USA Program Readies Students for
When classes start this fall at West Texas A&M University, several incoming freshmen will already be well-seasoned college students.
That’s because 120 college-bound high school graduates are taking Summer Session I and Summer Session II classes as members of the University Success Academy (USA), a college preparatory program for first-generation students or those who haven’t met regular admission requirements. The program is funded through a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with additional incentive funding from WTAMU president Dr. J. Patrick O’Brien. Forty students just completed Summer Session I and the remaining 80 USA students began their Summer Session II classes on Monday, July 6.
“The program is available at several Texas colleges and universities, but we are the only one with matched University funds to offer the opportunity to more students,” Andrew Garcia, director of WTAMU’s USA program, said. “The grant provides for 50 students, but with the president’s incentive funding, we were able to expand the program to more than 100 students.”
USA is designed to make the transition from high school to college an easy one. Students participating in the program are immersed in the college experience. Each student enrolls in six class hours, and the grant provides free room and board, meals, books, supplies and pays for each student’s registration for the University’s New Student Orientation. In addition to that, the students learn about the campus and all of its offerings so that when the fall semester begins, they are ready to go and know what services are available and where to find them.
“It’s a bridge program, and when they come to campus in the fall, we want them to feel like it’s old hat—they will know friends, professors and have full access to all University support services,” Garcia said.
Samantha Beck, a 2009 graduate of Canyon High School, just completed Summer Session I and looks forward to coming to WTAMU in the fall as an art major.
“This has been so fun. I’ve had the chance to meet lots of people and learn the full college experience,” she said.
Seven WTAMU undergraduate students serve as peer leaders for the summer program to help the USA students adjust to college life and answer any questions they may have. In addition to the peer mentors, the USA program also teamed up with three University faculty members to establish relationships with the students outside of the classroom. The students will then be linked with one of the three faculty members in their IDS (interdisciplinary learning) class during their freshman year. The three faculty members are Carlos Cuevas, instructor of interdisciplinary studies, Sara Northrup, social work director, and Dr. Pat Tyrer, assistant professor of English.
Another unique feature of the program is the service learning element. Every Friday the USA students take on a community service project. During Summer Session I, the students participated in projects with the Canyon Area Library Reading Buddy Program, Special Olympics Texas, Habitat for Humanity, Amarillo Zoo, Faith City Missions and the United Way Community Garden/Day of Learning.
“We felt it was important for the students to give back to the community. It’s a reciprocal obligation, and they enjoy it,” Garcia said.
Students participating in the program represent high schools from across the Panhandle and are either nominated through their high school counseling office or referred by WTAMU’s admission office. The program falls under the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Engaging the First Year Student.”