Nick Dixon examines artwork he created with help from ECU student participants in the Eye to Eye afterschool mentoring program, which pairs college students with learning disabilities with local students who share the same obstacles. ECU's chapter of the nationwide program will benefit from a grant from William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Project STEPP gets boost from statewide charitable trust

Jan. 26, 2015

ECU News Services

An East Carolina University program that assists college students with learning disabilities will get an important boost from a two-year grant recently awarded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.

The $167,135 grant will support the work of ECU’s Walter and Marie Williams STEPP program (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships) to mentor, encourage and support students with learning differences in middle and high school.

“The STEPP Program at East Carolina University is an inspiration to students with learning challenges and their families,” said Douglas C. Zinn, executive director of the Kenan Charitable Trust. “The Program is entrepreneurial and steadfast in its commitment to excellence and is worthy of duplication at other educational institutions.”

Specifically, the funds will be used to further develop a student transition curriculum to include materials for middle-school students, and to create additional resources for high school families.
ECU student Patrick Young, standing, shows Nick Dixon how to make cuts to create a paper snowflake.

“Not only are high school seniors in transition (to collegiate life), but so are their families,” said Dr. Sarah Williams, director of the STEPP Program. “This is especially true when a student has a learning difference.

Families look to the public schools for advice, support and resources for this major change, and we hope to help address that need.”

The grant funding will also aid ECU’s chapter of the nationwide Eye to Eye afterschool mentoring program (Read more about Eye to Eye here). Eye to Eye pairs college students with learning disabilities with elementary and middle school students in the community facing the same obstacles. The ECU chapter was founded in 2011 and is a partnership with Building Hope Community Life Center and the Oakwood School in Greenville.

Only three universities in North Carolina offer Eye to Eye.

“Partnerships are at the core of our work,” Williams said. “We work not only with individuals on the ECU campus but also with our public school colleagues. This grant will help us contribute more broadly to the advancement of education for talented and capable students with learning differences and also help support role models and resources for students, teachers and families.”

An estimated 3-9 percent of students on college campuses have some kind of learning difference, many of which are identified while the student is in grade school. Research also suggests that students with learning disabilities who aspire to attend college during middle school put that goal aside more often than their peers. College-bound students should begin researching postsecondary opportunities early in high school, allowing them ample time to find a campus and support resources that are a perfect fit for them.

The STEPP Program at ECU provides an innovative and comprehensive system of academic, social and life-skill supports to a targeted group of students. STEPP staff members provide a full transition year of support while incoming students are still in high school, enabling the program to learn about student experiences and support needs prior to and soon after graduation.

A prior grant from the Oak Foundation enabled the initial development of transition support materials for use beyond the students at ECU. These resources are available on-line at no cost to teachers throughout the country to use with their high school students. These early materials have been well-received, and the Kenan grant will enable the transition support team to expand, further refine and disseminate the materials to teachers and transition specialists nationally.

The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust was founded by William R. Kenan, Jr., a successful businessman and entrepreneur. A primary focus of the Kenan Charitable Trust is to support education, with an emphasis on enhancing excellence of teaching and access to high-quality education.

ECU students Emily Bosak, left, and Becca O'Hea, standing at right, assist Natilie Grey and Ryan Coan in their artwork.