Entrance ramp to college life
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 College pre-orientation program is shrinking that fear down to size and helping those newcomers navigate the college experience with confidence.
Last fall, the 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.
In surveys taken at the end of the camp, about 95% of participants indicated it’s worth continuing. Based on the successful debut, 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 grew out of the College’s participation in Moon Shot for Equity, an initiative to wipe out race- and income-based disparities in graduation rates by 2030. Research shows that students who feel like they belong are more likely to stay enrolled.
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 camp set the stage for New Student Orientation.
Defensive lineman 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 how to make a positive first impression on professors to ways to manage 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 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 freshman 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. The sessions particularly sharpened his “understanding and ability to help others with the many apps we use for homework and scheduling.”
As a “football mom,” chemistry professor Christine Blaine connected easily with the new Firebirds. She’s eager to join the cheering section at home games and, 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.”