Three years ago, Kasi Ross was leaving his hometown of Wichita, Kan. to start his journey at the University of Kansas. He said he knew very early on that he wanted to “find his niche” on campus. One way that Kasi charted his own path was by participating in KU’s Opening Paths to Individual Opportunity and Success (OPTIONS) program. OPTIONS is a five-day residential program designed to assist incoming first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students transition from high school to KU. The program allows participants to move to campus one week early and connect with campus organizations and resources that further the University’s strategic goal of increasing retention rates of all first-year students.
For Kasi, joining OPTIONS was the right decision because he learned about good study habits, worked on time management, and felt more comfortable asking questions about how college works (e.g., scholarships, how refunds work). “It was important to find people who looked like me and shared those experiences.” By working with OPTIONS staff who understood what he was going through, Kasi gained an important edge before his first semester ever began.
Reflecting back on his time in the program, Kasi said “It gave me a leg up on navigating classes, things to look for, and how to propel myself as a student. Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t have knowledge about what the experience would entail and how to navigate that. Because of my participation in OPTIONS, I felt more comfortable and more prepared than some of my peers.” As a result of his experiences with the program, Kasi decided to give back and serve as an OPTIONS Student Leader for the 2019 program.
Through the OPTIONS program, Kasi was able to connect and join KU TRIO Supportive Educational Services & STEM, which he has been a part of since 2016. TRIO SES & STEM aims to increase the college retention and graduation rates of first-generation and low-income students by providing comprehensive, personalized advising and support services to help them achieve academic success. Kasi found a home away from home with the TRIO program. “It makes me feel like I’m in a family environment when I’m with TRIO; I know if I am having problems or if someone I know is having problems, I can guide them to TRIO. So it’s having that organization that can go to bat for you or provide resources.”
Kasi expressed gratitude for the support that the TRIO program and staff have given him over the years, and he feels compelled to pay it forward. To give back to the program he currently works as a TRIO peer tutor. “I know how it feels to be early in your college career, taking those classes, having moments of self-doubt, so instilling that confidence in them [TRIO students] early on is what I try to do.” Through TRIO Tutor, Kasi said he is able to develop strong connections and meaningful relationships with his students. “It’s so much more than just teaching them the academic material when students feel comfortable with you.” Kasi is particularly proud to serve as a mentor and role model for other students of color from KU School of Business; who he believes, often feel disconnected because the majority of their peers do not look like them. “I don’t know if I would be where I am today if people hadn’t helped me, so paying it forward is really important to me. If you’re able to spark someone else, you just never know how much of an impact you can make on them.”