The Orientation, Transition, and Retention 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. The grant may be used to support professional development, researcher(s) stipend, and project expenses, all (100%) in support of the proposed project.

Past Recipients

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 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 orientation, transition, and retention-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 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.

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 orientation, transition, and retention 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 Adoin 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.
Perceptions of Sense of Belonging in Transfer Students

Kimberly Holmes, Ms. Adrienne D Thompson and Isaac Agbeshie-Noye George Mason University
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.

The HBCU Enrollment Resurgence: Investigating the College Decision Making Process and Campus Experience of Black Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Robert T Palmer – Howard University and Dr. Janelle L Williams the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a Visiting Scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions
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.

Intelligence Mindset and First-Year Student Success

Ryan Korstange and Tom Brinthaupt – Middle Tennessee University
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.

Thriving in College: A Study of Black Student Success at the University of South Florida

Dr. Kali Morgan and Dr. Tonisha Lane – 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.

An Exploration of Student Success Outcomes for GRIT: UWF Summer Bridge Program

Peyton Lipscomb and Dr. Joshua Schutts – University of West Florida
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.

Assessing the Efficacy of a Transition and Support Program with Underrepresented and First-Generation Students

Dr. Michele Smith – Missouri State University
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.

Christina Yao

Christina Yao is the Assistant Professor of Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a qualitative researcher who primarily studies student engagement and learning in higher education. Her research is operationalized through multiple connected topical areas including international education and teaching and learning. 

“An Exploratory Case Study on International Students’ Orientation and Transition to a Predominantly White University”
This case study will illuminate institutional factors that contribute to first year international students’ successful orientation and transition to their U.S. institution of higher education. This study is  particularly important in today’s climate due to the “anti-globalist policies of President Trump” (Patel, 2017), in which international students have expressed concerns over feeling unwelcome and fearing discrimination. Thus, it is imperative for higher education institutions and campus departments to better understand the needs and challenges facing new international students as they arrive in the United States.

Caolfionn Yenney

Caolfionn Yenney is a full-time academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMTC). She is also a Ph.D. student at the UMTC in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development. Her research interests include understanding the student experience and retention of rural students in higher education, issues of LGBTQIA+ student equity, and the professional development of new employees in higher education, specifically women.

“Social Capital and Sense of Belonging: Exploring Assigned Academic Advising as a Retention Tool for Rural Students”
The purpose of this study is to explore how rural students experience assigned academic advising as a tool to develop social capital and sense of belonging in an urban college environment and the ways these experiences influence retention.

Jianyang Mei

Jianyang Mai is a Cultural Assistant at the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative at Michigan State University (MSU). Mai is also a Doctoral Student, Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education at MSU.

“Why So Many First-Year Chinese International Students End Their First Semester on Academic Probation”
This study aims to identify the key factors in academic proficiency, institutional navigation, and socio-emotional engagement related to the poor academic performance of Chinese international students. With the findings, the research will also give recommendations on practices and interventions imperative to international student orientation programs and Chinese international student transition and retention.

Jordan Holliday-Millard & Emily Wheeler

Jordan Holliday-Millard and Emily Wheeler both work in New Student and Family Services and the University of North Carolina Charlotte where Emily serves as the Director of the office while Jordan serves as the Assistant Director.

“Comparing the Effect of Orientation Programming’s Delivery on First-Year First-Generation Students’ Involvement, Engagement, and Connection to the University”
This study seeks to compare the experience and impact of our traditional paid two-day, overnight and free one-day sessions on the success of first-year first-generation students at UNC Charlotte. Through this study, we intend to develop best practices for first-year first-generation orientation that can contribute to student success, with suggestions for incorporation into existing programming.

Hongwei Yu

Hongwei Yu works as a Research Associate at The Center for Community College Student Engagement. His work centers on survey validation, web-based reporting, and descriptive and multivariate analysis of survey data.

“Exploring Factors Associated with Transfer Students’ STEM Baccalaureate Completion”
Using data from Beginning Postsecondary Students. Longitudinal Study and hierarchical multinomial logit model, the proposed study will identify critical factors associated with STEM major community college transfer students’ probability of baccalaureate completion. Research findings will provide useful information on how to help these students complete a STEM baccalaureate and inform educational interventions and policymaking.

Kathryn Coquemont

Kathryn Coquemont is the Director of New Student and Family Programs and also a Ph.D. candidate, Educational Leadership and Policy and at the University of Utah.

