Student Success Programs 2018: A YEAR in REview


Hello, and thank you for reading this Student Success Programs department overview and year in review. For several years, all eight Student Success program directors have documented the goals, challenges and accomplishments associated with their respective programs as part of our rigorous internal review process. This effort is reflective of our relentless pursuit of understanding the effect of our work and our department’s culture of continuous improvement. This year, we decided to summarize these eight overviews to provide a bird’s-eye view of our collective undertakings.

In the following report, you can learn a bit about each Student Success program and how they all serve three main areas of focus – orientation, academic support, and access and retention. You can also find links to our programs’ annual reports, which further explain how each area assists with students’ progressive stages of development. Our work aims to complement the work of Purdue’s academic colleges, be synchronous with the efforts of all Purdue partners and continuously evolve as it strives for the best effect.

As a department, we are pleased to contribute to the University’s efforts to transform and improve our collective efforts toward enhancing the success of students. We are fully committed to the Purdue Moves strategic plan, Purdue’s efforts as a part of the University Innovation Alliance and our collective increased focus on serving students who are considered to be at-risk.

While our programs vary in size, scope and purpose, we share goals of increased student degree completion, future employment or study, dedicated citizenship, and responsible leadership in the state, nation and world. We are pleased to offer this report as a reminder that, through all of our student-centered college success initiatives and services, we aim ultimately to empower students’ lifelong learning.


With the arrival of its biggest entering class ever, Purdue University's overall enrollment reached its highest all-time level in the fall of 2018. Growth across the incoming class had a significant impact on Orientation Programs, which also experienced record attendance numbers. For example, 7,048 students attended Summer Transition, Advising and Registration (STAR) in 2018, up by 853 students from the previous year. Additionally, 6,793 students participated in Boiler Gold Rush (BGR) in 2018, up by 442 students from the previous year.

Incoming students from the 2018 incoming class participate in Boiler Bridge Bash, a feature of Boiler Gold Rush intended to connect Purdue students with the Greater Lafayette community. (Photo by Brent Vaught)

While welcoming so many students to campus required some shifts in orientation processes, the growth also presented some fun and engaging opportunities for students and the Purdue community at-large. To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the BGR program, incoming students attempted and achieved a Guinness World Record for most people blowing train whistles simultaneously. The recorded number of student participants was 5,527, with more than 80 community volunteers dedicating time to the event as well.

Watch a video of BGR's Guinness World Record attempt

(Video by Brian Powell)

Remembering Kasi Jones, former Orientation Programs director

The greatest challenge for the Student Success team was the loss of our dear friend and most excellent colleague, Kasi Jones, who passed away on July 6, 2018, after fighting a two-year battle with cancer. Certainly she did great work in her 10 years as director of Orientation Programs, and her professional legacy is well established.

But Kasi was also a bright, powerful and benevolent force to be reckoned with. All of you who knew Kasi, however slightly, certainly understand that her impact was far greater than the sum of her work. We continue to celebrate the life that she lived and the lasting mark she left on countless students, along with the rest of her Purdue family.

In September of 2018, Craig Johnson was hired as director of Orientation Programs. Having served as interim director since well before STAR 2018, Craig led the Orientation Programs team through a very difficult but highly successful orientation season, proving himself to be a very capable, thoughtful, inclusive and collaborative leader. He looks forward to continuously improving the transition experience of undergraduate students in partnership with all of you.

Craig Johnson presents at the 2018 NODA conference, along with Orientation Programs colleagues Virginia Cabrera and Todd Braverman.


The Academic Success Center (ASC) launched a new website and the PurdueGuide app in August. The program's new website offers an easier navigation experience, consistent and clean branding, and focused information. The PurdueGuide app replaces the BoilerGuide app in providing students with information about Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions on-the-go, while also supporting new features like SI groups for discussion, push notifications, and improved campus map function.

The ASC also held its second annual mock exam event in the large evening exam context typical for first year courses (Elliott Hall), with double the participation from the 2017 event. This year the event expanded beyond math to courses in biology and chemistry. Through partnership with the Disability Resource Center, students with testing accommodations were able to use their accommodations in the mock exam.

