Candace Boeninger and Greg Lester are two Ohio University staff members who play key roles in OHIO’s Summer Transition Program.

Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing


Sarah Poggione and Jerry Miller are two Ohio University faculty members who have taught classes in OHIO’s Summer Transition Program.

Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing

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Faculty, staff behind summer program give incoming students a fresh start and a head start

This is the first article in Compass' new "Making the Difference" series, highlighting the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.

It was the encouragement and guidance he received from his high school teachers that led Jerry Miller to a career in higher education and part of the reason Miller is participating in a program that is making a difference in the lives of some Ohio University Bobcats.

An associate professor in the School of Communication Studies, Miller has been educating OHIO students for the past 16 years. This past summer he took on a new role – teaching COMS 1010 in the University's Summer Transition Program (STP).

Spearheaded by Undergraduate Admissions and University College, STP gives a limited number of at-risk students who have demonstrated through application materials compelling evidence that they are likely to succeed the opportunity to earn their full enrollment into the University.

"STP is a classic bridge program," explained Candace Boeninger, assistant vice provost for enrollment management and director of undergraduate admissions. "Its goal is to allow the University to support a population of students who appear to be at risk for success at Ohio University and at the same time also very likely to succeed here.

"We wouldn't admit a student if we didn't believe he or she would be successful here," Boeninger said, adding that her office seeks out pathways to enrollment for students who aren't immediately admitted to OHIO – either through the University's regional campuses, its partnerships with community colleges, or, in a limited number of situations, STP. "The whole premise of the Summer Transition Program is that these students will demonstrate their ability to be successful at Ohio University through STP and will earn a spot in the freshman class and have all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of a first-year student."

Students invited to participate in STP spend a six-week summer semester on the Athens Campus and enroll in 12 hours of classes that are specifically selected for them. The classes selected for STP meet Tier 1 English composition, Tier 2 Humanities and Literature and Tier 2 Social Science requirements. The students must pass all of the classes, earn at least a 2.33 GPA overall and have no judicial violations in order to successfully complete STP and be fully admitted to the University for fall semester.

The program also includes intensive academic support services that are available to the students five nights a week for two hours each night. STP students are required to attend at least six hours of study sessions per week.

Miller decided to teach in STP for a number of reasons.

"I recognize the challenges that some students face in going to college," Miller, a first-generation college student, said. "Neither of my parents finished high school. College wasn't even really a part of our conversations. … But I had some teachers in high school who recognized something in me, and they introduced me to a speech and debate coach at a community college, so that was my entrance into higher education.

"I recognize that there are a variety of reasons why high school students aren't necessarily prepared for college. Most instances, I would say, have nothing to do with intellect or ability, it's just exposure and opportunity, and so for a personal reason that's why I wanted to get involved with STP."

It is that personal experience combined with a passion for the subject matter he teaches that has helped make STP at OHIO so successful.

Established in the mid-2000s, approximately 220 students have participated in STP since the summer of 2007. The program's success rate has consistently been in the over 90 percent range. In 2012, 97.5 percent of the STP participants successfully completed the program and were fully admitted to OHIO. This past summer, the program had a success rate of 90.1 percent.

"The goal of this program is to help students become Bobcats. That's it," said Greg Lester, assistant dean for student services with University College. "We're offering opportunities that these students wouldn't otherwise have. There are 50 students here this term who wouldn't be here if not for STP."

STP graduates credit their success not only to the program but to the dedicated faculty and staff behind this intense summer experience.

"(STP) changed my life because without it I know I wouldn't be doing as well as I am now," said Alysha, who successfully completed the program this past summer. "The staff and faculty were super nice. They were there for us and only wanted us to do our best. … They had high expectations but helped us achieve our goals."

OHIO employees throughout the Athens Campus contribute to the STP experience, making it a truly collaborative effort.

The University's admissions advisors recommend students for the program while the staff at University College develop the coursework and recruit faculty to teach the classes. Staff in the financial aid, bursar, registrar and housing offices ensure that STP students' needs are met on day one of the program while Bobcat Student Orientation employees provide a one-day orientation for STP students, helping them make the quick transition to college.

