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Catalyst Grants
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The OTR Catalyst Grant is designed to catalyze new research that will advance both knowledge and best practices in orientation, transition, and retention. Prospective research studies, pilot studies, exploratory research projects (qualitative and quantitative), and assessment-based best practices (as defined by Upcraft and Schuh, 2002) are considered for the award. Grand funds may be used to support professional development, researcher(s) stipend, and project expenses, all (100%) in support of the proposed project. 

The deadline for 2019/2020 Catalyst Grant proposals has passed. Recipients will be announced in the upcoming weeks. 



2019/2020 Catalyst Grant Winners

Latinx First-Generation Degree Completion: The Effect on The Student and Their Families
While there are several studies that describe barriers faced by first-generation students attempting to complete a college degree there is no literature that addresses the outcomes that degree completion has on a student’s family. This study aims to address this gap by exploring the impact and effects of first-generation student degree completion on their immediate family.

Jaime Mendez is currently in his 3rd year of the Ed.D. of Education Leadership and Administration at The University of Texas at El Paso.  Jaime is currently director of the Student Support Services Center, which is a grant-funded program aimed at assisting first-generation, low-income and/or students with disabilities complete an undergraduate degree within 4-6 years. This research proposal falls within the focus of his dissertation topic area.
Undocumented College Students: Sense of Belonging from Orientation, Retention, and Transition Experiences
The purpose of this study is to understand how orientation, retention, and transition (ORT) experiences facilitate undocumented college students’ sense of belonging on campus. The research questions guiding this study are: What are undocumented college students’ experiences with orientation, retention, and transition efforts on campus? And, how do undocumented students perceive their orientation, retention, and transition experiences relate to their sense of belonging on campus?

Dr. Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton Dr. Shelton is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Arkansas and has experience researching undocumented college students, and prior to becoming a faculty member she worked full time in student affairs, including with OTR-related programming. 

Diversity in Admissions and Transfer: Perceptions of HBCU and PBI Admissions and Transfer Professionals
This descriptive qualitative project will accomplish the following objectives: 1) identify the different considerations admissions and transfer professionals give to diversify HBCUs and PBIs; 2) Deepen understanding the tensions and challenges admissions and transfer professionals encounter as they attempt to diversify and uphold the missions HBCUs and PBIs; 3) Provide new insight in the processes of admissions and transfer and how these processes support or limit diversity goals; and 4) Raise questions about how HBCUs and PBIs can better negotiate and balance the goal of diversifying and upholding the legacy of educating Black students


Dr. Sosanya Jones  Dr. Sosanya Jones has over sixteen years of experience as an administrator, researcher, and educator in higher education. Her research interests focus on the nexus between policy and practice for diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education; diversity professionals and diversity work in different institutional contexts, including PWIs, HBCUs, and PBIs; and programmatic interventions and strategies for supporting minoritized and marginalized populations. Dr. Jones is a 2015-2016 Fulbright Visiting Chair and a 2016-2018 Illinois Education Research Council Faculty Fellow. She has co-authored two books and written several journals articles related to policy and practice related to equity, diversity, and interventions for supporting minoritized students in higher education. Dr. Jones is currently an assistant professor in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program at Howard University where she teaches courses on governance, administration, and qualitative research. 

Transition Experiences among Pessimistic Students of Color: A Grounded Theory Study
This grounded theory qualitative study will explore the transition experiences of first year, full time, traditionally aged, college students of color with a pessimistic explanatory style. This research is grounded in Seligman’s (1970) theory of Learned Optimism; Schlossberg’s (1981) Theory of Transition; and seeks to expand the theory of First Year Pessimistic Transition (Piechowski, 2018).


Dr. Hannah Rushe Piechoski serves as the Director of Student Transitions and Parent and Family Programs at Transylvania University, and teaches research methods in the Master of Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice program at Bellarmine University. She holds M.Ed. in Counseling and College Student Personnel from the University of Louisville, as well as a B.A. in psychology and music and a Ph.D. in education and social change from Bellarmine University.
An Examination of Rural Students in Higher Education Through a Non-Deficit Framework
Since the 2016 Presidential election, higher education institutions hold a newfound vigor for recruiting and retaining rural students. However, limited research on rural students and their orientation, transition, and retention in postsecondary education exists, and the literature that does often utilizes deficit-based thinking about this population. These research gaps encouraged us to conduct the following study, utilizing a strengths-based framework to ask, “What traits, characteristics, knowledge, and cultural background, based upon being from a rural area, do rural students possess that can help them succeed in higher education and can inform college and university OTR practices and policies?”

Ty McNamee is pursuing his Doctor of Education in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College of Columbia University. He currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he is working remotely on his doctoral exams and dissertation. Prior to Columbia, Ty received his Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Connecticut in 2015 and his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Wyoming in 2013. Ty’s research interests focus on equity and access for underrepresented and marginalized students in higher education, particularly students from rural areas; teaching and learning at rural colleges and universities; and the experiences of faculty at rural higher education institutions.


Throughout his higher education career, Ty has served in multiple administrative and teaching roles at Columbia University, Yale University, and the University of Connecticut. Currently, Ty serves as an Academic Success Coordinator at Colorado State University and as a Research Assistant and Administrative Fellow for Teachers College of Columbia University.


Dr. Sonja Ardoin
 is an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Psychological Counseling-Student Affairs Administration at Appalachian State University

Dr. Vanessa Sansone
is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies-Higher Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio 

Nikki Cooper
is a masters student in Educational Administration-Student Affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Click here for a list of the 2015-2016 Catalyst Grant recipients.

Click here for a list of the 2016-2017 Catalyst Grant recipients.

Click here for a list of the 2017-2018 Catalyst Grant recipients. 

Click here for a list of the 2018-2019 Catalyst Grant recipients.

Examples of Grantee Research

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