Summer success programs give new Penn State Lehigh Valley students a jump-start

Four students sit around a table decorating gift bags.

Penn State Lehigh Valley PaSSS students creating goodie bags during the "Bags of Comfort and Joy" volunteer event on July 12, 2021. Bags were delivered to residents of the Saucon Valley Manor senior living facility.

Credit: Penn State

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Two summer success programs — Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) and the STEM Inclusion and Innovation Program — give new Penn State Lehigh Valley students a jump-start on their college journey.

PaSSS, a program specific to Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses, gives incoming first-year students an early start on their PSU-LV experience. Students are on campus from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. one day a week for six weeks. The schedule includes two general education courses; Math Academy to prepare for college-level math courses; and co-curricular activities that cover topics such as financial literacy and budgeting, fitness and wellness, and goal setting.

This is the third year for PaSSS at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Aziza Khalil, coordinator of student success, said the program has looked a little different from year to year. "The first year, the students were totally on campus," said Khalil. "The second year, it was virtual because of COVID. This year, it is a hybrid model — students are on campus one day a week, and the rest of the week is remote-synchronous. They are on Zoom with other students for their classes and co-curricular activities, as well.”

Students also participate in a variety of virtual events with other Commonwealth Campus students, said Khalil. “There was an event on academic success. They will hear from President Eric Barron and Coach James Franklin. There is also a session coming up on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Khalil said. "Additionally, students receive guidance around developing a holistic plan for their Penn State experience, including academic planning and engagement planning.” 

PaSSS students receive engagement funds up to $1,000 in their first summer and are eligible for additional engagement dollars as they progress through their PaSSS journey.

“Opportunities for engagement funds evolve as the students grow and become second- and third-year students,” Khalil said. “Engagement funds are able to be applied for as each student learns more about themselves and defines the opportunities they would most like to pursue and best connect to their individual plan for success.

Khalil explained that engagement funds can be used toward opportunities such as an on-campus job, for example, or support for involvement in undergraduate research; or for an unpaid internship or service learning project. Students also can earn additional scholarship funds to take classes in their second or third summer at their Penn State Commonwealth Campus.

Students are invited to participate in PaSSS, said Khalil. “For PSU-LV, it would be an accepted student. We look at students who are coming to campus from our own backyard. We want to provide opportunities to students who can really benefit from getting a head-start in the summer so they can build their network early on so by the time the fall semester starts, they are comfortable and acclimated [to campus and college life],” Khalil said.

Peer mentoring is embedded into each class to give participants additional support and encouragement from fellow students. Participants who successfully complete their first year at PSU-LV will be eligible to continue the program in future summers. A main goal of the program is to help students not only graduate on time, but potentially early, said Khalil, to help reduce student loan indebtedness.

A second program, the STEM Inclusion and Innovation Program, also called STEM Inc., is a three-week noncredit program brand new to PSU-LV. It is focused on students transferring from three local community colleges — Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton Community College, and Bucks County Community College — and pursuing a STEM degree at PSU-LV. Although the program has been offered at other PSU campuses, PSU-LV is the only one offering it this summer, said Khalil, who added that the inaugural group of four students are “super excited. For many of them, it is the first time they have come to campus.” Participants must be either between their first and second years at their respective community college or finished with their two years and ready to transfer.

“It’s a great program. We put a lot of thought into making sure the different activities are geared toward things a transfer student would need,” said Alison Bonner, assistant teaching professor of mathematics and STEM Inc. program coordinator. “Students come in the morning, and they have pretty jam-packed schedules. The program will have some activities for choosing majors, setting goals. One of the professional tutors is going to talk about mathematical and scientific notetaking. It gets them thinking about where they want to transfer and the majors they might want to go into.”

Khalil said it was a “team effort” between the community colleges’ deans and network of STEM contacts and PSU-LV’s STEM program coordinators to recruit students for this opportunity. Upon full completion of the STEM program, students are eligible for a $1,500 scholarship. Additionally, students are encouraged to connect and build relationships with local STEM professionals and Penn State STEM contacts, which could potentially lead to future professional opportunities. “Students who ultimately enroll in a STEM major at PSU-LV are eligible for the scholarship support. We will also have engagement opportunities for students in this program to stay connected and keep networking with Penn State,” she said.

For more information on PaSSS, visit the website.

For more information on STEM Inc., visit the website.