New program eases Firebirds’ transition to college
They’re among the first newcomers to arrive on campus each year, but the transition to college can be intimidating for student-athletes — particularly students of color.
Based on initial feedback, a new Carthage pre-orientation program is shrinking that fear down to size and helping those newcomers navigate the college experience with confidence.
Office of Equity and Inclusion held the first Carthage-Bound Football Camp for team members from historically underrepresented racial minorities. The five-day program introduced 26 new Firebirds to some of the people, places, and programs they’ll rely on most during their studies here.This fall, the
The successful debut suggests the program could be scaled to include more students in the future.
“Many football players come to Carthage far from their home communities and families, and the challenge of finding resources on an unfamiliar college campus while juggling classes and hours of practice every day resulted in retention struggles,” said Michele Hancock, vice president of college culture for inclusion. “Building a sense of community and belonging while introducing students to campus supports from day one will help these young men to be successful.”
The camp set the stage for New Student Orientation, the annual event targeting all first-year students. Alongside faculty and staff volunteers, 18 student workers led Carthage-Bound discussions and ice-breakers that helped the student-athletes set goals and identify the many places on campus they can turn to for support.
“The football players thought that the program was amazing,” said head football coach Dustin Hass. “They felt it was fun, engaging and gave them a leg up heading into their first college semester. It will be a huge benefit to Carthage students going forward.”
Carthage-Bound participant JJ Fletcher ’26 of Chicago liked that the program was tailored to “my African American brothers and me.” He took away a bunch of useful tips, from making a positive first impression on professors to managing his time.
“I didn’t know how I was going to adjust to college, and I can say I’ve had a great start so far,” said JJ, who plans to major in criminal justice while playing defensive line for the Firebirds. “Carthage is already a family-oriented college, and with Carthage-Bound I feel like I’m a part of this school.”
The program helped Koen Abreu ’26 find his bearings at the College. The defensive back from Mililani, Hawaii, plans to major in finance and accounting.
“The sessions I attended helped greatly with my knowledge of Carthage and the many resources they give to every student,” Koen said, particularly sharpening his “understanding and ability to help others with the many apps we use for homework and scheduling.”
Chemistry professor Christine Blaine and two faculty colleagues led a session titled “Courageous Conversations.” They encouraged the first-year students to offer honest feedback as Carthage actively works toward an equitable and inclusive learning environment.
As a “football mom,” Prof. Blaine connected easily with the new Firebirds. She’s eager to join the cheering section at junior varsity games this fall and then, farther down the line, at graduation.
“The students were engaged, funny, reflective, and asked excellent questions,” she said. “I found the entire experience uplifting, and I remember driving home that night thinking how I look forward to watching these students grow.”
In surveys taken at the end of the camp, about 95% of Carthage-Bound participants indicated it’s worth continuing.