Jairo Mendez, YES Prep Southeast Class of 2014, loves to build relationships with other YES Prep alumni. He offered tours to the incoming YES Prep alumni at Stephen F. Austin State University. Mendez hopes to create a club on campus to provide support and community-building opportunities for YES Prep alumni.
Abraham Vicuña, YES Prep East End Class of 2015, opted to attend University of Houston because of the level of support offered to him– both through scholarships available to first generation students and through programs such as the Urban Experience Program. He thinks it is important to remain connected with other YES Prep alumni at U of H because the community— built by shared experiences— can help with the difficult transition from high school to college.
Mendez and Vicuña both attend Spectra Energy Alumni Success Program institutions, schools that offer an added layer of support or programming to YES Prep alumni. Partner institutions currently include Stephen F. Austin State University, University of Houston, University of Houston-Downtown, and Blinn College’s Brenham campus.
The College Initiatives team developed the program in an effort to increase on-time graduation rates for the growing number of students attending Texas public institutions. “We identified most of the schools based upon the number of alumni already enrolled,” Jesse Carrillo, Director of Alumni Transitions, stated. “Over the last three years, approximately a third of our graduating seniors matriculated to one of the Spectra Energy Alumni Success schools; these same populations were often transferring between our partner institutions and local two-year colleges. Given these trends, there was a clear need for an added layer of support.”
The program has been funded for three years by a grant from Spectra Energy, which aims to increase college retention and graduation. “Our investment is helping students who, after working so diligently at YES Prep, need additional help to persist through college. We hope this persistence will change the trajectory of their lives, as well as have a positive impact on students’ families and communities,” stated Regan Kasman, Manager of Community Relations at Spectra Energy. “We want to build a community on these campuses,” Carrillo added. “So students recognize they aren’t alone.”
In his role, Carrillo provides three types of support to alumni at Spectra Energy Success Program schools:
- Social programming where Carrillo welcomes students to socialize at a common space on campus or at a local restaurant.
- Office hours where Carrillo works on campus, usually at an office where he wants to drive alumni traffic, such as the Urban Experience Program at University of Houston or the Student Transition and Retention office at UHD, which support students through college.
- One-on-one check-ins where Carrillo offers guidance to students or learns more about the academic, social, and financial situations that may contribute to their retention.
The colleges and universities, in turn, provide spaces, resources, and/or individuals who can be the “boots on the ground” to support YES Prep alumni. “I’m trying to host these meetings and events in their student support or affairs offices, so our alumni know that resources are available to them and that they have staff willing to meet with students.”
UHD has an official Memorandum of Understanding with YES Prep, which expands the partnership “to develop programs, projects, and activities that will address college persistence challenges for students primarily from low-income families who are also often first-generation college students.” UHD and YES Prep co-sponsored two events: the Registration Extravaganza, which promotes early student registration (to avoid poor class choices or part time statuses) and Finals Mania, which aims to reduce student stress around finals.
When asked why the Spectra Energy Alumni Success Program was important, Vicuña responded: “Making a transition from high school is hard for some students. These events keep you feeling connected through your YES Prep family. Everyone is doing different things and pursuing different degrees, but you get to share something. It’s a community of support.”
To see photos from Spectra Energy Alumni Success Program events, see the following hashtags on Instagram: