Left to right: student peer mentors part of the Learning Community initiative include Mikayla Hubbs,  Sophie Kim, Jirah Jemerson, and Shayonna Huley

Left to right: student peer mentors part of the Learning Community initiative
include Mikayla Hubbs,
Sophie Kim, Jirah Jemerson, and Shayonna Huley

The “secret sauce” behind first-year success

By Marya Barlow

As a commuter student and the first person in her family to attend college, Monserrat Patricio entered CSUCI in 2022 with many questions and concerns about assimilating into university life. In her first-year Learning Community, she was able to take classes and meet weekly with a consistent group of peers, while also benefiting from the ongoing support of an embedded peer mentor.

“My embedded peer mentor made that transition so much easier,” Patricio said. “I knew I wasn’t alone because she had been in my shoes and understood me. I was able to gain some amazing friendships and discover a social side I didn’t know I had. It benefited me in so many ways and shaped the person I am today.”

This year 84% of first-year CSUCI students are participating in a Learning Community – a record number that reflects the University’s commitment to ensuring incoming students have the support and encouragement they need to successfully navigate the transition to college.

Learning Communities (LCs) unite students with similar interests or majors in two or more introductory courses, close-knit peer learning groups, and extra-curricular activities. Some offer a residential component and are called Living Learning Communities, allowing students to live and learn with a common group of peers in student housing. All students in LCs have access to the personalized attention of an embedded peer mentor (EPM) and opportunity to develop close relationships with faculty members in their foundational courses. With 16 different LCs based on varied areas of study, affinity, identity, or interest, there’s a place for everyone to find connection.

Studies have shown that students participating in LCs have had higher GPAs, stronger retention to graduation, and a greater sense of belonging. Recent changes within CSUCI’s LC program necessitate ongoing evaluation. 

Kathleen Klompien, the current Faculty Director of Learning/Living Communities, describes EPMs as the “secret sauce” behind LC’s success.

The Learning Community unites students with extra-curricular activities.The Learning Community unites students with extra-curricular activities.

“These students work with faculty partners, present interventions in classes each week for about 30 minutes, and then meet with smaller groups of students throughout the week to help them make connections between what they’re learning in their classes and their lives,” she said. “They also help students deepen relationships with each other, locate the resources they need, and find opportunities to enrich their time at CSUCI, like trips to Santa Rosa Island or travel courses that take them around the world.”

Now a second-year pre-nursing student, Patricio is one of 19 embedded peer mentors helping first-year students find belonging at CSUCI. She mentors students in Serve It Up, an LC that promotes service and volunteer projects in the community.

“It makes me so happy to know I’m helping them,” she said. “Just knowing students enjoy coming to me for help makes me feel like I’m making a positive change.”

© Winter 2023-24 / Volume 28 / Number 1 / Biannual

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