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New Groups director emphasizes student retention


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By Matt Bloom




Red and white picture frames of Mary Tourner’s students and family dot the surface of her new desk.

She holds up one of the picture frames, reminding herself to find a place for it somewhere on the blank walls of her new office.

Tourner was appointed as the director of IU’s Groups Scholars Program on Sept. 6.

Previously held by Janice Wiggins, the position was left vacant following Wiggins’ official retirement in early August.

For the past month and a half, Tourner, the program’s fifth director to date, has educated herself and set plans to expand on the 45-year history of the program.

Established in 1968, the Groups Scholars Program recruits low-income, first generation and physically challenged students to the University.

It enrolls more than 200 students annually.

First-generation college students graduate at much lower rates than the average student, Tourer said, but IU’s graduation rate for first-generation students is several percentage points above the national average at 28 percent.

Tourner said she hopes to increase this number further.

“The first-generation college student’s graduation rate is much lower than the University-wide average right now,” she said. “We’re doing the students an injustice if we don’t work to get them to graduate in four years.”

Tourner is a first-generation college student herself, she said, and a former Gary, Ind., resident, like many of the students she serves.

“I feel like I’m a Hoosier in so many ways,” she said.

As one of her first actions as director, Tourner said she will enact policies regarding increased financial aid and life-skills coaching and counseling, so she can ensure that students like sophomore Treon McClendon have the support they need to make it to graduation.

McClendon sat at a small round table in Tourner’s office on a Thursday afternoon preparing for an upcoming interview.

A first-generation college student from Gary, Ind., McClendon said he relies on the Groups program for academic and emotional support.

“We take our class work and our community very seriously while developing a community of lifelong friends,” he said. “I’m thankful for this program every day. I don’t think I would be as successful on this campus as I am now without it.”

Tourner, a Purdue University graduate, began working at IU 12 years ago.

“One of my plans is to have time every week where students can just come in my office and hang out with me,” Tourner said.

Martin McCrory, vice provost for educational inclusion and diversity, said in a press release that Tourner’s dedication and enthusiasm corresponds with Groups’ strong historic foundations.

Tourner said she plans to put a poster on her blank walls with the words “Students First” on it.

“After you fall, you have to brush yourself off and get back up and start again,” Tourner said. “That attitude will set you apart from any other student, and you will be successful. And that’s what we strive for here at Groups.”

Follow reporter Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.

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