NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University's Nelson Rusche College of Business recently implemented the Student Success Passport Program to help students develop their professional skills.

The Passport Program, which launched in early October, aims to help students hone their professional skills while competing for scholarships. Dr. Ann Wilson, interim associate dean for the Rusche College of Business, said the program received a gift that will allow the college to annually award $130,000 in scholarships.

For the 2015-16 year, the Rusche College plans to award $50,000 in competitive scholarships to the top participants in the Passport Program. The top scholar in each classification: freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior, will be awarded $2,500 and 10 runner-ups will be awarded $1,000 per classification, with a total of 44 competitive scholarships being awarded in one year. Furthermore, $80,000 will be used to support program participants in experiential learning and career development activities such as study abroad or student competitions.

"The program encourages students to complete experiences outside the classroom curriculum for personal and professional enrichment," Wilson said. "The scholarship gives students a tangible incentive."

This program is designed to provide a formalized strategy for leadership development and career launch. Students will develop a personal portfolio of activities in D2L that will help prepare them to successfully launch their careers after graduation. Students are automatically enrolled in the Passport Program, and can choose if they want to participate.

Dr. Timothy Bisping, dean of the Nelson Rusche College of Business, notes that helping students launch into successful careers is central to the mission of the college.

"The Passport Program aligns perfectly with our mission, and it will serve as the foundation for future career success initiatives in the college," Bisping said. "We are proud of the exceptional academic programs, faculty and staff members and students in our college, and the Passport Program is a great way to leverage this excellence in order to ensure that our students go on to be successful leaders in their chosen careers."

The program works on a point system similar to other SFA courses. Program activities are designed to help develop students in personal and professional branding, experiential learning, leadership development, and engage in college activities and events. Assignments include developing a personal mission statement, attending an etiquette presentation, completing an internship and more.

"I start the program with the statement 'Begin with the end in mind.' We are trying to get our students to self assess. We want them to know their strengths, choose a major to get ready for a career they will be good at and take classes that will target their career goals," Wilson said. "This program provides students with experiential learning activities that go above and beyond the classroom."

The college also will be providing workshops within the Passport Program with faculty and staff members and industry professionals educating students. Wilson said she is coordinating with SFA's Career Services and Involvement Center to direct students to resources already available at the university.

Currently, there are about 1,200 students involved in the Passport Program.