A new semester with a new spirit of promise is upon us at Purdue University. And a change is in the air.

As a fresh cohort of some of the brightest undergraduates comes from around the world eager to learn at our great University, it is a perfect opportunity for all us in the Purdue family to revisit our roles and commitment to a fundamental, even sacred, mission: student success.

But how do we define it? And how will we know we have succeeded in fulfilling our mission?

Student Affairs begins with a vision to create the best living and learning environments for student success and learning. But encouraging and empowering students to strive for excellence in everything they do is not just my job as the vice president for student affairs. It is also my passion. Since arriving on campus three years ago, I have had the unique privilege to pursue this passion with renewed purpose.

As a Foundations of Excellence task force member and in other roles and activities, I have been a participant in and a witness to a truly inspiring campus-wide crusade dedicated to finding and implementing an array of student-centered, learningfocused programs, practices and principles.

At the center of this array of student success initiatives is 4-3-2-1-Graduate!

The concept — developed through the Indiana Commission for Higher Education — is designed to accelerate, enhance and deepen learning and to improve degree completion rates.

Currently, statistics show that about 42 percent of our students finish in four years, and we are determined to do better. Our goal is to see 50 percent of the Class of 2016 graduate in four years.

We launched our Purdue-specific 4-3-2-1-Graduate! initiative last August and Purdue Student Government soon adopted it.

Here is our recipe for student success:

  • 4 — Graduate in four years.
  • 3 — Maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average.
  • 2 — Study two hours for every hour spent in a classroom.
  • 1 — Make one leadership commitment.

Like in any good recipe, all the components augment each other and ultimately, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


  • 4 Graduate in four years.
  • 3 Maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average.
  • 2 Study two hours for every hour spent in a classroom.
  • 1 Make one leadership commitment.

Simply put, students spend 80 percent of their time outside of the classroom. Studies show that students who are more involved on campus tend to be more academically successful. Students who study more tend to have a higher GPA. Studies confirm that co-curricular programs enhance student success.

But the recipe’s truly value-added ingredient is enabling and encouraging every student to commit to leadership development opportunity of their own choosing as a core component of their undergraduate experience at Purdue.

From day one, we declare that every student is a leader — a notion premised on a redefinition of leadership that is independent of formal authority or position and not exclusive to extroverts, Type A personalities or alpha people.

Leadership is a learned skill set. It is action and outcomes. Effective team building. Communication. Collaboration. Developing cultural understanding. Ethics. Integrity.

It is my goal for every student to see him or herself as a leader and to develop the confidence, capacity and capability of exercising influence and inspiration — in their lives, in the classroom and beyond.

Melissa Exum

Melissa E. Exum, vice president for student affairs, oversees the Office of the Dean of Students, PUSH (student health), recreational sports and the Center for Career Opportunities. Student Affairs also provides learning opportunities through co-curricular activities, 81 Greek chapters, 12 cooperative houses, 875 registered student organizations, three ROTC units, Purdue Bands & Orchestras, the choral ensembles of Purdue Musical Organizations, Purdue Convocations and volunteer programs.


In short, leadership can and must be practiced by anyone who wants to or needs to make a difference in any arena of life.

Two complementary, ongoing projects — the Center for Student Excellence and Leadership (CSEL) and the Leadership Engagement Experience (LEE) — are further designed to create a supportive and safe environment to help all our students find their “leader within.” In today’s world, a student leadership experience is a necessity that adds value to a Purdue degree. Indeed, recruiters tell us they want well-rounded employees with so-called soft skills to enhance our graduates’ reputation for technical and academic prowess.

At Purdue, we stand united in purpose and action to better ensure student success, and I invite you to learn more about Purdue’s truly transformative student success initiatives.

By keeping our students at the center of all we do and at the forefront of our decision-making processes, we will better fulfill our promise to launch tomorrow’s leaders — as alumni, professionals and citizens — in a dynamic global society.