After a comprehensive program review process last March, the University of Rhode Island Talent Development Program has made great strides in improving their program.

Results from this review stated that, “We recommend, therefore, that the TD program mission pivot from one of creating access to one of promoting student persistence to success (defined as learning, persistence, and degree completion).”

To do this, Talent Development has started making many changes to their program. Gerald Williams, director of the Talent Development Program, said that he and the team at TD are setting up site visits to check out similar programs in other institutions to try to achieve best practices. They have created liaisons with the degree-granting colleges, already meeting with the College of Health Sciences, the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Another change on their to-do list is to change the mission statement for the program.

“We’re holding a program retreat to discuss [the mission statement],” Williams said.  “I’d like to say that we’re leaning on the mission of talent development to be ‘the road to your academic success.’ ”

Essentially, Talent Development is a program for academic success.

“It assists TD scholars with first an opportunity to come to the University of Rhode Island, and second it assists them with pointing them in the right direction in terms of being able to navigate the institution,” Williams said.

Students in the TD program are required to see their academic advisor within the program once a week.  In these meetings, they are asked three things: how are you mentally, physically and spiritually.

“All of those things are in a discussion that obviously carries on throughout the semester,” Williams said. “It’s not something you can solve in one week. Which is the reason why those weekly appointments are mandated.”

Viet Le, a freshman animal science major and TD scholar, said that Talent Development has helped him out a lot.

“Anything you tell them they will try to help you out [with],” Le said. “You can always go to [your advisors].”

Through the new mission statement, Williams said an important aspect to highlight is that there are many different roads TD scholars have taken.

“When they come [to Talent Development] we can point them to the roads they need to travel for their academic success,” he said. “So, when you read that, and you say talent development, the road to your academic success, it gives a personal sense that you’re involved in it.”

Founded in response to Dr. Martin luther King’s assassination in 1968, the Talent Development program has long been an important aspect to URI. “The reason for its existence was to give students of color, disadvantaged students, an opportunity to get a degree. And that hasn’t changed,” said Williams. Next year marks their 50th anniversary as a program on campus which they are hoping to honor in a celebration next October.

According to Williams, there was a 98 percent completion rate during the six-week summer orientation program where prospective students spend one week studying college learning and study skills followed by five weeks of two university-credited courses. “That’s the highest in the history of TD,” said Williams.

Damien Garto, a freshman TD scholar, said that his motto which has helped him out a lot in TD is “Being early is on time, being on time is late and being late is late.” It is these standards that the incoming TD students came with that have enabled them to have the highest summer program completion rate.  

Williams wants to continue building the success rate of Talent Development.

“I think it’s important for us to always look to improve the retention rate, always look to improve the graduation rate,” Williams said. “And to find ways to be able to do that. And part of that is sometimes raising the accountability on the scholar… of understanding the importance of talent development and its history.”

The goal of Talent Development is to give people an opportunity to attend their state institution while also assisting them on their track to graduation.

“Ultimately, that’s what we like to see: TD scholars [going] on to grad school unless they, of course, find a career within their major. But the ultimate goal is to be academically successful and to obtain that degree,” Williams said.

Nhu Pham, a sophomore TD scholar, said that Talent Development has helped her with “tuition and financial aid support.” Without this help, Pham wouldn’t have come to URI and would have probably gone to CCRI for her education.

The last question that Williams asks scholars is “Have we met your needs today?” In doing so, Williams wants to scholars to understand that “Talent Development is your road to academic success.”