Professional Learning Communities

“What would it mean for institutions to take student retention seriously? It would mean that institutions would stop tinkering at the margins of institutional life and make enhancing student retention the linchpin about which they organize their activities.”

(Tinto, 2012, p. 116) 


Western Michigan University (WMU) is committed to the success of students. We have the opportunity to be a national leader in actualizing Tinto’s vision of making student retention and success the linchpin of organizational efforts.  

Are you invested in the success of students?

Do you want to be a driver for institutional change at WMU?

The Broncos FIRST Professional Learning Community provides you an opportunity to do these things!


What is Broncos FIRST?

Broncos FIRST is funded by a grant from the United States Department of Education First in the World (FiTW) program. The objective of the FiTW program is to support the development, replication, and dissemination of innovative solutions to improve the outcomes of students who are at risk of persisting in postsecondary education.

WMU was the only grant recipient in the state of Michigan and was awarded $3.2 million to improve persistence toward graduation of low-income students at WMU. The Broncos FIRST program also has a larger aspiration of improving the success of all students through an integrated institutional transformation process. The Broncos FIRST Professional Learning Communities are the change agent in this institutional transformation process.


What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

 A PLC consists of a group of professionals who meet regularly and work collaboratively together on an action research project based on shared interest. For more information click here.

Broncos FIRST PLCs are comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, and students. These learning communities are unique in using the student voice to drive the focus of the action research projects that will be developed to drive change at WMU around student success. These communities are also supported by a postdoctoral research associate.


What Should You Expect if You Become a Broncos FIRST PLC Participant?

Each participant will be expected to…

  • Build relationships with colleagues across campus and deepen their own expertise on student persistence
  • Embrace the opportunity to interact with first year students and build relationships with them as you engage them in the conversation
  • Deepen their own expertise on student persistence by studying literature related to student persistence with their colleagues


Each participant will commit to…

  • Being an active member of the Professional Learning Community for 2 academic years (fall and spring semester of each year)
  • Attending scheduled meetings on a regular basis
    • PLC’s will meet once a week during the initial fall semester
    • PLC’s will meet every other week during the remaining semesters of commitment
    • Requesting a statement of support from your supervisor during the application window


What will Participants gain from becoming a Broncos FIRST PLC Member?

  • Stronger relationships with colleagues (faculty and staff) across campus
  • More expertise in their area of student persistence/success and a better understanding of the organizational culture of WMU
  • An opportunity to be a change agent at WMU
  • An opportunity to interact with first year students in a unique way
  • Access to a professional development (travel) stipend

 Are you interested in becoming a member? Click here for the 2017-18 Academic Year Application

2015-16 Broncos FIRST PLC Cohort 1

The first cohort of Broncos FIRST PLC members is wrapping up their two-year commitment Spring 2017! Participants spent the year planning and implementing a action research project. Look for dissemination of their work in Fall 2017!

Team #1 - Sense of Belonging
Participant Name
Division/College & Department/Unit

Eric Archer

College of Education & Human Development - Education, Leadership, Research & Technology

Andy Brown

College of Health & Human Services – Academic and Student Services

Maddy Day

Academic Affairs – Center for Fostering Success

Vun Doubblestein

Diversity & Inclusion – Division of Multicultural Affairs

Michelle Hruska

Academic Affairs – Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

James Lewis

College of Education & Human Development - Human Performance and Health Education

Kelly O’Reilly (Facilitator)

Haworth College of Business - Marketing

David Paul

College of Arts & Sciences - Philosophy

Janice Quackenbush

Student Affairs – Business Operations

Chris Robinson (Facilitator)

Haworth College of Business – Academic Advising

John Spitsbergen

College of Arts & Sciences – Biological Sciences


Team #2 - Financial Literacy
Participant Name
Division/College & Department/Unit

Raja Aravamuthan

College of Engineering & Applied Sciences – Chemical and Paper Engineering

Sue Coker

Student Affairs – Vice President’s Office

Geralyn Heystek

Haworth College of Business – Zhang Career Center

Fredah Mainah (Facilitator)

College of Arts & Sciences – Gender & Women Studies

David Nivala

Extended University Programs – Online Education

Roshona Porter (Facilitator)

Student Affairs – Residence Life


2016-17 Broncos FIRST PLC Cohort 2

The second cohort of Broncos FIRST PLC members is wrapping up their first year of participation! Participants have been spending the year building relationships with students and colleagues as they are exploring topics related to student persistence and success. The PLC Teams  will begin to hone in on topic areas of their action research projects next fall. Look for dissemination of their work in Spring 2018!

Team #1 - Brown
Participant Name
Division/College & Department/Unit
Deanna Roland College of Education & Human Development - Special Education & Litearcy Studies
Madeleine Fojtik University Relations
Ceceilia Parnther(Facilitator) Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education - Broncos FIRST
Claire Gonyo Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education - Broncos FIRST


Team #2 - Gold
Participant Name
Division/College & Department/Unit

Justin Gish

College of Health & Human Services - Center for Disability Services

Tara Gish

Extended University Programs - Online Education

Mariam Konate College of Arts & Sciences - Women & Gender Studies
Lee Penyak Haenicke Institute of Global Education - Study Abroad
Jeffrey Powless College of Education & Human Development - Rehabilitation Counseling

Kelly Reed

Student Affairs - Student Activities Leadership & Programs
Bob Stewart Haworth College of Business - Zhang Career Center
Toni Woolfork-Barnes Enrollment Management - First Year Experience