Pam Powers
University Communications

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STAR Scholars gives new minority students head start on academics, leadership

Students arrived two weeks early, stay connected throughout year

Menomonie, Wis. — First-year student Juniper Anderson arrived at University of Wisconsin-Stout and didn’t even want to get out of the car. She just wanted to go home.

“I was just so worried,” said Anderson, of Monticello.

That changed as she became part of the Students Thriving in Academic Resilience — STAR — Scholars program, an academic learning community for first-year students identified as underrepresented American minorities. Students are invited to apply for STAR Scholars after being accepted to UW-Stout.

“I like that we got to come two weeks early, so we could get ready (for classes), get moved in and make friends,” Anderson said. “It gives us such a head start.”

Fall semester classes began Sept. 5 at UW-Stout.

Anderson is one of 40 students taking part in STAR, which was newly named this year. It previously was known as Stoutward Bound, now a living community for underrepresented minority students and supporters of diversity. STAR Scholars participants can choose to live in part of the fourth floor of CKTO Hall and be part of the Stoutward Bound living community.

“STAR allows students to get a jump start on their Stout experience in academics and involvement, which is why we have our scholars move in two weeks early,” said Vickie Sanchez, UW-Stout Multicultural Student Services coordinator. “During the two weeks, students attend STAR workshops to build upon their academic preparation by learning study skills, time management, note-taking and effective reading strategies. The program is designed to help students transition from high school to college.”

The academic profiles of this year’s participants range from first in their class to the lower half.

Students are encouraged to build community by supporting each other as learners; planned activities are also part of the program.

STAR Scholars participant Ashtyn Bellinger, of Belgium in east-central Wisconsin, who plans to study mechanical and manufacturing engineering, said one of his favorite parts of STAR has been participating in the challenge course on campus. “I like that everyone was bonding and getting out of their comfort zone,” Bellinger said. “You had to talk, and people made friends.”

Students can take part in training called Leadership from the Heart. They learn tools, tips and strategies to help build confidence as they pursue personal, academic and professional goals.

STAR continues the entire academic year.

Aaron Sims, of Milwaukee, majoring in entertainment design with a focus a in digital cinema, said about his leadership training weekend experience: “I learned that I may very well have the absolute versatility, confidence and undeniable strength that could guide me towards being a headstrong leader.”

STAR students take two courses together during the academic year, General Psychology in the fall and Fundamentals of Speech in the spring. Students have intentional advising from Sanchez and two peer mentors who help them stay focused on academics, provide and inform on campus resources and promote campus involvement.

Alma Oviedo, of Cecil, an undeclared major, was encouraged to take part in STAR by a friend’s mother, who told her it would help her get ready for college classes. “Everything people say about this program is true,” Oviedo said. “They genuinely want to help.”

Oviedo said when she arrived on campus to move in, she was lost and confused where to go. STAR peer mentor Nathalie Bonilla helped her find her way. “It made it a whole lot better to know someone wanted to help,” Oviedo said.

Bonilla, of Abbotsford, was a scholar last year in Stoutward Bound. “I really loved my experience,” said Bonilla, a psychology major. “It definitely helped me stay here at Stout. Throughout the school year I had my doubts if I was in the right place. Just having my other family, my friends and support helped.”

Sanchez said an academic support system helps STAR Scholars get started on their college careers and provides tools for resiliency.

Retention rates for Stoutward Bound students in 2016 were 62.1 percent, compared to 55.4 percent for all new first-year minority students. All first-year students in 2016 had a retention rate of 68.5 percent. In 2015 Stoutward Bound had a retention rate of 75 percent compared to 65.4 percent for all first-year minorities and 73.1 percent for all first-year students.

STAR has meant so much to Anderson, a studio art major, that when she went home for a weekend recently she couldn’t wait to return to UW-Stout and continue learning, she said.

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The STAR Scholars program allows students to get a jump on their UW-Stout experience in academics and involvement. /UW-Stout photos by Brett T. Roseman


STAR Scholars are encouraged to build community by supporting each other as learners; planned activities are also part of the program.