“Southeast Asian American College Student Success & Retention”
Because of both the model minority myth and the lack of ethnicity-specific information, Southeast Asian American students are an underserved population regarding retention efforts on college campuses. The investigation addresses existing understandings of Asian American college students and the subsequent calls for ethnicity-level empirical research, particularly within Southeast Asian American communities.

Elizabeth Dorrance Hall and Kristina M. Scharp, Utah State University

Study Title: “Parental Influence on Emerging Adults’ Transition to College: Toward a Family Intervention to Support Student Retention”

Executive Summary: This study explores how to help parents better support their children during their transition to college and throughout their education. In this dyadic, longitudinal research study, students and parents will be surveyed and their responses linked to student outcomes (e.g, retention or GPA). Student risk and protective factors will be assessed the spring before students enter college and during their first year, utilizing student surveys, including several scales measuring academic self-efficacy and stress, family communication patterns, social support, resilience, interpersonal skills, perceptions of the transition to college, helicopter parenting, relational uncertainty, and study skills. Parents will also be surveyed, and the resulting data we allow to develop a theoretically grounded intervention for parents attending summer orientation. This study may be of interest to University orientation professionals and parents of transitioning students.

Sara Connolly, University of Brigeport

Study Title: “The Relationship Self-Efficacy, Social Isolation, Rejection Sensitivity, College Adjustment and Retention”

Executive Summary: The prevalence of experienced social isolation has not been widely studied. Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between social isolation, rejection sensitivity, self-efficacy, college adjustment and freshmen retention variables, as well as GPA, in a first-year college population. This project will be of interest to higher education faculty and administrators, as well as social, clinical and educational psychologists. All incoming first-year students at a single institution will participate in the study by completing the College Self-Efficacy Inventory (CSEI), the UCLA social isolation scale, the Rejection Sensitivity Scale and the College Adjustment Test (CAT), as well as a demographic questionnaire. Data will be analyzed to compare differences between several time points, and the interrelationship between the scales with GPA and retention will be examined.

Carrie Miller, University of California, Los Angeles

Study Title: “Families’ Experiences of the College Application, Enrollment, and Attendance Processes”

Executive Summary: Educational attainment is a critical factor of upward mobility. This study seeks to provide insights into how families’ social class and racial backgrounds shape how students apply to college and navigate the transition from high school through the first year of college. Specifically, this study uses a longitudinal design and data collected from socioeconomically and racially diverse student and parent participants from white, Latino, and African American families with college-intending high school seniors. During the 2016-2017 academic year, two high school student interviews and one interview following the first semester of college will be conducted in order to capture change over time, detailed demographic data, and neighborhood and school context. The study uses four semi-structured interview protocols, two eligibility-screening surveys, field notes, and California Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau data. The research would be of interest to orientation, transition, and retention staff.

Maximilian Schuster, University of Pittsburgh

Study Title: “Exploring First-Year Student Transition Through Organizational Culture”

Executive Summary: The purpose of this research is to explore first-year student transition through the lens of organizational culture to understand the phenomenological process of transition as a psychological adjustment and its variations based on gender, race, and first-generation status. This qualitative research study is designed to identify the vehicles through which undergraduate students make meaning of their experiences with institutional culture during their initial transition to higher education. Participant sample consists of first-year and second-year students from a single institution who will be interviewed on themes related to peer engagement through friendship groups and student groups; faculty and academic experiences; interactions with institutional rituals and events; skills necessary to successful transition; and other topics. Interpretative thematic strategies will guide data analysis for this research study. This study aims to foster the cultivation of targeted programs and services for successful student transition.

Maureen Wilson, Bowling Green State University

Study Title: “Behavioral Norms of Orientation, Transition, and Retention Professionals”

Executive Summary: The purpose of this study is to understand if there is a normative structure for the administrative role performance of orientation, transition, and retention (OTR) professionals. Two research questions will address the existence of such normative structure and whether the structure differs across demographic characteristics (gender identity, race, education level, professional role, years of experience, or institutional type). The researchers will develop a web-based survey instrument and then ask experts in OTR to review it for content and clarity. To construct items for the OTR survey, the researcher will consult documents such as the NODA ethical standards, CAS standards for OTR, and other relevant documents. All NODA members will be invited to participate in the study. This research will be of interest to OTR professionals and the professional organizations that serve them.

