Today@Sam Article

Providing Comprehensive Support: ELITE, Evolve And ASPIRE

June 27, 2024
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd

ELITE&Evolve-original.jpegSince 2010, Sam Houston State University’s ELITE program has supported student retention and graduation through mentorship. In 2016, the Graduate and Professional School established ASPIRE, providing 25 graduate students with guidance and scholarship opportunities. In 2019, Evolve was created under the same umbrella as ELITE but is tailored to serve students who transferred to SHSU from community colleges or universities.

While the three programs have been separately assisting students for years, they have all recently undergone a transformation that will allow them to extend their reach. They are now officially coming together under the newly established Department of Collaboration & Outreach, which is led by Jalon Berry and aims to address student access and retention.

Berry himself was in an ASPIRE cohort in 2017 and knows just how important having support through graduate school is. A cohort is made up of 25 SHSU graduate students that maintained an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Members of the cohort, referred to as ASPIRE scholars, must maintain a 3.5 GPA to receive scholarships, peer and professional mentorship and have access to academic and professional development workshops.

“When it first started, ASPIRE was created to fill the gap for graduate student success,” Berry said. “You go from undergrad, where you have these resources and services, but when you get to grad school, there’s not a lot of assistance to help you with academic resources. This is here to fill that gap of graduate student needs.”

ASPIRE’s programs reflect those of ELITE. Also known as Establishing Leadership In & Through Education, ELITE was established to serve as an academic success program to encourage and support struggling undergraduate students to continue their college journeys. Berry and his team have partnerships with the Academic Success Center, Career Success Center, Student Money Management Center and other centers to establish an early connection between students and these resources.

Career-Scholar-Service.jpg“We really want to fill the gap of students dropping out and leaving financially worse off than they came,” Berry said. “We believe that you should be able to get your college degree because that is going to help you with social mobility, specifically looking at the demographics of students that come to Sam.”

Evolve has been serving as ELITE’s transfer student-oriented counterpart since its establishment; the success of the program has led to its expansion into SHSU’s institutional transfer student hub. Whether students need help navigating university programs and systems or just need some advice.

Members of the Department of Collaboration & Outreach maintain contact with community colleges such as Lone Star College, Houston Community College and Dallas College to foster working relationships and promote a smooth transition for those who decide to come to SHSU.

“After their first semester, a student is no longer considered a transfer student in our university system, so we want to provide them with everything they need that first semester,” Berry said. “We’re trying to get them a lot of information so that they can truly immerse into Bearkat culture, but if they are in need of additional support or they love the community that they’ve been able to build in Evolve, we do encourage them to join the ELITE program and continue that community building.”

ELITE and Evolve flow into each other thanks to the tiered system that the department employs. The first tier introduces new students to college life and provides them with advice on effective notetaking, talking to professors, sending a proper email and other essentials for a successful freshman year.

Second-year students move up to the next tier, which is more centered around engagement and involvement on campus through student organizations or recreational sports. During their time in the second tier, students are also introduced to those within the McNair Scholars Program to show how pursuing graduate school is possible and not as scary as some may think.

ASPIRE-service.jpgThe third tier steers juniors toward internships and career success through resume workshops, mock interviews and advising on how to dress professionally. This is followed up in the fourth tier with continued career advising and a push to decide what comes after commencement. 

No matter a student’s circumstances or background, ELITE, Evolve and ASPIRE are here to help support them for the entirety of their college journey. With a large number of SHSU students having first-generation and veteran status, Berry’s team has tailored these programs to ease students’ burdens so they can have a fun, successful college experience.

“I think the benefit is that we get to see everyone truly come together here at the institution and we get to create a positive experience for students to be successful as a Bearkat and post-graduation, as well,” Berry said. “That’s one of the things we’re most excited about. To see the students want to come here, but then to see us create whatever they expected college to be and executing that through our programs and providing that academic success and resources.”

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