Students participate in the ASC mock exam in Elliott Hall of Music. (Photo by Dan Carpenter)

To better understand how SI influences students’ academic performances in critical courses, the ASC is conducting a "twin study" to investigate the differences in course grades between SI attendees and non-attendees. This study compares academic outcomes between SI participants and non-participants who share the same pre-semester characteristics (GPA, gender, ethnicity, residency status, etc.). Using data from the fall 2017 and spring 2017 semesters, the analysis revealed that SI attendees did as well or better than their non-attending peers and statistically significantly better in some courses. The ASC plans to collect additional data over the next few semesters to identify possible trends in students' success outcomes.


The Disability Resource Center (DRC) has experienced significant growth in registered students from 2016-17 to 2017-18 with a 31 percent increase. Growth in numbers has been a consistent trend since 2011-12. When comparing 2011-12 to 2017-18, the percentage of growth is 129 percent. Overall, the percentage of undergraduate students registered with the DRC in relation to the total undergraduate student body has risen from 2.5 percent in 2011-12 to 5.7 percent in 2017-18.

As a result of this growth, the DRC accommodated testing service has significantly grown as well. In 2012-13, the first year DRC was in charge of this service, the DRC proctored 3,583 individual exams. During 2017-18 the DRC proctored 9,232 individual exams. This represents a 157 percent increase during this 5-year span.

With the addition of new staff, the DRC was able to launch its first campus wide “Disability Awareness” series, hosting six disability cultural events offered during the fall 2018 semester.

DRC staff have also been working toward the implementation phase of a new student/staff/faculty portal from which all of its current business practices will be hosted beginning in the summer of 2019. This is the culmination of a 2+ year journey to move the department to a paperless, sustainable, secure, and stable platform from which faculty and students will benefit. The system will provide a more efficient platform to make requests and receive services from the DRC.

DRC sends sign language interpreter overseas to support inclusive study abroad experience

As Purdue aims to increase cultural exchange opportunities, the University’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) continues to support students with disabilities, whether on campus or abroad. That’s why the DRC hired Leanne Baumeler, a nationally certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, to accompany a Purdue student on the trip so that engineering student Kali Lacy, who was born deaf, could fully engage with the other Purdue students, as well as local residents who couldn’t sign.

Deaf Can Coffee is a social enterprise that empowers young Jamaicans who are deaf by helping them become leaders in their careers and communities through vocational rehabilitation. The organization’s staff oversee each stage of the product, from plant to bean to hand-crafted latte. The EPICS team created an app-based menu with coffee images and correlating signed language and GIFs to support interactions between deaf staff and hearing customers.

But perhaps one of the most notable examples of translation and collaboration occurred outside of the planned app project. The Purdue students learned that staff had been unable to use their car’s navigation system because the dashboard readouts were in Mandarin Chinese. It just so happened that one of the Purdue students could read them, so he translated the menu characters into spoken English for Baumeler, who signed the instructions to the staff. Together, through this process, they reset the car’s language preferences.

According to Baumeler, it was a fitting metaphor for the entire trip.

“Language facilitation was key to the richness of Kali’s experience, as well as the hearing members of the EPICS team,” Baumeler says. “I think it was a big part of the cultural exposure, not just Jamaican culture, but deaf culture in Jamaica. Without the DRC supporting someone who’s in both worlds, students would have missed a rich part of that experience.”


Purdue Testing Center offers a variety of exams that may be of interest to students, as well as members of the campus community and beyond. The center administers National Paper/Pencil Exams, such as Graduate Record Subject Exams and Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Advanced Credit, College Level Examination Program tests, and the following Pearson exams:

  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE)
  • GMAC – Executive Assessment
  • Microsoft Certifications
  • Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)
  • Blockchain Test

Alumnus credits 'credit by exam' for college comeback

Mere days from receiving his diploma, Purdue senior Hayden Cole Smith reflected on how close he came to walking away from Purdue without a degree.

