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Improved Freshman Retention Reflects Growing Campus–Community Partnerships

Dr. Gempesaw (center, first row) joins SAFE students and mentors.
Friday, February 10, 2017

For two years in a row, St. John’s enrolled two of the largest freshman classes in the University’s history—3,253 students in 2015 and 3,248 students in 2016. Retaining those students for their full four years is a top priority.

The latest measures show that St. John’s has made significant progress in this regard. According to Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President, the University has seen a five-point increase in freshman retention— from 79 to 84 percent—over the last two years. Much of this progress, Dr. Gempesaw said, is due to the revised enrollment strategy, advisement, and support provided by the campus community led by the Freshman Center, and initiatives like the SAFE (Student and Faculty Engagement) Program.

SAFE provides first-year students at the Queens, NY, campus with mentors who help them transition from high school to college. This spring, it is expanding to include sophomores. The program builds upon the traditional sense of welcome, comfort, and belonging that distinguish student life at St. John’s.

Andrew Ferdinandi, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Counselor Education, created the initiative in 2011. Working with Jacqueline Grogan, Ed.D., Associate Provost for Student Success, Dr. Ferdinandi launched SAFE as a pilot program. It has grown significantly since then, training mentors to build trust, strengthen students’ confidence, and create further opportunities for student-faculty partnerships.

To support the expansion to sophomores, SAFE has accepted 65 new mentor applications from across the campus. “Under Dr. Gempesaw’s leadership, programs of this type are growing throughout the campus—including SAFE,” said Dr. Grogan. “The President specifically challenged the SAFE initiative to recruit new mentors for our sophomores.”

Applauding those who want to serve, Dr. Ferdinandi added, “These individuals give freely of their time and energy to help our freshmen find their way.”

Noting that students who complete their first two years have higher graduation rates, Dr. Gempesaw applauded SAFE’s capacity to transform lives. “I am so proud of what you have done,” he told faculty, administrators, and staff who serve as mentors in the program, “and I am proud of what you will continue to do to help St. John’s achieve our number-one strategic priority—to ensure student success while living out our Vincentian mission of service.”