Getting a head start

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This summer, 30 students from several of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses got a jump start on their junior year in one of three colleges -- Smeal College of Business, Health and Human Development, and Engineering -- through the Student Experiences Transitional Program (STEP). Students completed two classes with the support of a $1,500 STEP Provost award, a mentor and professional seminars that prepared them for Fall Career Days in September.

Started in 2009, the program is offered to all students in participating colleges who are transitioning from a Commonwealth Campus. This year, Penn State Provost Nicholas Jones increased the scholarship award amount from $1,000 to $1,500.

A student mentor guides the STEP group at each college, and each group is referred to as a “pride.” Student mentors offer advice, coordinate social activities, help connect the students to resources, serve as tour guides, and introduce students to other students, faculty and staff.

“Transferring to University Park is a huge change from attending a Commonwealth Campus,” said student mentor Karol Kolc, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering. “The University Park campus is big, the students are new, and everything feels different. I joined STEP to give them the best introduction to the campus and ease their transition.”

Students in the program often enroll in STEP to complete courses required for their majors ahead of schedule or to ease their course load during later semesters.

“Our hope is that students who participate in STEP will be more likely to finish their degree in four years,” said Yvonne Gaudelius, assistant vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education.

“Class sizes are smaller during the summer, so students quickly get to know each other,” said Jessica Tattiana, a senior finance major who served as this year’s student mentor for Smeal College’s STEP. “You can see students’ confidence grow as they get to know each other and the campus.”

Tattiana, who started her college experience at Penn State Harrisburg, said that being a student mentor offered her the opportunity to practice leadership skills.

“I’ve learned it’s so important to find the balance between being an authority figure and a friend. I encouraged the students in our program to strive for excellence and keep a focus on their academics.”

The University continues to focus on a holistic approach to controlling the cost of a degree as part of the Plan4 Penn State initiative, enacting new programs that focus on student retention, decreasing the rate of student borrowing, and providing the necessary resources to ensure every student’s timely graduation.

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Last Updated September 30, 2016