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First-year students get trial run of college life

Campus Life Aug 12, 2020
Three men in masks work in front of a computer wall
Three men in masks work in front of a computer wall

KOKOMO, Ind. – After months at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, going back to school is challenging — especially if you’ve graduated from high school and must make the transition to college.

Indiana University Kokomo offered a hand to make the change more easily, with its two-day KEY Summer Institute, a free pre-college program offered to all first-year students.

Tori Enstrom, from Greentown, was among more than 300 students who participated, and now feels more confident about starting classes August 24.

“It was hard for me to imagine making that change, after missing the last part of high school,” she said. “Being here is helping me a lot, figuring out where I belong. I was happy to meet new people. I’m a very social person, and being able to engage with other students before we start gives me more confidence.”

That confidence, and the sense of connection to the campus, make students more likely to thrive in college, according to Christina Downey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success. Data from the previous five years of offering a summer bridge program has shown those who participate are more likely to succeed and make it to the second semester. 

That extra boost is especially important for this class, she said, because they spent the last months of high school learning at home. The campus received a $24,500  grant from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to expand the program to include all incoming students.

“We’ve recognized that students in our state may have this need,” Downey said. “Some of our students have never stepped foot on our campus, and this is literally their first chance. They want to be here to find their classes, and they want to meet people and make friends.”

A self-guided tour gave Angel Miller-Kemper, Paul Nguyen, and Gavin Wallace a chance not only to locate classrooms, but to start becoming friends in the process.

Nguyen had planned to find other people from Fishers High School going to IU Kokomo before graduating, but missed out because of school closures.

“I wanted to see what kind of people are here, and start making some friends,” he said. “I just made two.”

Wallace, from Kokomo also wanted to meet people, and find his classrooms, so he isn’t lost on the first day of classes.

“I feel better knowing the campus more, and where to ask if I need something,” he said.

Faculty focused the first day on navigating the campus and finding classes and resources, along with getting to know people. The second day included sessions on using technology to learn and study, building good study habits, and time management.

Miller-Kemper, Fort Wayne, appreciated the time management piece, saying she’s concerned about getting back on a schedule after being at home with little structure since March.

“Having classes, and juggling that with work and other things is my big worry,” she said. “This is a new beginning for all of us. We have to learn and grow.” 

Most of the students were in groups led by the faculty member who will teach their freshman learning community, allowing them to start connecting with people they will see during the semester.

Chad Broeker, director of international student services, said students are happy they will know classmates and at least one faculty member when classes begin — and also to know what it will be like to be on campus. His classes practiced wearing masks inside and taking them off outside, and cleaning their workspace after a class. He also answered questions for them about what classes with an online component will be like, which eased some of their fears.

“The way they ended high school likely isn’t the way their distance learning and hybrid classes will be taught here,” Broeker said. “Seeing sample presentations and hearing from us what it will be like was valuable to them. They had a trial run at what it will be like to be an IU Kokomo student at this time.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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