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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. 



2018/2019 Catalyst Grant Winners

Perceptions of Sense of Belonging in Transfer Students
This study will explore the varying ways in which transfer students develop a sense of belonging. By exploring transfer student sense of belonging after the first semester, the findings of the study will provide rich data to better assess learning outcomes associated for transitional program targeted towards transfer students. In addition, we hope that by segmenting our samples based on their semester of admission, we will deepen knowledge around how this timing could affect a student's ability to successfully transition to a new campus environment.

Kimberly Holmes serves as Assistant Dean and Director of Retention and Student Success at George Mason University. She is responsible for developing and implementing campus-wide degree completion and student success initiatives in collaboration with colleagues in Student Academic Affairs, Academic units, and University Life.


Ms. Adrienne D Thompson holds a M.S. Ed from Indiana University in Higher Education and Student Affairs. She is currently on track to complete her Ph.D. in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in August 2018. Ms. Thompson is currently the Associate Director for Student Success with University Life, overseeing the Division’s student success initiatives.


Isaac Agbeshie-Noye serves George Mason as the Director of Orientation and Family Programs. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he majored in sociology. After leaving Charlottesville, Isaac earned an M.A. and is currently a doctoral candidate studying higher education administration at George Washington University.

The HBCU Enrollment Resurgence: Investigating the College Decision Making Process and Campus Experience of Black Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Anecdotal and some empirical evidence has appeared in popular higher education periodicals discussing an uptick in the enrollment of Black students attending HBCUs. The purpose of this study is to understand the critical factors responsible for the enrollment resurgence, in addition to the factors undergirding student enrollment in HBCUs in a contemporary context, which can help to retain current students and attract future students.

Robert T Palmer is Associate Professor of Higher Education at Howard University. His research examines issues of access, equity, retention, persistence, and the college experience of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly Black men as well as other student groups at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Since earning his PhD in 2007, Dr. Palmer has authored/ co-authored well over 100 academic publications. Dr. Palmer’s work has been published in leading journals in higher education, such as The Journal of College Student Development, Teachers College Record, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Journal of Negro Education, College Student Affairs Journal, Journal of College Student Retention, The Negro Educational Review, and Journal of Black Studies, among others.

Dr. Janelle L Williams is the Assistant Director for Health Policy at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a Visiting Scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. In addition, she currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Cheyney University Foundation. As a researcher and practitioner, Janelle’s scholarship examines college choice as it relates to HBCUs, the intersectionality of race and college selection, and the continued need for HBCU representation in the higher education landscape through qualitative inquiry. Her most recent work explores the factors that influence the enrollment of Black undergraduates who choose to attend HBCUs.

Intelligence Mindset and First-Year Student Success
Student success research demonstrates the value of a growth mindset with respect to one’s intelligence. This exploratory research will address the stability of mindset beliefs during the transition to and first year of college. Pilot research on our campus showed that the majority (nearly 75%) of entering students reported a growth intelligence mindset (i.e., that their intelligence is something that can be changed and improved). We believe incoming college students may be parroting what they have heard in secondary education about how they should view their own intelligence, with the result that their self-reported mindsets inaccurately reflect their actual beliefs once they have begun college. Our primary research question is how the stability of mindset beliefs relates to first-year student success.


Ryan Korstange and Tom Brinthaupt are currently writing a manuscript on the relationship between intelligence mindset and anticipated reactions to social and academic situations, based on the survey of 2017 of Scholars Academy participants. Korstange has been the academic curriculum coordinator for Middle Tennessee University’s Scholars Academy since 2016, and coordinates MTSU’s first-year seminar course. Brinthaupt has previously received external funding for research on wise interventions for incoming freshman and transfer students in psychology.
Thriving in College: A Study of Black Student Success at the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida (USF) is a unique research site for this study, as six-year graduation rates for Black students are nearly equal that of their White peers, a statistic standing in stark contrast to national graduation rates.  As such, understanding the factors and experiences that support Black students’ success at USF may be critical to other institutions seeking to facilitate educational equity. Thus, the purpose of this study is to better understand the experiences of Black students at USF through a sense of belonging framework.


Dr. Kali Morgan is a newly-minted PhD of Higher Education Administration from the University of South Florida. She has experience studying student success among underrepresented groups in higher education.

Dr. Tonisha Lane is an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs in the department of Leadership, Counseling, Adult, Career & Higher Education at the University of South Florida. She received her PhD in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education with a graduate certificate in Urban Education from Michigan State University (MSU). Dr. Lane has served in a number of administrative roles and settings including residence life, multicultural engineering programs, TRIO programs, MSU’s Neighborhood Initiative, Wayne County Community College District’s Educational Affairs and Distance Learning, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.
An Exploration of Student Success Outcomes for GRIT: UWF Summer Bridge Program
The purpose of this study is to explore the effectiveness of the GRIT summer bridge program (SBP) at improving student success outcomes. More specifically, we seek to determine if GRIT program participants earn higher first fall term GPAs and make satisfactory academic progress (retention to second fall semester with cumulative GPA of at least 2.0) at a higher rate than previous students of similar demographic profiles.

Peyton Lipscomb has a master’s degree in Higher Education from the University of North Dakota and B.S. in Economics from Mississippi State. She currently serves as the Retention Initiatives Coordinator at the University of West Florida.

Dr. Joshua Schutts has a Ph.D. in Research, Evaluation, Statistics and Assessment from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also has a master’s degree in College Student Affairs from Southern Miss. Dr. Schutts is a member of the faculty at UWF, and teaches quantitative methodologies and statistics. He has significant expertise in data modeling and the advanced statistical methods proposed in this project.
Assessing the Efficacy of a Transition and Support Program with Underrepresented and First-Generation Students
The purpose of this study is to assess a new transitional program at Missouri State University for students with historically lower persistence and graduation rates. These are underrepresented, first-generation students, and with a composite ACT of 18-23. Our research question investigates whether participation in a year-long transitional program improves student GPA and persistence to second year compared to similar students not enrolled in a transitional program.
Dr. Michele Smith is the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and an Assistant Professor for Student Affairs in Higher Education at Missouri State University.

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. 

Examples of Grantee Research

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