Empowering Futures takes student support to new levels

Contact: Erin Flynn and Megan Looker

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dedicated to student success and holistic well-being and bolstered by a historic and generous gift of $550 million to the WMU Foundation, Empowering Futures launched two new initiatives in spring semester—Student Success Hub and the Broncos Lead Internship Program—to give students wrap-around support as they prepare for a meaningful career and life well lived.

Personalized support when students need it most

Student Success Hub launched one year after announcing the first comprehensive student support system of its kind. The new online portal connects undergraduate students with a personalized success team tailored to their needs, from career exploration and well-being coaching to academic guidance and financial aid assistance.

"The goal is to have a system to more effectively serve our students and give them a more seamless experience while also trying to make it a more facilitated, coordinated experience for our staff behind the scenes," says Dr. Edwin Martini, vice provost for teaching and learning and dean of Merze Tate College.

The portal also facilitates alerts to students to highlight potential roadblocks to success, like academic concern forms, low grades, withdrawal from classes or a delay in course registration for the upcoming semester.

Within two months of launch, Student Success Hub has issued about 15,000 alerts, the largest number being for students that hadn’t registered for fall 2023 classes. By April, retention had increased compared to the previous academic year, particularly among first-year students from historically marginalized populations.

Student Success Hub brings together student affairs, academic affairs, Merze Tate College, Multicultural Affairs for Students, the Office of Information Technology, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Institutional Research.

"It's an incredible collaboration that is unprecedented in my 17 years at Western," Martini says.

Gaining the skills to succeed

In May, 70 WMU students reported to internships as Broncos Lead interns. The unique program, supported by the Empowering Futures Gift, funds paid internships for students to access resume-worthy, network-building experiences while also benefiting businesses in Michigan.

"We're really excited about this program and the opportunities it will create," says Andrea Page, assistant director of internships.

Page connected with employers to create internship opportunities for the program, which focuses on nonprofits, minority-owned businesses, small businesses, startup businesses and businesses with a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Students are paid $15 per hour for 20 hours per week during the 12-week program. But unlike other internship programs, they receive paychecks directly from their employer, even though the funding itself will come from Western.

"When students are employed directly by a business or organization, it's more meaningful work. They tend to work harder because they feel as though they're part of the team," Page says. "And the ability for Western to pay the employers up front is huge to some of these small businesses and nonprofits who haven't been able to host interns in the past because they simply can't afford it."

Western is ramping up the impact of its education with Broncos Lead, combining the internship experience with holistic support and academic opportunities.

"This is a complete program; it's not just about the internship itself. Students will attend pre-internship workshops and paid professional development throughout the summer, gain mentorship and create a video presentation at the end that they will be able to add to their portfolio and share with potential employers," Page says. "We're just really excited about this whole program." ■