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A five-year $1.1 million federal grant has been awarded to East Central University to help students’ improve their academic achievement, stay in school and graduate.

The grant will establish the sECUre success Student Support Services Project to allow economically, educationally, geographically and culturally disadvantaged students in ECU’s primary service area to gain access to and succeed in postsecondary education.The project is expected to break cycles of underachievement and create better lives for the participants, their families and the communities where they will live in the future.

“We are really thrilled to have this grant,” said Bronson Warren, acting vice president for student development. “It will certainly help our retention efforts.”

Warren said the project will serve 140 eligible students. To qualify, students must be low income, first generation (parents did not complete a four-year degree), or have a documented disability.

In the first year, approximately half the students (70) will be recruited from the freshman class, with 25 percent (35) from the sophomore class, 15 percent (21) from the junior class and 10 percent (14) from the senior class.

Kathy Gardenhire, former director of the Upward Bound Program at ECU, has been named the director of the sECUre success project and is working to get the word out to prospective participants and faculty members.

“We will focus on retaining students once they have entered ECU. That is the main goal of the project,” Gardenhire said. “We want students to be successful while they are here so they’ll continue and graduate.”

sECUre success will offer academic advising, skills for academic success, campus life activities, career guidance, developmental counseling, early enrollment, financial aid and debt management advisement, graduate school advisement, learning communities/freshman interest groups, peer tutoring, scholarships, structured learning assistance, technology support and an award and recognition ceremony.

Two retention specialists will be hired to work closely with the students and should begin working Oct. 1. Each will oversee 70 students during the year.

“They will know if the students attend class, whether they add or drop a class,” Gardenhire said. “They will get faculty feedback on the students and also work with academic advisers, financial aid and admissions and records. We will know these students pretty well. We’ll know everything that goes on with them on campus.

“It’s for their own good,” she added with a smile. “We want them to stay in school and graduate.”

Gardenhire said the project will work with traditional and non-traditional students, anyone who has a need.

“If a student makes a commitment to stick with us,” she said, “we want to help them.”

Students who are interested in participating should go to the sECUre success office in Room 150 of the Administration Building.

A current computer lab will be reserved at certain times for the project’s Academic Success Lab. It will provide computer and internet access for participants to learn basic computer skills, gain technology literacy skills and study literacy skills by conducting research. Students also can learn to use appropriate software and complete course assignments.

The Academic Success Lab also will house tutoring, structured learning assistance meetings and workshops and other sECUre success initiatives.

Gardenhire has received office furniture and office equipment from two federally funded TRIO programs at ECU, the McNair Scholars and Talent Search Programs.

“These types of programs are successful on the ECU campus because we have commitment from the institution,” she said. “All the help I’ve received from the TRIO Programs and the commitment from the administration – these are things that make us successful,” she said.

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