(The following is a press release submitted to WDAM7 from Southern Miss. For more details, visit www.artsandlettersnow.usm.edu/jump or call 601-266-4697.)
First-year University of Southern Mississippi student Lisa Brackeen credits the head-start she received through the University's unique Jump Scholars Program with making her transition to college life a seamless one.
"The Jump program has been more beneficial to me than I could have ever imagined," said Brackeen, a psychology major from Amory, Miss. "It helped me become more aware of how to explore campus, so I wasn't lost my first day of fall semester. Also, the program gave me so many resources and tips that have helped me come out of each semester thus far with a 4.0 GPA."
When asked what she would say to any incoming Southern Miss student considering the preparatory program, Brackeen said: "Just do it! You don't realize how much you're going to gain through this program."
The Jump Scholars Program, launched in 2014, is a summer program for select incoming freshmen who want to get a "jump" on their classes and get connected quickly to the Southern Miss experience. Students who are chosen to participate take three summer courses (nine credit hours) together before starting Southern Miss in the fall.
While taking the classes together, students also enjoy field trips, social events, and other opportunities not readily available to other incoming students.
Applicants to the Jump Scholars Program must be incoming Southern Miss first-year students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Space is limited, and the selection committee looks for students who are motivated to succeed in college and who have a desire to push themselves with an intensive group experience.
"We are very intentional in our design of the program, and in every detail of how it is executed," said Dr. Amy Chasteen Miller, Associate Provost for Academic Excellence at Southern Miss. "We include faculty who want to work collaboratively in an active learning context, and we select students who are academically ready for the challenge and interested in being part of the community. Course content and co-curricular activities are designed with student success in mind."
The program began with 11 incoming first-year students in the summer of 2014. Ten of those students are still enrolled at the University with a collective GPA of 3.43. Last summer 34 students signed up for the program, and for the first time they lived on the Hattiesburg campus in a residence hall.
This approach enabled Southern Miss to provide co-curricular programming outside regular class time. The residence hall was utilized to host study skills workshops, study sessions for tests in classes they were taking, movie nights, pizza parties, and other social and academic gatherings. To date, 32 students from the summer 2015 group remain enrolled at the University.
"The Jump Scholars Program has absolutely exceeded our wildest expectations," said Miller. "We have learned that when you develop a challenging program in a supportive context, students will thrive."
As part of the program, students can select from four groups of classes – all of which can be applied to any undergraduate degree track. Students do not register for individual classes, but rather sign up for a "cluster" of three classes that are interconnected. The student rank the clusters in order of preference and the selection committee ultimately assigns them to a particular group.
Dr. Ann Marie Kinnell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, has served as a Jump Scholars instructor since the program's inception. She notes that the program has already shown a positive, measurable impact on retention – a primary focal point of University faculty and administrators.
"We are making sure that students have the resources they need to be successful from Day One. They know what is available and how to access it," said Kinnell. "Also, hopefully student feel less lost and more connected to the faculty and the University after participating in the program. Being connected to a community is important and Jump gives them a start on creating community at USM."
In an exit survey conducted of the summer 2015 participants, 100 percent of the students "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the following statements:
• "I am glad I did the Jump Scholars Program"
• "I am more confident about my successful future at Southern Miss after the Jump Scholars Program"
• "I believe that participating in the Jump Program will make me more successful at Southern Miss than if I had just started in the fall semester"
The program has already produced some unexpected, but beneficial, side effects. Students emerged as valuable resources for their peers once the fall semester began.
"They lived in the residence halls, and as other students arrived for the first time the Jump Scholars were able to help those first-year students navigate campus, find their classes, learn about resources, and get involved," said Miller. "Jump Scholars would sometimes reach out to me or to another faculty member about a peer they were concerned about, giving us the opportunity to connect with a student we otherwise wouldn't know."
The Jump Scholars Program is now housed in the new Office of New Student and Retention Programs. Plans call for selection of 75 students for this summer's program from the applicant pool. Applications are due by March 18.