Academic Stories

No Barriers to Student Success

Last year, the Center for College Student Success (CCSS) opened its doors in Harper Memorial Library, welcoming students as an affirmation of the College's commitment to support underrepresented students on campus. The office stemmed from the College’s desire to expand the resources of the Chicago Academic Achievement Program (CAAP). It was also created in response to student activists and RSOs like the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance requesting institutional support for students who might feel out of place on campus.

The creation of CCSS comes in conjunction with the College’s No Barriers initiative, a program that supports access to the College for low-income, first-generation, and undocumented students. The initiative offers loan-free financial aid, subsidized internship opportunities, a career exploration program, and lifelong career support.

“After they announced No Barriers, to provide any student with financial need grants instead of loans, [it] seemed like the perfect opportunity to fully flesh out the idea of this office, to create this welcoming place and hub for advising and support,” said CCSS Director Devon Moore.

CCSS focuses on addressing the challenges that undocumented students, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation college students can face. Moore said that these obstacles often include everything from very real financial barriers, to feeling unprepared, to not being able to access the same opportunities as students from other backgrounds.

“We want to make sure that once [students are] on campus that they continue to feel welcome, they have a good support network, and they have communities, and have different resources that they want to access as well,” she added.

CCSS consists of six advisers who specialize in the resources that are typically useful to students from low-income backgrounds. In addition, CCSS offers a workshops on various topics like managing stress, studying abroad on a budget, and getting the best recommendation letters from professors. 

All interested students are encouraged to attend, but Jacqueline Gaines, a CCSS advisor who helps develop CCSS workshops, said that "we think that the topics that would be particularly relevant” for students from low income backgrounds.

Additionally, CCSS offers plenty of opportunities for students to get together and share their experiences, including discussion groups, study breaks, and the Thursday Tea Chat series, which started this year.

 A bulletin board, featuring a calendar various events and activities, a computer and printer, and a gray couch in a white walled room Photo By: Zola Yi 

The physical space of the CCSS office compliments their programming and works to create a sense of community among students. Located on the fourth floor of Harper Memorial Library’s West Tower, the office suite is a welcoming space, filled with comfortable furniture for hanging out as well as quiet spaces for studying. The proximity of advisers’ offices creates an environment where students feel comfortable just popping in to ask a quick question. CCSS also offers free printing services for students, a laptop lending program, and a lending library that allows students to borrow textbooks for Core classes, biology textbooks, professional test preparation materials, and more. 

Third year Kyle Wickham works at CCSS as a student coordinator and said that the office is “something that you can't find elsewhere on campus for these types of students.”

Allan Lake, a second year Computer Science major, agreed. "I think it's a good space for incoming students to kind of figure out, and kind of navigate through college. It's also a good space for people who are just looking for support."

"I'm here almost everyday," he added.

In addition to the other services and amenities, the CCSS offers a variety of mentoring programs. It maintains a First Generation Faculty Directory, and encourages students to reach out to faculty who have self-identified as first generation students in college. “They put themselves out there, saying ‘Hey, want to talk to me about anything, feel free to reach out,’” said Moore.

CCSS doesn’t just connect students with professors, though; two different mentoring programs bring together students as well. Its newest program, the Maroon Mentors, allows current students to mentor each other, while its ongoing First-Generation Alumni mentoring program connects students with alumni.

Wickham works with both programs and helped develop Maroon Mentors.“The program is designed to allow first years to have a unique and valuable opportunity to connect with an upper-classman who can help guide them through their time here,” he said. He added that he’ll often see mentoring pairs having coffee or just hanging out. 

A triptych bulletin board advertising the Center for College Student Success, the advisers in the office, and their upcoming eventsPhoto By: Zola Yi

“So far the program has been great,” said fourth year and Maroon Mentor Natalia Delery. As a paid opportunity, she said that the program has allowed her to dedicate more time to mentoring. Natalie also appreciates the chances to connect with other Maroon Mentors and that the program has a supervisor for her to rely on. “I have been grateful for my supervisor,” she said. “since they are able to help me with more sensitive topics regarding my mentees”

First year Nivedina Sarma said that she jumped at the chance to join the Maroon Mentors program. “So far the time I have spent with my mentor and with members of the mentor family have been some of my best times this school year,” she said.

Her mentor, second year May Malone, echoed this sentiment. “My mentees have shown a great deal of appreciation for the program, but they also inspire me in their own way,” she said. “I think the program has also helped mentees become more aware of deeply helpful resources across campus.”

The First-Gen Alumni mentoring program has been helpful for fourth year students preparing to leave the College for the “real world.” Wickham said that the program opens to door for students to ask “all these questions that [they] have, but may not the have people to go to get that information.”

After a strong first year, CCSS is looking for feedback on ways that it can better serve students in the College. “We really just want to continue to hear from students and continue to have good conversations,” said Moore. “I think that there’ll be a lot more to come.”