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Groups Scholars program sets students up for college success

Sep 21, 2023
A woman and a man laugh in a classroom
A woman and a man laugh in a classroom

KOKOMO, Ind. — Like many incoming students, Luke Neff was a little concerned he wasn’t ready for college.

But after participating in Indiana University Kokomo’s inaugural class of Groups Scholars, he feels ready to succeed.

“My high school was so laid back, I was coasting on everything,” said Neff, from Anderson. “Now I have to apply myself to my studies. With Groups, I was able to jump in full swing and not have any issues at all.”

He’s among 31 new IU Kokomo students in the program, which IU created in 1968, and expanded to all regional campuses this year. As part of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OVPDEI), the Groups Scholars program provides academic, financial, and social support to selected underrepresented Indiana college students all the way to graduation.

Leda Casey, director of first year experience, said the program continues IU Kokomo’s focus on student success, including support for students from underrepresented populations such as minorities, first-generation students, those with disabilities, or students from low-income families.

“Of course, it’s all about the students,” she said. “This shows the heart of our campus and the passion we have for the region we serve, and our awareness of the diversity of the region. That contagious spirit of empathy and understanding translates to what we do, and the way we interact with students in a way that impacts their success. Students feel that support.”

The program contributed to record enrollment of students of color for the fall 2023 semester, and to an overall enrollment increase of about 1.6 percent. Casey said because they were part of a smaller cohort, faculty and staff could more easily notice who might need a little extra help and connect them with the resources needed.

“There were a few students who needed a little extra intervention,” she said. “There were a few who, if they had come with the whole freshman class, may not have been as successful. I do think Groups will have an impact on the persistence of these students to graduation.”

Groups Scholars received tuition, books, and fees for four credits of summer classes, which included either a sociology or music class and a student success seminar. In addition, their meals were provided, along with a laptop and field trips. Each one also received a $500 scholarship for the fall semester.

The summer session made a difference, Casey said.

“They are so comfortable and confident with campus, having been here all summer,” she said. “The level of confidence and community among this group is amazing. They walk differently than the other freshmen.”

For Alayna Coffy, Kokomo, the chance to meet faculty members Wendy Grice, senior lecturer in music, and Brandi Keith, adjunct faculty in sociology and student success, diminished her worries about the fall semester.

“I felt like I was nervous and anxious to start college because I didn’t know what my professors would be like,” she said. “I’m more at ease now because I know professors are just people like we are. My professors were really great, and they prepared me for what the college experience is like.”

Participating in the program also lifted a financial burden for Coffy, who is the first in her family to go to college.

“Buying a laptop was not in my budget this year,” she said, adding that she’s grateful to have it to do her homework.

The students will continue to be part of the program through the first year, with activities including attending the Indiana Hoosiers homecoming football game, attending a diversity conference in Indianapolis, and other opportunities to stay connected. After their first year, they may serve as mentors to following classes.

Other faculty and staff involved with the Groups program included Rosalyn Davis, associate clinical professor of psychology; Nick Baxter, assistant professor of sociology; Meg Galasso, associate librarian; and Kim Evans, academic advisor; and Mike Gault, success coach.

For more information, go to kokomo.iu.edu/groups-scholars. Casey anticipates applications being available for the 2024-2025 academic year in November.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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