Smith, who graduated from Purdue in May 2018 with a degree in English and minor in Critical Disability Studies, experienced an assault off campus and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result.

“I kept withdrawing from classes and getting more and more behind. I kept telling myself, ‘This will be the semester I’ll get my act together,’ and then I’d become overwhelmed with stress and anxiety and would withdraw again,” Smith said. “I did that for three semesters. I was at the end of my grace period of being eligible for financial aid. I remember feeling like maybe I should walk away for good and just go get a job somewhere.”

Then, Smith’s plot changed. He heard about the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which allows students to earn credit based on knowledge acquired through experience or independent study. And study he did, day and night, for weeks on end.

Smith registered for seven CLEP exams, administered by the Purdue Testing Center in Schleman Hall, Room B42. He earned CLEP credit for psychology, sociology, biology, English literature, history, and more – on top of taking three summer courses. In one fell but strenuous swoop of a summer, Smith made up nearly all of the credit he had missed.

Perhaps this was the true plot shift, because this was the point when Smith took on a minor in Critical Disability Studies.

“If I had not been able to knock out all those miscellaneous requirements needed to stick around at Purdue, I wouldn’t have been able to get involved in disability studies,” Smith said. “It totally changed my life, the career I’m anticipating for myself, potential grad school programs, and how I see myself as a deaf person.”

Smith says the Purdue Testing Center might be a good option for students who have a chronic illness or other disability that interferes with regular class attendance.

“I think about access and accessibility a lot because I am deaf. For example, a big concern for me was having classes in large lecture halls because it was too difficult for me to hear the professor through all the background noise,” Smith said. “If a classroom environment is disabling for a student, or if a student has a chronic illness that interferes with regular class attendance, they should know that the Purdue Testing Center provides alternative and potentially more accessible ways of working toward their degree.”


In 2018, Horizons Student Support Services: A TRIO Program celebrated its 40th year of serving first-generation and low-income students. As the program continues its legacy of supporting and motivating students toward the successful completion of their post secondary education, we also believe that our ability to provide high quality service could not be possible without campus support and assistance.

During the Horizons 40th Anniversary Celebration, which took place in November 2018, program staff recognized and honored previous Horizons Directors, in addition to the tremendous faculty members and mentors who enrich Horizon students’ first-year experience.

Horizons student petitions legislators to continue federal funding for TRIO programs

Purdue student Shenetha Shepherd sat at a table in Washington D.C., poring over notes about a proposed bill that threatened federally funded TRIO programs. The next day, Shepherd would stand in front of members of Congress and advocate on behalf of Purdue’s TRIO program, Horizons – she wanted to be ready.

As it turned out, what legislators found most compelling was Shepherd’s own story.

She came to Purdue in 2014, the first in her family to go to college. At the Council for Opportunity in Education’s 2018 Annual Policy Seminar, Shepherd told several members of congress that at first she struggled to navigate the higher education system, but soon found a “home away from home” in Horizons Student Support Services.

Horizons helps first-generation and low-income students overcome social, cultural and academic barriers to success in higher education. Students in the program receive career counseling, academic support, and leadership opportunities from specialized staff, at no cost to the student.

The program served more than 340 Purdue scholars in 2016-17, with 95 percent persisting from one academic year to the beginning of the next academic year, and 96 percent continuing in good academic standing.

“Horizons is my favorite thing about Purdue,” Shepherd says. “When you’re really struggling and don’t know where to go, you can come here and get the help you need. If you talk to Horizons students, they will tell you how the program helped them stay in college, how it saved their lives. That’s why I went to D.C. to share my story – these programs are so necessary, and I want them to continue.”


Coaching, targeted support helps low-income students succeed

Purdue Promise, a four-year program at Purdue offering additional financial assistance and one-on-one coaching for eligible Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars, has been paving the way for almost a decade for students facing socioeconomic challenges to receive an education. New data, based on the latest university census and preliminary data from the Division of Financial Aid, reveals that the program’s latest graduates now have a higher graduation rate than the rest of the student body at Purdue.

