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First-gen students find success through Groups Scholars

Campus Life Jul 5, 2024
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Note: This story was written by Leda Casey, director of first year experience, for the summer 2024 edition of Legacy, a Magazine for Alumni and Friends.

KOKOMO, Ind.— In spring 2023, a campus-wide committee of equity-minded champions gathered to build IU Kokomo’s Groups Scholars, a year-long cohort program that provides academic, financial, and social support to first generation, low income and ethnically diverse first-year students. Students who participate in the program complete two summer classes — one general education course and one college navigation course — before they launch fully into their first fall term. Participants are provided with their own laptop from the start of the program, ensuring access to vital campus resources and technical support. Summer tuition is paid in full, and Groups students receive up to $500 for both the fall and spring terms. Most importantly, the summer experience offers ample time for community building with a caring group of faculty and staff who continue to meet with and mentor students throughout the first year.

A dynamic group of 32 students from 12 area high schools were welcomed to our campus on June 27 to begin their summer classes as IU Kokomo’s first Groups Scholars cohort. Students made the IUK campus their summer home away from home. On campus three days a week, they took either Social Problems and Policies with Nicholas Baxter, assistant professor of sociology, or East-West Encounters in Music with Wendy Grice, director of music. In addition, all students took First Year Seminar with Meg Galasso, associate librarian, or Brandi Keith, adjunct professor of sociology. Groups Scholars faculty planned various engaging classroom experiences and some fun off-campus activities, too. Groups students went to the National Powwow in Indianapolis, and spent another day exploring downtown Kokomo. Like many new college students, our Groups Scholars were nervous at first, but by the end of the summer session, they exuded so much confidence!

“I felt like I was nervous and anxious to start college because I didn’t know what my professors would be like,” Groups Scholar participant Alayna Coffy shared. “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.”

The program doesn’t stop when fall classes start. Groups Scholars faculty and the program directors, Leda Casey and Rosalyn Davis, clinical associate professor of psychology, mentor students throughout the first year, meeting with them regularly for lunch and coffee check-ins. Scholars also gathered monthly for a variety of activities. Murder Mystery game nights were a huge hit, as well as a trip to Indiana University Bloomington to experience the homecoming football game and festivities. Even though the Hoosiers didn’t win, our IUK Groups Scholars had a great time cheering them on alongside other IU students.

The IUK Groups Scholars program was a huge success in its first year, with 28 scholars participating through the spring semester. The program not only helps students succeed academically, but it also elevates students to campus leader status. Nearly all our scholars have had a leadership moment this academic year! For example, Groups Scholar Diana Valencia of Logansport was accepted to our highly competitive nursing program. And Brooklyn Dill’s enthusiasm for IU Kokomo landed her a job as an admissions ambassador. Brooklyn moved to Kokomo from Arcadia to complete her degree in psychology.

Quite a few Groups Scholars attended this year’s First-Generation Celebration on November 6, but scholar Victoria Miller of Peru shined at the celebration as a panelist, alongside IUK Alumni Gabriela Pearson-Mora.

Groups Scholars were highlighted at this year’s Chancellor’s Guild Dinner on April 18. Attendees met and dined with our scholars, as well as the many faculty and staff who have supported the program throughout its first year. Attendees heard from Meg Galasso and Nick Baxter, and heard a special address from Groups Scholar Briana Madrigal. Briana, from Walton, is working toward earning her Bachelor of Science in Business.

IU Kokomo is currently preparing to welcome its second Groups Scholars cohort. Invitations for the 2024 Groups Scholars program were sent to 48 high school seniors hailing from 30 different Indiana high schools. Students made their first visit to campus on April 27 for a special enrollment event to register for summer and fall classes.

This year, we are excited to welcome our own IUK Alumni Brandon Wysong, lecturer in biology, to the Groups Scholars faculty team. Brandon will teach a sustainability course alongside our returning faculty team of Nick Baxter, Meg Galasso, and Brandi Keith.

“I’m thrilled to join the Groups Scholars program in a mentor role this summer,” Wysong shared. “ As an alumnus of IUK, I know first-hand that programs like Groups Scholars make such a difference in the academic experience for students. For a student, having a faculty mentor on campus – someone who you can trust, and who you know is looking out for you – can really give you a sense of community. I’m looking forward to giving my students the tools and confidence they need to have a successful freshman year.”

The IU Kokomo Groups Scholars program is growing and is sure to impact more and more students each year. If you want to get involved in the magic and increase the momentum behind the program, please spread the word to family, friends, and colleagues! You can learn more and share by visiting the IU Kokomo Groups Scholars website. If you are interested in meeting the scholars this summer, please drop me a note.

-Leda Casey

faculty director of First Year Experience/teaching professor of geology

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