CWUNewsNews Student Serves as Commencement Student Speaker, 12 Jun 2013 09:18:41<p>Graduating senior Matt Payne, who was a Student Transitions and Academic Resources (STAR) student during his four-years at Central—including serving as a STAR peer mentor—was selected as the student speaker for CWU's&nbsp;2013 morning commencement on Saturday, June 8, at Tomlinson Stadium in Ellensburg.</p><p>This is the address he made to the more than 4,000 graduating students, their families, and friends in attendance for that graduation exercise.</p><p><iframe class="youtube-player" frameborder="0" height="390" src="" title="YouTube video player" type="text/html" width="480"></iframe></p>Students Shine in Innovative STAR Program, 25 Jul 2012 09:09:08<p><img alt="Students Shine in Innovative STAR Program" src="/star/sites/" style="width: 200px; height: 133px; float: left; padding: 5px;">Al Okere, a native of Nigeria, had a burning desire to go to college. But his admission index was below the typical requirement for admission to CWU. Even so, Okere just finished his first year of study at CWU.<br><br>“Normally, I wouldn’t have been accepted here, but STAR [Student Transitions and Academic Resources] gave me the chance to come to Central,” Okere said.<br><br>In terms of his first-year academic progress, he noted, with a hint of pride, “I’m doing great; I’m getting As.” In fact, he recorded a perfect 4.0 grade point average through his first year at Central.<br><br>STAR serves academically high-risk students who show academic potential and an accompanying need for intensive, individualized attention and support. The students come from a wide variety of—and, often, difficult—backgrounds. For example, some have had to cope with a gravely ill family member; others come from backgrounds of drug and alcohol abuse. What they all have in common are obstacles and challenges that prevented them from performing well in high school. But, like Okere, they all want to come to college and be successful.<br><br>Through STAR, they’re given the chance to form personal relationships with mentors as one way to transition into college, succeed academically, and graduate. “STAR is not only CWU’s conditional admit support program for at-risk students; it’s a program with a heart,” said its director, Carolyn Thurston. A two-time CWU graduate (1994 English, 1996 MA English), Thurston launched the STAR program in 2007. A year later, Sam Blazina joined her as program coordinator. Since its inception, the program has grown to serve more than 100 students during the last academic year, including its largest freshman group to date—more than thirty-five students, with Okere among them. Increased enrollments are anticipated in future years.<br><br>“It is a challenge, but we’re excited,” Thurston added. “What we do for these students, and being able to watch them succeed, is incredibly rewarding.”<br><br>Getting students enrolled is only half the battle. STAR students are at a higher risk of struggling in their courses, so ongoing support is vital. Thurston describes herself as “the whip cracker” in the program—often calling students into her office to help get them on track academically. “I ask them what they need, what problems they might be having, and then we try to get those problems taken care of,” she said.<br><br>STAR also offers peer mentoring, under Blazina’s direction. STAR students who have successfully completed their freshman year have the opportunity to mentor new STAR students and show them the ropes. Okere will be among these peer mentors next fall. They guide new STARs around campus, introduce them to various student offices and services, and sometimes simply build relationships by going to the recreation center or out for coffee.<br><br>“The experience benefits both the mentor and the mentee,” said Thurston. “Students involved in mentoring perform better academically and have the opportunity to develop leadership skills they didn’t even know they had. It’s connection and friendship—really a transformative experience.”<br><br>Thurston notes that, along with the individualized attention and support offered, STAR students are also often referred to other Central services, such as Student Health and Counseling Services or the Center for Disability Services.<br><br>“We really couldn’t do this without the support of other campus departments,” Thurston pointed out. “We also couldn’t do it without the support of Dr. [Charlotte] Tullos [vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management]. Without her vision and direction, our [STAR] students wouldn’t be here.”<br><br>Part of Blazina’s expertise in working with STAR students stems from her personal experience as a non-traditional undergraduate. A long-time Ellensburg community member, Blazina, who graduated from CWU in 2008 with a degree in community health, admits to struggling in school until she was exposed to the kind of support she now helps provide through STAR.<br><br>“At first, I didn’t get rooted on campus, feel connected, or get the advice that I needed,” she said. “I left for one year. When I came back, I connected with Carolyn [who served as her advisor] and learned of student services that were available. I attribute my success to that.”<br><br>Like Okere, many of the students Blazina helps just need the opportunity to prove themselves. Thurston notes that although some STARs struggle and need extra guidance to succeed, many more are now excelling.<br><br>Or, in other words, STAR gives many Central students, and future alumni, a chance to shine.