When Peter DiPlacido ’24 started his coursework at Salem State University, the differences between high school and college learning surprised him.
“I had to plan independently—no one was going to tell me when to do my homework,” recalls Peter, who began college during the COVID-19 shutdown. “It was hard to adjust to college classes, virtual learning and planning out my assignments all at the same time.”
Peter says he learned how to create a schedule that balanced school projects with his work shifts through the Emerging Scholars Program, a pilot initiative that guided 55 first-year students through their transition from high school to college. Managed by the Center for Academic Excellence’s First Year Experience office, the new program targeted students with a 2.0-3.0 GPA and equipped them with a success coach—a graduate student they could lean on for advice and structured support—throughout their first year of college.
“Research shows us that students with a high GPA are more likely to succeed in college than not,” explains Mathew Chetnik, director of First Year Experience. “But students with, say, a 2.8 GPA, who didn’t receive scholarships and didn’t get invited into special academic programs, too often have no one looking out for them. The success coach cheers and challenges them, but ultimately provides a supportive environment and helps them learn how to pick themselves up.”
Emerging Scholars participants met with their success coach every other week to develop skills ranging from time management to study habits and how to feel comfortable communicating with their professors.
According to the data, it worked: 95 percent of the first-year students in the Fall 2020 Emerging Scholars group fully enrolled for the Spring 2021 semester, versus 79.8 percent overall for students who did not participate. Mathew anticipates an even higher Emerging Scholars retention rate of 98.9 percent for Fall 2021, based on students’ self-reported data.
These positive outcomes convinced David Ives that the Emerging Scholars Program should expand to reach more students. The longtime Salem State philanthropist and volunteer leader donated $20,000 to launch a second cohort this fall— which doubled the number of students served by Emerging Scholars to 110 in academic year 2021-2022.
“When I learned that the new program was helping students who otherwise might lack support—and that it had such a high retention rate—I could see the idea was very viable,” David explains. “It will open up a pathway to success, opportunity and happiness for participants, who so deserve this assistance.”
An alumnus of the Horace Mann Laboratory School on the Salem State campus and a 10th-generation Salemite, David contributed to the program in honor of his mother, alumna Marjorie Ives ’70G, who made education a shared family value in his childhood home.
As the Emerging Scholars Program grows, he hopes other individuals will donate the funds needed to make it available to every Salem State student who could benefit from such a meaningful opportunity.
“Many of today’s students don’t have the same advantages I had, and by supporting Salem State’s mission through its various programs, I’m able to do good for the citizens of Salem and the greater North Shore community,” he explains. “Participating in this way is important to me and my family.”