Lyons honored for promoting college access, success

tracy lyons streamTracy Lyons, Ph.D., received the Walter O. Mason Award, the highest national honor given by the Council for Opportunity in Education.In the past two decades, UAB’s enrollment has more than doubled, soaring from fewer than 10,000 students to more than 20,000. For 19 of those years, Tracy Lyons, Ph.D., executive director of Undergraduate Student Success and Retention, has remained dedicated to ensuring low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities have the resources to both attend and succeed at college.

For her dedication, Lyons was awarded the Walter O. Mason Award at the Council for Opportunity for Education’s September conference; the award recognizes professionals who have dedicated their careers to college access and success.

Building a future

From 2002 to 2015, Lyons was executive director of TRIO Academic Services (TAS), a Student Support Services program that provides academic and personal support to help disadvantaged students be successful as they pursue their educational goals at UAB. TAS is part of a network of TRIO programs fully funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and Mason, for whom the award is named, is a founder of the federal TRIO programs.

“Helping at-risk students be successful in college prepared me to do retention and graduation work for the entire undergraduate population. This year we achieved the highest-ever freshman-retention rate at 84.4 percent.”

UAB’s TRIO program, TAS, provides continuous support during a student’s freshmen and sophomore years, when they are more likely not to return to UAB if they feel isolated or discouraged. TAS also offers services such as free tutoring and printing, midterm grade-monitoring, study skill development and counseling, among others; all are focused on ensuring disadvantaged students have the support they need to succeed during their UAB experience.

During her tenure, Lyons secured five federal TRIO grants totaling $1.49 million annually. The grants assist 465 disadvantaged students, 345 of whom attend UAB and 120 of whom attend local high schools.

“Dr. Lyons’ national recognition confirms what many of us have known about her for some time,” said Bradley Barnes, Ph.D., vice provost for enrollment management. “That is, she has generously dedicated her professional career to helping students succeed academically and in life.”

Reaching new heights

She also applied her experience with TAS and TRIO in her current position as executive director of Undergraduate Student Success and Retention. In 2014, first-year retention rates peaked at 78.7 percent. This fall, the number topped 84 percent.

“My years of work in TRIO at UAB helping at-risk students be successful in college prepared me to do retention and graduation work for the entire undergraduate population,” Lyons said. “This year we achieved the highest-ever freshman-retention rate at 84.4 percent.”

“Dr. Lyons’ national recognition confirms what many of us have known about her for some time. That is, she has generously dedicated her professional career to helping students succeed academically and in life.”

In addition to TAS, Undergraduate Student Success and Retention has spearheaded other campus initiatives to help freshman and younger students acclimate to UAB, such as creating the Vulcan Materials Academic Success Center, which has provided tutoring, academic coaching and exploratory advising to more than 33,000 undergrads since its creation in 2013. The Enrollment Management office also created the new Office of First-Year Experience, which hosts UAB’s annual First-Year Convocation.

“The Office of Undergraduate Student Success and Retention works hard to ensure that, once enrolled, students are given the resources they need to succeed,” Lyons said on the Student Success website. “The office is grounded in the philosophy that all students can succeed when they have appropriate academic and social support.”