Last Week, March 12

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Last week Rotarians welcomed Mr. Eric Suder with the Suder Foundation. He spoke to us about The Suder Foundation – and in particular, The First Scholars Program. UA is now a part of this great program, which is offered to college students who will be the first in their family to attend college. The program provides financial, emotional and social support for the students selected into the program in order to improve the graduation rate of these 1st generation students.

The program takes 20 new incoming freshman students each year at the 7 colleges currently on board with the program. Without the help of this program, these 1st generation students have a graduation rate of 37%.

Through the program, that rate increases to 85%! When a 1st generation student meets the many challenges of College life, it usually results in them quitting.

The program tests theses students through a model called “SSI”, or Student Strength Inventory to determine their inclusion. Counselors individually address the three “S’s” – SELF (self awareness/self worth), SUCCESS (what is their goal for personal success?) and SIGNIFICANCE (what will they do to make a difference in life).

The program is a franchise, of sorts, in that the Foundation starts the program at the school, provides the seed money for its inception, then the school runs the program and must raise funds to keep in going. The goal is to have 100 Colleges and Universities on board!

They are not looking for the highest test scores, nor the lowest – but the mid- range kids that have the chance to make it with just a little encouragement and investment into their experience. These are the kids that did not have the support from a family to score well – bet manage to on their own.

The next step for the First Scholars Program is to gain the support of large National Foundations to help fund the program as an investment in their future, as the program will produce more qualifies students to enter the workforce in later years.

The program allows an environment where the kids feel safe, confident and have a “family” support team on campus. It totally changes the dynamics for these first generation kids and transforms their whole life and future! It levels the playing field in the first year, and then puts a plan in place for the remaining three years to carry the student all the way through graduation by developing the whole student, laying a foundation for the rest of their life.

The University of Alabama was chosen because it was determined to be a great school, and there was a great commitment from the University to have this program offered. It is not an easy program, and has a rigid foundation of rules that MUST be followed. Schools cannot choose to differ from the principles set forth in the program whatsoever. UA is PLEASED to report that they are in their 2nd cohort, and have 36 students with an average GPA of 3.0 and boast a 95% retention rate of first year students that continued on to their 2nd year! They have one student on the Dean’s list and another on the President’s list!

UA will need the financial support of organizations like ours and individuals who want to make a difference in a student’s life! There are also needs for mentors. The 2nd year students in the program receive support from Juniors and Seniors, the 3rd year, they receive support from faculty and in their 4th year will need business leaders in our community as mentors. This is a couple of years away for the UA students – so be thinking about this opportunity.

“It has been a fantastic and rewarding experience.” says Suder. It all started as scribbling on a cocktail napkin! One day he hopes the Board of Directors for the Foundation is comprised of all 1st Scholar graduates. 



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