Nontraditional Students at Oregon Tech Celebrate High Academic Honors at Annual Banquet

May 13, 2019
Oregon Tech’s TOP program powers the potential of first-generation students, low-income students, and students with disabilities who demonstrate academic need

TOP Awards 2019
A special event was held on May 9 to celebrate the academic success of nontraditional students involved in Oregon Institute of Technology’s Tech Opportunities Program (TOP). President of the university, Nagi Naganathan, Ph.D., applauded the TOP students who each earned 3.3 GPA or higher in fall or winter term of this academic year.

“TOP is such as appropriate name for this program because all of you have climbed long and hard to get to the top rung of your personal success story,” commented Dr. Naganathan.

Oregon Tech’s TOP program powers the potential of first-generation students, low-income students, and students with disabilities who demonstrate academic need. The dedicated staff provides services and support in the following areas:

  • Study skills, decision making and academic coaching
  • Academic, career and financial planning as well as supplemental tutoring
  • Peer mentoring and networking with other students, staff and faculty
  • College success classes, faculty-led sessions and workshops
  • Assistance with applying for financial aid, scholarships and grants
  • Community building, cultural events and a sense of belonging.

TOP is a federally funded Student Support Services-TRIO program that has been supporting Oregon Tech students since 2001. With a staff of three full-time employees and one-part time staff member, the program annually serves 160 students.

Michal Kawka, program director of TOP, enjoys celebrating the milestones each student reaches. “The average age of our TOP students is 26, and more than two thirds are low income and first-generation students,” said Michal. “The obstacles that they’ve not only overcome, but have shattered is an inspiration to me every day that I get to work with them.”

Vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, Erin Foley, Ph.D., and Dr. Naganathan recognized the accomplishments of each individual student, of which 37 were in attendance, and a total of 85 who received honors. “While some people see an obstacle or a challenge and turn around and walk – or run – the other way, TOP students forge ahead and work very hard to jump those hurdles and move forward to the next stage of your educational journey,” shared Dr. Naganathan. “Each and every one of you has assets that you have personally developed that has allowed you to rise to the place that we are celebrating today.”

Damien DahmGetting through college can be difficult for many students, but nontraditional students face unique challenges in their academic journey. In addition to the challenging coursework, nontraditional students often have partners, full-time jobs and children to care for. At Oregon Tech, many nontraditional students find support and encouragement through TOP, which provides academic and personal support to help them navigate college. 

While managing a full-time job, home life as a father, and a full course load in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Technology, TOP sophomore Damien Dahm also became president of the Nuclear Medicine club. Asked to speak at the event he shared, “I believe that part of the college experience is placing yourself outside of your comfort zone where we are challenged the most. And what better way to grow than to constantly challenge yourself.” Damien continued by explaining that TOP became the academic family that he needed to see him through to success at Oregon Tech. “TOP has played a vital part in my success here as a student. Being involved in TOP, we are a family. A family is the people you choose to surround yourself with.”

Brian SinclairForty-three-year-old single parent Brian Sinclair decided in 2014 that he wouldn’t be able to physically continue his career as an auto body painter, and he needed to make drastic life changes. Enrolling in Rogue Community College (RCC), Brian began going back to school full-time and quickly became involved in RCC’s TRIO program. Now a junior in Electrical Engineering, Brian attributes TRIO and TOP with helping him transition to Oregon Tech in fall 2017. “One of the first things I did was apply for a spot in the TOP program,” shared Brian. “I’ve made the President’s List twice, and the Dean’s List once. The first thing I do every term is go see Shaundrea at the Peer Consulting Center and make appointments with different tutors…Being part of TOP has been a true blessing in my life.”

Rebecca BrownAlso a transfer student from RCC’s TRIO program, Vascular Technology student Rebecca Brown has found her comfort zone through TOP and is guiding her teenage son to success through her example. Working as a caregiver for six years, Rebecca was at the top of the company’s financial bracket, but was unable to provide for her family. She knew that she needed to change her profession and go back to school if she wanted to go further in the medical field. “When I began I had two main concerns…my math skills and knowing that when I graduate I will be 50 years old. The TRIO program helped me through that,” she shared. “My TOP adviser Brenda made me feel comfortable…I relied on Brenda a lot. I cried in her office…I told her my troubles. I asked her for help with my financial aid. I honestly still don’t know today if those things are even in her job description. She helped me find classes I could take early…to help me finish my terms and to keep my scholarship,” said Rebecca. “I could not have done it without the added support and assistance that TOP provided me…What they do counts; it matters.”

So far this year, the program has:

  • Provided 1,841 individual academic, career and financial literacy advising sessions
  • Hosted 6 workshops on topics from financial literacy to networking and career development
  • Taught 4 student success seminar classes, including a support class for transfer students
  • Conducted a four-day Summer Bridge program for transfer students
  • Hosted 10 faculty-led, alumni and industry partner sessions on topics from nano-physics and marketing to self-care
  • Implemented 2 peer mentoring programs with cumulative 449+ individual and group student contacts
  • Hosted 31 community building events, including two welcome events, two retreats and two cultural trips.

Multiple students at the event completed the term with a 4.0 GPA.

Students can find out more about TOP by visiting www.oit.edu/top.

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