Illinois College’s CIC/Walmart College Success Award funded the Yates Fellowship Program. The program enrolled 20 students in a two-week summer bridge program that focused on math and writing skills and encouraged a sense of community among the participants. During the academic year, each fellow worked individually with a peer mentor—an older, first-generation student. The fellows and their mentors also participated together in service and leadership development activities. In addition, first-generation students and their parents attended events that celebrated the accomplishments of the students and the support of their families.
During the summer program, students worked closely with Illinois College faculty members strengthening skills in writing and mathematics, improving organizational and study skills, and gaining a clearer sense of how a liberal arts college prepares students to achieve their life and career goals. Forty-five minutes of each day were devoted to activities developing study skills such as note-taking, reading techniques, and developing a study plan. Students also worked closely with the Yates leadership team and an academic advisor throughout the entire academic year.
In the second semester of the first year, participants traveled to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This one-day trip was intended to help build on the sense of community established in the prior semester. In the second year, this trip was expanded to a two-day trip to Chicago, where the students visited a variety of cultural institutions. These activities were beyond the experience of most students.
Increased retention and improved academic performance were among the program’s goals. The fall-to-spring retention rate of the first cohort of Yates Fellows was 95 percent, and for the entire first year class it was 85.8 percent. Only 42.1 percent of the fellows were still enrolled in the following year, however. For the cohort in the second year of program, the percentage of students who enrolled the following year rose to 86.4 percent, partly, it seems, due to adjustments in the program.
The average GPA for participants in the 2008–2009 academic year was 2.67, an average that was slightly higher than that of other first-year students at the college.
Extensive surveys completed by the fellows at the end of the year show that most students believe the summer bridge program was extremely helpful in preparing them for their first year in college and were pleased to have the opportunity to form strong relationships with other first-generation students. Clearly, the socialization aspect of the Yates Fellowship Program has impacted the fellows in deep and meaningful ways. Fellows report that they interact with each other on an almost daily basis. Yates Fellows also have assumed leadership roles on campus.
The experience with the Yates Program convinced college leaders that more support and guidance should be provided for minority and underrepresented students. Thus, a new Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs was established to help advance the college’s work with this targeted campus population.
Finally, the Yates Fellowship Program served as the gateway for Illinois College to secure a $220,000 TRIO Student Support Services Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Over five years, this grant totaling $1.1 million will greatly enhance programming for first-generation students. Clearly, the institution was strengthened by TRIO and the Yates Fellows Program.
Yates Fellows are now automatically enrolled in the TRIO program, which provides constant support throughout the year.
In the third year of the program, a ropes course and other team-building activities at a nearby camp were added to the summer bridge experience. Also in the third year, a living-learning community was added, with all the fellows living together in one residence hall.
To build on the living/learning community, fellows now meet with Yates faculty members seven times each week (two courses), and the students’ seminar professor also serves as academic adviser.