St. Louis, MO – Ryan “Riley B.” Bell became an unlikely sensation Friday at St. Louis Community College’s Commit to Complete Champions Rally – performing the song he wrote about college completion as hundreds of students, faculty and guests applauded, sang and danced along. More than 4,000 St. Louis Community College students signed the pledge to complete their college credentials and raised $3,280 to help struggling local students through the establishment of a completion scholarship at the Phi Theta Kappa-sponsored event.
Not too long ago Bell had himself considered dropping out of college. “In my family not a lot of us really finished school or went to college, but my mom wanted me to go to college,” he said. As a child of 12, Bell got interested in writing and wrote his first song. He decided to attend St. Louis Community College, where he’s now pursuing a major in journalism.
“I was struggling a little bit financially, ran into some barriers and didn’t know if I could go back to school. I had some music opportunities, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Bell said. “But, I know in this day and age you have to have an education to succeed, and with all the people I’ve met encouraging me it’s hard not to complete.”
The Phi Theta Kappa friends who had been supportive of Bell’s efforts to complete approached him in July, asking if he would use his musical talents to write a song about college completion. “I was so humbled to be asked,” Bell said.
One of those friends was Jeannine Shaffer, president of the Phi Theta Kappa chapter at St. Louis Community College’s Wildwood Campus, and one of the strongest student forces behind the college’s massive completion effort held on September 29 in the shadow of the city’s famous arch. Shaffer, who was recognized as a member of the All-Missouri Academic Team in 2012, also serves as Vice President of the Missouri Region’s Kappa District.
“The event was a spectacular collaboration of talent and resources, channeled into a movement to benefit all students,” Shaffer said, “I’ve never been prouder to identify myself as a Phi Theta Kappa chapter officer and St. Louis Community College student.”
All four campuses of St. Louis Community College held signing events in the two weeks leading up to Friday’s rally. Nearly 4,000 students signed the pledge to complete during the two-week period. Shaffer said the college’s Commit to Complete campaigns are a year-long initiative targeting student engagement on campus. Voter registration was also held during the rallyat Kiener Plaza.
“Our goals from the inception and development of a Commit to Complete Steering Committee were very clear — address the barriers of completion within our student population. Extensive research and collaboration with our administration revealed that financial issues were reported as being the primary barrier, and that student peer groups largely impacted a student’s attitude and reaction when stressors arose,” Shaffer said. “We designed student engagement efforts and will continue those efforts throughout the academic year, looking for a 3 percent gain in student engagement of campus life activities.”
“The best part about this event was that the students were the organizers. They not only made a commitment to complete, but they made a commitment to help each other complete,” said St. Louis Community College Chancellor and 2012 Shirley B. Gordon winner Dr. Myrtle Dorsey. “Completion of their academic programs leads to students successfully competing for jobs as well as transferring to four-year colleges and universities. We are proud of our students. “
Dr. Dorsey served as a keynote speaker for the Commit to Complete Champions Rally, along with Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Dr. Rod Risley.
“The United States has fallen from being the world’s leader in the percentage of citizens holding higher education credentials to 12th among industrialized countries. This comes at a time when studies show that in just a few short years, jobs providing livable wages will require at minimum an associate degree,” Dr. Risley said. “A culture of completion must span all corridors of our community colleges. All stakeholders must engage – presidents, trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, students, corporate and community leaders – and each must assess their individual efforts in supporting completion. Our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy are hanging in the balance.”
Read Dr. Risley’s guest editorial on completion published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch the day of the event here.
During the rally, students presented the St. Louis Community College Foundation with a check for $3,820 they had raised to endow a Commit to Complete Emergency Scholarship fund to help address the financial struggles that any STLCC student may face while completing a degree or certificate.
Students who signed the completion pledge were registered for the chance to win one of four full-tuition, non-transferable scholarships for the Spring 2013 semester donated by Chancellor Dr. Myrtle Dorsey and the STLCC Board of Trustees along with one of eight $500 book scholarships. Recipients of those scholarships are expected to be named later this week.
“We are very proud of the completion efforts by St. Louis Community College students, including their fundraising to provide an endowment through their college foundation to support scholarships for students in need. Their researchfollows a national pattern – that most students drop out due to financial issues,” said Dr. Nancy Rieves, Executive Director of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. “This is why Phi Theta Kappa, along with Lou and Rosemary Oberndorf, has established the Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship. Gifts to this international scholarship fund are doubled thanks to a match from the Oberndorfs.”
Learn more about the Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship and how you can help support struggling students here.
To learn more about the Community College Completion Corps, including how to plan an event at your college, visit www.cccompletioncorps.org.