Penn State Greater Allegheny has received over $11,000 from the University's Office of Undergraduate Education to fund a retention initiative at the campus. Dr. Kathleen Taylor Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications; Jeanna Cooper, Instructor in Information Sciences and Technology, and Dr. Margaret Signorella, Director of Academic Affairs/Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies, coauthored the proposal, Community Service and the First Year Experience.
With the funding obtained through this proposal, Penn State Greater Allegheny hopes to engage students in interaction with faculty, staff and the community; a tactic which research suggests can lead to improved student retention. Although the campus has co-curricular programs which promote student involvement, most of these programs are currently focusing on the upper-level student. With the new proposal and accompanying funding, the campus hopes to expand the involvement of students at the freshman and sophomore levels.
The project, slated to start during the Spring, 2007 semester, will expand efforts to provide students with community service opportunities through a network of contacts and the necessary support needed by faculty to involve more students in community service projects. The Career Services office, under the direction of Ms. Cooper, will house the initiative and supervise a part time Project Coordinator to oversee the program as well as an online database programmer responsible for a database of community partners and class project ideas. All of this database information will be available online to Greater Allegheny's students.
Penn State Greater Allegheny plans on having the service learning projects matched on the basis of participant needs. Organizations will be matched with courses offered at the campus and the instructors of those courses. If a faculty member requests a service learning project, the same process will work in reverse. After an assessment of the faculty member's needs, the appropriate organizational contact will be sought to match the needs of the faculty member's request. Faculty will also be given assistance in integrating service learning into their course curriculum and objectives. As the first phase of the project, faculty participants are currently being recruited for Spring and Fall, 2007 with priority being given to either first-year seminar classes or courses that have a majority of students of freshman or sophomore standing.
Effectiveness of the project will be determined by (a) increases in first and second year student participation in serving learning projects; (b) increases in the numbers of classes in which service learning opportunities are available to students; (c) student retention (comparing students participating in service learning vs. those not participating); and (d) student academic success (GPA: comparing those in at least one service project class vs. those students who have chosen not to participate).
Penn State Greater Allegheny will support the initiative by funding travel expenses and providing office supplies and staff support for the project.