INA, Ill. (April 10, 2014) – For four Rend Lake College students, the Student Transfer and Retention Support (STARS) program is more than just a hallway of counselors in the South Oasis, it’s where they got a jumpstart on their education. The program offers a number of support services to every student involved in the program, such as transfer and academic counseling, tutoring, financial aid options, and many more.
One student, Kaira James of Mt. Vernon, is finishing up her business degree at RLC with big hopes to transfer to McKendree University in the fall. The mother of two said the STARS program has worked with her in a number of different areas, from college campus visits to personalized tutoring, and everywhere in between.
“I use everything, and I try to tell everyone about it,” said James. “They’re great people here who can help you get your stuff done. I don’t know how I would’ve done it without them.”
James added she likes to take advantage of an online tutoring service called Smarthinking. By using the service, she is able to chat online with instructors and get help where she needs it. She said it is one of the most vital services she uses.
“When I need help with anything, I can just get on my computer right then and talk to someone, or they get back to me within an hour,” she said. “It’s really great.”
After graduating, James said she wants to take her business degree to Georgia, to be closer to family and build a career. She said the services provided by the STARS program, including priority registration and financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, have given her a leg up on her dreams. Fellow student Austin Endicott of Macedonia agreed, saying the scholarship options were the biggest help for him to continue down the path to a medicine degree.
“A friend of mine said the counselors are very good at helping students who are new to college, so I decided to give it a shot,” said Endicott. “The counselors are good at being thorough with anything you need, and they’re very personal. They’ve helped me find a number of scholarships to help me go to school.”
Endicott will be transferring to pre-med at Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale to focus on pediatrics next year. As a future transfer student, he relies on the STARS counselors to help him get all the classes he needs before transferring.
“It’s a lot cheaper to take the classes I need at RLC, so I’m getting a lot of my education out of the way,” he said.
Endicott added the campus visits were extremely beneficial to him when it came to deciding where to continue his education post-RLC. Mt. Vernon native Tyree Trimble, another STARS student, said the sponsored visits are often the best way to see a school, because of the personalized tours and meetings with faculty and staff.
Trimble is a criminal justice major who wants to work in juvenile probation after graduating college. His plans are to transfer to SIU Edwardsville or McKendree after graduating in May of 2015. He said it was his STARS-sponsored trip to the two schools that have helped him narrow down his options.
“It was on my top list to go to McKendree, so I definitely wanted to visit, and I really liked it. I want to visit SIUE again too,” he said. “There are some really awesome people working in STARS who are very helpful and they take all of my stress away when we go on the campus visits. They always know what’s going on.”
Trimble is currently involved in Youth Court in Mt. Vernon, where he mentors at-risk youth. He said he always advocates education and participation in the STARS program.
When it comes to mentoring, another Mt. Vernon resident wants to take his successes at RLC and within the STARS program to the next level. Kenneth Miles-Akins, originally from Nashville, Tenn., said his past is pushing him to finish his education and guide others in the same situations.
Nearly 30 years ago, Miles-Akins left school and only returned in his late teens to obtain a GED. When he moved to Southern Illinois five years ago, it was a chance to start fresh. He came to RLC with high hopes and, with the help of the STARS program, he’s well on his way to becoming a substance abuse counselor.
“I think I’ll be really good for those who have problems with drugs and alcohol, because I believe what I have to say is important. I’ve been there and done that,” said Miles-Akins. “I’ve had to do a lot of tutoring because it’s been a long time since I was in school. The counselors here have really helped me adjust to college life. I never thought I’d come back after I got my GED.”
With only one month before graduation, Miles-Akins is planning to transfer to SIU Carbondale this fall. He says a bachelor’s degree will help him help others as a certified counselor.
“I’m always going out and recruiting for STARS,” he said. “I tell everybody I know that it’s a good place with good people where they can find tutoring. I find the first-year students and the first-generation students and bring them here, just to let them know this program is available. I also look for any student who is having drug or alcohol problems and I reach out to them. I want them to know that I’m here anytime they need me.”
The STARS program is a federally funded program designed to provide participants with the support services they need to successfully complete an associate degree and transfer to a four-year college or university. Eligibility requirements include meeting low-income guidelines, being a first-generation college student (meaning neither parent graduated from a four-year university) or having a documented disability. The program serves 160 students each year.