Newman University officially welcomed 14 first-year students into the Jet family through Elevate to Excellence, an event partnered with the Kansas Hispanic Education and Development Foundation (KHEDF).
Newman is an associate member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and is striving to become a certified Hispanic-serving institution. The objective may sound simple, but achieving this goal goes beyond merely enrolling students with Hispanic backgrounds.
“History will tell us that a lot of times schools will do these sorts of programs for the money and then they don’t follow up,” Interim Director of Student Activities Kaitlyn Matthews explained. “If we really want to focus on creating a supporting environment, events like this have to happen and we have to put so much effort into it because ultimately we want those students to succeed and to feel supported.”
Director of Multicultural Engagement and Campus Life Enid Ortiz worked with Mark Guzman of KHEDF to create a mentorship between the incoming Newman students and current Newman students and staff.
Elevate to Excellence featured a complimentary meet-and-greet breakfast with a welcome from President Kathleen Jagger and Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success Christine Schneikart-Luebbe. The group then visited various areas of campus where they learned about student resources like the Runway Learning Center, Registrar and Financial Aid Office, Dugan Library, mental health resources, plus writing, communication and study skills.
“The idea surrounding this activity is for all the students to know that they have our support, that we care about them and that we can ensure that they are successful in their first year of college,” Ortiz said.
Following the campus tour, the Newman group loaded into university vans and traveled off-campus to Chicken N Pickle to enjoy a lunch and afternoon social. The Elevate to Excellence attendees returned to campus later in the afternoon and wrapped up their full day of Newman festivities with a student panel and Q & A session. The presenting student mentors were Michelle Tong, Hope Strickbine and Joshua Robles.
Preparing the next generation of students
The transition from high school to college can be a challenging experience for any learner, regardless of whether or not family members have attended college. The Student Life team took a proactive approach in supporting the incoming first-year students with the hope that they can one day serve as mentors to future students of Newman.
“Our intention first is to equip them to be successful, not only on the academic part but also in the emotional part,” Ortiz said. “That’s why we included a mental health and self-care conversation with the students. Our intention is for them to learn and to equip themselves so they can help others in the future.”
Matthews added, “By the end of the day, what we wanted was for each student to at least recognize one face and then remember one name because having that sort of early connection has proven to lead to more success when they’re in school.”
A first-generation student’s experience
Get to know Joshua Robles
Robles is a first-generation college student who hails from California. He had always dreamed of attending the University of California, Los Angeles, but when his family suddenly moved to Kansas, he felt his dream wash away.
As a high schooler, Robles felt he had to completely start over. All of his relationships with teachers, staff and counselors from his previous high school were gone, and he had to shift his mindset from attending a big state school to a small, private university in the Heartland.
“When we moved to Kansas, really the only person I talked to at Goddard High School was my counselor, Kim Hoetmer,” he said. “She helped me with going on college tours because my parents didn’t have that college background or graduate high school. It was hard, but we had a lot of sit-down meetings with (Kim) in her office and so my mom and I went on a bunch of tours and applied to several schools. I’m really thankful for my mom and Kim for that.”
First-year Newman student turned mentor
Robles, who is now a sophomore double majoring in sports media and promotion and psychology at Newman, was asked by Ortiz and Dean of Students Sara Mata to serve on the student panel for the Elevate to Excellence event.
Robles is a writer and editor for The Vantage student newspaper, serves on the Student Government Association as division chair for the humanities, is the treasurer of the Multicultural Leadership Organization and serves as a student worker for University Relations. As much as he is involved at Newman, Robles admitted that he doesn’t always like going out and being social.
“A couple days before the Elevate to Excellence event I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to do this,’” Robles said with a laugh. “But then I went and it was really fun. As soon as I took the elevator to the Alumni Center, I ran into Chaise Turner, who I’d met at Jet Fest a few months prior. We had talked about University Relations and the Vantage, and we just kind of clicked and have stayed in touch since.”
At the beginning of the event, Robles noticed most of the students were shy and reserved. By the end of the day, however, “everyone was all smiles, talkative and having fun.”
“During the student panel, I mentioned that in the fall I was kind of like them — how they were in the morning,” Robles explained. “I stayed to myself, in each class I’d sit all the way towards the window in the corner and I was just quiet, minding my business. After a couple months in the fall, I started to open up a bit.”
He gave the incoming students some words of wisdom: “Come out of your shell, open up a little bit and don’t be afraid to network.”
“Find someone — a faculty or staff member, or maybe even, an older student — who cares or would be willing to help,” Robles said. “I know I’d be willing to help any incoming freshman. Even if you’re super introverted like me and you don’t really enjoy talking to lots of people, try to at least make one friend in each class. That way you could have a study partner or someone to share notes with. That little stuff matters and it could go a long way.”
Forming relationships to navigate new waters
Following the Elevate to Excellence event, Robles said that he and the other male attendees formed a group chat, “The New Men,” which plays off the name of the university.
“It hasn’t died yet,” Robles joked. “We’ve been keeping it up. I’ve given them some advice on how to buy books, network and if they have any questions or problems I offer help and try to find the answer.”
Robles also encouraged the students to form good relationships with faculty and staff members, which he has witnessed firsthand benefits from.
“Having a good relationship with Dr. Mata and Dr. (Susan) Crane-Laracuente, … I don’t think I would’ve been involved with any of this stuff if it weren’t for them,” he said. “So thanks again to both of them.”
“I’m really grateful for Dr. Mata,” he said. “She’s always networking with me and helping me get known in the Newman community.”
Just the beginning
Ortiz said the Elevate to Excellence event was “just a glimpse of what we want to achieve.”
“I think these students represent the community and we want Newman to be represented by each of the students,” she said. “They now know Newman is a place where they can come, make friends, study, have a good time, learn and give back to the community. I think we are on the right track as we work together towards the wellbeing of the students we’re serving.”
Matthews agrees, and said she is excited to be part of Newman’s staff in the semester to come.
“I love this department,” Matthews said. “Working with Enid and Sara has just been incredible. I feel like they are both very inspiring and I respect both of them tremendously.”
Matthews’ hopes for all new and returning Newman students is to “get as involved as possible.”
“Taking the time to try new things — that’s what college is for. Maybe it’s something that you’ve never done before, maybe it’s something you think you wouldn’t like you’ll end up liking, but just allowing yourself to experience those things. Because most of the time you’re not going to regret trying something, but you are going to regret not trying. You don’t have to be involved in every single thing, but I think you don’t fully get the benefit of what college is about if you don’t try to get involved in at least one thing.”
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