Posted on December 1, 2016
Achieving Student Success through Mercy Values
Mount Aloysius College is a private, comprehensive college in rural Pennsylvania founded by the Religious Sisters of Mercy with a long history of responsiveness to community needs. Students are given the opportunity-within a liberal arts orientation grounded in the Catholic, Judeo-Christian tradition-to acquire the knowledge and develop the values, attitudes and competencies necessary for life-long learning and for leadership in the world community.
Of the approximately 1,500 students attending Mount Aloysius, 33% are adult learners aged 25 years and above, and 59% are first-generation. According to federal guidelines, 41% of Mount Aloysius students come from families living at or below 150% of the poverty level. Nearly 50% of Mount Aloysius students are Pell eligible and 94% percent need and receive financial aid. Mount Aloysius College offers associates, bachelors and master’s degrees with a significant proportion of adult students represented in the associate degree programs. Approximately 70% of Mount Aloysius College students are women, reflecting the special mission of the Sisters of Mercy to serve women and children, in addition to the poor and disenfranchised.
What makes a Mount Aloysius education so enriching is the thorough application of four core Mercy values that guide not only our decision making processes, but also our academic, extracurricular, and student offerings: mercy, justice, service, and hospitality. Mount Aloysius attempts to shape the lives of its students through a robust service-learning curriculum that engages students of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds and enables them to not only employ mercy, justice, service, and hospitality in their projects, but also apply them to their academic and career goals.
Service-learning is integral to a Mount Aloysius education for all undergraduates, regardless of age or degree program (MAC offers associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees). Students learn the foundations of service and how it connects to both the curriculum and Mercy values through a required series of liberal arts courses called Connections. In it, students are required to participate in 8 hours of community service, either procured on their own or through campus clubs and activities. What we’ve found is that our mature students often serve as mentors to traditional-aged students in the class. Not only is this a confidence booster for the mature students who were apprehensive about taking courses alongside younger students, this gives our traditional-aged students a deeper insight into the world at large through the life experiences of mature students. As a result, our mature students seem to integrate more quickly into the Mount Aloysius community, which aids in their retention.
The contributions of mature students in our Connections course have also created Mount Aloysius traditions. Four years ago, a group of mature students who happened to be enrolled together in the same Connections course created a Blessing of the Pets event on campus as their service activity. The turnout was more than anticipated and has now been adopted as an annual activity of our Campus Ministry office. Another reason why service-learning seems to be a contributor to mature student success at Mount Aloysius is the fact that many of these students bring with them years of experience serving in clubs and organizations within their communities. In turn, the students then forge relationships between their community organizations and the College which integrates them further into the College’s environment. Our mature students are generally better able to grasp how their newfound knowledge and skills can be applied or enhanced in the service they’re doing in their PTOs, American Legions, Moose halls, churches, or other organizations. This not only strengthens the ties the students have to their own communities (and in many cases, leads to employment opportunities), but our ties to the community as well.
The College is proud of its holistic wrap-around services for all students and in particular for adult students. All service departments on campus are aware of both the shared and unique needs of adult students compared to their traditional counterparts. These mission-driven services have been recognized as exemplary by the Conference for Mercy Higher Education. Among the services provided are:
- A nationally accredited and licensed on-campus early learning center is available for student parents. The center uses a sliding fee scale and accepts childcare assistance vouchers.
- A nursing hospitality center for nursing moms with access to refrigeration of breast milk provided by Student Health Services.
- An annual Pathways to Empowerment workshop held in partnership with a regional women’s education and empowerment organization.
- The College’s thrift store, “Threads,” serves all students including entire families, with clothing and bedding provided free or at a nominal cost.
- A dedicated veteran’s lounge and veteran’s resource center.
- Leadership development program which offers in person and online professional leadership development accessible to busy working adults and parents.
- A mature-student specific orientation to ensure one-on-one connections with faculty and student support services which is also offered online.
- The Library Learning Commons is attuned to needs of mature students through comprehensive tutoring programs, offered in person and online.
- Adult students are welcomed as members of all student organizations with the Nursing Student Organization, Criminology, Education and Psychology Clubs drawing the largest numbers of adult students.
- Mission Integration/Campus Ministry manages an emergency fund for students, which provides assistance with textbooks, gas and utilities.
However, it is the commitment of the faculty and staff at the College who make the difference, according to our adult students. Mount Aloysius prides itself on the open-door nature of our academic and student support programs. Our small campus allows for constant collaboration to make the academic journey of our students, and especially our nontraditional students, a successful one.
The Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship for Mature Students is open to both male and female undergraduates. Two of our adult male students are highlighted here. Male students, and mature male students in particular, are underrepresented on our campus. These men are shining examples of not only our Mercy values, but also are great reflections of the purpose of the Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship program.
Jeff Rickabaugh, a May 2016 graduate in Criminology and Newcombe Scholarship recipient says that his whole experience has been “transformational.” “The confidence and trust placed in me as a student has been humbling,” according to Rickabaugh. Jeff is a former Marine who came to Mount Aloysius College to begin a new chapter in his life after suffering career ending injuries while serving as a corrections officer and hostage negotiator for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Initially paralyzed, he regained the ability to walk. He and his wife also adopted a little boy whom Jeff promised to provide the best opportunities in life he could achieve.
With his Criminology degree, Jeff hopes to work with at risk youth before they become enmeshed in the criminal justice system. While at the College, he was actively involved with the Student Conduct Board and served as a Peer Tutor in the Learning Commons. In his spare time, Jeff volunteered each week at the Altoona Food Bank and provided free auto repair services to elderly community members. The Newcombe Scholarship made the difference for Jeff and his family, reducing their financial burden, specifically for textbooks in a cash-strapped household. Jeff graduated in May with honors and carried the College flag in the commencement procession.
Another Newcombe recipient, Michael Viveros, was also grateful for a new start at Mount Aloysius College. Michael experienced significant challenges early in life, earning a GED in high school. After some time out of school, he completed his associate degree in information technology at a local community college. Through the encouragement of his IT professor at the community college who is a Mount Aloysius alum, Mike enrolled in our Information Technology bachelor’s program. He was also hired by our IT department as a student tech. With his kindness and ready smile, Michael quickly became a familiar and welcome sight on campus as he provided computing services to a variety of offices. Always humble, Michael appreciated the support from his IT faculty and supervisor. He also became active in the National Society of Leadership and Success professional leadership development program and a member of Delta Epsilon Sigma. Michael graduated this May with a 4.0 GPA and was one of the Commencement Welcome student speakers, representing our mature graduates. The Newcombe Scholarship made the difference for him – he said the scholarship “would really help me realize my goals and finish school strong!” and it did. He is now working at a software engineering firm developing apps for regional healthcare facilities.
This article was submitted by Jara Dorsey-Lash, Manager of Advancement Research and Grants at Mount Aloysius College.