Learning to Thrive

Kennesaw State Thrive students in class.jpg

Students take academic success to new levels KENNESAW, Ga.  (Aug. 18, 2015) — Four years…

Georgia (Aug 18, 2015)

Students take academic success to new levels

KENNESAW, Ga.  (Aug. 18, 2015) — Four years ago, high school seniors planning to attend Kennesaw State were given the opportunity to sign up for a free program to help them maintain their grades and keep their HOPE scholarships.

For Gloria Vosilla, the program seemed too good to be true.

“Why would they offer me something for free?” wondered the then-high school senior. While skeptical, she followed her mother’s advice and signed up for the new program, called Thrive.

Vosilla said it has been one of the best things about attending Kennesaw State.

The Thrive program, an initiative of University College, incorporates co-curricular activities to bring first-year HOPE Scholarship students together to successfully manage their academic pursuits and gain leadership skills.

Focused on traditional-aged students, the nationally recognized Thrive program debuted in 2011 with nearly 200 students.

“Thrive is an excellent illustration of the collaborative spirit of University College,” said Keisha Hoerrner, dean of University College and a co-creator of the Thrive program. “A collaboration between the Center for Student Leadership and the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies, the program is successful because the two entities within the college serve the whole student.”

Thrive students, nicknamed Thrivers, attend spring and summer workshops prior to the start of fall classes to register early, learn academic success strategies and meet other Thrivers, who are working toward the same goals of maintaining their scholarships and graduating in four years.

“By joining Thrive, I felt connected to campus and expanded my leadership skills,” said Kristi Vines, a nursing student.

Besides early
 registration, Thrivers
 are assigned a
 graduation coach, 
who helps them
 navigate the transition
 to college, and enroll in a specially designed first-year seminar or a learning community, which centers on the common theme of leadership.

“Thrive helped me grow as a person. At first, I was worried about getting into the nursing program and competing against other great students,” Vines added. She joined a learning community with other nursing students.

“Research tells us that first-year students who are connected to the culture of the campus and invested in their own success do better,” said Brian Wooten, executive director of community engagement at KSU. He co-created the Thrive program with Hoerrner when he served as director of the Center for Student Leadership, and she was a department chair.

While Kennesaw State had offered programs to serve at-risk and high-achiever populations, no program addressed the specific needs of HOPE Scholarship recipients, he said.

The program’s design – to help students stay on track and graduate – aligns with Gov. Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia, a state initiative aimed at raising the percentage of Georgians who enter the workforce with college degrees.

“We found our highest attrition for students was between the first and second year of college,” said Cathy Bradford, director of learning communities at Kennesaw State and the first Thrive graduation coach. “We wanted to front-load our program so that students interact with faculty, staff and other Thrive students from the moment they set foot on campus.”

Bradford is one of three Thrive graduation coaches. Her role is to ensure that students are successful, not just in their first year, but every year at Kennesaw State.

Vines said it was reassuring that someone – her graduation coach – was expecting her to succeed.

“The graduation coach provides encouragement for students who know how to keep up grades but don’t necessarily know how to navigate the university,” Bradford said. “I want them to set goals, whatever those may be, and reach those goals. I want them to be successful.”

Vosilla, now a
 KSU graduate, vividly remembers the day when she could no longer afford tuition and was unsure she would be able to return 
the next semester. Vosilla turned to Bradford, who quickly investigated.

Bradford learned that Vosilla wasn’t receiving HOPE funds because of 
a glitch in her high school transcript. Within days, after a few phone calls and some paperwork, the glitch was fixed and Vosilla’s scholarship monies restored.

“We don’t want students to get caught in the red tape,” Bradford said.

Nearly 90 percent of Thrive participants indicated the importance of having access to a graduation coach as an vital part of the program. For others, leadership skill development was an important component of the Thrive program.

That leadership development is tied closely with the university’s learning communities and the Center for Student Leadership activities.

Emmanuel Brown, a senior mathematics major, became heavily involved with the Center for Student Leadership during his first year. He traveled to Rhode Island to work with the homeless during his second year and visited Japan in his third year as part of his continued involvement with the Center.

“The program gave me confidence and courage,” Brown said. “I had a great start. It helped me to be successful the entire time in college.”

Whether it is the graduation coach, the leadership opportunities or the social aspects of meeting other Thrivers, the program has shown substantial results for students since it debuted in 2011.

In fact, Thrive participants maintained
 their HOPE scholarship at rates 10 percent higher than groups demographically matched (other HOPE recipients not enrolled in Thrive), the general KSU population and Georgia college students, according to data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

Retention of the HOPE Scholarship can also equate to retention in college as well as increase the graduation rate in four years. Thirty of the original Thrivers, like Vosilla, will graduate in exactly four years from the start date – more than twice as many as students in a pair-matched control group.

“The program is gaining accolades even in its early years because it is run by a dedicated team of creative, student- focused professionals who get to work with some of the best first-year students in the country,” Hoerrner said. Based on the success of the initial three-year pilot study, Thrive is now a permanent part of the university’s initiatives to increase graduation rates.

Benefits of Thrive

• Earn higher grades
• Express greater satisfaction with their university experience
• Make more friends and study buddies
• More likely to “make it” to their sophomore year
• Take greater advantage of campus services and resources
• See more connections between what they are learning in and out of the classroom
• More likely to perceive faculty and staff as friendly and supportive.


- Tiffany Capuano


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu