09:57 AM

Fondren Foundation Awards UHD $300,000 Grant to Expand Freshman Summer Success Program

Transitioning into higher education can be challenging for even the most successful high school graduates. But for students who are the first in their families to attend college or lack a support network as freshmen, the challenges of college can be especially overwhelming.

Thanks to a new two-year, $300,000 grant from the Fondren Foundation, twice as many incoming freshmen at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) will have the opportunity to attend a three-day Freshman Summer Success Program that prepares them for rigorous collegiate studies. This extended orientation assists students in becoming critical thinkers and effective problem solvers, while also integrating students into a diverse and social university environment.

After visiting with UHD administrators and faculty, leaders from the Fondren Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit organization, made a commitment to help freshmen receive the foundation and support they need to stay in college and graduate on time. Toward this end, the Foundation gave $240,000 to expand the Freshman Summer Success Program from 160 students to 320 students, and provide a second week of the tailored orientation during the month of July. The additional session provides a second learning opportunity for students who juggle school and family responsibilities, as well as time-consuming work obligations during the summer.

As a part of the grant, the Fondren Foundation also gave $40,000 to establish online learning communities for ten groups of 25 to 30 freshmen throughout the academic year. The University will pair each student with a faculty mentor and a peer mentor to ensure that students receive advising and mentoring services that are critical during the first year of college.

As a third part of the grant, the Foundation provided $20,000 to UHD to establish a one-day seminar, "Passport to a Career: Exploring Majors," in which professionals from the community will inform students about their career options and suggest potential majors that will help them reach their goals.

In addition to attending simulated college classes, the freshmen also will study the University's 2013 common reader, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," by Mark Haddon. Along with faculty, the freshmen will follow the challenges of the book's main character, Christopher, and observe how he navigates new environments, masters time management and sets personal goals.

This summer marks the sixth year that UHD has hosted the Freshmen Summer Success Program, based on the success and positive feedback of past participants. Following the 2012 orientation, one undergraduate said, "I have learned that college is going to take a bit to get used to, but I can handle it. I can honestly say that all the guest speakers and professors I've met have helped me with a lot of fears and questions."

Chris Birchak, dean of University College, which hosts the summer program, noted, "The Freshmen Summer Success Program serves as an excellent segue from high school to college and gives incoming freshmen a taste of university life. Participants and their parents have the opportunity to interact with faculty, learn about professors' expectations and tour campus resources. Those three days of class reap significant dividends throughout the year for new college students."