Last week, after Kacy and I had dinner at Fresh Foods, we walked across campus, checking in on how our students were handling the changes to which we all are adjusting. We ran into one young woman who was part of the inaugural cohort of our Summer Scholars program and is returning for her sophomore year. She was so thankful for having the opportunity to return to campus this fall, even with the differences from last year. And then she shared that WKU was her safe space (she was not referring to intellectual safe spaces) and that it was physically dangerous for her while she was living at home. It was a stark reminder that for a significant percentage of our students, returning to campus to experience the nurturing environment that we create is a necessity.
As we enter week three of our restart, some of our students who are experiencing the concurrent challenges of college coursework, independent living and the COVID-19 pandemic will begin to struggle. The higher education literature makes clear that the first five weeks of the first year are crucial to persistence and subsequent successes in college. As you are interacting with our students, please make a special effort to ask how they are doing. In class, if there are particular individuals who seem disengaged, reach out to them individually to check in.
I am particularly concerned about the students who have not yet created a peer group. You may have heard me describe these young people as individuals who may be sitting in a crowd of people, but are completely alone. Without the typical semester starting events and limited opportunities to engage in person, their isolation is even more of a threat to their success. Pay attention to those who might just need someone to notice them and make them feel part of our community. This requires each of us to see our jobs as helping students succeed, no matter what our work entails, and our first priority is their success and eventual graduation from WKU.
We continue to refine our Healthy on the Hill implementation, and beginning this week, we will update the site twice per week on Tuesdays and Fridays. On these days we will make updates as soon as our local health partners make information available. As a result, posting times will continue to vary. I appreciate the collaboration of our COVID-19 Task Force, our COVID-19 Response Team and our local health partners to collect and provide transparent and timely information.
This fall, we celebrated record-breaking growth in our incoming class and are planning additional innovations to continue that growth next year. One of the significant differentiators in the marketplace for WKU is how we take care of one another. It is one thing to amplify that in our marketing materials. But the effect becomes exponentially more powerful when experienced first-hand while visiting campus; or when a student talks about their mentoring relationships with faculty and staff; or when we do our part to remove institutional and financial barriers that prevent access and success.
Thank you for living our institutional mission and for your tireless commitment to helping our students succeed.
Timothy C. Caboni