"I became very involved with the help of Broncos FIRST"
Ashleigh Blair was feeling lost when she first came to Western Michigan University.
"I was terrified," she says "because I was here by myself and I didn't know much about the campus."
But Blair soon found her way at WMU with the help of Broncos FIRST.
Through the program's yearlong first-year experience course, she learned how to navigate and access resources at the University, and she was connected with a community mentor dedicated to showing her how to make the most of college.
"I keep saying Broncos FIRST gave me opportunities, but that's what happened," says Blair, now a sophomore and a communication studies major.
"I got to see a log of the (registered student organizations) on campus - a lot of the visited our class. I became a part of Phi Sigma Pi honors fraternity. I am now an a RA on campus, and I didn't know that opportunity existed until they came to my class and talked to us. And I have a job campus as well. ...I became very involved with the help of Broncos FIRST."
Launched the 2015-16 school year, Broncos FIRST is designed to get first-year students off to a successful start at WMU.
Students are empowered with skills and knowledge to smoothly transition to college life, balance academics with social activities, use University resources to their advantage get involved on campus.
Meriah Putnam, a sophomore studying integrated supply management , also is an alumna of the program. Like many others, she is a first-generation college student.
"The Professional Learning Community - that was my favorite part of Broncos FIRST," Putnam says.
"I loved talking to the professionals, and I like the fact that they wanted to hear what we had to say, wanted to listen to us, hear about our problems and try to fix them. ...They know what they are doing, and they are willing to help you," she says.
Mentoring is a key part of Broncos FIRST.
Some students are paired with a community mentor - a professional from the greater Kalamazoo area - while others in the program take part in a Professional Learning Community comprised of campus professionals and students. In both cases, students link up with mentors who provide listening ears and wise counsel.
Putnam's Broncos FIRST experience was so positive she returned to the program as a student co-facilitator in a first-year experience course. Student co-facilitators teach alongside course instructors and, as peers who now know the ropes, assist their fellow students.
"I wanted to help first-year students, especially people who are first-generation college students," Putnam says. "It's always nice to get tips from people who have already been through things."