UTEP’s Student Support Services Program Earns $1.7 Million Grant
Last Updated on September 17, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published September 17, 2020
By Elizabeth Ashby
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $1.7 million grant to The University of Texas at El Paso’s Student Support Services Program (SSSP). This award will fund five years of the program’s operations.
The SSSP offers services to low-income, first-generation college students including personal and group tutoring, workshops, peer mentoring, academic support and cultural activities with the goal to empower them to overcome challenges in order to achieve their academic and postgraduate goals.
“Programs like this have helped UTEP students succeed at rates that rival ‘selective’ universities," said UTEP President Heather Wilson. “This program helps narrow the success gap for first-generation college students, and we’re pleased to be able to offer more help to students who need it.”
The program, which is funded every five years, has 200 participants annually and sees turnover of about 60-70 students per year based on the number that graduate.
The students must come from a family in which neither parent earned a four-year degree, and must also meet federal family income guidelines.
“I’m extremely proud of the great work SSSP does to support students,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Gary Edens, Ed.D. “The entire team is dedicated to UTEP’s mission of providing access to an excellent education while positively impacting the local community. We appreciate the investment of resources from the U.S. Department of Education, which will help us continue our efforts to enroll, support and graduate students – many of whom are the first in their family to pursue a higher education.”
The federal Student Support Services program began in 1968 and is one of eight federal “TRIO” programs authorized by the Higher Education Act to help college students succeed in higher education. The SSSP has been at UTEP since 1994, and moved to the Union Building in 2012.
SSSP participants are identified as they enter UTEP, often through the Office of New Student Orientation and the Academic Advising Center. The students sometimes enter the University on probationary status, or have a general studies or undecided major.
“We want to work with students who we know will benefit from our program,” said SSSP Director Jaime Mendez, Ed.D., who is the grant’s principal investigator.
Once a student is admitted, they benefit from regular meetings with a peer mentor, professional development workshops, one-on-one tutoring and graduate school preparation. The funding from the grant also enables SSSP staff to help provide access to cultural enrichment activities, such as outings at the UTEP Dinner Theatre, and the ability to help fund educational enrichment opportunities, such as academic conferences and graduate school trips.
Senior multidisciplinary studies Jovan Vizcaino joined SSSP when he was recruited at the Fall 2016 New Student Orientation. Now an orientation leader himself, he said that the program helped put him on the right path in his academic journey.
“SSSP has helped me tremendously during my time at UTEP,” he said. “It helped guide me in my decision-making, studying and tutoring. I was able to attend workshops and graduate school trips to help with my future plans. Being in the SSSP has honestly been one of the best decisions in my life so far.”
A key element of the program’s impact is its space on the first floor of Union Building West, where students gather to study and socialize, Mendez said.
“We offer our participants a place of belonging on campus,” he said. “A lot of our students are still living at home with mom and dad, and just continuing with the same daily routines they experienced during high school. This allows them to explore, expand themselves academically and socially, and it allows them to network with other individuals.”
As the University shifted to remote services in Spring 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SSSP staff were able to adjust their services to a virtual format, offering recruitment sessions and tutoring.
SSSP staff keep track of students’ progress through several metrics, which are built into the goals outlined in the grant reported to the U.S. Department of Education: 80% of their students must persist continuously toward degree completion, 85% of students must have a GPA of 2.0 or higher, and 32% of students must graduate within four to six years.
Mendez notes that the greatest measure of impact is on the minds of their participants.
“We work to really transform not only their attitudes and their expectations about higher education, but we work with them so they can understand that there’s nothing that they can run into that we cannot personally help them with or that we won’t find that help for,” he said.