</p><p style="margin-left: 200px;"><a href="/star/sites/" target="_blank">PDF Version</a></p></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></p style="margin-left: 200px;"> CWU program gives promising students a second chance, 25 Jul 2012 09:07:05<p><strong>STAR -- An overview</strong></p><p>By ERIN SNELGROVE<br>YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC<br><br><img alt=" STAR Overview" src="/star/sites/" style="width: 200px; height: 133px; float: left; padding: 5px;">ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Carolyn Thurston has met many unforgettable students at Central Washington University.<br><br>There was a North African refugee who didn't learn English until he attended an American high school. There were students who lived out of their cars, and an undocumented migrant worker who spoke three languages.<br><br>Without Thurston's help, these students and dozens of others never would have been accepted at Central.<br><br>Thurston is the director of Student Transitions &amp; Academic Resources, or STAR, a program that gives people who don't meet Central's admissions criteria a second chance.<br><br>"The most rewarding part is working with students, helping them learn there are no mistakes, only lessons," said Thurston, who helped develop the program about three years ago. "The circumstances of their lives do not have to predict where they're going or who they will be."<br><br>******<br><br>Each year, thousands of people apply to Central. Among them are applicants who did poorly in high school due to hardships such as extreme poverty, personal illness or injury, or the death of a family member. Others ruined their academic standings with drug and alcohol abuse, but have since cleaned up.<br><br>When such applicants show promise, they are considered for the STAR program.<br><br>It's hard to define promise, but most accepted into the program have shown a willingness to overcome adversity and a determination to improve their lives.<br><br>"It's almost a sixth sense," Interim Admissions Director Kathy Gaer-Carlton said of the review process. "When you read these students' files, you know there's a story there."<br><br>Still in its infancy, the STAR program is run by Thurston and program coordinator Sam Blazina. It's run on a $100,000 annual budget, which includes salaries for both.<br><br>About 60 students are accepted into STAR each year, but because of problems securing financing or housing, typically only about 30 to 35 actually reach class. The most veteran STAR students are now in their junior year.<br><br>STAR students get intensive, even intrusive, academic support. Thurston initially meets with students at least three times a quarter to discuss classes and grades.<br><br>Because many never learned time management and studying techniques in high school, students are taught these skills at the university. And through a peer mentoring program, they're exposed to lectures, concerts and other activities that may be routine for most students but can seem foreign to them.<br><br>The mentoring program -- which pairs incoming and veteran STAR students -- helps them connect to campus life and better understand what resources are available, be it one-on-one tutoring or help with picking classes.<br><br>The mentoring component is coordinated by Blazina, who, as a former older-than-average student, quit school because she felt isolated. She later returned to Central, where Thurston became her academic counselor, and graduated in 2008.<br><br>"If I had a program like this, that I connected with, I may not have quit," she said. "We will help the students and walk with them as far as we possibly can. Essentially, it's up to them on if it'll work or not."<br><br>Students receive career and financial counseling, tutoring and referrals to other services, such as therapy for depression and anxiety.<br><br>In return, students must attend school full time and maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0.<br><br>STAR is modeled after federal TRIO programs that provide help to first-generation and low-income college students. The programs are offered across the nation and are funded through competitive grants.<br><br>"You get involved beyond the academic advising," Thurston said about STAR. "You get to know their personalities, their quirks and idiosyncrasies. You really get to know that person beyond the academics."<br><br>So far, retention averages 76 percent at Central. Nationally, it's 50 percent for similar high-risk students.<br><br>******<br><br>Thurston knows not everyone will complete the program and graduate.<br><br>Some students will choose partying over their studies. Others won't get the help they need, be it tutoring or mental-health counseling. Sometimes, the family problems that plagued them earlier follow them to college.<br><br>When Thurston sees troubling signs, she calls students into her office for a frank conversation.<br><br>"I'm not magical, but what I can do is hold up a mirror and show them what they are doing," Thurston said. "Sometimes I'm soft and fuzzy, sometimes I give students the whip."<br><br>Thurston said she wants the program to continue growing. She wants to hire additional staff to see to the students' needs, and she wants to help students transition into choosing a major and selecting a career.<br><br>Thurston and Blazina agree they've already learned a lot from STAR. They've learned students can't be labeled and put into a box. They know the program's success depends on giving students individualized attention, and they're aware that without STAR, many of these amazing people would never have attended college.<br><br>"Every time a student walks in our office, we watch them cry and share," Blazina said. "It's always rewarding. ... We are just here for them."