Empowering Futures already making impact on student success

Contact: Paula M. Davis

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Almost a year to the day since Western Michigan University President Edward Montgomery toured the state to announce the first scholarships and student-centered support programs funded through the $550 million Empowering Futures Gift, the implementation team met to mark the initiatives’ progress and to continue developing and ramping up those transformative efforts.  

“The Empowering Futures Gift represents an unprecedented investment and commitment to this campus. It is a commitment born out of the donors’ belief in the power of education to improve the condition of our communities and society,” Montgomery says.

“It's about the power of education to generate social mobility; the power of education to change the condition of people's lives.”

Through the Empowering Futures support and programming, the University is committed to creating pipelines for success, pathways to graduation, increasing retention and improving resilience for all students.

Among outcomes to date:

(left to right) Dr. Candy McCorkle, vice president for diversity and inclusion; Tony Proudfoot, vice president for marketing and strategic communications; and Kristen DeVries, vice president for advancement and executive director of the WMU Foundation, participated in a panel discussion about Empowering Futures.

  • This fall, the University awarded 406 Bronco Promise scholarships, which provide a tuition-free education for up to five years for eligible first-year students. The scholarship, supported by Empowering Futures and WMU institutional aid, removes the economic barrier that makes college inaccessible for so many. The first recipients joined WMU in this fall semester.
  • Nearly 50 students, first year and transfer, received an Empowering Futures Housing Scholarship.
  • Western partnered with Uwill, a service that provides free access to teletherapy 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year. The new resource is available to all enrolled WMU students.
  • The Navigator Program, including 11 recently hired navigators, is positively influencing student persistence and providing 360 degree support. 
  • The Paid Internship Program is on track to facilitate high-quality experiential learning opportunities, with recruiting starting in the spring 2023 semester.
  • The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics established the Broncos EmPOWERED Program, which has three main areas of focus—empowering student-athlete holistic development, empowering alumni and community and empowering coaches and staff. The program is led by Julian Jones, the division's first-ever senior associate athletic director for Broncos Empowered and Championship Culture. The program recently hosted its first career fair

“We are making strong strides toward our donors' vision and our shared commitment to student success,” Montgomery says.

A transformational web of support

On Dec. 7, the Empowering Futures campus champions met to kick off efforts to continue advancing and refining initiatives. 

“We've been given a great opportunity to transform our campus and to transform the educational experience. And that's what you've already started to do,” Montgomery told this gathering of about 60 staff and administrators from academic affairs, student affairs and other University divisions. The team is composed of several vice presidents, a steering committee and eight work groups. 

The Empowering Futures initiatives they have implemented thus far consist of the Bronco Promise, Empowering Futures Housing Scholarship, Bronco Connect Living Learning Community, Graduation Scholarships, Navigator Program, Paid Internship Program, Salesforce Student Success Hub and Uwill, a 24/7 year-round teletherapy resource.

Dr. Charles Cotton, associate vice president for enrollment management, introduces the Bronco Promise Work Group at the kickoff breakfast. Cotton also serves as a member of the Empowering Futures Steering Committee.

“These are all part of an interconnected web,” the president said. “They knit together a safety net of access and support for our students not just today but for future generations to come.”

Empowering Futures initiatives work together as an integrated strategy to support students, because “it’s not enough just to bring students to campus,” says Dr. Charles Cotton, associate vice president for enrollment management and member of the Steering Committee. 

“Our commitment is to make sure they get through to experience the full promise of a Western education and graduate into meaningful careers.”

Especially for first-generation college students, how to successfully navigate the University experience isn’t necessarily obvious. So, part of the “web of support” is a Navigator Program. 

Through it, trained specialists, known as student success navigators, come alongside first-year students as their “go-to” person, helping students take full advantage of what Western has to offer. The program is designed provide the right help to students at the right time. Navigators are also part of ongoing efforts to personally connect with students to identify and address barriers that may prevent them from successfully transitioning from one semester to the next.  

“The Navigator Program is about helping connect our students with the resources that are on this campus to make this large University feel small,” the president says. 

Juliana Smith, first-year student, is a resident in the Bronco Connect Living Learning Community.

In service to student persistence and achievement, building community and a sense of belonging are key features of not only the Navigator Program but other Empowering Futures initiatives and University student support efforts more broadly.

Heading into their first year at Western this fall, Juliana Smith’s biggest concern was whether they could successfully forge friendships among the thousands of students that attend the University. Would they find their fit?

Smith, who lives on campus in the Bronco Connect Living Learning Community (LLC), found that and more. 

"The Bronco Connect LLC has helped me build meaningful relationships with those around me,” says the computer science major from Battle Creek, Michigan, who is among the nearly 50 Empowering Futures Housing Scholarship recipients. 

The scholarship reduces room and board costs for qualified students for their first years on campus. Recipients live with their Bronco Connect cohort, which has a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and is designed to provide students a strong start to college by creating belonging and providing enhanced career exploration, community engagement, study skills and campus life.

“My favorite part of the Bronco Connect LLC is the fact that I know pretty much everyone in my (residence) hall,” Smith says. “It really feels like a home rather than a place I live at for a semester. At home I'm used to eating dinner with my family, and it's nice that I can continue that practice with members of my community.”

Andrea Page, assistant director of internships, joined the University's new Paid Internship Program.

The web of support Empowering Futures is building for Smith and all students also extends beyond campus, preparing them for post-graduation success. A Paid Internship Program now under development is on track to facilitate high-quality, paid experiential-learning opportunities for students this coming semester. A quality education is a vital start for students to become career-ready, and experiential learning provides students a leg up in securing their first job and helps them thrive after graduation.

This program also addresses the financial barrier unpaid internships pose for some, enabling students to secure resume-worthy, network-building experience while receiving the funds to continue their education. 

"I've been busy networking and engaging with business leaders throughout the Kalamazoo area,” says Andrea Page, assistant director for internships, adding that she’s “excited to be a bridge, a connector and an activator between our students and the community.”

Empowering Futures Work Groups

  • Bronco Promise Work Group
  • Bronco Connect Work Group
  • Navigator Work Group
  • Salesforce Student Success Hub Work Group
  • Paid Internship Program Work Group
  • Mental Health and Well-being Work Group
  • Retention Work Group
  • Assessment Work Group

To learn more, visit the Empowering Futures webpage.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.