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OSU-OKC’s Inspire program helps working adults achieve college success

Alfredo Melchor is a bilingual academic adviser for Inspire at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. Benjamin Phillips is working on his associate degree through the program. [PROVIDED]
Alfredo Melchor is a bilingual academic adviser for Inspire at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. Benjamin Phillips is working on his associate degree through the program. [PROVIDED]

Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City has launched a program to inspire working adults to earn a college degree that can improve their career and earning potential.

The university’s Inspire program provides adult learners with personalized guidance and coaching based on their specific situation and overall life goals.

“These are students who are already working in companies, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations who want to formalize their knowledge via a degree, certificate, or just a single class,” said Alfredo Melchor, bilingual academic adviser for Inspire at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC).

OSU-OKC partners with employers and supervisors and then Melchor and the Inspire team meet with employees to discuss career interests, life goals, and identify real or perceived barriers to personal advancement. The team evaluates any previous college credit, military experience, or formal training that can count as college credit and then customizes support services to help students navigate the journey.

Barriers can range from personal issues like the need for scholarships or childcare; to academic concerns like poor grades from years ago; to the availability of evening and online classes or accelerated eight-week courses.

“Our work is geared toward the creation of an educational experience that integrates life’s complexity into the planning formula,” Melchor said. “This type of planning and communication is designed to support course completion as we account for each student’s existing responsibilities and commitments.”

Partnering with the workplace is key. “It’s important that both the employee and the employer are invested in the educational journey,” he said.

Benjamin Phillips failed at his first attempt in college and even ended up in prison. This time he has the Inspire team in his corner. Phillips said they are responsive to his questions and helped him identify a scholarship to pay for his books.

“The communication is really good. I can contact them, and they answer quick,” he said.

Phillips, 35, works an overnight shift at a 90-day, in-patient addiction recovery center in Pottawatomie County. He has firsthand experience with addiction and recovery.

“Now I’m going to school to get the book knowledge so I can be an addiction counselor,” Phillips said.

He is on track to earn his associate degree from OSU-OKC next December. After that, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology specializing in addiction counseling.

“When I get the associate degree, it will open up some doors,” he said, “and then when I get the bachelor’s degree it will open up a lot more doors, so I’ll have options.”

Phillips learned about the Inspire program when OSU-OKC team members made a presentation to workers at the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“It was really cool that the people from the OSU-OKC Inspire team made an effort to fit into my schedule. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known about the help,” he said.

“I hurt a lot of people throughout the years because of my addiction,” Phillips said. “Now I want to help as many people as I can and show them there’s another way.”

Jill Amos, senior coordinator of recovery support services at state Department of Mental Health, said the agency and OSU-OKC share the desire to help people who are doing their best to move forward from past mistakes.

“We believe in creating opportunities to remove the barriers that keep people trapped in their struggles,” Amos said. “We know that education is one of the most important factors in breaking cycles.

“Even more than the skills and information that they receive, these students start to see themselves as something they never thought they'd be. Having supportive teachers and staff who believe in them sparks hope and courage, and they start to see themselves in a different light.”

OSU-OKC President Brad Williams said the program helps working adults identify the quickest path to a degree by evaluating their transcripts and life experience. Some people may be only two classes shy of a degree or already have the credits needed but not realize it. From there, Williams said, the school’s knowledgeable and compassionate faculty help guide students on their journey.

“We’re trying to help people be the best version of themselves,” Williams said. “Our efforts offer hope and a pathway that inspires people to fulfill their sense of purpose, rather than feeling trapped in a job that doesn’t maximize their interests and skills.”

Inspire started this year, and team members already have visited several companies and state agencies to talk with supervisors and employees.

“The Inspire program helps business owners and agency directors craft and formalize an education strategy that can increase employee retention and development,” Williams said. “We believe that this program can strengthen an organization from the inside out as it acknowledges the individual’s contribution to the organization and outlines a plan that supports growth and development.”

K.S. McNutt

Kathryn McNutt covers higher education for The Oklahoman and NewsOK. Since joining the staff in August 2000, she also has worked as the Breaking News editor, Metro editor and assistant Local editor. A native of Oklahoma City, she graduated from... Read more ›