At the heart of the program are the faculty members who agree to teach in this program that has so much at stake for the families it serves.

"The dedication to student success for faculty in STP or otherwise is paramount," said Lester. "If you don't have faculty who are as engaged as the students are, then it's going to be a challenge. Fortunately, Ohio University is blessed with a really great faculty, and we get top-notch faculty for STP."

Lester's role in STP is arranging class schedules and faculty to teach those classes as well as developing the academic support sessions.

The rigors of STP can be challenging for both the students in the program and the faculty teaching the courses. That was especially true the summer of 2012 when OHIO was transitioning from quarters to semesters and the six-week STP had to be condensed into four weeks.

According to Lester, one of the STP groups that summer literally had no time built into its schedule for lunch. The STP faculty, however, made it work, allowing students to grab something quick and eat while in class.

"That spirit is really well represented across STP instructors," Lester said.

One of the faculty members who had her first STP experience that summer is Sarah Poggione, an associate professor of political science who has taught in STP the past two summers.

Poggione will admit that her first summer in STP was challenging, but she's quick to add, "The STP students really all saw this as a real opportunity to get something they wanted, and being able to help them and be a part of that hooked me on the program. I was happy to do it again this past summer, and I will be happy to participate in this program as long as they need and want me to."

Poggione said she enjoys being a part of the opportunity STP gives to its students.

"It's just a really rewarding set of students to work with since they really are at the very beginning of their college careers and there's all this possibility out there in front of them," she said. "A lot of them have overcome various challenges that may be part of why they didn't get an immediate full admission to the University, so they're students who are working very hard."

When asked how she feels about making a difference in these students' lives, Poggione said, "I think there's probably lots of ways that faculty make a difference that we don't necessarily know about. … but when you see former STP students on campus, you know you've been a part of helping them get something they really wanted. That's really exciting because you know you're making a difference by their very presence here."

STP helps students not only transition from high school to college but in many cases allows the students to form their first relationships with OHIO faculty.

"I would say that there are several STP students I've been in contact with since last summer's program ended," Miller said. "I told the students that they may not connect with every professor but hopefully they'll be able to connect with some who will become their mentors. … I want every college student to at least have someone, at least one professor, with whom they can develop a rapport that goes beyond the typical classroom relationship."

"STP was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me," said Madeline Stecz, who participated in the program in 2012.

Stecz will admit that being invited into the program was bittersweet. She knew she wanted to attend OHIO the minute she stepped onto the Athens Campus to visit her older brother, and knowing that she would have to sacrifice her last summer at home with her high school friends to participate in STP was difficult.

Today, Stecz is a sophomore at OHIO majoring in sociology.

"(STP) helped me get into such a wonderful school," she said. "I've made some of the best friends I know I will have for life, and overall it helped me be a better college student. I learned how to balance my hectic college life, having time for homework, sleep, staying fit and recreational activities. I did really well my freshman year, and if I hadn't done this program, I would not be here now."

And the difference STP and the faculty and staff behind it has made in these students' lives isn't likely to stop.

Poggione said she knows of at least a few STP graduates who have expressed interest in becoming resident assistants, tutors and peer mentors, and she wouldn't be surprised if many of them go on to leadership positions at OHIO.

"These students have really sort of taken all the resources and all the energies and all the efforts that faculty and staff of this program put into it, and they want to give back to the University," she said. "I think they realize that people are making these efforts on their behalf, and they really feel compelled, many of them, to figure out ways that they can help other students." 

UCM seeks nominations for 'Making the difference' series

The Ohio University community is home to a family of staff and faculty committed to inspired teaching and learning and driven by a desire to make a difference.

University Communications and Marketing (UCM) is launching a new Compass series, "Making the Difference." The series will focus on OHIO staff and faculty who are making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the word.

UCM is calling on Bobcat Nation to help us share the stories of the numerous ways in which OHIO staff and faculty are making a difference every day. If you know of an individual or group of individuals who would be ideal candidates for this series, please contact Angela Woodward at