Succeed You and Avenue Scholars Partnership: A Breakthrough Models Academy Design Meets the Real World

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by Dr. Christine Pharr, College of Saint Mary

If you want to attend a workshop that will keep you on the edge of your seat and challenge much of what you’ve ever believed about how to deliver higher education, you should attend NGLC’s Breakthrough Models Academy, hosted by EDUCAUSE.  This past year an array of institutional leaders and innovators came together to learn about new educational deliveries that are efficient, effective and different than anything we’ve seen before.  Then we were split into teams of four that were to construct our own Breakthrough Model that would address a current educational problem through a new, creative approach.  For most of us this wasn’t easy, as ingrained as we are in the traditions of higher education, and yet eventually all teams came up with something that fit the bill. 

My team, Team 3, included Dr. Jean Runyon of Anne Arundel Community College, Dr. Scott Hamm of Abilene Christian University, and James Lipnicky of Miami University. We proposed a model called Succeed You, which is a cost-effective program designed to address the needs of underprepared high school students in math, reading, writing, and college skills. Delivered via mobile technology (where high school students spend much of their time), this application approaches remediation using customized, competency-based programs of study. Additional components of the application are an “AskUsNow” support system and a goal tracker, both of which will provide feedback on student progress and offer assistance 24/7 through volunteer success coaches. 

Following completion of the Breakthrough Models competition in Anaheim last October (during the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference), we each returned home to consider what, if anything, might come next.  I was lucky enough to have a president at my institution, the College of Saint Mary, who found the project so interesting that she suggested that I meet with the director of the Avenue Scholars Foundation here in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Avenue Scholars works exclusively with high school juniors and seniors who have less than a 2.5 GPA, but who have been identified as having the potential and hope necessary to be successful.  This program has been extremely successful in assisting high risk students in graduating from high school---but most, if they continue to college, place into developmental courses for one to two years.  My conversations with the director of the Avenue Scholars Program piqued his interest enough that in early January the foundation paid for the Succeed Youteam to fly to Omaha and discuss with Avenue Scholars staff how our breakthrough model might augment or enhance the great successes that they are currently experiencing. 

For an evening and a day we met, discussed our programs and considered options for partnership.   NGLC program officer Nancy Millichap joined us and explained that conversations like this, considering partnerships between K-12 and higher education to promote increased success for students, were just the kinds of consequences the Academy’s planners had hoped to see. 

The outcome of these conversations is that the Succeed You Team and Avenue Scholars staff will submit a planning grant application to the Avenue Scholars Foundation that would fund determination of the architecture of a mobile applicationthat would contain the following components:

A. A Critical thinking (CT) and Problems Solving (PS) Skills and Strategies component

B. Applications of CT and PS skills to individualized, competency-based math remediation

C. An “AskUsNow” component that would allow student to receive assistance and encouragement from qualified volunteers in these content areas

D. A “goal tracker” that promotes student awareness of positive behaviors like attendance, study time, meeting academic or career goals, etc.

The basis of this work is that while students lack math skills in particular, their foundational difficulty is a lack of the ability to critically analyze situations and solve problems.  As this foundational need is addressed, its application will be to mathematics, in areas where nearly all Avenue Scholars need remedial work.  The current remediation in college often causes a year – or even two - of delay in taking courses in their desired major, which in turn leads to discouragement and dropping out.  By addressing these remediation needs during the last two years of high school, students will graduate from high school prepared to enter college level courses in mathematics or related content areas that require mathematics preparation.  The competency-based modules will require students to complete only those areas where they require remediation.  The AskUsNow component of the mobile application provides an extensive network of volunteers who will be available on-line to respond to students questions as they arise.  The goal tracker will provide students with affirmation from coaches and their peers for tracking positive behaviors. 

Should the planning grant be funded by Avenue Scholars, a proposal will then be written to develop and implement Succeed You as a component of Avenue Scholars.  We are excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity to make a Breakthrough Model become reality.  


Dr. Christine Pharr is Vice President for Academic Affairs at College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska.  Prior to coming to CSM she spent 12 years as a faculty member and administrator at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.  Dr. Pharr holds undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry from Mount Marty College in Yankton, SD, a Masters degree in Chemistry from the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Idaho. 

She joined College of Saint Mary over five years ago and since that time has been active in developing new programs and promoting professional development opportunities for faculty and students.  Her most recent initiatives include a new degree in Business Analytics and Strategic Communication, a cadaver lab in the science building, a 3-year nursing bachelors degree, grant funding from the National Institute of Health and NASA for science students and faculty, and she is currently initiating a Physician Assistant Program at CSM.   She is passionate about education changing lives, promoting science and the arts.