Andrew Marvin
Cover Story

Centered on Success:
The Becker AeSC gives students their wings

◆ 7 minute read

Centered on Success: The Becker AeSC gives students their wings

New to West Virginia University as a freshman from Cincinnati, Ohio, Bella Randle anticipated one class not fitting too nicely into the equation.

Randle, an entrepreneurship and innovation major who’s minoring in finance, predicted she’d struggle with Math 124, which is a college algebra course. Rather than throwing a Hail Mary and diving blindly into the course, Randle knew help was available at Reynolds Hall – even though the class was housed outside the Chambers College.

She found that help at the Becker Academic engagement Success Center (AeSC) on the main level of Reynolds Hall. The study center contains presentation practice rooms, group work centers, computer bays and tutors on hand to assist students.

“I decided to seek out math help in the AeSC at the very beginning of my freshman year because I knew I was going to struggle with Math 124,” Randle said. “I was able to get the help I needed straight off the bat, instead of waiting until it was too late and I had fallen too far behind. They really helped me stay on track and explained everything to me.”

Randle isn’t the only one to benefit from the Becker AeSC.

The number of students served there has nearly doubled from 1,113 in Fall 2020 to 2,116 in Spring 2023. Perhaps it’s the physical space – described as a “modern and professional welcoming space” and a “judgement free zone to seek support” - that played a part in the uptick. It opened its doors in Reynolds Hall in Fall 2022. That semester, freshmen logged 7,758 study hours in the Becker AeSC.

The Becker AeSC  is an example of how the Chambers College is collectively using its strengths to achieve measurable outcomes for our students.

- Josh Hall

In its relatively short life, the Becker AeSC has proven to keep students on track, ultimately serving as an effective retention tool by engaging students in the Chambers College experience and supporting them with the resources to succeed.

According to Milan Puskar Dean Josh Hall, it is the secret sauce that has bolstered the College’s performance in student success.

“The Becker AeSC is an example of how the Chambers College is collectively using its strengths to achieve measurable outcomes for our students,” Hall said. “The retention rate of business majors in the first year that it opened its doors in its leveled-up space in Reynolds Hall was 82.3%, a jump of 2% from the year prior.”

Paving the way

The origins of the Center grew out of the vision of two alumni – Marty and Kathy Becker. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1974. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1979.

Their profound experiences at WVU and the business college, to which they’ve attributed their professional successes, have stuck with them throughout the years, prompting them to give back.

In 2021, the Beckers contributed a generous multimillion-dollar gift to support the AeSC, bolster building construction for Reynolds Hall and establish an estate gift in the form of an endowment to supplement faculty salaries.

The Charleston, West Virginia couple previously established an endowed fund for undergraduate student scholarships and a doctoral fellowship.

Photos of Marty and Kathy Becker

“Kathy and I have both been involved with WVU for a long time,” Marty Becker said. “We both believe that no other institution can contribute more to the future of West Virginia than WVU. It’s undeniable.”

The couple had conversations with then-Dean Javier Reyes when Reynolds Hall was in its planning stages. The three decided to embolden existing resources and create new ones for incoming and freshmen students to thrive right out of the gate.

“Education coming out of high schools is very different, depending upon where the high school is and the economics of the region, et cetera,” Marty Becker said. “The vision was that the academic engagement center would afford all accepted applicants to the Chambers College access to tutors and mentorship within a short period of time.”

The Center pulls together separate pedagogically-based programs that rely on peer-assisted tutoring, supplemental instruction, and coaching skills. Becker AeSC selects student leaders and trains them to run review sessions, become better communicators and model successful student behaviors.

Rachel Nieman, director of the Becker AeSC and recruitment and retention, joined the College in 2012. As an undergraduate student recruiter, she was tasked with building an ambassador program.

Photo of Rachel Nieman working with students

“I saw a need for a mentorship component for students once they got here,” Nieman said. “My job as a recruiter was to get them through the door but that’s just the beginning. Our work wasn’t done.”

Nieman attended national conferences where she learned about other universities’ programs on the first-year experience and peer mentor models. Nieman brought those ideas back to WVU and molded them into the perfect fit for the Chambers College. The College began offering peer-to-peer resources, with upperclassmen guiding newer students.

“We became the first college on campus to embed mentorship into the first year experience for all students,” she said. “Some other units on campus are also beginning to incorporate it.”

No institution can contribute more to the future of West Virginia than West Virginia University. It’s undeniable.

