STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State's Pathfinders Program is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a regional award recognizing its involvement in the university's student residential community.
The program recently received the 2013 Southeastern Association of Housing Officers Housing and Academic Collaboration Award. The honor cited its work with the campus housing and residence life department to increase the number of freshmen continuing their education to the sophomore year.
Pathfinders began in the late 1990s as an academic performance research project by research professor and program director David McMillen and several of his graduate students, including Ty Abernathy. Their study determined that class attendance was an even better predictor of academic success than high school grades or ACT scores.
After two years as a successful research project, Pathfinders became a continuing university program to enhance the academic performance of freshmen.
Now an assistant research professor, Abernathy said the program assists freshmen in becoming personally responsible and self-directed in an environment that is academically more demanding and less regulated than high school.
"We attempt to achieve this purpose by promoting responsible class attendance, with special emphasis placed on the first six weeks of the freshman year, as this is the time most academic problems begin," he explained.
Abernathy said Pathfinders strives to reach students with attendance problems from numerous angles. At MSU, around 90 percent of freshmen live in campus residence halls.
By working with resident advisers of the housing and residence life department, the program is able to make face-to-face contact with first-year students whose class attendance may indicate academic issues. Pathfinder-trained resident advisers perform "interventions" with those missing a class four times.
The program also works closely with professors and instructors in the College of Arts and Sciences, where many freshmen take the bulk of their first- and second-semester courses.
"All of these approaches help make students feel more connected to the university, which aids in retention," Abernathy said.
Over the program's 15 years, ongoing research has shown that two out of three freshmen receiving an intervention had improved attendance by the end of the academic year. Also:
--Freshman-to-sophomore retention rates have increased from 76 percent to about 83 percent, and
--Graduation rates have increased from 50 percent to 60 percent, giving MSU the highest retention and graduation rates among Mississippi public institutions of higher learning.
Timothy Fair, Critz Residence Hall's residence director at the time of the award's presentation, said, "Many students were actually pretty thankful that someone cared enough to reach out to them in this manner,"
Fair now serves as student coordinator at MSU's Richard Holmes Cultural Diversity Center. He also is pursuing a master's degree in public policy and administration.
For more information about the program, contact Abernathy at 662-325-0595.