East Central University has been awarded a five-year, $2 million grant for Strengthening the Culture: Undergraduate Research and Student Academic Success, a program to improve and expand ECU’s capacity to serve Native American students and low-income students.
The grant, effective Oct. 1, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, and is funded from the department’s Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institutions, Part F Program.
The multi-year grant has three major components. First, eligible students will receive extensive services to boost their ability to remain in college and to graduate on time.
The grant will allow the university to be pro-active in identifying students who need extra attention and support, said ECU President John Hargrave.
A Center for Student Academic Success will be established and will be responsible for providing such services as assessment, educational counseling and a peer interaction program.
The goal of the peer interaction program is to have upperclassmen interact with eligible students on a one-on-one basis to motivate them to attend activities and join student organizations and answer their questions about college life.
“Establishing close friends and being involved in campus activities, especially during the first semester of enrollment, can be critical to college success,” Hargrave said.
The Center for Student Academic Success will work in cooperation with the Hayes Native American Studies Center, which the Chickasaw Nation established at ECU in 2005, and the Native American Academic Services Office.
“More than 20 percent of ECU’s students are Native American,” said Dr. Tom Cowger, who holds the Chickasaw Nation endowed chair and is director of the Native Studies Program. “The collaboration of the three centers continues ECU’s mission to be a student-centered university by providing optimal learning experiences and services that lead to student success, particularly for Native students.”
Renee Hogue, director of the Native American Academic Services Office, noted that more than 30 tribal communities are represented on the ECU campus.
“The Strengthening the Culture program is not only an asset to the university as a whole, but also a nice complement to the Native American Academic Services programs,” she said.
Another focus will be renovating space to house a 5,700-square-foot Center for Undergraduate Research and Learning to support scientific, humanities and social sciences research.
“The opening of an undergraduate research center will enhance the opportunities for ECU faculty and students to conduct research,” said Dr. Duane C. Anderson, ECU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “Research-based learning engages students directly in their education and results in students gaining invaluable skills such as problem solving, decision-making and creative thinking which are applicable to the work world and to future graduate study.
“Employers and graduate school admission officers look favorably upon students who have successful experience in formal undergraduate research, he added.”
The final thrust of the grant is to implement a faculty development series which will assist faculty in incorporating research-based curricula into individual courses. When classes are taught using research-based curriculum, real world contexts are used which teach students that learning is an active process.