<br><br><em>* Erin Snelgrove can be reached at 509-577-7684 or </em></p><p style="margin-left: 160px;"><a href="" target="_blank">Yakima Herald Article</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></p style="margin-left: 160px;">STAR- Nate Aid, 25 Jul 2012 09:02:44<p>By ERIN SNELGROVE<br>YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC<br><br><img alt="Nate Aid" src="/star/sites/" style="width: 200px; height: 133px; float: left; padding: 5px;">ELLENSBURG -- Nate Aid recalls being the poor kid with mismatched clothes and hand-me-down shoes in elementary school.<br><br>In middle school, the popular kids called him "white trash" and taunted him for being poor, he said.<br><br>Tired of the name calling, Aid dropped out of high school and joined a gang.<br><br>"I felt accepted by them," said Aid, a 25-year-old Ellensburg native. "I committed crimes to continue feeling the love they showed me."<br><br>Starting as a teen, Aid was repeatedly arrested for assault, burglary and unlawful imprisonment and spent much of his life in jail.<br><br>"Now I'm a convicted felon and I have limited options," said Aid. "I can't vote. I have to pay off restitution. I'll never have gun rights or be able to teach."<br><br>The odds would appear to be against Aid making a meaningful effort to improve his life. But that was before he was approved for Central Washington University's STAR program.<br><br>"I cried after I was accepted. I called everybody," said Aid, now a freshman. (The acceptance letter) "was like saying I had a chance. I couldn't believe it."<br><br>Aid was first picked up by police at age 11 for skipping school. But instead of scaring him straight, getting locked up became familiar. So did gang life. He began hanging out with gang members when he was 14, and he was rushed at 17.<br><br>"I got taken to the ground and beaten up," Aid said. "Then we all smoked a joint to celebrate my addition to the family."<br><br>Aid spent his days partying, drinking and doing drugs. Fighting became routine. Once he was involved in a stabbing on Thanksgiving day.<br><br>"You are mentally, spiritually and emotionally hollow," Aid said. "It's gang life. That's how we take things. If someone fights or gets stabbed, or there's a shooting, it comes with the territory."<br><br>"Everyone around me was in prison or dying," he said. "I didn't want to live that way, but I didn't know how to change it. I felt hopeless."<br><br>He wasn't there when his daughter was born, or his son. He missed their first steps, their first words. After a year in jail reflecting on life, he realized he didn't want to miss any more.<br><br>"They are an extension of my soul," he said. "That's pretty powerful. It was my kids that made me realize I'd be missing out on a lot."<br><br>Aid quit the gang, quit drinking and stopped doing drugs. Except for one slip, he said he hasn't used meth in more than three years. Alcohol was tougher to give up, but he's been sober for a year.<br><br>"It's tough," he said. "Sometimes I miss the good parts of my life, how I had power, money and respect. Now I'm just another face in the crowd."<br><br>For more than three years, Aid made good money as a construction worker. But when the economy tanked, so did his paychecks.<br><br>He began studying and earned his GED last February. That, however, would not normally be enough to be accepted at a university. But he reached out to Carolyn Thurston, director of Central's STAR program, who he had met several years earlier through a mutual friend.<br><br>When she first met Aid, Thurston said he looked and acted like a gang member. Still, she sensed there was something special about him.<br><br>"My gut told me he would make it," said Thurston, who has spent her career working with high-risk populations. "He didn't present himself as intellectual, but I knew he was smart."<br><br>When he called her about going back to school last winter, Thurston had two questions for him -- "How long have you been clean, and do you intend to stay clean and sober?"<br><br>Aid assured Thurston of his sobriety, and in return, she promised to help. But that help would cease if he started using again.<br><br>"I see massive potential, but I know he cannot reach his potential if he doesn't stay clean and sober," Thurston said. "This guy has code, integrity and very strong will. ... I think Nate has something remarkable he can share with young men, and it will be a long time before he can recognize that."<br><br>Although excited about going back to school, Aid said the transition has been challenging. He's felt out of place, was behind other students and had trouble retaining information.<br><br>"Sometimes, I'd sit in class and the math teacher would say, 'everybody knows this.' I didn't know it. ... I felt dumb," he said. "I have to remind myself that I'm not stupid, I just never learned it."<br><br>In many ways, his experiences are typical of STAR participants, whose backgrounds leave them feeling isolated from other students. That's what STAR works to address.<br><br>For Aid, Thurston and Program Coordinator Sam Blazina got him a math tutor and are always there when he needs to talk or wants their advice.<br><br>To pass his classes, Aid said he has to study several hours a day. He lives off financial aid and hopes to major in construction management. He also aspires to improve his credit, own his own home and be a positive role model for his 3-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.<br><br>"The STAR program seems kind of selfless," he said. "If a student starts to slip, they are right there like white on rice."</p><p style="margin-left: 160px;"><a href="" target="_blank">Yakima Herald Article</a></p></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></p style="margin-left: 160px;">