USF’s St. Pete campus expanding services to help students from underserved communities

USF’s Student Support Services Program (SSS) is a federally funded retention program that provides effective academic and personal support for a diverse student population.

ST. PETERSBURG — Although he’s full of anxiety, Shawn Lindsay is excited about being a new student at the USF St. Petersburg campus.

“At first, I was nervous because of the change. I’m not good with change,” Lindsay said.

The Zephyrhills teen is getting a preview of what life will be like this fall through the Student Support Services (SSS) summer bridge experience. As one of 11 first-year students participating in SSS, Lindsay and the others got to experience the campus, the city of St. Pete, and learn how to get the most out of their financial aid during a series of week-long sessions before the start of the semester.

The program is designed for students who have been identified as needing personal support to help them meet their academic needs, and are either first-generation college students, come from low-income family status, or both.

“Originally, I thought I wanted to go to the USF Tampa campus, but the SSS program brought me to the St. Petersburg campus,” Lindsay said. “It’s smaller; it’s better. I like having connections with teachers, and it’s easier for me to learn that way.”

The SSS program was introduced to the USF St. Petersburg campus in 2019 to ensure the campus was better serving all members of the community.

Serge Desir, director of student access and support services.

“We wanted to represent our community. We are committed to making sure that students from a variety of backgrounds have an opportunity to excel and shine,” said Serge Desir, director of student access and support services.

Currently, the SSS program at the St. Petersburg campus is receiving traditional funding through USF. However, Desir hopes to secure federal grant money soon to accept more students into the program.

“Knowing that these students might not have all of the typical support structures in terms of their backgrounds, we want to make sure we’re providing them with access to opportunities, resources, workshops and special advising,” Desir said. “To be successful academically, they need to have a sense of belonging and feel as though they have opportunities outside the classroom, with each other on campus and in the community.”

The summer bridge experience gives SSS students a chance to get a head start on their college experience. During the week, students got to meet their residential assistants, academic advisors, applied for jobs on campus, and even got to take a boat tour around Tampa Bay.

The event culminated with a motivational speech from USF St. Petersburg campus alumnus Ken Welch. The former Pinellas County commissioner and current St. Petersburg mayoral candidate urged students to learn how to collaborate with others, get past barriers, and not be afraid to ask for help.

It’s advice incoming freshman Lindsay is taking seriously. As a biology major, he will be the first person in his family to pursue a bachelor’s degree. During his week on campus, he secured a job as a lifeguard on campus.

He also already made new friends that he will live within the fall.

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