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Student Success: Institutional Stories - The STAR Program

Staff of Waubonsee Community College STAR Program (L to R): Paul Clennon, Melissa Forte, Cynthia Weber.

Some signs of success for Waubonsee Community College’s Student-Athletes Taking Academic Responsibility (STAR) Program are the regular visits from other colleges who seek to replicate it, and - more importantly - the accomplishments of Waubonsee’s student-athletes.

The unique program began in 1991, with a grant to further academic progress and increase the academic success for student-athletes. It became an established program as the need to provide services was recognized as crucial to the development and retention of student-athletes who manage both academics and athletics.

Eligible students must be enrolled full-time, maintain a 2.0 GPA and pass at least 12 credit hours per semester. The program has produced results that prove its services as an asset to its students: STAR athletes are 18 to 20 percent more likely to be retained fall to spring than their peers who are not involved in sports or the program. For these and other accomplishments, Waubonsee is proud to recognize the STAR Program as part of the college’s “Student Success: Institutional Stories” program.

When Nixa Del Real Robles decided she wanted to attend Waubonsee and run cross country, she said she had no idea how to go about sending her transcripts or gathering the necessary paperwork for transferring. She didn’t have to: Melissa Forte, STAR Counselor, contacted Nixa and helped her get everything done.

“The STAR program and cross country gave me motivation to keep going to school,” she said, explaining that without the program, she’d likely be working full time and only attending classes two days a week. “This has made Waubonsee enjoyable for me and I feel like I am part of the school, and not just another student.”

Today, 225 student-athletes in Waubonsee’s 13 offered sports take part in the program, the goals of which are to assist and support athletes in staying on track academically, maintaining their athletic eligibility and transferring to four-year institutions or entering their career of choice. For the 2014-2015 academic year, 86 percent of student-athletes at Waubonsee served by the STAR Program had a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.

These results come from a collaborative effort among the STAR staff of three part-time employees, and from the close professional relationships they have built with coaches to provide comprehensive mental health, academic and career counseling for student-athletes. That trio of services, as well as a study hall and tutoring requirement for athletes, makes the STAR program a one-stop shop for athletes who need specialized guidance in the areas of academics, career development and mental health.

“We are part of the recruiting process, so they are introduced to us before they even start on campus,” said Forte. She and STAR colleague Cindy Weber are experienced counselors whose skills are especially helpful in facilitating relationships between coaches and student-athletes. “Other schools have come here to see how we do this so they can try to set up something similar,” Forte said, adding that the counseling portion of Waubonsee’s program is unique. “What we can do takes the pressure off of our coaches from doing a job that they are not trained to do, and it is in the best interest of our athletes.”

Staff members said another intangible benefit of the STAR Program is that its study hall requirements build community among athletes in different sports.

“It’s a big reason why we see, for example, soccer players at volleyball matches,” Forte said. “They get to know each other and support each other in the classroom, on the field, everywhere. That helps retention because they are part of a bigger community of their peers.”