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Retention and Completion

The Importance of Mentorship

Photo of María Rios Cabrera

Moving from Honduras to Clearfield, Utah, as a child, María Rios Cabrera couldn’t help but notice the contrast.
While the move gave her family a more secure future, and she marveled over Utah’s changing fall colors, she missed Honduran culture — the friendly chats with strangers; the lively, joyous music; and the juicy, fresh pineapples and guavas that are hard to find in the states.
Rios Cabrera dreams of returning to Honduras to build a school one day, but she knows she will need to focus on her own education first. She came to Weber State, pursuing quantitative economics and mechanical engineering majors, after being frustrated at a larger university.
“I couldn’t connect with my professors. They were never available,” she said about her former school. “In the middle of one semester, my academic advisor told me that she was no longer my advisor and wished me ‘good luck,’ and I didn’t know what to do.”
At WSU, she became a mentor in the Peer Mentor program, and ended up receiving guidance she previously lacked. “Olga Antonio and the other mentors I worked with helped me through a lot of things,” she said. “But, also, the students I mentor actually taught me a lot.”
She now serves as student coordinator for CATT (Creating Achievement Through Transition), offering mentorship to students with learning disabilities who are transitioning from high school.
“Having a disability doesn’t make you dumb or less valuable as a human being,” said Rios Cabrera, who also has a learning disability. “In fact, it makes you a more well-rounded person, because you view the world differently, you can adapt really quickly, and you can connect with people in a way that other people can’t.”
While she fell in love with mechanical engineering at her prior school and hopes to become an engineer in the aerospace industry, quantitative economics took more time to grow on her. She realized its value after speaking with professor Gavin Roberts, who suggested majoring in the field to help her achieve her dream in Honduras.
“María is wonderful to work with. She always asks relevant and penetrating questions that make it clear she is dedicated to understanding economics on a deep level,” Roberts said. “I think economics will help María think critically about the economic and institutional underpinnings of some of the problems she sees in Honduras, problems that underlie her dream of building the school.”

She plans to write her thesis on what it will take to build the school.

For her leadership and dedication to other students, the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation selected Rios Cabrera as a 2022 Ivory Prize award recipient. With the prize, she received a $2,000 cash prize and a $5,000 donation she selected the CATT program to receive.

Photo of Serge Twagirayezu

’CATapult to the Finish Line

One life skill Serge Twagirayezu BS ’22 learned after moving from Kigali, Rwanda, to Layton, Utah, as a high school international exchange student was to always have a handy backup plan. The young man’s hometown is nestled among East Africa’s verdant ridges and lush valleys, where daily temperatures rarely drop below 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Arriving in Utah in early January, he quickly traded his sandals and T-shirts for snow boots and a winter coat.

Later, when Twagirayezu realized he couldn’t afford the program he had been accepted to at Utah State University to become a professional pilot, he immediately initiated his backup dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

’CATapult Scholarship by the Numbers

Created in 2020, the scholarship fund has awarded


in scholarships, awarded to

693 Students

338 Students

who received the scholarship have graduated with bachelor's degrees


is the average award received

“I’ve always been interested in how things worked,” he said. “As a kid, I’d break my toys on purpose to see what was inside.” At Weber State, Twagirayezu found an engaging, reasonably priced college education with plenty of faculty and peer support. “Weber’s mechanical engineering program honestly met and exceeded my expectations,” he recalled.

However, shortly before Twagirayezu’s scheduled graduation, the COVID-19 pandemic halted his paid internship and, simultaneously, he lost access to a crucial source of private funding.

“At that point, I wasn’t sure I would ever earn a degree,” he recalled. “I had worked so hard, but I didn’t have any way to pay for the rest of my education.”

Luckily, Twagirayezu’s classmate, who worked in WSU’s financial aid office, suggested he apply for a ’CATapult Scholarship, which is designed to help students who suffer financial setbacks in the last stretch of their educational journey. It proved to be the perfect backup plan.

“The scholarship really catapulted me to the finish line, and I was able to graduate,” said a grateful Twagirayezu, who recently joined the engineering team at Cirque in Sandy, Utah. “I’d like to thank everyone at Weber who made that scholarship happen — donors, professors, staff — because they’re the people who really changed the world for me.”


Photo of Vikki Deakin with students in class

Making Course Materials More Affordable

With the price of a single publication averaging $134, textbooks are among the most chronically unpopular expenses borne by American college students. A recent survey conducted by the university’s Affordable Course Materials Task Force found an alarming number of WSU students on limited budgets aren’t purchasing new textbooks. Instead, they’re sharing books or buying old, discounted editions.
Meeting in fall 2021 to explore ways to reduce financial barriers to student success, the task force discovered that enterprising WSU instructors had already succeeded in providing students with more affordable textbook options. With generous donor support, the task force created the Course Materials Affordability Award to recognize these instructors and highlight the positive impact their efforts have had on students.
Two faculty members and two departments were honored at the “Finding Joy in the Journey” Faculty Symposium in March 2022.
Since 2021, students enrolled in history professor Vikki Deakin’s courses have enjoyed free access to the EBSCO Information Services e-book database. (EBSCO e-books are online versions of printed textbooks and other materials from top publishers that Stewart Library has purchased with a perpetual license or annual subscription.) Deakin is deeply committed to ensuring student success, especially in introductory courses.

