Taking Flight

Taking Flight

Heritage launches campaign for the Ross Institute for Student Success

In 2009, when Sr. Kathleen Ross announced she was retiring from the presidency of Heritage University, she promised her work at the institution was far from over. She was compelled to expand the work started in rural Toppenish, Washington, to colleges and universities in towns big and small throughout the United States. Ross took her wisdom from the president’s office and into a newly-founded institute that would allow her to build on all that she and other educators had learned about working with students that she called the “New Majority.”

As colleges and universities throughout the United States diversify, more students who have traditionally been left out of higher education are pursuing degrees. They are the “New Majority,” those who are the first in their families to go to college. More often than not, they are from lower-income, working- class backgrounds and are often Latino/a, African American, Native American or from other cultural and racial minorities. They are just as bright, capable and driven as their traditional student peers, but through no fault of their own, they are often either underprepared for college or lack some of the skills that help students thrive in a college environment.

Heritage University was founded precisely to help New Majority students. In the 29 years under Ross’s leadership, much was learned about working with these students to break through barriers that keep them from success. Ross compiled these learnings in her book Breakthrough Strategies Classroom-based Practices to Support New Majority College Students. This book gives educators real, practical tools that Ross and other Heritage educators found to be successful in helping students thrive and persist through earning their degrees.

When current Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.D., arrived at the university, he was gifted a copy of Ross’s book. The tools he found within were powerful and insightful. More had to be done to expand on this work, both for the students at Heritage and beyond. It was time to direct resources towards the small one-woman institute that Ross operated under and build it into a research center that would provide development and training for Heritage faculty to enhance classroom practices and teaching methods. Additionally, the institute would conduct new research into effective practices and methods developed at Heritage and institutions elsewhere. The knowledge gained would be shared widely through visiting scholars, symposiums and other similar efforts.

“The lifelong work of Heritage University co-founder and President Emerita Kathleen Ross inspires me to follow in her footsteps and advance the mission of providing higher education to underserved student populations,” said Sund. “In addition to preserving the legacy of Dr. Ross, this new institute will continue her groundbreaking work, form collaborative and strategic partnerships, and, most importantly, make new research-based discoveries that will transform the lives of first-generation college students everywhere.”

In April 2022, Heritage launched its campaign to raise the funds needed to build the Ross Institute for Student Success. The announcement came at Ross’s 80th birthday celebration on April 7. A donor provided a $1 million cornerstone gift to launch the effort.

“The institute is a lasting legacy to a woman who dedicated much of her life to helping men and women rise to their fullest potential, regardless of the roadblocks they face,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement. “We see the proof of how important equitable access to higher education is to individuals, families and communities every day. The work Kathleen started all those years ago, and that Heritage does to this day, only scratches the surface of the need. The institute will allow us to do so much more, for so many more.”

To learn more about the Ross Institute for Student Success or to make your gift, go to heritage.edu/RossInstitute.