WellsLink Program Receives National Recognition for Retention Efforts
During her first year on campus, Alexis Peña ’16 got a disappointing grade on a math test. She texted her Wellslink academic consultant, Jessica Santana ’11, G’13, to tell her the news.
“That same day she picked me up and we went out to eat and went thrift shopping,” says Peña, a biomedical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “She knew exactly what I needed.”
Santana also would talk with her about other scholar and support programs, and her WellsLink peer leader (mentor), Zhi Yang ’14, shared information about scholarships that he was pursuing, along with other helpful advice. The information from both her consultant and mentor assisted her in setting her own goals and plan for her college career.
Now, Peña, a Remembrance Scholar, is walking into the Dome at Commencement as a senior class marshal. She credits her WellsLink mentor and consultant with giving her tangible assistance and being role models that motivated her throughout her time at the University.
“Being so far away from the comfort of my family was difficult,” Peña says. “But mentors like Jessica and Zhi made Syracuse comfortable and they were such a necessary part of my first year.”
The WellsLink Leadership Program (WLP), in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, provides support to first-year students of color that helps them transition into college socially and academically. Its success in retaining students has recently been recognized with a prestigious national award.
The program was selected as one of three institutions to receive a 2016 Lee Noel-Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz is the leading provider of technology-enabled services, software and consulting for higher education enrollment management and fundraising. The Retention Excellence Awards Program was established in 1989 to honor outstanding achievements in student retention by colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. Winners are selected by leading campus-based retention practitioners.
“WellsLink has been positively impacting students of color here at Syracuse University since its founding in 2003,” says James Duah-Agyeman, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs.
“This award validates all of the hard work that the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ staff—past and present—has put toward retaining students of color and helping them thrive on campus and beyond,” Duah-Agyeman says. “The award also encourages us, in all of our programming efforts, to pursue the same high expectations of excellence that we set forth for our students.”
Duah-Agyeman and Huey Hsiao, associate director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will receive the award in July at the 2016 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing and Retention in Dallas. They will also take part in a national webinar on the program in the fall with the two other winners.
“Those of us that work in Student Affairs aim to support students, ensure their capacity to learn and enable them to persist at the University. The WellsLink Leadership Program has been an important program in pursuing this mission, and their success in supporting student retention can serve as a model for many others,” says Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, senior vice president and dean of the Division of Student Affairs. “This national recognition is well deserved for the staff and all their great work.”
WLP was established to provide an expanded type of academic support program for first-year students of color not already receiving support through state or federal opportunity programs or the Department of Athletics.
WellsLink scholars are trained for academic success and leadership through a mentoring system of peers, peer leaders, academic consultants and staff. They attend structured academic, social and cultural enrichment activities to reinforce high academic achievement, accountability and positive racial attachment. The program also has strong partnerships across campus, including with Academic Affairs.
The program is named after Barry L. Wells, inaugural coordinator of the University’s Office of Minority Affairs, former senior vice president and dean of student affairs and currently a special assistant to Chancellor Kent Syverud.
This is the third national award bestowed on the program since its inception. It was most recently honored by University Business magazine as one of its Winter 2015 Models of Excellence recognition programs.
“We should be proud to salute the staff for receiving the prestigious Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award on behalf of the WellsLink Leadership Program,” Wells says. “The staff’s dedication to the WellsLink students is an outstanding example of how committed educators can both support and challenge their students to achieve success both as young scholars and as student leaders.”
Syracuse University first won the Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award in 1993 for the Syracuse Academic Improvement Program, developed by Wells and former associate vice president for undergraduate studies Horace H. Smith.
The WellsLink program, which sponsors 65-75 students per year, has served over 600 students. From 2003-13, 96 percent of the 641 students during that time period returned for their second year and earned an average cumulative GPA of 3.16.
“Our primary goal has always been to help retain first-year students of color at Syracuse University—not already affiliated with existing campus support programs—at rates equal to or greater than that of all University rates,” Hsiao says. “Through the program, it is our hope that students develop a strong sense of belonging here at Syracuse University, become actively engaged with their academic programs and go on to serve as leaders inside and outside of the classroom.”
For Peña, the best thing about WellsLink is how the mentoring—and friendships—didn’t end after the intensive programming during her first and second years of college. “Zhi and Jessica are always willing to give me advice and just talk whenever,” she says.