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K-State Today

March 21, 2024

Eiselein receives nation's top award for first-year student advocacy

Submitted by Division of Communications and Marketing

Even before he helped create one of K-State's most significant student success programs, Gregory Eiselein knew how valuable it was to not only introduce first-year students to college life and learning, but to get them excited about it.

Thousands of students later, Eiselein's work to establish and support K-State First — the university's centralized program for first-year student experience — has earned him the nation's top award for college staff and faculty involved in high-impact practices for first-year student success.

In recognition of his career and relentless work to improve the first-year student experience, the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition this spring named Eiselein a 2024 Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate Award recipient.

Eiselein's nomination set him apart as a campus coalition builder who has weaved first-year student success into the fabric of K-State's student-first culture and has pushed, mentored and inspired other faculty to improve student outcomes, said Brie Heidbreder, director of K-State First and associate professor of political science.

"Greg Eiselein has been a tireless advocate for first year students at K-State," Heidbreder said. "His unwavering commitment to creating spaces where students can achieve academic success and personal growth has left a lasting impact on them and our university community."

It was nearly two decades ago that Eiselein, professor of English, first began serving on a pair of committees charged with improving the undergraduate experience at K-State, particularly for first-year students.

A student's first year at a new college campus is critical in setting the foundation they need for future academic success. But it's also often one of their most difficult years, in navigating and adjusting to life at a new institution.

That's why it's critical for students to have classes that introduce them to college concepts, such as how to study, learn and participate in all of the college life experiences that can allow them to thrive and excel, Eiselein said.

"Without such dedicated and focused support, some first-year students will figure it out and be fine, but many others will not, which puts them at risk of failing in that first year or becoming demotivated about college in general," Eiselein said. "Such support helps new students through that crucial first year, when they are most likely to drop out."

After meeting with "brilliant teachers and leaders from around campus" on a pair of committees, Eiselein was in 2008 appointed the Coffman Chair for University Distinguished Teaching Scholars, a position that affords the holder an opportunity to launch a universitywide project to improve undergraduate teaching and learning at K-State. Eiselein used his year as chair to pilot and help launch K-State First.

That program has helped tens of thousands of first-year K-State students over the past decade build the communities and relationships necessary for continued success in college by focusing on student outcomes of critical thinking, effective communication and applied learning.

Continuing research has shown that K-State First's approach — which includes dedicated first-year seminars, CAT communities and common experiences like the K-State First Book — has positively improved student retention, graduation and grade point averages.

Eiselein, who was also named the 2013 Kansas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, said he is deeply honored to be recognized at the national level for his first-year student work.

But he emphasized the honor simply reflects the tremendous difference he and all other K-State instructors can make when they emphasize improving and valuing the student experience.

"I hope we've created a distinctively K-State experience for our first-year students," Eiselein said. "Something that puts students first, something that offers them relentless welcome, something that lets them know they belong here and connects them with other Wildcats for that first year and for a lifetime.

"I hope our classes and learning communities help students see and know that college is career preparation, but it's also life preparation and a learning experience that can be transformational, deeply meaningful and fun, even when it's hard."