Northeast State student support program receives $279K grant

A longtime student support program at Northeast State Community College has received a significant financial boost to help disadvantaged students pursue a college degree. The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Student Support Services a five-year federal grant totaling $279,655. The grant takes effect on Sept. 1.

“We are very excited to receive this grant award,” said Teressa Dobbs, interim director of Student Support Services at Northeast State. “We provide vital support opportunities that at-risk students need if they are going to succeed in college.”

Student Support Services operates as a federally funded grant program that offers free services to 180 eligible participants each academic year. Eligibility is established by the Department of Education and all students served must meet qualifying criteria. At-risk students are primarily first-generation college freshman facing major financial and personal obstacles to attending college.

Data from the Tennessee Depart of Education indicates that first-generation college freshman from low-income backgrounds are four times more likely to leave college than other first-year students. The Students Support Services staff counter those risks through personal counseling, tutoring and study skills, career planning, transfer advising, and personal support to help students deal with challenges.

“Our program gears toward retention and keeping students on the path to a degree,” said Dobbs. “We embrace the philosophy of education expert Dr. Vince Tinto, ‘Students who learn are the students who stay.’ ”

Dobbs noted that the department helped an increasing number of adult students who had returned to college after losing their jobs due to economic conditions. Those students needed tutoring to reacquaint themselves with college work and career planning services to prepare for their future, she said. Student Support Services operates under the federal education outreach program TRiO designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Northeast State Student Support Services program is one of 8 TRiO college support programs in the country. The DOE awarded 906 Student Support Services grants totaling $301 million during 2010.

“We really want students to integrate into school,” said Dobbs. “We want them to feel like they belong at a place where people know them.”


Good-bye Northeast State, hello Ivy League

Can you go from Northeast State Community College to an Ivy League institution?

No sweat for Northeast State alumnus and Elizabethton resident Richard Wilson who is preparing to enter the University of Pennsylvania next spring after finishing his associate degree this year. He was accepted into the U of Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS). Needless to say, the acceptance letter got his attention. “I did cartwheels in the parking lot!” says Wilson, upon learning he won preliminary acceptance.

“I applied to 32 colleges from Emory and Henry to Stanford, and I had to do a lot of leg work.”

The LPS is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences and geared toward adult students. Wilson will be seeking his bachelor’s degree through the program which also offers post-baccalaureate, graduate, and pre-professional programs. He plans to major in psychology and international relations at Pennsylvania.

“It is the same degree, same classes, and same experience every Pennsylvania student gets,” he notes.

Wilson submitted applications to top tier institutions including Duke and Vanderbilt. Although Duke and Stanford said no, he won acceptance into Vanderbilt. He seemed Nashville bound until a Pennsylvania representative called him to discuss his application.

“They called me and asked questions and that was the last I had heard,” he says. “About a month and a half after that I got a letter in the mail saying I’d been accepted.”

Founded in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania is home to more than 10,000 students and ranks among the top 10 universities in the country. Wilson’s application was one of 22,000 received this year with only 4,000 applicants making the cut.

“Academics are one part of the selection criteria,” says Wilson of the acceptance process. “They are putting together a class and the process goes beyond grades. “They asked so much about extracurricular activities and what you did here and in your community.”

An Elizabethton resident, Wilson graduated magna cum laude from Northeast State in May. He won the Outstanding Student Award in Psychology. He also won several awards as a member of the Northeast State Debate Team. Perhaps the second best piece of news Wilson received came from the university’s registrar who felt confident most of his academic credit hours at Northeast State would transfer toward his degree at UPenn. That means he can complete his bachelor’s degree in five semesters.

He credits Northeast State professors Cate Strain, Rick Merritt, Laura Barnett, and Ruth Livingston as major influences on him academically and personally.

“All of them were instrumental in helping me improve where I needed to and also pointing out what I did well,” he says. “I had three different people reading my essays for my application.”

Wilson departs later this year when he, his wife Elizabeth, and their two sons move to Pennsylvania. He hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree in two years. And Wilson doesn’t plan to slow down – he has his sights set on law school. Moving to the Ivy League or a private college is a goal he says any student can achieve with the right determination and support system he found at Northeast State, Wilson says.

“Take the application process seriously,” he says. “Apply everywhere you want to go, and go for it.”