William Guseman (right) mentors first-year student David D’Antonio. Both participated in this summer’s PaSSS program, which provides financial and educational support to students, helping them to graduate on time.

Summer program at Fayette campus helps students get head start on college

The University instituted PaSSS in order to provide financial and educational support to students, while at the same time helping them to graduate on time.
By: Gregory G Evanina
Penn State’s PaSSS provides financial, educational support to foster on-time graduation

After graduating in 2015 from Uniontown High School, William Guseman decided to continue his education at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus. When he heard about a new Penn State program called the Pathway to Success: Summer Start, or PaSSS, he jumped at the opportunity.

The seven-week program supports students with financial need by providing a scholarship, a $400 book stipend, mentoring, social activities, and on-campus employment. Participants receive a $1,500 scholarship and take from six to 12 credits during the summer, and second-year students mentor those new to the program.

The University instituted PaSSS in order to provide financial and educational support to students, while at the same time helping them to graduate on time. The program was launched as part of President Eric Barron’s access and affordability initiative.

David Christiansen, associate vice president for Commonwealth Campuses, said PaSSS was designed to ease students’ transition from high school to college by offering a support network that will help them get off to a successful start. For the nearly 40 percent of students who are the first in their family to attend college, the first year at Penn State can be especially challenging.

“It’s important for students to get through college on a timely basis, to make academic progress throughout the year,” Christiansen said. “Often students run into stumbling blocks. We want to remove those stumbling blocks and provide the students with opportunities to get ahead.”

Christiansen said the program is primarily aimed at students who are either low-income, from the first generation in their families to attend college, or from underrepresented groups and are therefore most likely to drop out. Through the combination of an early summer start on class credits, scholarship support, a job, peer mentoring, and a special academic adviser, the program is aimed at keeping those students on track.

“I like how PaSSS is an early start,” said Guseman, who is now a sophomore. “I got to get college credits before school actually started and got to meet people.” He returned this summer for the seven-week program, during which he is taking another two classes and serving as a mentor. The Uniontown resident also has a part-time job in the campus student aid office.

Guseman and three classmates who were also in PaSSS last year are mentoring the 14 new students in this summer’s program. “We cover everything,” according to Guseman who describes himself as a “helping hand” for the newbies.

Since college is much different than high school, Guseman said first-year students can learn new study tips by speaking to others. “One of our mentoring topics today was study skills and time management,” said Guseman. “They asked me how I study and what helps me to study. And maybe they can try it for themselves.”

At first a bit uncomfortable in his role, Guseman now enjoys the mentoring component of PaSSS and feels the program has become a leadership experience for him. “I am not a big fan of public speaking,” said the Administration of Justice major, “but it gets me out of my comfort zone and really opens me up.”

One of Guseman’s mentees, first-year student David D’Antonio of Carmichaels, is pleased that PaSSS has given him financial, social, and academic benefits before classes even begin. “I’m already ahead of the game,” he said.

For D’Antonio, Guseman, and about 300 other students across the state, PaSSS is meeting its goals. Preliminary data show positive outcomes for the program. Students participating in PaSSS were more likely to complete the fall 2015 semester than those who did not. PaSSS participants were much less likely to drop a fall 2015 class than those not in the program and PaSSS students were more likely not to have a grade lower than a C last fall, when compared to their classmates not in PaSSS.