Patty Witkowsky, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Study Title: “Influence of Bilingual Parent and Family Member Orientation Programs on Sense of Belonging and Parental Involvement in Higher Education”

Executive Summary: While Latino students’ access to higher education has increased through the presence of Hispanic Serving Institutions, student achievement continues to be a concern. Latino students particularly rely on parental support regarding their pursuit of higher education, yet involvement of parents and family members in their students’ college career can be limited when language presents a barrier. The purpose of this study is to explore how the participation of Spanish-speaking parents and family members in a Spanish-speaking Parent and Family Member Orientation (PFMO) bilingual program influences the family members’ involvement and sense of belonging at the institution. Parents, guardians, and family members over the age of 18 at a Spanish-speaking PFMO program will be invited to participate in an open-ended survey, providing data for a qualitative case study. Findings from the study may help inform the development, enhancement, and implementation of bilingual parent and family orientation programs at institutions across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Timothy Bono, Washington University in St. Louis

Executive Summary: Although the freshman transition has received much attention in the student development literature, many questions remain about its reverberations through the later years of college, especially for students from underrepresented minority backgrounds. By examining the academic performance and psychological well-being of upperclassmen who completed weekly web-based diaries during their first semester of college, this mixed methods research aims to provide greater insight into the consequences of the freshman transition, and its relationship to progress and adjustment through the remaining years. Results should benefit educators interested in the impact of the freshman transition on important educational outcomes beyond the first year, especially for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Stephanie Foote, Kennesaw State University

Executive Summary: The purpose of this research is to determine the extent to which participation in a transfer student seminar influences students’ perceptions of development in academic and career exploration, planning, and engagement. Transfer student seminar instructors at the three institutions in this pilot study: Kennesaw State University (KSU), University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), and the University of Tennessee – Knoxville (UTK) will use a common student survey and rubric to evaluate student perceptions before and after participation in each of the seminars. Because there is a paucity of research on outcomes associated with transfer student seminars, this pilot study would fill an important gap in the existing research.

Casandra Harper, University of Missouri

Executive Summary: The purpose of this intrinsic case study (Stake, 2005) is to understand the peer-mentorship orientation program among parents and families within one institutional context. We seek to understand the ways in which this program offers sources of support and adjustment for participants, which by extension also serves their first-year students.

Cara D. Appel-Silbaugh, Georgia Institute of Technology

Executive Summary: The purpose of this study is to understand the culture of orientation leaders at a large, public, research institution. Specifically, the Research Team is interested in how this culture is understood by underrepresented students in the population. As will be clarified further in this proposal, taking part in orientation as a student leader is a significant and meaningful experience for student development and learning. However, at the research site there is an identifiable gap in the participation of underrepresented students. To better understand the culture of these student leaders and better engage underrepresented students this study will be guided by the following research question: How do community members describe and define the culture of orientation leaders?

Victoria Svoboda, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

Executive Summary: The purpose of this research project is to explore student experiences of the common retention practice of “early alert” interventions with students of color at predominately White campuses. Multicultural student services (MSS) staff often use mi

dterm grades or faculty notices to identify “at-risk” students. They may outreach to students through phone calls, texts, emails, or letters to help connect them to campus resources. At some campuses, this “early alert” practice is done for all students, and at others, it is done just for those groups of students who are deemed “at risk” (students on probation, students of color at predominantly White institutions, low-income students, etc.). This project aims to identify how undergraduate students of color experience those interventions.

Mary Utter, University of Pittsburgh

Executive Summary: The transfer function is a critical component of higher education and has garnered more attention by scholars and policymakers as the number of students transferring institutions has increased (Adelman, 2006). As this population grows, there are questions that the higher education community must consider such as: what is the role of the sending and receiving institution in facilitating successful transfer and promoting student success, how do the experiences of transfer students vary from native students and what programs and services are needed to support this population. Current research on transfer student success has centered predominantly on the vertical (two to four-year) transfer student experience and has not given consideration for the diversity within the transfer population, which may influence the student experience. This current research, examines transfer student social integration by exploring how type of transfer and previous collegiate experience influences student’s perception of successful social integration. Doing so will help to explore how vertical and lateral (four-to-four year) transfer student populations are unique in their social integration experiences. The findings will be influential to our understanding of how institutions can support student success for these populations.