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Cardinal Stritch University eases first generation students into university life

“Growing up, I had no intention of going to college at all, because I didn’t know anybody who went,” said Cardinal Stritch University student Tony Zemlicka. More than 50 percent of students at Stritch are just like Tony – the first in their families to attend college. The University focuses special attention on creating programs and providing a nurturing community to help these students achieve success in college. “There’s a sense of place about Stritch that I think eases the transition and any concerns,” said Stritch president Dr. James P. Loftus.

In keeping with that commitment, Stritch unveiled last fall its new Leadership Development, Reflection, and Service (LDRS) initiative. LDRS is a living-learning community designed to provide students with the opportunity to build community, develop relationships, and become engaged in programs that enhance their experience at Stritch. The students enroll in two classes together each term and some live together in a section of the residence hall. The group also benefits from retreats, speakers and additional access to faculty and staff. The program, made possible with funding from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, admitted 28 students in its first year with 80 percent from low-income households. Of that initial group, 86 percent are students of color and 54 percent are first generation students. Program participation more than doubled this year, with 63 students enrolled.

“I remember one day when I just wasn’t doing so well, and I didn’t go to class,” student Michael Wright said. “I told my teacher that I was not going to be there, and then later on they came up and asked, ‘Are you okay? Do you want to sit and talk?’ In high school, I had some teachers like that but the professors here care and are so invested; it’s a lot different than I expected.”