KOKOMO, Ind. – A group of students cheered as a blindfolded classmate swung the baseball bat, grazing the legs of a Minions piñata. They called out directions, laughing, as he swatted and just missed another hit, and applauded wildly when he finally broke it open, raining down candy and small toys.
You would never guess from the camaraderie that most of the dozen people in that group met each other only five days earlier.
They were among nearly 130 incoming Indiana University Kokomo first-year students attending the KEY Summer Institute, a weeklong program to prepare them to transition successfully from high school to college.
“Going into freshman year, I’m not scared anymore, I’m ready to dive in,” said Hayden Turner, Kokomo. “This has been the highlight of my summer.”
Haley Richardson, from Sharpsville, is reassured she can ask a faculty member for help if needed, and that she will know people in her classes because of attending the program.
“Coming into college can be overwhelming to some people. This is a great way to get to know people and be comfortable,” she said. “I can walk into class and be like, ‘Hey, that’s my friend, I know someone here,’ and not feel out of place.”
That feeling of belonging is part of the reason the campus hosts the summer institute, as part of its Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) program, said Christina Downey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“This helps new students have a smooth transition to college,” she said. “They build relationships with faculty and other students, learn to navigate all areas of campus independently, and learn about core services, supports, and skills they will need in order to be successful.”
In the six years the campus has hosted it, students who participate are about 10 to 15 percent more likely to progress towards a degree. Downey said part of that is motivation, but “it also reflects their greater knowledge and sense of ownership of their college experience that results from the KEY Summer Institute.”
The freshmen learned about how academic advisors can guide them, campus travel opportunities, managing demands and staying balanced, resolving challenges, and how to get a campus job, among other topics. Those who completed the week also received a student worker certification, which gives them an edge gaining one of the highly sought campus jobs.
There were also field trips to downtown Kokomo and other cities, including the Newfields art museum in Indianapolis.
The experience helped Eder Muniz start building a community of friends on campus.
“I wasn’t sure I would fit in,” the Noblesville resident said. “It opened my eyes to see there are a lot of people that are not only very helpful, but are friendly, open, and social.”
Abigail Hibler, Kokomo, said they also established relationships with faculty members, dispelling the myth that college professors don’t care if they succeed.
“It’s not like it’s depicted to us in high school,” she said. “There’s a support system in place for us. You don’t just get here and you’re on your own. You get to know that there are people here who care about you.”
The KEY Summer Institute is a great way to begin this new chapter in her life.
“I feel it’s given me a head start of what my college career will be like,” she said. “I feel like I’ve known this campus longer than a week. It makes me excited to get started.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.