Marty O’Dea, business administration-management major from Whitewood
Jara Decker, sociology and human services major from Belle Fourche
Joel Burch, general studies major from Indianapolis, Ind.
Among the 200 graduates at the Black Hills State University Fall Commencement were 14 students participating in a program that has shown impressive graduation rates, far surpassing expectations.
Students in the Student Support Services Program (SSS) at Black Hills State University are meeting and exceeding graduation rates and academic objectives, as outlined in a recent report submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
The SSS program at BHSU received a perfect score on the performance report which included data that nearly 90 percent of students involved in the program are in good academic standing and 85 percent of students served through the program persist from one academic year to the next.
Most impressive, however, are the graduation rates of SSS students. In this most recent report submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education, the graduation rate was nearly 20 percentage points higher than the program objectives that were set for the BHSU program.
Student Support Services (SSS) is one of seven federal TRiO programs, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education, to help students stay in college until they earn their baccalaureate degrees. Students qualify for the academic, financial, and other services provided through SSS if they are low income, a first generation college student, or have a documented disability. BHSU received a grant of $287,459 to provide SSS services.
BHSU serves 200 students annually through the SSS Program. Each student is assigned an SSS advisor, their go-to for registering for classes, problem-solving, federal student aid applications, and much more.
Susan Hupp, director of SSS at BHSU, says the report shows the strong commitment of the SSS staff to the students with whom they work.
Whether helping students pick a major, providing tutoring in a difficult subject, or simply being available to listen and strategize ways to overcome problems, SSS is focused on helping students obtain their degrees.
Marty O’Dea, business administration-management major from Whitewood, said it’s the open door policy at SSS that helped him through college.
“More than anything, I found there was always someone present at SSS if I had any sort of trouble or a problem,” said O’Dea. “SSS has been a huge benefit to me, between the tutors and the advice they provided, without them I don’t think I’d have made it over the hurdle to a degree.”
When he graduated from BHSU last week, at age 58, it was the first time O’Dea wore a cap and gown. He dropped out of high school in the tenth grade, and says he always wanted to fix that and make it right.
O’Dea eventually obtained his GED in 1984. He says his involvements in various community organizations inspired him to pursue his degree so he could have a better understanding about how the organizations were run.
O’Dea serves on the Board of Directors for Simply Service Federal Credit Union based in Belle Fourche and Sturgis. He was self-employed for 20 years working in farming, ranching and contracting. He also worked as a building inspector in Whitewood.
Hupp says O’Dea had definite ideas in mind of what he wanted to gain from his college experience.
“He also recognized that it had been a long time since he was enrolled in formal classes and he wanted to have a support system set up so that he would not miss a step,” said Hupp.
Returning to school as a non-traditional student can have its challenges. O’Dea says he found mentors in SSS who were vital to this success.
Jara Decker, sociology and human services major from Belle Fourche, joined the military after high school. When she enrolled at BHSU in 2013 she had several semesters of college credit.
Hupp said Decker completed a double major, double minor, and a certificate in just three and a half years at BHSU.
“As a veteran, Jara brought a high level of maturity to her college experience. She spent considerable time with her SSS advisor in selecting a graduate program,” said Hupp. “She will bring her warm presence, skills, and education to her future work with children as a school counselor.”
Decker also mastered her study skills with help from SSS and utilized tutors as needed.
“One of the best things about SSS is their main focus is the students. My SSS advisor was great about connecting me with different services I needed,” said Decker.
Another SSS graduate this December was Joseph “Joel” Burch, general studies major from Indianapolis, Ind. Burch initially found BHSU while searching for a college online.
Hupp says Burch was interested in a variety of subjects upon enrolling at BHSU, but was unsure how to narrow down his program of study to one major.
Peggy Madrid, Burch’s SSS advisor, presented him with the option of the Bachelor of General Studies degree that would allow him to select three areas of his greatest interest and decide on his career path through the Capstone class.
“The SSS Program helped me with registration for classes each semester, advising, and I used the book loan program they provide to help financially,” said Burch. “SSS helped me keep on the path of graduation and moving forward.”