CASA receives recognition for excellence


Courtesy of Kristina Sumfleth

Elizabeth Gregory

The University’s Center for Access, Success and Achievement (CASA) has been recognized by the University Business Magazine’s 2017 Models of Excellence program for its holistic approach to assisting underrepresented students, according to the magazine’s Tim Goral.

CASA is home to ACTIVE, a student retention program including Advising, Counseling, Tutoring and Information to Enhance the Villanova Experience. ACTIVE students have access to mentors, life coaches, tutors and a textbook lending library. CASA began as the Social Actions program in 1974 and has been growing ever since.

Linda Coleman, Director of CASA, shared that “As the needs of the student have evolved, we’ve expanded and added different assets.” Coleman herself is a graduate of Villanova and of the CASA program. “We see a need, and we design something to address it.”

CASA’s 250 ACTIVE students maintain an average GPA of 3.32, with a minimum GPA of 2.5. “We exist to provide services to first [generation], Pell [Grant] eligible and underrepresented students,” Coleman shared. She stated that “The work we do is not remedial. These are good students.”

CASA’s work begins prior to the students’ start of freshman year with summer programs such as the St. Thomas of Villanova Scholars (STOVS) and Unitas Pre-Orientation Weekend. STOVS is a “residential pre-college summer bridge program for incoming first-year students that provides selected students the opportunity to jumpstart their college career through coursework, workshops and cultural experiences.” Unitas Weekend helps ease the transition into college life.

Once students begin their first year at the University, CASA works with their academic advisors in each college to help them create a plan for their college careers. They also attend academic and social programming. Coleman said, “We try to cover them from A to Z. The first two years, we focus on setting the foundation. . .  We focus on the academics. . .  And then the last two years we start focusing on life after Villanova.” CASA partners with the Career Center to conduct joint programming for their students to learn about internship and job opportunities.

CASA’s office moved from Dougherty Hall to the University’s Falvey Memorial Library at the start of the academic year. Coleman believes the change of location is indicative of the Center’s goals of putting academics first. When CASA began, the Center focused on Student Life. Now, CASA wants to emphasize academics before anything else. They monitor students’ progress to ensure they are remaining on track with their schoolwork, particularly as it pertains to retaining their scholarships. However, Coleman emphasized the importance of also addressing needs that prevent students from being able to focus on academics. “We do not only academics but— How’s your personal life? How’s your social life? How’s home life? Is that affecting anything? So we look at the whole person and we work with the whole person.”

In order to aid the student as a whole, CASA’s mission is to create “A home away from home, where we recognize the uniqueness of every student and nurture their talents and abilities to help them reach their fullest potential.”

“We love them. They’re ours. We like to feel that we’re a family,” Coleman said of the CASA students. “But you can’t be here all the time. You’re not going to have the best educational experience if you just stay in the house. So we encourage our students to partake in everything that’s on campus, different activities, different presentation. . . different events that take place on campus.”

The most important role of CASA is to make “Students feel they have a place, they feel supported and encouraged— We want them to graduate happy. We want them to know and feel that they got the best of Villanova and they had the best experience and that they are very well prepared to take on the next chapter.”

University Business Magazine honors colleges and universities through Models of Excellence that have “implemented innovative, effective and inter-departmental initiatives” that encourage each student’s success.

In addition to recognizing the University, the 2017 Models of Excellence include McDaniel College (Westminster, Md.), Georgia Technical College (Macon, Ga.);,University of Louisville (Louisville, Ky.), Endicott College (Beverly, Mass.) and University of Wyoming (Laramie, Wyo.).