BY AUSTIN KOELLER
KEARNEY – The first year for a University of Nebraska at Kearney student is important, says Brette Ensz, and one program guides students during that year.
The First Year Program at UNK has existed 10 years and works to get students acclimated in their first year of college. Ensz, assistant director of the First Year Program, said the goal of the program is to be a student resource.
“When students don’t know where to go or where to turn, they can come to First Year Program and we’ll point them in the right direction,” she said. “Hopefully students can see us as a resource and can come in and see me at any time.”
One of the main events First Year Program hosts is Blue and Gold Welcome Week at the start of the fall semester. “We make sure that students are engaged in having a smooth transition to college – specifically that first weekend,” Ensz said.
Loper Leaders play a key role during Blue Gold Welcome Week, escorting new students to a variety of activities throughout the weekend. Loper Leaders serve as campus guides, facilitate intentional interactions with new students, answer questions and engage each student in planned events.
Since beginning her role as assistant director in March 2015, Ensz has noticed once Blue and Gold Welcome Week is over, there is not much First Year Program does for first-year students.
Her goal is to host more programs and events throughout the year. Some initiatives Ensz has started include Jan Jam, a series of events at the beginning of the spring semester, and an end-of-semester holiday party hosted for students to celebrate their success of making it through their first semester.
“That was a really great success,” she said. “We had over 100 students show up. We played games, had snacks and an ugly sweater competition. I’m hoping to do the same thing in the spring. For a lot of these students, finishing your first year of college is a big accomplishment.”
Ensz said one of her biggest accomplishments since beginning her position with First Year Program has been forming a new student organization called FIRST Leaders.
“We started in October, just meeting and saying, ‘This isn’t official, but we’d love to have people help get this started.’ It started with two students who came to my informational meeting,” Ensz said. “From there, we’ve grown to over 20 students.”
Students involved in FIRST Leaders said the organization aims to help first-year students get more comfortable, while also giving Ensz and the First Year Program insight into what things work, what does not and how to fix it.
“It’s a group you can go to if you have any problems, questions or need advice,” said Danielle Dickerson, a freshman from Brentwood, Calif. “It makes the transition to college easier. It’s not easy.”
Logan Krejdl, a freshman from Aurora, sees FIRST Leaders as a way for first-year students to interact with other first-year students to make the transition to UNK easier.
“I see this as a channel,” he said. “For me, I don’t feel comfortable asking adults. I’d rather go to a person that can relate to me. It’s a channel students can go to if they have questions and don’t feel comfortable going to adults.”
Ensz encourages all students to visit her office and get involved with the FIRST Leaders organization. “Anybody can come and meet us. It doesn’t have to be a first-year student. Anybody can come and use our resources.”