By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Syracuse University

Syracuse University in New York has always had a number of state- and federally funded support programs that help students of color bridge the gap between high school and college, says Huey Hsiao, associate director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The Higher Education Opportunity Program and Student Support Services, for example, offer academic support to underprepared students, who demonstrate potential to succeed in college.

Yet many students of color who could benefit didn’t qualify for these programs. These were the students for whom The WellsLink Leadership Program was developed in 2003.

It’s not just about increasing retention. It’s crucial to connect these students with each other and to university resources through social, educational and motivational seminars and events.

Students are supported by peer leaders, who are backed by academic consultants and university staff.

Success Data Points

  • 3.15: Average cumulative GPA (2003-2014) after students’ first year with the WellsLink program
  • 95%: Average percentage of WellsLink students who return to Syracuse after their first year
  • 98%: Retention rate of second-year African-American WellsLink males, based on a longitudinal study (2003-2009), compared to 81% for those who aren’t in the program

During the summer, Hsiao and his team email invitations to eligible students of color. Out of 3,470 freshmen in 2014-15, close to 900 qualified and about 65 chose to participate.

Today’s WellsLink program is different from the first incarnation 12 years ago, says Hsiao, adding, “We’ve kept many traditions going to stay true to the initial mission.”

The Sunday Foundations Seminars, which include dinner, are going strong because evening is the best time for students to get together.

However, lectures have been replaced with small group discussions, upon student request.

And there is a new emphasis on community building, which is reflected in the more active events planned for the group. Instead of movie night, for example, students tackle a challenging ropes course on campus.

Each year, feedback from students helps adjust programs for the following year. —Marcia Layton Turner