as those who may struggle during their first semester in college. Participating in the academy is not a reflection of a student’s ability or acumen, but instead assists with transitioning to the academic and social rigor associated with being in college.

“We are excited about this year’s new cohort of students,” said Julia Franks, director of student success and orientation programming. “We have made several improvements to this year’s program that we feel would best aid our students with their transition from high school to Shepherd.”

Franks, along with success coach Julia Keough and a graduate assistant, coached 36 students last fall, helping them navigate college life and academics. Up to 40 new students will participate this fall semester.

“Taking responsibility for their actions and getting them to adapt to what the professors are looking for is something we have to work on with the students,” Keough said. “The students often need to learn that because they didn’t turn in an assignment, it’s not the professor’s fault for not reminding them. It’s their responsibility to start mapping out their week and staying on top of things. It’s different from high school in that sense.”

Students in the Shepherd Success Academy meet with their coach every week. The meetings are tailored to the needs of each student and cover topics like note taking, time management, and procrastination. They also cover individual concerns, such as roommate issues or editing a paper for class. To be as accessible as possible, the Success Academy provides a cell phone number students can text when they need help or have a quick question. Starting this fall, the Success Academy will count as a First-Year Experience course credit, which is a requirement for graduation. Franks said there are plans to focus more on provisional admits—students who fall short of meeting one or more of the minimum requirements for admission.

“We had a few provisional admits last year, and we found they succeeded far better than they would have otherwise, so we want to give more students who fit that criteria a chance by including them in the program,” Franks said. “It’s fun to be working with them and watching them succeed.”

“Each day, I would see the success coaches working with students in a positive and supportive manner,” said Holly Morgan Frye, assistant vice president for student affairs. “The students developed a sense of confidence with each weekly visit. I believe knowing the support is available to students creates a sense of empowerment for them to take control of their own success.”

Mya Mooney, a social work major from Kearneysville, certainly feels the Shepherd Success Academy helped her.

“My success coach played a huge role in my academic achievements and progress, and a lot of my gratitude comes from her abundance of help, support, and encouragement,” Mooney said. “My success coach helped me sign up for tutoring, reminded me to visit professors during office hours, and supported me in my decisions, whether they be about adding or dropping a class. Most importantly she reminded me to try to enjoy the great stuff that college has to offer and encouraged me to be my best and do my best academically!”

Jeffry Yancoskie, a computer information technology major from Woodbridge, Virginia, is happy he participated in the program.

“I received a tremendous amount of knowledge on how colleges work, especially how to schedule things and how to include time for extracurricular activities,” Yancoskie said. “I would absolutely recommend this to not only incoming students but all the students who start struggling to stay on task and need help getting around the obstacles of college.”

Matt Connolly, a sports marketing major from Baltimore, said he’s glad he participated in the Shepherd Success Academy, where he met his current roommate, who is now one of his best friends.

“I also learned great study tips and my coach helped me become more confident in my work,” Connolly said. “He helped me understand why it’s better to work ahead and have a homework and study schedule, and he taught me it was also important to schedule breaks to be with friends so you’re not constantly doing work.”

Participants filled out an end-of-semester survey in the fall of 2017, and one student said the program influenced his choice of colleges.

“I wanted to transfer to WVU after my first semester, but now I feel if I stay here and stay in this program I will do better than I ever would anywhere else,” the anonymous student said.

Last year, 36 students participated in the Shepherd Success Academy. In addition to the 88 percent persistence rate from the fall to spring semester, the program had the following results:

“As a regional, public university with an access mission, it is important to provide access to students who might not otherwise have an opportunity,” said Bill Sommers, vice president for enrollment management. “The Shepherd Success Academy provides the needed support for those students to make a smooth and successful transition from high school through their first year of college.”

“I am very proud of the innovative thinking that resulted in the creation of the Shepherd Success Academy, which has served as a vital academic support tool for some of our students,” said Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, Shepherd’s president.

Franks said the first Shepherd Success Academy was so successful that the university is exploring the idea of expanding the program to include other groups of students who might benefit from the extra help.

Julia Keough (l.), success coach, and Julia Franks, director of student success and orientation programming, worked with students in the Shepherd Success Academy to help them successfully transition from high school to college.