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K-State Today

May 7, 2019

K-State First awarded 2019 University Outstanding Department or Unit Award for Enhancing Diversity

Submitted by Division of Communications and Marketing

K-State First, the university's first-year experience program, has been awarded the 2019 University Outstanding Department or Unit Award for Enhancing Diversity.

Established in 2003, this award recognizes the exceptional efforts undertaken by a unit or department to enhance diversity at Kansas State University. Through leadership initiatives of the core staff, Greg Eiselein, director and professor of English and university distinguished teaching scholar; Mandi McKinley, program assistant; Mariya Vaughan, assistant director; and Brent Weaver, learning assistant coordinator, the K-State First program built upon their commitment to enhancing diversity, inclusion and equity in their own program and through collaboration with many university partners.

"It is essential for our program and staff to demonstrate multicultural and intercultural awareness by cultivating a diverse community of colleagues and students," Vaughan said. "Our team enacts civil and inclusive behavior in all aspects of the program through interactions with current and incoming students, faculty, and staff."

K-State First is committed to engaging with and encouraging diversity efforts both in the classroom and curriculum as well as through co-curricular learning opportunities.

"We take seriously our role as the first-year gateway to college and college student success for our students, and we know that learning about diversity in critical and practical ways is essential to college student success," Eiselein said.

Several CAT Communities — first-year learning communities — and First-Year Seminars are explicitly designed around themes promoting inclusion and diversity, and the co-curricular events for all K-State First courses had a revised focus on diversity/inclusion.

Additionally, the program revised their free digital textbook, "Your Journey to First-Year Success: A K-State First Companion Textbook," to include two chapters focused on diversity and inclusion, "Understanding Diversity" and "Exploring Diversity Together," which are solely dedicated to understanding and embracing differences and knowing how to create inclusive spaces. The chapters include information, examples, discussion topics, and activities that encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of diversity, explore their own identities, discover the tangible benefits of improving their capacity for intercultural learning, familiarize themselves with the K-State Principles of Community, and develop ideas for having courageous conversations. These classroom and co-curricular opportunities provided a way to enhance students' understanding of their identities and to prepare them to work with a diverse group of peers at the university and in their future careers.

K-State First and its K-State Book Network partners coordinated, planned and promoted a series of events in the fall connected to the common book, "The Hate U Give," by Angie Thomas, that helped expand conversations on education, family relationships, the intersectionality of race, gender, and social class identities, community policing and police violence, activism, social justice, and pop culture. Through this, they collaborated with a variety of partners within and outside the university, including the KSUnite movement, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs, the Black Student Union, K-State Libraries, the K-State Police Department, and the Riley County Police Department, to highlight the importance of having diverse perspectives on various issues.

K-State First was also heavily involved in intercultural initiatives across the university that directly impacted students, including K-State's first Intercultural Immersion Experience during Wildcat Warm-Up for Freshman and Transfer Students in summer 2018, and Wildcat Dialogues, an intercultural learning event impacting more than 1,000 students in fall 2018. Their two full-time staff members, Vaughan and Weaver, both became Intercultural Learning Index, or IDI, Qualified Administrators. In this capacity, they helped to guide the team, faculty, and students through intercultural learning growth and understanding. This past year, the training for K-State First's 50 peer mentors, or learning assistants, built on the IDI and was reimagined to focus more intensively on intercultural competencies. This training helped the peer mentors grow individually, while also preparing them to help the members in their CAT Communities build community and develop as intercultural learners. These learning assistants also used these skills in the wider campus community and nationally while presenting at the national First-Year Experience Conference.

Moving forward, Eiselein said, "As K-State First approaches our 10-year anniversary, we are proud of the work that has been accomplished through our classes and programs and our faculty, team, and student leaders. We are grateful for the collaboration of our many campus partners that create opportunities to be a part of university efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion. We embrace the challenges ahead of us to continue to close retention gaps, educate and encourage first-year students, and equip our team, faculty and peer mentors to continue working toward a more diverse and inclusive university community."

Join K-State First in celebrating with the entire university community at the All-University Awards Ceremony and reception from 3-5 p.m. today, Tuesday, May 7, in the K-State Alumni Center Ballroom.