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St. Vincent support program gets $1.1M DEP grant

| Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, 10:18 p.m.
Congressman Tim Murphy talks with St. Vincent College junior Kyanna Williams, 19, of Penn Hills  and Dr. Nancy Rottler, director of the Opportunity/Act 101/ Student Support Services, before presenting the college with a $1.1 million award from the U.S. Department of Education that will enhance a five-year Student Support Services program designed to increase the retention and graduation rates of at-risk, low-income and/or first-generation college students.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Congressman Tim Murphy talks with St. Vincent College junior Kyanna Williams, 19, of Penn Hills and Dr. Nancy Rottler, director of the Opportunity/Act 101/ Student Support Services, before presenting the college with a $1.1 million award from the U.S. Department of Education that will enhance a five-year Student Support Services program designed to increase the retention and graduation rates of at-risk, low-income and/or first-generation college students.

A program at St. Vincent College to support at-risk, low-income and first-generation students got an injection of federal money Friday.

The Student Support Services program received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will fund the program for five years, officials said. St. Vincent contributes staff support to the program.

“I can understand the transition can be difficult from high school to college,” said the program's director Nancy Rottler.

The program serves 140 students a year with the goal of helping them complete college, Rottler said. It provides summer courses to incoming freshman to get them up to speed in math and English, as well as intense academic advising and help applying for financial aid.

“It's very eye-opening to be on your own,” said Zach Wisniewski, a freshman business management major from Monroeville. “(The summer classes) prepared me a lot for college.”

A first-generation college student herself, Rottler said the services offered by the program weren't around when she made the leap from Greensburg Salem High School to the main campus of Penn State University without visiting it first. She ended up transferring to the University of Pittsburgh's Johnstown campus.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, presented the check for the grant and told students from the program that their success depends on “hard work, dedication and the commitment (they) have made.”

“The federal government's made a commitment, too,” Murphy said. “You can only go so far without cash.”

The financial boost was welcomed by the Rev. Paul Taylor, executive vice president at St. Vincent.

“This resource will give us the opportunity to do even more,” Taylor said. “This helps us do what we do best, even better.”

Katherine Kohrs, a sophomore criminology and sociology major from Naples, Fla., said she went to a small high school and assumed a small college wouldn't be much different. She took the summer courses before her first semester and it helped her get acclimated.

“It opened my eyes because I wasn't aware of what hard work it was,” Kohrs said.

When she got homesick, the support team was there and became “like a second family,” she said.

Academic advisers with the program meet with students weekly about their courses, financial aid deadlines and planning what they'll take in future semesters. Advisers can arrange for tutors if a student is struggling and even help with “life problems,” students said.

“(The staff) has definitely helped mold me into the person I am now,” said Kyanna Williams, a junior biology major from Penn Hills. “It would definitely be hard to figure out what decisions to make” when it comes to scheduling classes for two majors without the program.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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