A new group of 22 African-American students who will be freshmen at West Virginia University this fall were welcomed to campus last weekend as part of the Academic STARS (Students Achieving and Reaching Success) program.
The program, sponsored through the Center for Black Culture and Research, promotes the success, retention and self-awareness of African-American students at WVU through a five-week on-campus experience.
“Every university says that it cares about retaining African-American students. Every university says that it cares about African-American students being successful on its campus. WVU is willing to invest in a program like this that tries its best to do those things,” said Marjorie Fuller, director of WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research.
WVU is one of just two universities in the country to have a STARS program. The other, Kent State University, developed the program more than 20 years ago. Fuller said that WVU and Kent State are trying to expand it to other campuses around the country.
At WVU, STARS has a cap of 25 students, but Fuller hopes it will grow to 30 within a few years. The first class of STARS was 15 members and has grown each year since.
“This program allows students to integrate better into every situation. This is about self discovery,” Fuller said. “This program could be effective anywhere, but the primary role is to help these African-American students in a predominately white environment.”
The program has retained nearly 90 percent of its students in the STARS program. A total of 3.6 percent of WVU’s students in 2011-12 were African-American. That grew 7.7 percent from the previous school year.
“These students know that WVU cares about them. They know that WVU is committed to them, and that it has invested in them,” Fuller said. “I can’t tell you how much I hope we can expand the program across the country.”
For four years, the program has helped acclimate freshman African-American students at WVU from across the country. There will now be nearly 75 alums of the program on campus in the fall. The first group of STARS students will graduate in May.
Each day, students wake up at 6 a.m. prior to a unity circle exercise at 7 a.m. The students have one class each day from 9 to 11 a.m. and a workshop for an hour following the class. The group participates in study tables from 2 to 4:30 p.m. before rites of passage activities later that night. Lights out in the residence halls is at 11:30 p.m. each night.
The types of cultural classes and workshops offered through the program vary. The STARS participants take an African-American literature class and various workshops throughout the week.
“The schedule is very regimented. This isn’t a vacation. It’s called academic boot camp for a reason,” Fuller said. “We have some STARS alums who are more involved than others and some who are closer to each other, but I’ve never had someone say that they regretted going through STARS.”
Check out this video from some former Academic STARS
Near the end of the five-week course, the group will travel to Cincinnati to experience the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and King’s Island, an amusement park in the area. The group will also have a day of Adventure WV activities later this summer.
Students can apply for the program each year by visiting the Center for Black Culture and Research website. Interested students will take part in a phone interview before the group of STARS is chosen. Students must have a 2.75 GPA in high school to apply.
“It’s been very successful in a lot of people’s eyes; specifically parents. We hear from them constantly about how much better prepared and grown up they are after this program,” Fuller said. “We want these students to strive for excellence and become leaders in the community.”
The program is fully funded through WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research within the Division of Student Affairs.
“I feel like there is a lot more awareness on campus about cultural themes, and the STARS have played a part in that,” Fuller said.
Fuller is working to develop a program that could begin in the fall that would be open to all students to help get acclimated to the WVU community.
CONTACT: Marjorie Fuller, Center for Black Culture and Research
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