Connecting the K-State Family

ice-breaker activity

Going above and beyond to build community for freshmen 

Kansas State University has found the key to helping incoming students succeed — engagement.

K-State First, the university’s enhanced college experience program for first-year students, engages and supports new students in many ways: mentors, a common book read by all incoming students, first-year seminars and Connecting Across Topics (CAT) Communities.

“Having smaller class sizes helps with the transition from high school to college,” said theater major Emma Galitzer, who participated in two first-year seminar classes her first semester. “The material is harder and there are higher expectations, but since the class is smaller, it’s a lot easier to get the help you need.”

Like first-year seminars, CAT Communities provide more opportunities for students to engage with faculty and fellow students. The communities are designed around majors or interests. Students enroll in two general education courses and a connection class where a professor ties together what they’re learning in both classes.

“There were only about 12 of us in the same two classes. We all walked to class together and studied together,” said Audrey Gaug, a member of the Muggle Studies CAT Community. “It helped me to meet more people and taught me the importance of creating a friend group for classes — people you could go to with questions or to study with.”

K-State First began in 2008 with just a few first-year seminars and has grown to engage 60 percent of incoming students this past semester (fall 2016). Dr. Gregory Eiselein, director of K-State First and professor of English, used his Coffman Award to get the program off the ground.

Philanthropy helped launch K-State First and philanthropy will enable it to grow and benefit even more students. K-State alumna Jill Trego and her family felt inspired by the program’s success.

“The fact that students who go through K-State First are more likely to graduate; that really spoke to me because Dad didn’t graduate the first time he attended college,” Trego said.

To honor her late father, Tony Dosien, Trego and her family have funded the first CAT Community in the College of Business Administration. But unlike other CAT Communities, this one is for a full year.

“This program is a great way to bridge between high school and college,” Trego said. “It helps ensure that fewer members of the K-State family are going to have to try to go back to college later in life when it is exponentially harder to make it work.”

K-State First at a glance

4 main components:

  • First-Year Seminar — small classes taught in a lively, interactive way
  • CAT Communities — learning communities for Connecting Across Topics
  • GPS — a mentor provides a Guide for Personal Success (GPS)
  • K-State Book Network — a shared read with other first-year students

Big impact

  • 87% freshman-to-sophomore retention of K-State First participants in 2016 — university retention rate now highest in school history
  • It takes 3–5 times more money to recruit a new student than to retain one
  • Participants have higher GPAs than nonparticipants; an advantage retained throughout their college career
  • Participants are nearly 50% more likely to graduate, in less time and with higher GPAs, than nonparticipants

To support K-State First, you can make an online gift or contact Heather Strafuss at 785-775-2146 or

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Heather Strafuss Fundraising services manager