Out of 292 Purdue Promise students who started in the fall of 2014, almost 63 percent of them have graduated in four years compared with just over 60 percent of the Purdue student body as a whole. In addition, 60 percent of Purdue Promise students are graduating with no debt – and those with debt average $7,000. Other Indiana undergraduates with debt average more than $24,000.

Teresa Lubbers, commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, which oversees the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, says, “Purdue Promise is a highly effective, model program for 21st Century Scholars. It proves that the right combination of support services and financial aid can ensure that students complete their degrees in a timely and affordable way and move on to a rewarding career.”

Statewide, 21st Century Scholars who entered college in 2013 have a 42 percent on-time graduation rate. At Purdue, that rate is 56 percent.

Purdue Promise’s graduates are a testament to how the program has been successful over the years.

Keeley Stingel came to Purdue in 2009 with a 21st Century Scholars award to pay her tuition. At the time, the graduation rate of Purdue’s 21st Century Scholars was 10 to 11 percentage points behind the standard four-year graduation rate. While she met all of the academic requirements to get into Purdue as an undergraduate, she still doubted her ability to complete a degree at Purdue.

“Poverty was a jacket I could not take off,” Stingel says. “My dad was in and out of jail, and I’d never known a life where a woman, my mom, was not solely responsible for the well-being of the family. During my first year of Purdue, I met my oldest half-sister and saw her two times before she committed suicide. Then my brother moved out of my mom’s house, and my mom and two younger sisters became homeless while I was away at school.”

Purdue Promise was created the same year to provide additional support to 21st Century Scholars. Stingel says the program helped her earn a college degree that was her “ticket out of poverty.” Today, Stingel has a master’s degree and is the executive director for the Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana. She also serves on the advisory board of 21st Century Scholars.

Purdue Promise students are more likely to be underrepresented minorities, females, former foster youth or from single-parent households compared with the rest of the student body at Purdue. The family income of 21st Century Scholars is 75 percent lower than the average student who applies for financial aid in Indiana. Again, all Purdue Promise students are 21st Century Scholars.

The program has more than 1,200 students, and each student works with a coach throughout their four years at Purdue. Coaches monitor the students’ progress, help them find resources, and address issues that may affect their success and financial aid eligibility.

Michelle Ashcraft, director of Purdue Promise, piloted the coaching model in 2013. Since then, Purdue Promise students’ four-year graduation rate has increased by more than 25 percentage points in comparison to Purdue’s overall increase of 13 percentage points. Ashcraft says the one-on-one coaching has been the most significant factor to the improved retention and graduation rates. Coaches receive 116 hours of training their first year and typically have degrees in higher education, student affairs, social work or counseling. Ashcraft says the diverse backgrounds of the coaches allow them to help students not only academically, but also with the range of issues that students might bring with them.

“What has been interesting is that these academic gains have allowed us to start changing the perspective and dialogue about low-income and first-generation students,” Ashcraft says. “In spite of whatever their pre-college circumstances may have been, their family backgrounds, their demographics, or any doubts that may be placed on them for who they were and where they came from, they continue to rise to high expectations Purdue sets for their education and to achieve significant goals and dreams.”

(Purdue Promise photos by John Underwood)


In 2017-18, the Veterans Success Center created an Assistant Director position tasked to primarily support the Education to Occupation (E2O) program, which supports veteran and military students' transition from higher education to career. Taylor Yo was selected for the role, and her main focus is to help strengthen students' self-advocacy and facilitate connections with employers.

Meet the new assistant director of the Veterans Success Center

Taylor Yo, Assistant Director of the Veterans Success Center

Taylor supports Purdue military-connected students with their career development and creates networking opportunities with employers. Taylor previously worked with Purdue’s Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) and is married to an Army Infantry Officer. She holds a BS in Human Services from Purdue University.

