Legendary basketball coach Al McGuire once said that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.
But for far too many freshmen and sophomores, the academic road ends far too soon. Whether caused by being overwhelmed by the college experience or a failure to gather a sense of belonging, the attrition rate of students in their first two years is something nearly all colleges are attempting to address.
“Stan State Gets Me There” is the latest example of how the University is attempting to embrace its most at-risk population. Around 50 freshmen were invited to a dinner at the University Event Center on May 3 for fellowship and a chance to hear from their upper-division peers who successfully worked through problems early in their college careers to become excellent students.
“The research shows that when students feel they belong, they tend to stay in the university,” said Marjorie Jaasma, associate vice president for academic planning and analysis. “We have a panel of six students who have succeeded in school, and that same research shows that peer-to-peer communication is most successful.”
The diverse panel spoke openly about the hurdles they faced early in their time at college, and also about how they managed to overcome the challenges to continue on their paths toward graduation.
“If they take one thing away from this, it has to be the feeling of belonging,” said Sandra Loza, a panel member and ASI vice president. “Even as a senior, sometimes I still feel like I don’t belong, and that’s OK because it’s very much a personal struggle — it’s never someone telling me that I don’t belong, it’s me battling myself. It’s OK to admit to yourself that it’s hard right now, but it’s important to realize that it gets better.”
Jordan “Jay” Elzie, the representative for athletics on the ASI board, addressed how he overcame a background that included growing up in foster homes and run-ins with the law at an early age. He pointed to one very easy thing all young students can do to help their own situation.
“Students should take advantage of every opportunity to make a friend,” Elzie said. “I’d just say hello to professors when I saw them on campus and all of the sudden I made a friend who is helping me get into law school. This campus is a very open and accepting environment and everybody is friendly. You never know if that person standing next to you is someone who can end up helping you, and you won’t know unless you take a moment to just say hello.”
President Joseph F. Sheley not only addressed the gathering, but stayed around to dine and chat with the students.
“The worst thing you can do if you’re interested in becoming a successful college student is to stand in the corner by yourself,” Sheley said. “The best thing you can do is to be engaged in university life — music, art, athletics, politics, whatever. All the research says that the more you hang out on campus, the better you do. The freshman year is a hurdle, and congratulations to those of you who have scaled that hurdle.”
Jaasma said that the matriculation of the students who attended the dinner will be tracked — not only because the University takes personal interest in its students, but to measure whether the Stan State Gets Me There program is worth repeating.
“We want to make the freshmen feel as much as possible like they’re part of the University and also let them know that we’re here to help them succeed,” she said.