University Park, IL,
15:53 PM

GSU, Crete Monee High School Partner in Historic Move

If Dr. Aurelio Valente, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Governors State University (GSU), could clone Student Senator Justin Smith—a member of GSU’s inaugural freshman class and a graduate of nearby Crete Monee High School (CMHS)—he would.

“Justin serves as an example of the kind of thing that should happen as a norm, not the outlier,’’ Valente recently said after signing the historic College Pathways partnership agreement with CMHS—a partnership designed to boost the number of CMHS graduates who attend and succeed in college.

In part, the program will expand the GSU’s lauded Dual Degree Program-Male Success Initiative (DDP-MSI), an innovative program at the university largely funded by The Kresge Foundation, that ushers students—particularly men of color—from community colleges to four-year university graduation. In this case, it will focus on bringing CMHS students to GSU.

In addition to assisting the DDP and MSI bridge initiatives, College Pathways would support high school students transitioning directly to four-year institutions.

“We support the student whether they start at a community college or decide to attend GSU immediately after high school. Even if the student decides to attend a different university, we’re opening doors,” said Randi Schneider, GSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. “The role of this program transcends college choice.’’

Smith, the youngest of 12 children, grew up with a desire to attend college, but he had no direction.

"It was a huge struggle. There was a lot I didn’t know, and a lot I wasn’t taught. Like the basics—applying for college or the best colleges for me,'' Smith said.

Fortunately, he found his way to GSU, where he indulged his enormous talent for the saxophone and strong desire to achieve. At Governors State, the student found a platform to perform on as well as the opportunity to earn a business degree. Last year, he received the honor of being named a 2017 Lincoln Laureate—an annual award given by the Lincoln Academy of Illinois to one outstanding senior from each of the state’s four-year not-for-profit degree granting institutions.

Smith credits his faith and mentors on campus with helping him develop a deep sense of empowerment that fueled his focus and hard work. He’ll be serving as a College Pathways facilitator once the program is implemented. In that role, Smith will meet with CMHS students every week to talk through potentially daunting issues, as well as success strategies.

“My goal is to build them up get them on a path where they are going. I want them to know faith without works is dead,” Smith said.

Under the two-year agreement, select CMHS students will be mentored and offered the opportunity to participate in a host of on-campus activities, such as “A Day in the Life”—an on-campus event that will include workshops on admissions and financial aid as well as simulations of classroom interactions and life in a college residence hall.

In addition, GSU will plan and facilitate college preparedness workshops at CMHS twice a month, as well as Parent Academy workshops throughout the academic year. The CMHS-GSU agreement shores up the university’s critical role in shaping the future of first-generation college students—a group often neglected by traditional college recruitment methods—right here in the Southland.

GSU Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Cada said, “We can change lives, change families, and change generations by the work we do.”

CMHS Principal Marjorie Triche is helping College Pathways to target at-risk students—those who need mentoring and guidance the most—for inclusion in the program. She calls the group “Hidden Stars,” and it is composed of more than 100 CMHS students.

“The students we’ve identified are the ones who have fallen through the cracks,’’ Triche said. “We looked at grades, we looked at attendance, and we looked at behavior social-emotional development. They are not in activities, and they are not in sports. We are connecting them with other opportunities so they can flourish and grow and see the possibilities are endless.”

Connections are key, said Kristy Goodwin, Director of College Pathways at GSU. She helped build the program one brick at a time over the last year and a half.

“We’ve been around and around and now we’re here. This has been an extensive process and we are looking for students to be highly engaged and to play an active role and to give back,’’ Goodwin said.

College Pathways architects say they hope it will stand as a model for future high school partnerships.