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Opportunity Program Helping Students Find Success for 38 Years

Public Relations
Posted: Wednesday May 22, 2013

May 22, 2013

Moving away from home, sharing a room with a stranger, taking demanding, seemingly formidable classes, budgeting both time and finances, perfecting lackluster studying habits, — all are inescapable fractions of the first-year college experience. Fortunately, Saint Vincent College has an invaluable resource for students who are finding the transition from high school to college overwhelming. According to Opportunity Program director, Dr. Nancy Rottler, “the services provided by the Opportunity SVC /Act 101/ Student Support Services (SSS-TRiO) Program help ease the transition from high school to college.” She went on to clarify that “since college classes require students to be responsible for managing their time wisely and working efficiently, the services the program provides are necessary to help students initially labeled at risk persist and graduate.” The Opportunity Program motto, “students plus service equals success” has been resonated by the many students who continue to take advantage of the services they are provided and achieve a degree from Saint Vincent College.

Rottler explained, “Since the program was instituted, students who have intellectual ability but lack various study skills have participated. The population served includes conditionally-accepted students, specific need referrals, students referred by faculty, administrators or coaches, and other students identified as needing academic advising or support.”

The Opportunity Program is funded in part by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through Act 101 and by the U.S. Department of Education through the Student Support Services (SSS) – TRiO Program. Its goals are to provide promising high school graduates with the skills and assistance they need to succeed in their college years and to provide ongoing academic support and counseling

Since Brother Norman Hipps, O.S.B., now college president, wrote the initial Act 101 proposal in 1975, nearly 2,000 students with potential and ability have learned the skills they need to succeed during their college years and beyond. The Opportunity program competed for a federal Student Support Services TRiO grant in 2010 and was awarded a $500,000 TRiO grant over a five year period in order to provide support services to a larger number of students with similar risk factors.

“Initially, we identify any weaknesses in a student’s educational background that will keep him or her from being successful. We then provide whatever academic advising, training or support is needed to fill the gap,” Rottler explained. She continued, “Some students just need to work on their organization or time management skills. Others need help with course selection, note taking, test taking or enhancing self-confidence. We develop individual strategic plans for success.”

The College is proud of the program because it extends a personalized commitment to individual attention. According to Rottler, the college has supported the program and individuals such as her supervisor, Dean of Studies and former program director, Alice Kaylor, have continued to show their commitment to the program. Rottler emphasized, “We are living our Catholic, Benedictine mission by helping students understand that they can succeed by applying the right skill set and effort.

“We have students who have graduated with honors, even highest honors,” Rottler boasted. “We have graduates who are attorneys, accountants, teachers and other professions. It is a reward to watch them succeed. One of our students started out a biology major, completed his degree and worked as a lab technician at Harvard University for two years before being accepted to seven dental schools. Although he is still in school, he wants to help current students and offers advice through Skype meetings.”

Rottler, who recently completed a doctor of education degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said the purpose of her research was to identify variables that prevented students from seeking the help they need to persist at the college level. Rottler emphasized, “Educators know the risks. We review the profiles of students who are labeled “at risk”. Our goal is to help everyone; the key is asking what else can we do? What can we do to help in a variety of ways to impact their success?” Her dissertation titled, Academic Help-Seeking Behavior of Act 101 Students: Who Seeks Help? Who is Reluctant? intended to pinpoint predictors of academic help seeking that could influence the ability of college and university administrators to close the achievement gap and to improve college retention of academically and financially disadvantaged students.

Saint Vincent College’s Opportunity / Act 101 / SSS TRiO Program identifies students’ needs inside and outside the classroom and tries to meet them. Rottler said. “The longer I work with this population of students the more I learn what other, besides academic, hurdles they face. For instance, we offer our grant students a book lending program, a computer lending program, additional tutoring services, intensive academic advising, even access to gently-used professional attire for those who need them for internships or job interviews.”

In addition to the academic counseling component, the program also sponsors a three-week summer component that introduces first-year students to college academics and helps them develop skills necessary to succeed at Saint Vincent College. Program participants also take advantage of such services as academic counseling, professional tutoring, and program-sponsored activities.

Additional staff members include Peggy Smith, tutorial coordinator/academic advisor: Theresa Torisky, academic advisor; Sara Hart, academic advisor; Gretchen Flock, counselor; Linda Painter, secretary; and professional tutors Dave Cullen, Vera Hisker, Sean Fox and Jan Fox. “We are proud of this program because we know we can make a difference in the lives of students. It is very rewarding to help students achieve their career and life goals,” added Rottler, who has been director of the program for 12 years and an administrator at the College for 20 years.

Based on the success of the existing program, the staff will continue to work on the programming that will help the students accomplish their goals. “We are proudest when our students cross the stage at graduation after earning their degrees. We realize our hard work has paid off and are inspired to continue to provide 21st century students with the support they need to be successful,” she concluded.

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Photo: Dr. Nancy Rottler, standing right, director of the Saint Vincent College Opportunity program, is pictured with members of the staff, standing from left, Sara Hart, Peggy Smith, Linda Painter and Theresa Torisky, and seated, Ishmael Solomon, an Opportunity student from Newark, N.J., who is also a work/study assistant. 

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PR2013-362