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Area colleges rewarded for initiatives

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2011

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North Shore Community College is creating career “maps’’ to help students choose a profession and show them how to prepare for it.

University of Massachusetts Lowell is expanding a summer math program to cover more disciplines and serve more students.

And Northern Essex Community College is expanding its “success center’’ effort to provide special help to struggling students.

The three initiatives are receiving funds through a state grant program aimed at spurring innovative efforts at Massachusetts public colleges and universities.

Eighteen campuses were awarded a combined $2.5 million in Performance Incentive Fund grants, including six area institutions that will receive a combined $931,152.

The other local recipients are Middlesex Community College, Salem State University, and Bunker Hill Community College, which has a campus in Chelsea as well as its Charlestown site.

The Performance Incentive Fund is a key element of the Vision Project, a state master plan that seeks to make Massachusetts a leader in public higher education.

Linda Brantley, a spokeswoman for North Shore Community College, which has campuses in Danvers and Lynn, said the school is thrilled with its $145,133 award, and that the state’s commissioner of higher education, Richard M. Freeland, “singled us out as having one of the more creative innovation projects.’’

North Shore officials say the career maps will provide students with a user-friendly overview of the types of jobs available, including salaries, work conditions, and growth potential, and the academic requirements to pursue them.

“It’s something you don’t see in colleges that often,’’ Brantley said. “We’re very clearly laying out the academic steps students need to take to get a degree so they can enter a certain career, and what the real-world opportunities are.’’

UMass Lowell has offered its calculus refresher course for the past several summers as a “bridge’’ program designed to help incoming students - primarily freshmen - make the transition to college math.

With its $108,000 grant, the university plans to increase enrollment in the program by inviting transfer students from community colleges to take the math class, and also will be adding English writing and science courses.

“Having tested the model and seen that it works, we want to add in other disciplines,’’ said Charlotte Mandell, UMass Lowell’s vice provost for undergraduate education. “And we want to be sure we reach the community college transfers who may not be getting into the existing program.’’

The university also plans to use its grant to increase the number of student tutors in its peer tutoring program, and develop online materials that students can use to supplement or review coursework.

Northern Essex Community College’s Student Success Center opened this spring on the school’s Lawrence campus. But with little money, its services were limited. With the $135,053 state grant, Northern Essex plans to fully implement the program, providing tutoring, counseling, and other services to students who need them.

“We want to look holistically at the students and how education fits into their life plan, and then deal with any obstacles or challenges to their academic success,’’ said Dawna Perez, an associate dean at Northern Essex, which also has a campus in Haverhill.

The grant will also fund an “early alert system’’ in which freshmen enrolled in three or more “developmental’’ or catch-up courses get special help.

Salem State College will get $218,149 for three initiatives. One is the creation of campus “living-learning communities,’’ in which freshmen in a common academic field live together in a pod of dormitory rooms, supported by a faculty member and a live-in student mentor. The program began with two pods this semester.

“We are assessing how helpful it is,’’ said Kristin Esterberg, Salem State’s provost and academic vice president. She said if it proves successful at increasing student performance, the program will be expanded to more pods.

Other initiatives include expanding a program that provides counseling to students who are facing academic difficulties, and expanding a student peer-advising program.

Middlesex Community College, which has campuses in Lowell and Bedford, received $123,936 for initiatives focused on strengthening its program for first-year students.

“This is going to give us an opportunity to fast-track some work we have been planning to do,’’ said Philip Sisson, the school’s provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.

The initiatives include redesigning the first-year general education curriculum to include courses proven to help students succeed through their college years, such as those dealing with leadership and peer mentoring.

The intent is to expose first-year students to “high-impact teaching practices and opportunities we know are going to make them more successful,’’ Sisson said.

Mary Fifield, president of Bunker Hill Community College, said its $200,802 award will support three existing and two new initiatives.

The college plans to add more “learning community’’ classrooms, in which students learn from one another in addition to faculty members. The other two existing initiatives to receive funding are summer academic “boot camps’’ for incoming students, and a “dual enrollment’’ program in which high school students can receive college credits for classes they take at Bunker Hill.

One of the new initiatives involves having each student prepare an online “personalized road map for being successful here and after they leave here,’’ Fifield said.

Under the other initiative, participating businesses will identify skills needed in their workplaces. Bunker Hill will then incorporate those skills into its curriculum, “so our students will be in higher demand,’’ Fifield said.