|(Left to right) Senior Business Administration major Jeanine White and Christian Ministry senior James Kizzia visit with First Year Experience Coordinator Dr. Cathy Kass who came to Bacone in June. Kass said she was hired to craft a "positive" freshman experience. (Baconian Online photo by Haydee V. Silva)|
For a freshman, the college experience is sometimes overwhelming. Suddenly independent from their parents' watch, students can become lost.
First is her titular, First-Year Experience, which aims to more effectively connect students and their early classes.“We're looking at the total experience," said Kass, "and making sure it's a positive one for freshmen." Bacone's First-Year Experience focuses mainly on Freshman Seminar and “Pathway” courses, formerly called developmental classes, where students cover previous education weaknesses.
“Not everyone gets everything they need for college in high school,” said Kass. “Pathways are positive steps to build a foundation for success."
The First-Year Experience will also help foster a better relationship between students and their peers, she said.
“We want to build a community for freshmen who are going through an adjustment in meeting people,” added Kass.
Director of Academic Support Dr. Thomas Karmen likened the renewed focus to a “dogpile” in football.
“We want to pile on the freshmen,” he said.
Karmen said the First-Year Experience not only engages underclassmen, but serves as an “early warning system."
“While we're building that human connection, we can find which students have trouble,” he said.
Kass also directs another initiative dubbed the Warrior Academy of Excellence and composed of two cohorts, or student groups - one requires freshmen with a 20 or higher ACT, and need no Pathway classes.
The second mandates an 18 or higher, and no more than two Pathway courses.
Academy underclassmen remain together through their first year both in courses and activities, according to Kass.
They also share two peer mentors - Christian Ministry senior James Kizzia and Criminal Justice senior Antoinette Ortega.
Ortega said after turning in her resume to Kass, she and Kizzia interviewed with several staff members, included Kass, Karmen and Bacone Advising Center Director Alicia Severe.
Ortega and Kizzia help students in ranges from homework to personal issues.
Kizzia said his youth pastor experience prepared him for the job.
"Things carry over from one to the other," he added.
The Christian Ministry major said he and Ortega mentor all 20 Academy students.
"They are literally my peers," he said. "I told them, 'Look; my pod is open to you guys."
Kizzia said despite an already busy schedule, he does not anticipate problems juggling his own academic challenges.
"I know it's a lot to do, but I've got good time management skills," he said.
Criminal Justice freshman Jameson Dent, one of the first Warrior Academy of Excellence members, said he enrolled in the program after speaking with Kizzia and Ortega.
Dent described his peer mentors as "great."
"James has great advice," he said, "and he's just a cool person."
The Academy cohort also provides backup on difficult courses or subjects, Dent explained.
"If I know people, and I have trouble, it's easier to ask for help," said Dent. "I can help other people out, too."
The Trenton, N.J. native said Academy monthly outings will also orient him to Muskogee.
"I've never been around here," said Dent. "Going on trips can help me."
Dent said the program already alleviated some fears about college.
"If I did all this without the Academy, if I didn't use the support I have," he said, "I'd probably be very lost.".