Green Zone training walks staff, faculty through military-connected student experience

About 10 years ago, when Corey Linkel was just getting started as an academic advisor at Purdue, he had a meeting with a student veteran that felt like a success at the time.

Later, after Linkel came to know the student better, the student admitted to having a different experience.

“He told me he had felt disappointed after our initial meeting, that he felt isolated and disconnected and didn’t feel like he was getting out of the advising appointment what he needed,” Linkel says. “That experience caused me to pause and rethink things. It made me realize that our military-connected students have needs that I didn’t understand as well as I needed to, and it made me want to do more to support them.”

Linkel never forgot the experience. In fall 2018, he saw an opportunity to participate in Green Zone training. The training provides Purdue faculty and staff participants with the understanding and tools necessary to better serve the roughly 400 veteran and military students on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. A nod to the heavily fortified zone in the center of Baghdad, Iraq, “Green Zone” refers to a location recognized by veterans as a safe place.

Linkel, who now serves as associate director of undergraduate programs for the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, says anyone on campus who works with students should consider attending an upcoming session.

“Being aware of veteran students’ needs better prepares me to work with any student who has more going on than what’s visibly on the surface, whether a student may be experiencing things such as PTSD, anxiety, or other unseen disabilities,” Linkel says. “The more I educate myself, the more I realize there’s so much more out there to learn. I encourage everyone to get the training, be supportive, and be an ally.”


With a change in Span Plan leadership and staff, it is fitting to look back at the past 50 years of Span Plan tradition and look forward to the next steps the program will make. The definition and evolution of the nontraditional student at Purdue has continued to change since 1968 when Dean Helen Schleman’s concern about the climate for women at Purdue led her to create Span Plan.

What once started as an opportunity to provide education and career counseling for wives of married students, as well as female graduate and nontraditional students who were returning to college later in life, Span Plan has continued to develop programs that provide access and opportunity for students to achieve their educational pursuits through their life span. As the program moves forward to assist nontraditional undergraduate students obtain their degree, Span Plan will provide opportunities that create community and identity among its students, offer programs that foster leadership skills and strong networks, establish resources to aid in persisting to degree completion, and make a clear navigation path for students to engage in the campus and access needed resources.

Staff, faculty and friends of Span Plan will gather in March to officially celebrate the program’s success over the past 50 years and toast the beginning of a new chapter in Span Plan’s history. As we look to honor the legacy of Dean Schleman and the other amazing women that have paved the path for Span Plan, we will continue telling the story of Span Plan. A story that is built on an experience that may not be the same as all undergraduates on campus, but one that shows the strength and resilience of a student path that culminates in a degree. A degree that changes not only their immediate future, but also positively impacts the generational story of their families; exceptional outcomes since 1968 for exceptional students overcoming exceptional challenges.

Meet Span Plan's new leaders

Malissa Ayala, Span Plan Director

Malissa joined Student Success September 2018 after serving as Assistant Director of Scholarships in the Division of Financial Aid at Purdue University. She received her Bachelor of Science from Krannert School of Management and returned to Purdue in 2015 to continue her excitement of connecting students with financial resources, creating dynamic programming to engage students and helping students to work through obstacles they encounter on their way to graduation. Prior to returning to Purdue, Malissa served as Associate Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Indiana University South Bend and as Program Officer at the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County. In these roles, she engaged with students at many different stages of their education journey and helped them navigate complex streams of funding and college access.

Carrie Underwood, Span Plan Assistant Director

Carrie joined Student Success December 2018 and is a Hoosier native with more than 15 years of higher education experience. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Development for Higher Education in 2014 through Indiana State University, and will be awarded a Master of Science degree in Nonprofit Management studies from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana at the conclusion of the upcoming spring semester. Her Purdue career began in 2003 and has included a variety of experiences on campus. She later served as Director of Enrollment Services at Messenger College in Euless, Texas from 2014 to 2018 where she successfully assisted the college in rebuilding and relaunching a variety of enrollment services initiatives. Upon completion of key objectives in her role at Messenger, Carrie decided to return home to Purdue.

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