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Saint Augustine’s Walmart Success (SAWS) program was designed to introduce first-generation, first-year and sophomore students to careers in industries where minorities are underrepresented at the management or professional level: real estate management, human resource management, supply chain management, healthcare administration, hospitality management, governmental agencies, and education administration.
The program gave first-generation students the opportunity to participate in a series of workshops, cultural events, and seminars to enhance their professionalism and increase cultural competency. The workshops focused on resume development, interview techniques, business writing, the unwritten rules of expected and unacceptable behaviors in the workplace, and preparing for and making presentations. Later, a workshop focused on the concept of the “thirty second spot”: how to introduce oneself in a memorable way. Students also attended theatrical performances and classical music concerts to build their cultural competencies.

A select number of students were provided with stipends and summer housing while working in internships that were secured through partnerships between Saint Augustine’s and local organizations specifically for this program. The goal was to introduce up to 40 students each cycle to career possibilities and provide an intense level of professional development that would make them more marketable and increase their desire to complete a four-year degree. By strategically providing at least two of the professional development workshops during scheduled Academic Achievers (TRIO student support services) sessions each semester every year, more than 100 students in the target group experienced some level of professional development.

In the second year, the first presentation made to the Academic Achievers group (which is the feeder population) was by the SAWS students about their experiences in the various companies and industries. Not only did the student presentations increase the level of interest in the program, but they also fostered connections with the career center much earlier than is typical. At the conclusion of the SAWS summer 2011 student presentations, 15 students submitted applications for the program. Collectively, 46 students participated in smaller sessions from July 2010 to July 2012. Although the number of participants was lower than projected, the program provided a good baseline for continuation. In both years, 10 students completed the whole program; seven employers committed to the program’s internship component; and seven students were placed in those internships that included partnerships with organizations that met the targeted industries. In addition, students in the program were required to participate in workshops on resume development; interview techniques; business writing; Blazing the Trail: First Generation Students at Work and in School; Surviving the First 90 Days, which explores unwritten rules of expected and unacceptable behaviors in the workplace; and How to Make a Presentation.

The most successful aspect of the program was the interview preparation component, which led to subsequent internship placements. Retention, however, proved to be a challenge. Many of the students who showed the most interest were not able to complete the program because of financial constraints.

Program Outcomes

For students completing the program, GPAs exceeded that of all first-time, first-year students—2.87 to 2.33 and in the spring 2.64 to 2.05. It must be noted, however, that this improved academic performance reflects only 15 students who were completers.
Another primary goal of this program was to introduce up to 40 students in each cohort to career possibilities and provide professional development experiences that would make them more marketable, including an immediate internship experience. Career awareness increased with internship experiences, too. As a result, more than 100 students experienced some level of professional development. In both years, 10 students completed the whole program; seven employers in the targeted industries committed to internships, and seven students were placed.

The program met its goal of using a variety of approaches to expand the social and cultural capital of the students—to add to their “professionalism.” 
The relationship of the companies supporting the internship program also was a great advantage, and the institution was strengthened as a result.

Program Updates

The university continued the program with some modifications including the use of work-study as a platform to select participants. The university as a whole has been influenced by the program and has created required Freshmen Focus Professional Development Modules that are now incorporated into the students’ curricula for incoming first-year students.
All students receiving federal work study aid now are required to register with the Belk Professional Development Center and attend a condensed version of the workshop developed during the program. In addition, work study supervisors are now required to submit job descriptions to help assure that students have a meaningful work experience.