Return to Program Profiles Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University's Pioneer Scholars were divided into small groups of eight to ten students, each working with a designated peer mentor.  The mentors provided special attention and guidance in the form of extra advising and interventions; they also facilitated academic and community links to aid students’ transition.
The Pioneer Scholars program offered a range of activities and events aimed at being highly appealing to students. In the fall 2008 semester, activities were designed to connect students with the supportive resources available on campus and to help students overcome anxieties about whether they truly belong in college. Activities were focused on three areas: finances, academic and social guidance to compensate for family members' inexperience with collegiate life, and finding a sense of belonging on campus. During the spring 2009 semester, the focus of the program leaned heavily toward social integration with classmates and the university community.
With 14 weekly meetings in the fall, students had opportunities for small group interaction as well as panel discussions and presentations by campus and community persons. Topics for these meetings included the following:  welcome; introduction to registered students organizations; physical fitness (including intramural sports); understanding mid-term grade assessments; choosing a major and minor; panel discussion with first-generation student alumni; and health and fitness.
Most participants continued into the spring semester. The topics included: second semester challenges; FAFSA information; president’s reception at the homecoming basketball game; Pioneer Scholars retreat; Relay for Life team planning; and a celebration dinner.
A variety of incentives are provided to encourage students to sign up (a contract is required). Some of the incentives are as follows:
  • A welcome gift for attending the first event;
  • A second gift for attending the second event;
  • A free T-shirt with the exclusive Pioneer Scholars logo;
  • Periodic free lunches;
  • A chance to win bookstore give-aways for members that are present at each Tuesday event;
  • Free tickets to the most popular campus events;
  • “Exclusive information on registering for classes,” study group sessions, on-campus housing, and career exploration;
  • Interaction with faculty and staff on campus; and
  • A bonus of $100 for students who actively participate throughout the entire academic year.

Program Outcomes

The average GPA of the Pioneer Scholars at the end of their first year of college was 3.07. Those first-generation students who chose not to participate in the program had an average GPA of 2.60. The fall-to-spring retention of the Pioneer Scholars was 95 percent. The fall-to-spring retention rate for first-generation students not in the program was 86 percent.

Program Updates

College officials reported the program as “continuing in a manner consistent with our vision.” The college added additional peer mentors because of increased participation and is boosting efforts to market the program to parents prior to the their student's enrollment.