After a long day of tours and testing, then freshman Hannah Williams settled down to finally register for classes. But the decision of what courses to take and when wasn’t an easy task.
“Our advisor did everything he could to help us. But not one out of the 15 people in the classroom had the same major,” Williams said.
With a classroom full of students studying varying majors, Williams recalled working together to schedule their classes. She said most of the class signed up for General Education courses because it was the only thing they all had in common.
And that night, as students settled into their dorms, some chose to throw parties, which led the residential halls to lock down.
“I did what any grown adult would do in a situation that made them uncomfortable and, I called my mom,” Williams said.
With nerves at an all-time high, she left campus and stayed at a nearby hotel. What was supposed to be a fun experience made Williams realize she didn’t want to live on campus anymore.
In 2019, Castleton University received a Title III grant through the United States Department of Education that lasts for five years. Kelley Beckwith, associate dean of Student Success, said that this grant has created a new project called Pathway to Graduation.
“The federal government gives us this money to make Castleton a better place, specifically a better place for all students,” Beckwith said.
She explained that this project addresses the intersectionalties of students and how to address them to create success among all students.
Pathway to Graduation, she said, is made up of three activities to strengthen the college.
The first activity is to improve the first-year experience.
“So that is looking at the registration and orientation process in particular,” Beckwith said.
All first-year students met with one of nine success coaches over Zoom or phone call to help each student register for classes this year.
Ashley Haggerty, a success coach, met with 99 first-year students to help register them for classes.
But her role doesn’t stop once they’re registered for their courses.
“When they arrive, it’s just checking in with them, making sure they don’t have any questions, any kind of follow up, then talking with coaches, just trying to give all the extra support when can once they’re here,” she said.
Haggerty shared that a student struggling to adjust to college and being away from home was considering leaving Castleton. But Haggerty was able to work through the student’s concerns and help her realize that she didn’t need to leave the school.
“I think this has impacted the students in a very positive way. I think they see that we are here to watch them succeed,” Haggerty said.
The second activities is to improve the teaching and learning of faculty by upgrading and learning about new technology to work with students.
“We’ve been upgrading all the classrooms on campus with new equipment, which was really great timing. We didn’t realize we were going to have a pandemic when we wrote the grant in 2019,” Beckwith said.
This allowed the college to buy new equipment like cameras and microphones to have the flexibility and provide more ways of teaching.
In addition to new equipment and technology, there is also the Teaching and Learning Center for faculty.
“Professor Chris Boettcher is the director of that teaching and learning center, which is professional development for faculty to learn best practices in teaching and how to use new tools like how to be an expert in Canvas or how to use the new classroom tech to do all kinds of fancy fun things in the classroom,” Beckwith said.
The final activity is workplace readiness.
“We want students to be ready for the workplace when they graduate from Castleton. So, some of the components of that activity include internships. We want to raise the percentage of internships or any other kind of experiential learning,” Beckwith said.
By partnering with Career Services, the workplace readiness effort will also include financial literacy.
Pearl Bellomo, a first-year student at Castleton, said that the resources and guidance Pathway to Graduation provided kept her on task without feeling overwhelmed.
“Over the summer, I really appreciated email reminders about necessary paperwork and steps for enrollment … I also liked the online orientation because it gave me a general overview of the school’s information in a digestible way,” Bellomo said.
Bellomo met with a success coach this summer and described them as very polite and patient.
“She helped me navigate the class courses system and together we created a well-balanced schedule that suited my interests. Overall, it was a very quick and efficient process,” she said.
Williams, who had a rough start at Castleton, said she would have felt set up for success if Castleton had this program when she was a freshman.
“I only just now feel like I understand how to make the best schedule for myself. It would be great to have those one-on-ones early on and really hit the ground running. I can only imagine the confidence that can give you as a freshman,” Williams said.
For Bellomo, integrating into college from high school was a lot easier than expected.
“So far, I am really enjoying my time here at Castleton. I feel comfortable in my housing and navigation of the campus, I’ve been meeting new people and going to events, and I’m a new member of the Castleton Spartan newspaper club,” she said.
According to Beckwith, Pathway to Graduation is not in its final form yet but will continue to evolve. She says the program will be setting long term ways of helping all students succeed.
“Pathway to Graduation exists and it’s here for students. But it’s more important that we change the systems and the programs that we offer so that it is part of Castleton… Here going forward, this is who we are,” Beckwith said.