Project Success: Innovative Education Transforms Lives

Ervin Carpenter '87

Ervin Carpenter '87

What began as a small, remedial program with six students in 1979 now serves more than 300 students from across the state, nation and around the world. Project Success at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh plays a pivotal role in students’ lives from the time they step on campus and into their future.

“We are one of a handful of colleges in the nation that focuses on remediation, and that’s what makes us unique,” said Teri Wegner, Project Success director. “We teach students how to read — whether it be decoding, reading comprehension strategies, increasing reading fluency, as well as writing strategies for spelling, organization and time management.”

Innovative program
Project Success focuses on remediating students’ language deficits across all educational areas through reading, spelling and written expression instruction. In addition, students in the program receive individual tutoring and are assigned a case manager with whom they meet one-on-one.

Wegner explained that the University has always been innovative in terms of education and accommodating students’ needs. “What was unique about the program was that UW Oshkosh supported such efforts and was very positive well before the Americans with Disabilities Act came out in 1990,” Wegner said. “The University was very proactive in working with individuals decades before the law came out.”

Prior to entering the University, students take part in a six-week summer program. This allows the Project Success staff time to assess the students’ abilities in reading, writing and math.

“We look at where students are functioning to figure out strategies to help them be successful in college and in life,” Wegner explained. “We know that students are very successful based on strategies they use, and many of our graduates are making more money than I will ever realize.”

As of January 2011, Project Success has graduated 824 students with degrees in all four colleges. “We are excited about the number of students graduating from our program and are proud of their accomplishments,” Wegner said.

Student success
UW Oshkosh alumnus Ervin Carpenter ’87, enrolled in the University after 16 years of military service and entered the Project Success program after failing most of his courses his first semester.

“When I started courses in 1982, I failed miserably and had a GPA of around 1.6,” Carpenter said. “After entering Project Success, changing my major to special education and continuing with courses, I graduated with a 3.5 GPA.”

After working in the Dodgeville School District, Carpenter founded the Wisconsin Institute for Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia (WILDD), which includes the basic foundation on which Project Success focuses. WILDD helps children and adults, including disabled veterans who are either identified or unidentified with a learning disability or dyslexia.

“If Project Success wasn’t in place, you wouldn’t have people like me and others trying to spend their lives paying back to the University and community,” Carpenter said. “Paying it forward; that’s what most of us do. I would not have been so successful if I had not come to UWO.”

Shawn Robinson ’02, had a similar experience in Project Success. However, he came to the University under different circumstances. He was kicked out of high school because, according to Robinson, teachers thought he had a behavioral disorder.

“I think my inability to communicate effectively, my internal pain and not knowing how to read or write like my classmates added to my frustrations, which led me to being sent to alternative school,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s mother heard of the program and encouraged him to apply. After a few tests, he was told by former Project Success Director Robert T. Nash that he was illiterate and dyslexic.

“At the time I didn’t know what either of those two terms meant,” Robinson explained. “They accepted me into the summer program but told me that there was no guarantee I would be accepted into the University because it was a separate process. Two months later, I received a letter of acceptance.”

The summer program was difficult and overwhelming for Robinson. He had not received educational support while in high school and was never pushed by educators or peers to do better.

“I was scared when I came here, because I had to transition into the program and living on campus. I had high school teachers telling me, ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re too stupid, and you’re too slow,’” Robinson said. “I took that same attitude with me when I came to college until I met a lot of good instructors and students.”

Although Robinson had to face challenges and take more time to earn his degree, UW Oshkosh’s faculty, staff and students helped him build his self-esteem as well as new learning strategies.

“It was a long six years to get my undergraduate degree, but during those years I was exposed to a different learning strategy and methodology than I was ever taught before — mastering the entire sound structure of the American English language,” Robinson said.

After graduating from UW Oshkosh, Robinson attended DePaul University and received a master’s degree in counseling. Today, he is a multicultural adviser at UW–Green Bay and is studying for a doctorate in literacy.

“The Project Success Program prepared me for obstacles and taught me to keep fighting,” Robinson said. “It gave me access into mainstream society that I would have never received anywhere else and the tools to graduate, become successful and continue my education.”

As UW Oshkosh continues growing, Wegner hopes to expand the program and continue to keep in touch with alumni like Carpenter and Robinson.

“As the population increases so does the population of people with disabilities, and why can’t they enjoy the same success as adults without disabilities do? We feel that every individual should be afforded an opportunity to enjoy success.”

Listen to Carpenter talk about his experiences in the Project Success program and how the program impacted his life.

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