CAT communities prep students for college years

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Slow, uncertain walks. Flushed faces. Nervous smiles. All are symptoms of the anxiety felt by new college students during the first week of classes. The Connecting Across Topics community program, which reached record enrollment this year, aims to help first-year students alleviate this feeling, easing their transition into a new environment and prepping them for future college success.

Each CAT community consists of a core group of about 22 first-year students, who enroll together in the same two general education lecture courses, along with a one-hour small group course. As students cultivate an interdisciplinary understanding of their focus subject, they also develop homework habits and relationships with their peers. This fall, CAT communities topics ranged from social justice to fashion.

“We are very broad ranging in helping to facilitate success; everything from study skills to organizational skills to library skills,” Charles Sanders, associate professor of history, said. “You don’t get that (outside of the CAT community). You learn that on your own, sink or swim.”

Molly Ridder, sophomore in elementary education and CAT community resident learning assistant, participated in the program as a freshman last year, returning this year as a resource for students in the American Story CAT community. She, along with the other learning assistants, helps instruct the smaller group courses each week and plan events to encourage academic and social growth.

This week she took a group of students to an involvement fair at the K-State Student Union.

“I had a small group walk over with me, and I was able to show them that, ‘This is all that campus has to offer,’” Ridder said. “’You can find your niche.’”

The success of the CAT community program is evident in its steady enrollment increase. Last year there were 16 CAT communities; this fall that number rose to 21.

“We expand it due to success with student retention and satisfaction,” Kylie Kinley, learning assistant coordinator, said.

Students in CAT communities boast higher GPAs, first-year to second-year retention rates and graduation rates when compared to their peers not in CAT communities. Program coordinators and instructors credit these statistics to study and social skills learned during the critical first few weeks.

“(The CAT Community) is not just about making friends, but about making connections with professors and drawing comparisons between what students learn about in class and the real world,” Kinley said. “It’s a complete package in setting students up for success at K-State.”

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