“The battle for student retention is most often won or lost in ‘gateway’ courses,” she said. “Students who do well in these courses tend to re-enroll; students who do not, tend to drop out.” Most of the textbooks used in Deakin’s upper-division courses are also free.
Stephanie Wolfe, associate professor of political science, was among the first WSU faculty members to adopt no-cost Open Educational Resources (OER) for her general education courses. (OERs are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, modified or shared.) Currently, 75% of Wolfe’s teaching load consists of OERs. She also spearheaded an initiative to make the women and gender studies minor an exclusively OER program and has received funding to create an OER textbook chapter.
With 100% of its faculty participating, the Department of Communication has switched to low-cost or free materials in five entry-level courses. This transition represents an estimated savings of $891,480 since 2017. This academic year alone, six communication faculty completed OER training, paid for with Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund money, and have eagerly shared their insights with colleagues.

Starting in 2019, the Department of Health Sciences began collaborating with Stewart Library, various campus committees and outside vendors to find alternative educational materials to replace textbooks and lab software that were costing each integrated anatomy and physiology student $270. This initital effort has since expanded to include six more courses in the program. To date, an estimated 6,962 students have saved about $1,089,063.

As more Weber State University faculty work to lower the cost of required course materials, the Affordable Course Materials Task Force hopes to present the Course Materials Affordability Award every year.

Photo of Stéphane Glynn

Not so Risky Business: MBA grad learns tools of the trade

If you ask Stéphane Glynn MBA ’22 what he does, he’ll tell you it’s a little bit of everything. 

The senior vice president of operations and post-production at Vavani Productions in Salt Lake City has produced documentaries, edited marketing content and worked in project management, research and analysis, just to name a few.

“I love doing different things all the time,” he said.

Glynn started working as an in-house editor for the socially ethical production company in 2017. Their projects include the documentary Quiet Heroes — about the AIDS crisis in Salt Lake City — which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won a daytime Emmy, as well as the documentary No Crime in Sin about child sex abuse.

“It’s this idea of eating your vegetables with the sweets,” Glynn said, “entertaining people while also informing and educating.”

Glynn had already earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 2013 and Master of Fine Arts in Film & Media Arts from the University of Utah in 2016, but decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration at Weber State to gain more experience as he took on more responsibilities at Vavani Productions and became senior vice president in 2019.

He graduated in only about a year and a half in December 2021. The program usually takes twice as long.

“The professors do a great job of bringing you where you need to be,” he said. “If you can’t remember, say, math you did years ago, they give you the resources to kind of refresh your memory and bring you back up to speed.”

Glynn said what he learned at Weber State aligned perfectly with his job as he went from film editing to an essential operations production role and VP.

“I was already doing my fair share of expenses and tracking receipts but certainly having that accounting class experience really elevated my work,” he said.

Shaun Hansen, former WSU professor and MBA program director, said he doesn’t believe there’s a program in the Intermountain West that has faculty more dedicated to student success and learning than at Weber State.

“The most rewarding thing for us is to see our students succeed in their careers after graduation,” he said. “Nothing else matters quite as much.”

Photo of Addie Harmon

Wildcat Advantage connects students to high-impact experiences

Addie Harmon’s two large paintings, reflecting her “inner world,” were in the main exhibit, while her immersive forest display, complete with audio, video, and tree branches casting shadows from the ceiling, had its own room in the Mary Elizabeth Dee Shaw Gallery. The artwork was part of the spring 2022 BFA Thesis Exhibition, where Bachelor of Fine Arts students displayed their work as a capstone project for their major.
“People related to the poetic voice-over, as well as the imagery in my paintings and video,” Harmon said. “Many people loved the immersive experience that the branches created.”

High-impact educational experiences (HIEE), such as the BFA exhibition, provide students with experience they can take into their careers and future studies. Outlined in WSU’s strategic plan, Amplified, a 5-year plan for growth, the university seeks to have more students graduating with bachelor’s degrees complete two or more HIEE by the 2025–26 academic year. During the 2021–22 academic year, 67% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree completed two or more experiences, while 77% of associate-level graduates completed one or more.

Since fall 2021, WSU’s Wildcat Advantage program has worked toward that goal by connecting students to seven types of experiences:
• Leadership
• Community engaged learning
• Mentoring and tutoring
• Career development and internships
• Undergraduate research
• Capstones/senior projects
• Global experiences
Over 500 students participated during the 2021–22 academic year.
“Wildcat Advantage opens doors for students to see what’s available, and choose what they would like to do to cater to their educational and career goals,” said Jenny Frame, Wildcat Advantage coordinator.

Students may receive grant funding for their HIEE, and build eportfolios, which they can use to market their skills and experiences after graduation.

Wildcat Advantage offers incentives to participate, including graduation cords and priority guidance from Career Services for two completed experiences; a pin to let employers at career fairs know about a student’s experience for completing four experiences; and a transcript notation, personalized letter from the Provost’s Office, and reception for students who complete five or more experiences.

In addition to the exhibition, Harmon recently participated in another high-impact experience, studying art and art history in Venice, Italy, for three weeks.
“I thought I would never be able to travel until I was old, somewhat financially stable and retired,” she said. “But going to Italy has made the world feel so much more accessible to me. It was scary, but amazing, and I regret nothing.”