First Generation Alum Back to Lead Student Success Program

The News Magazine of HCU

Houston Baptist University is home to one of the most diverse student populations in the country. With each incoming freshman class comes the opportunity to reach out to more students. That is exactly what Director of Student Success Kelley O’Neal BA ’01, MEd ’05, and Success Coaches Bethany Mayott and J.R. Harris are accomplishing through the Student Success Program. Both O’Neal and Harris are first generation graduates themselves. Along with Mayott, they emphasize the importance of support networks and mentoring to help current Huskies achieve their potential. “We have been where these students are,” O’Neal said. “There was a lot we were unaware of along with the challenge of meeting people and getting involved in the right group. We want students to know that there is someone here who is just like them.” The Student Success team leads the First Generation Success Program (Gen 1) and, individually, each success coach currently works with 150 students. Their time with students offers support during the transition to college, assistance in finding resources, and encouragement to those who are doubting their choice to attend college. “My desire as a success coach is to be able to help all students at HBU discover their fullest potential,” Harris said. “As the department of student success grows, my hope is that we can continue helping students identify and effectively use campus resources during their time at HBU.” “Data shows that students like me generally do not graduate from college. I worked very hard and persevered through some difficult times, and now I am hoping that my story will help others like me here at HBU,” O’Neal said. “Although some first generation college students come into college lacking some skills, it does not mean that they will not be successful.” With the stress involved during college transition, the program provides an environment consistent with Biblical teaching to nurture students into fulfilling their greatest possible potential – something that requires resources students may not otherwise be aware of. “College can be such an amazing time in a student’s life, and yet the transition into college can be difficult for some students and their families,” Mayott said. “My hope is that the Student Success Program will continue to expand providing services to help every HBU student experience a holistic college experience that challenges and prepares them in all areas of life – academic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, professional, and spiritual.” The success coaches in the Student Success Program offer monthly Lunch & Learns exploring topics like financial literacy, GRIT and time management. The coaches also create and facilitate one-on-one mentoring and academic coaching. The Student Success department collaborates with other departments at HBU to create opportunities for students to learn valuable skills and hold final exam prep sessions. Student Success has also partnered with Career & Calling to host a “Dress for Success” workshop for all first generation freshmen students. The program builds upon existing relationships around campus by placing former first generation students as mentors for incoming first generation students. Junior Alanna Khubieh, a student and mentor in the Gen 1 program, remembers the difficulty of her own transition. “Gen 1 has a bridge program dedicated to teaching incoming first generation students about what to expect and helping them form a community of friends before they even set foot on campus,” Khubieh said. “Gen 1 was such an amazing resource to me because neither one of my parents went to college. It was intimidating and scary to approach college without any idea of what to expect, but everyone at Gen 1 was really excited to get to know me.” “Being a first generation college graduate has really given me a sense of pride,” O’Neal said. “We are here to help first generation students, minority students, low-income students, and students who are academically underprepared. Simply stated: the Student Success program wants to help every student at HBU.”