The interim executive director of Mercer University’s TRIO programs and minority affairs has officially assumed the position. Tracy Artis will now lead the five services that exist under the TRIO umbrella.
TRIO refers to federally-funded services that focus on the retention of and continued assistance for three major groups of students: first-generation and low-income students as well as those with disabilities.
Mercer’s TRIO programs include Opportunity Scholars (OS) and Minority Mentors for undergraduate Macon students through Student Support Services (SSS), two Upward Bound tutoring initiatives for middle Georgia high schoolers and one Educational Opportunity Center for adult students.
“Each of them are focused on increasing enrollment or maintaining enrollment,” Artis said. “However, the focus of our two Student Support Services is to work mainly with Mercer University students who come from underrepresented populations.”
One major change Artis has implemented this year involves the expansion of Opportunity Scholars.
Previously, OS provided first-generation, low-income and disabled first-years a chance to move in a week earlier than the rest of their class. They attend special programming to help them acclimate, such as mock classes and tours of Macon.
OS is now a year-long outreach initiative staffed by previous participants in the program.
“After they transition after the first week, they have the opportunity to become Opportunity Scholars Fellows,” she said. “We’re pairing them up now with what we call our Opportunity Scholars Ambassadors, and they will just check in with them regularly throughout the academic year.”
Sophomore Tommy Truong is a first-generation college student who participated in OS in 2017. This year, he is serving as an OS Ambassador.
Truong said the program helped him get used to a college schedule and find his way around campus before the rush of move-in day, and he wanted to help incoming freshmen ease into college as well. He said the new expansion will help him do that effectively.
“During the week (of OS), we would help the freshmen get accustomed to life at Mercer,” he said. “A lot of questions were answered, a lot of them were nervous.”
Artis also plans to help provide more opportunities to students off the Macon campus. She is establishing a partnership with Penfield College, Mercer University’s primary adult learning center, to offer three free classes per semester for qualifying students to help ease the burden of tuition costs.
“Again, the goal is to look at increasing retention rates here among the students,” she said.
The first-year retention rate for students at Mercer’s Regional Academic Centers who were assisted by TRIO programs was 95 percent for the 2016-2017 year, Artis said.
On the Macon undergraduate campus that same year, the retention rate for students enrolled in SSS programs was 93 percent, and the graduation rate was 89 percent.
The overall first-year retention rate on the Macon campus was 87.6 percent in 2015, and the graduation rate was just 64 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to the university website.
Artis also said that her office plans to bring new expansions to Upward Bound, which provides tutoring and other support to high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to help them complete secondary education and enroll in college.
The summer component of Upward Bound at Mercer University has been reorganized, Artis said, and she is working to start new initiatives for leadership development. She hopes, too, to create a mentoring program through which Mercer undergraduates can help high school seniors navigate the college admissions process.
“I am just passionate about the programs and what the goals are in terms of representing and helping underrepresented students to actually enter and complete college,” she said.