Thomas W. Durso
Sam Houston State University

When Miguel Arellano Arriaga talks about Sam Houston’s Establishing Leadership In and Through Education program, his perspective is multifaceted. Arellano Arriaga, the coordinator of “SH ELITE” at the Texas university, also went through the program as an undergraduate at Sam Houston.

“It definitely was eye-opening,” he says. “They talk to you about college in high school and they tell you a little bit about what it’s going to be about, but you really don’t know until you get here.”

Graduation rates for African-American males (48 percent) and Hispanic males (49 percent) at Sam Houston were only slightly better than national and state averages. The university launched SH ELITE to close this achievement gap. All incoming African American or Hispanic male students are eligible.

The program application includes short essays, and applicants are interviewed to ensure they can commit to a full year. Through increased academic support, peer mentoring and advising resources, the university hopes to engage at-risk students as soon as they’re on campus.

Students can continue in the program on a voluntary basis through their sophomore, junior and senior years.

SH ELITE participants meet weekly in small groups of about 12 to 15 students. These sessions are run by peer mentors and cover such topics as study skills, resource management and networking. The program also includes guest speakers and social events.

Into the Future

  • As funding allows, more freshmen can be accepted.
  • The hope is to evolve SH ELITE into a four-year, comprehensive program focused on academic success and professional skills development.

“They always ask for more special events,” he says. “They want to know the rest of the students. Their need for—their want for—that community and support is something we strive to [meet].” SH ELITE’s 15-member advisory board comprises faculty and administrators from across the campus, allowing for a wide variety of input on maintaining and improving the program. Among the data being tracked are retention, class completion, grade point averages and graduation rates.

The goal of SH ELITE’s holistic approach is to prepare students to handle themselves in a new environment, Arellano Arriaga says.

“This program opened my eyes to how to deal with the independence you gain here—how to find that support, how to prioritize and time-manage,” he says, “all the essentials you need for a successful first year and your entire college career.”