UT LEAD, Now in Fourth Year, is Helping Boost Student Retention
KNOXVILLE—Jose Guardado’s parents never got past middle school, but they were determined he would go to college.
But now, Guardado, an eighteen-year-old graduate of Glencliff High School in Nashville, is a freshman at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—and he’s already off to a running start, thanks to the UT LEAD Summer Institute.
Guardado was one of eighty students who attended this year’s Summer Institute, a free five-week program that brought a select group of freshman Promise Scholarship recipients to college for the second summer session. The Summer Institute is a component of the UT LEAD program, which provides academic-year support for all Promise and Pledge recipients.
The Promise program provides scholarships to students from eligible high schools around the state; the Pledge Scholarship targets low-income students and helps ensure they graduate without debt.
“After we increased access to UT for students with these new scholarships, we wanted to ensure success for them as well. That’s why UT LEAD and the Summer Institute were created,” said Eric Stokes, assistant director of undergraduate admissions and director of the UT LEAD Summer Institute. “We knew many of the students came to UT with cultural challenges that may impede their matriculation to campus life. UT LEAD Summer Institute helps to ease their transition, focusing on academic, personal, cultural, and social development.”
This is the fourth year for UT LEAD and the Summer Institute. Its first class will graduate from the university in May.
For Guardado, a Promise recipient who plans to major in computer engineering and minor in business, the Summer Institute provided a chance to test the waters at UT before the fall semester began.
“It let us get ahead on stuff and get to know the campus,” he said.
During the past four years, the UT LEAD Summer Institute has grown from 55 students to this year’s enrollment of 80.
“We saw that after the first and second years, 77 percent of the Promise students who went to LEAD Summer Institute as freshmen returned to the university for their sophomore year,” Stokes said. The retention rate of Promise students who didn’t attend the Summer Institute was only 74 percent.
“Three percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but in retention talk, three percentage points is huge,” Stokes said.
This year, admissions officials invited about 100 students to interview for eighty Summer Institute slots. Whether it grows any larger will be determined by available funds.
“Participants were selected based on academic ability, information provided on their personal statements, recommendations, and an array of diverse characteristics,” Stokes said.
Summer Institute students took courses, typically an English class and writing lab and a math course. They participated in a service learning project, working with children at Pond Gap Elementary School; attended “academic focus,” a study hall-type program, five days a week; attended a developmental seminar four days a week; and took part in group outings, ranging from white water rafting to a ropes course. They lived in the same residence hall, and eight juniors and seniors served as their mentors.
As the academic year progresses, LEAD students will meet with their academic coaches twice a semester and take a course to help them explore majors and learn more about university services.
Brittany Jaimungal-Singh, 18, who graduated from Antioch High School in Nashville, is also the recipient of both the Promise and Pledge scholarships. Like Jose, she found the Summer Institute to be a good ease-in to college life.
“It totally squashed all of your fears of being on a big campus,” she said, adding that she found her way around campus and made some friends. She especially liked the way the Summer Institute participants formed a “family.”
“It helped us keep busy,” said Brittany, who plans to major in clinical psychology. “I haven’t felt homesick once. I haven’t cried yet.”
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