- Marty Becker

“In higher education research, studies repeatedly show that it's not just the academic sphere that matters nor the social sphere that matters in finding fit, success and getting plugged in. It’s the integration of those two.”

Giving is Receiving

The Becker AeSC can be considered a one-stop shop for students seeking academic advice – and for students who want to help their fellow classmates.

Naimat Khani, a management major, is both a Neidermeyer scholar and Chambers Peer Mentor. In the Neidermeyer program, a scholar is assigned to a specific section of a course. Each scholar attends the class to keep up with course content and models effective student practices and attitudes. They facilitate group meetings throughout the week in which they engage students using interactive learning strategies to encourage involvement, comprehension and synthesis of course content.

Khani is a scholar for Math 150, as she struggled with math as a subject also.

“It’s rewarding when I receive emails or texts from mentees saying they passed an exam because of my help,” she said. “I know firsthand that math is a tough subject for many people. That’s why I want to help others.”

For the peer mentorship program, a group of student leaders assist first semester freshmen with their transition to college life. It’s a program that Khani utilized as a freshman.

“My peer mentor was a great help,” Khani said. “And I found it interesting that the College had such a program that exists.”

The Neidermeyer Scholars and Peer Mentorship programs are just two of many offerings provided by the Becker AeSC. Nieman and her team are also responsible for the following:

  • Tutoring & Supplemental Instruction
  • Chambers Ambassador Program
  • Chambers–specific Adventure WV First-Year Trips
  • CLIMB Living Learning Community
  • New student recruitment
  • BCOR 191 First Year Seminar (in conjunction with the General Business department)
  • Chambers College Scholarship administration
  • Success coaching for academically at risk/ remediating students
  • Support for Chambers-specific student organizations
  • Study Hall requirements
  • First Generation student initiatives

“When you invest in a center like this, not only are you helping new students get the assistance they need to level the playing field, but you're also giving upperclassmen employment, scholarship and leadership opportunities,” Nieman said.

The Beckers hope that the center and its influence urges other alumni and WVU supporters to get involved with the College.

“People who have found success in their lives and careers think about what inspired and motivated them,” Kathy Becker said. “Marty and I both felt a desire to support and enhance the business school, which can also help meet the needs of West Virginia.”

Kathy Becker believes the Center has made a tangible difference in how students perceive education. She and her husband think that alone should encourage others to support the College.

Photo of Kayla Guyton leading a tutor session in the Becker AeSC

“It’s essential because the University does not have unlimited funding,” Marty Becker said. “Private dollars make a huge difference.

“West Virginia University is a remarkably different institution today in what it offers and what it can provide. Higher education today receives a lot of criticism for graduating students without viable career opportunities. The Chambers College is 180 degrees from that. The students graduating from the College have the background that offers significant employment opportunities and the ability to make a tangible contribution wherever they go.”

Business students are landing those employment opportunities quickly. 2023 data from the Chambers College Center for Career Development shows that 74 percent of WVU business students have a job or are enrolled in post-graduate education at graduation, and this number increases to 93 percent six months after graduation.

We create meaningful change for students when we have invested alumni like Marty and Kathy Becker who see a need and believe that the power to change students’ lives for the better starts with them.

- Josh Hall

Randle, the Cincinnati native who sought assistance for Math 124, foresees those opportunities becoming a reality for her because of the Center.

“I have made many friends and connections through my time utilizing the Becker AeSC,” she said. “I became a regular student and started seeing the same scholars on a weekly scheduled basis. They became mentors of mine and helped me get out of my comfort zone when applying for positions and joining new extracurriculars. Their friendship became invaluable to me as a freshman adjusting to a new place and shaped my first year of college. Without the help of the many Niedermeyer Scholars and tutors, I would not have been as successful in many of my classes.

“I am hoping to go into wealth management upon graduation. While, obviously, plans are always changing, I didn’t know much about this field until getting to Chambers College. It was through my connections at the Becker AeSC that I learned more about other areas in the business world and where I might feel best fit.”

According to Hall, the formula for success in the Becker AeSC is a combination of the vision and tireless dedication of Nieman and her team and the fiscal support from the Beckers that kickstarted its momentum.

“We create meaningful change for students when we have invested alumni like Marty and Kathy Becker who see a need and believe that the power to change students’ lives for the better starts with them,” Hall said. “When we have the resources, the potential of our team to get results for our business students is limitless.”

Photo of the AeSC Center tutor shirt with text "Need help? Just AeSC!"