quinn2Making the transition to college – either immediately after high school or later in life – can be a challenging step for many students, especially for students from backgrounds that did not encourage or support pursuing a college education.  For those students on MSSU’s campus, the Project Stay program is here to help. 

Project Stay is a federally funded TRIO Student Support Services program.  TRIO programs are designed to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds, specifically first-generation, limited-income and disabled students.  The purpose of Project Stay is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants through a variety of services and activities including academic advising, tutoring, job shadowing, graduate school exploration, cultural events, workshops, and more. 

The Project Stay program believes that in order to be successful, students need access to educational resources that are holistic in nature and provide not only for the academic growth of the individual, but also the growth of the student as a whole person.  Project Stay works with each student admitted to develop a Student Success Plan – an individualized plan that addresses a student’s educational status, goals, and skills as well as action steps to work toward their success.

Keeping students engaged in the campus and community is a key component of the Project Stay program and weekly activities are offered to make that possible, including workshops on various topics, group attendance at campus events, and participation in community service projects and events in the area.

Recently, Project Stay students have participated in a number of activities on campus, in the Joplin community, and around the four-state area.  In February FAFSA workshops were held on campus to assist students in filing their financial aid applications, as well as a student loan management workshop.  During Spring Break, 18 students traveled to Missouri State University in Springfield to meet with graduate school representatives and faculty members to learn about options for pursuing advanced degrees.  April was a busy month for Project Stay students and included a trip to Rogers, Arkansas to tour the War Eagle Cavern and War Eagle Mill, attending the Third Thursday Art Walk in downtown Joplin, and a community service project at the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States. 

Project Stay students tend to persist and graduate at higher rates than eligible students who do not participate; impacting not only the students themselves but also the university as a whole through increased retention and graduation.   In the 2011-2012 academic year, 98% of Project Stay students remained in good academic standing, 84% persisted to the next academic year, and the 6-year graduation rate was 38%.  The program works.

Says senior Sociology major Debbie Gaskill, “Drop in to the Project Stay office often just to chat about what you are doing or what you want to do.  You will be amazed at the knowledge that the staff has about ways to help facilitate possibilities you never knew existed.”  Debbie has been a participant in Project Stay since 2010. 

Timothy Gehmann, a sophomore Criminal Justice major recently shared this comment with the Project Stay staff: “Thank you and the rest of the Project Stay team for all your help thus far in my college career. Now that I look back I can’t imagine how much harder college would be without Project Stay.”

The earlier students get involved with Project Stay, the better.  They have access to all of the services and activities as soon as they enter the program, and early application helps insure that students secure a spot in the program.  Project Stay can serve 170 students per academic year; once program capacity is reached students are placed on a waiting list.  Project Stay relies on faculty and staff members to refer eligible students to the program and encourages anyone on campus who encounters a student who could benefit from the program to help them make the connection with Project Stay.  Students must meet one or more of the criteria mentioned above – first-generation, limited-income, or have a documented disability.  Information about the program and the application can be found on the website at www.mssu.edu/project-stay.  The Project Stay staff is always available to speak to faculty groups, staff members, and in the classroom.

— by Dory Quinn, MSW, LCSW
Director, Project Stay
Missouri Southern State University