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U.S. Department of Education renews grant for Student Support Services, adds fifth year

September 8, 2010
Jerry Wright

Jerry Wright

NIU’s Student Support Services is celebrating not only the renewal of its federal funding but the addition of a fifth year.

The U.S. Department of Education granted $1.8 million to the program, housed in the Office of the Provost, and extended its financial support because the NIU initiative is among the top 10 percent of similar projects nationwide. These grants typically cover only four years.

“We feel privileged. This year, about 70 programs that didn’t make the cut were defunded,” said Jerry Wright, director of NIU Student Support Services since 1998. “To hear that we have another five years of funding is a great relief.”

Student Support Services empowers clients to take full advantage of higher education by succeeding while on campus and graduating with bachelor’s degrees. The office also fosters a campus climate that champions all races and cultures

Undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college, come from limited-income households or have documented learning or physical disabilities can receive academic and educational resources, including career counseling.

Three hundred students are served each year.

“In addition to academic and career counseling, our office has a leadership component and a mentoring component,” Wright said. “We also have three student organizations: College Parents’ Group; our MVPs, which is ‘Mentoring Valuable Peers’; and TRiO Scholars, a non-academic programming group.”

Work on the application began in the summer of 2009.

Frankie Benson (right) works with a student.

Frankie Benson (right) works with a student.

A postponement of the deadline to December allowed Wright and some of his staff – assistant director Frankie Benson, program coordinator Deb Miller and academic counselor Ramona Walton – the opportunity to take time to develop each section of the grant.

Wright and Benson also attended some technical grant-writing workshops sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Opportunity in Education. Assistance also was offered by Donna Martin in the Office of Sponsored Projects.

“It took some time to write it all. Much of the legislation in the grant competition had been changed, and we had to modify some of our objectives and streamline things,” Wright said.

“We had a 65-page limit, which helped us focus on the specifics in addressing the four different objectives you must accomplish,” he added. “The objectives address the areas of persistence – making sure students are retained from year to year – good academic standing, graduation and administrative performance, where they assess how well we meet program requirements.”

Student Support Services is under the provost’s Educational Services & Programs umbrella, which also includes ACCESS, CHANCE and Upward Bound.