large group of students, faculty and staff all wearing blue GVSU Oliver Wilson Scholar t-shirts; pictured with Student Services Building behind them

Summer program is bridge to success for Oliver Wilson Scholars

Nearly 100 first-year students who participate in the Oliver Wilson Scholars program are off to a solid academic year after spending six weeks on campus in the summer, taking classes and learning to navigate university resources.

The learning community is named for Oliver Wilson, former dean of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, who died in 2009. The program identifies and recruits students to campus during the summer, then provides them with academic, professional and social support.

Sophomore Kaiya Smith is a student worker for the program. She recalled her own summer program and the anxiety she felt leading up to it.

"At first I dreaded it, having to give up part of my summer to do that," said Smith, who is studying psychology. "But I came away with six credits and I felt more confident and comfortable when I came back in August for orientation. I was able to help my own friends find their way to class."

V'Lecea Hunter, senior director of Diverse Populations and Retention Initiatives, said students earned at least six general education credits during the summer program, met with mentors and attended presentations from campus partners on REP4 prototypes, such as financial literacy and life readiness.

Kaiya Smith sits on a coach in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, she is wearing a blue sweatshirt and black vest
Kaiya Smith is a student worker for Oliver Wilson Scholars. Smith attended the summer bridge program as a first-year student and said it helped her prepare for the transition from high school.
Image credit - Liv Chow

Grand Valley graduate students who attended HBCU/HSI Pipeline Consortium institutions were mentors to the first-year students. Erin Searcy, a Fort Valley State University graduate now pursuing a master's degree in mechanical engineering, said she shared her own undergraduate experiences with the Oliver Wilson Scholars and lent homework assistance.

Searcy said serving as a mentor also aided her own adjustment to Grand Valley. "The program also helped me improve my communication skills, expanded my network of resources and helped ease my transition to a new city and a new environment," she said.

Support for Oliver Wilson Scholars continues throughout the year through study tables and meetings with success coaches. Smith said she continues to meet with her success coach regularly.

"It's a very beneficial program. You come to campus and you're out of your comfort zone. But through this program, you meet new people and become very familiar with the resources offered," Smith said. "After going through the program, you realize you have the skills to do this."

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said many students across the country have experienced learning loss because of the pandemic. Summer bridge programs like Oliver Wilson Scholars can assist in reducing the impact of that loss. 

"These hard-working students gave up their summers to help ensure they could be successful at GVSU and they have learned the unwritten syllabus of how to navigate Grand Valley and its resources and found a community," Truss said. "Providing these students an opportunity to be on campus before the Fall semester and meet key campus stakeholders has given them a better chance at success. Additionally, they have developed a circle of support which leads to a greater sense of belonging."


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