By SUSAN JONES
Pitt will mark National First-Generation College Student Day on Nov. 8 with the grand opening of the Student Success Hub.
The Hub, in 217 Langley Hall, is both a place for all students, but particularly first-generation, to find resources, programming and advising to help them throughout their college career, and a network of campus collaborators willing to provide that help.
The programs at the Hub build on the Pitt Success Pell Match Grants and the Provost Academy, which welcomes around 200 first-year students, who are either first-generation or Pell recipients, each year before classes start to help them get off to a good start.
“(The Provost Academy) was so tremendously successful that it inspired us … to try and figure out how can we exploit that same level of success, but not just for onboarding but for sustained student support throughout their career at Pitt,” said Joe McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies.
April Belback, director of student success, took that idea and set out to get some external funding to expand student support. The two grants she secured — from the Kessler Scholars Collaborative and TRIO McNair Scholars — are specifically designed to provide advising and support for cohorts of 20 to 25 first-generation, low-income students.
“The provost and the chancellor were supportive of our vision of expanding that to all students, and they allowed hiring for new staff to be on April’s team to support that expansion beyond the target audiences,” McCarthy said.
And so the Student Success Hub was born. “What we want to do is help all students at Pitt find a place where they belong, and really build that connection across campus and help with the referrals and resources,” Belback said.
The two grants have slightly different target audiences.
The Kessler Provost Scholars Program is part of a larger cohort that started at the University of Michigan and now includes 16 schools. Pitt will recruit its first class of 20 students to start in fall 2023, who will receive holistic advising and financial support.
“We won’t only work with those 20 students throughout their time, it’s also about working with the Provost Academy students, with all first-gen students at Pitt and really a lot of other students who we will be doing some academic support, workshops, study and tutoring,” Belback said.
This type of work is being done in different forms all over campus, and the Hub will help make students aware of where they can get help.
“This is really a way to amplify all the great work that’s done elsewhere, but then also fill in some gaps where we found some gaps,” McCarthy said.
The TRIO McNair Scholars grant is aimed at first-generation, limited-income and underrepresented minority students in their junior and senior years who want to pursue doctoral work. There will be 25 students in each year’s cohort, who will have a faculty mentor and will participate in a summer intensive between their junior and senior year and possibly present their research with the faculty member, or go to conferences or apply to graduate programs, with help from the Hub. Pitt also will track these students 10 years later to see where they’ve ended up. Applications are open now for this program. Find information on the provost’s website.
“Similarly, like we were talking about with Kessler, there’s a lot of other research programs and folks who are doing kind of similar work (with undergraduate researchers) around Pitt,” Belback said. “So we’ve been talking and working with some folks about doing some collaborative efforts — finding all of the different research programs on campus and helping people understand and, again, not reinventing the wheel.”
They’ve been working with the Frederick Honors College, the Learning Research and Development Center and TRIO Student Support Services to create a list of undergraduate research projects on campus. McCarthy noted that he has run a research experience for undergraduates for about 10 years that funds roughly $200,000 worth of undergraduate research across all of Pitt’s campuses.
“We want to use this grant to sort of spawn an amplification of some of those resources and a coordination of some of those resources where we can actually have not just those 25 students getting engaged in research over the summer, but use this as a platform to try and connect all the undergraduates that are engaged in research over the summer. We can have them build community with fellow like-minded students but also have symposia and things like that, that they can engage with,” McCarthy said.
Workshops on grant writing, applying for different funding, writing a personal statement and more “will be open to all Pitt students that are interested in pursuing research in the graduate space,” he said.
The space in Langley Hall is open already but still developing. There eventually will be three full-time staff supporting the Kessler grant and two for TRIO McNair, as well as student interns. Students already use the space for studying, and Belback is planning workshops, study groups and more. It will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
The grand opening will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Nov. 8. Students, faculty and staff can learn more about the Hub space, meet the team, grab snacks and get some swag. A panel discussion, “First-Generation Proud: First-Person Stories,” will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Alumni Hall Connelly Ballroom. Panelists include Kellie Kane, associate vice provost for enrollment and executive director of admissions; Darris Means, associate professor, School of Education; Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor, Swanson School of Engineering; Emiola Oriola, director, Office of Inclusion and Belonging and moderator Linda Williams-Moore, assistant dean of community and inclusion, Student Affairs.
Provost Academy students also are invited to a New Student Programs Open House from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Office of New Student Programs on the ninth floor of the William Pitt Union.
Questions about the Student Success Hub can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.