DECATUR — Jake Hampton has never been away from home for an extended period. The Millikin University freshman from St. Louis knows that means he has to be responsible for his own life now.
“My mom's not there to make me get up,” said Hampton, who plans to study sports management.
Classmate Deion Sims of Memphis, Tennessee, is even farther from home, but other than the same problem of having to get up early enough for classes, he's not nervous about his first semester of college. He plans to be a physical education teacher.
“I'm good,” he said.
Both are part of the EDGE (Excellence Develops through Growth and Experience) program at Millikin. Incoming freshmen flagged by the admissions office as potentially needing an extra boost to be successful are offered the chance to come to campus early for a week of classes in time and money management, life skills and connection with mentors who can help them settle in before classes start. This year, the program has 108 students.
Student welcome week for the rest of the college will begin Tuesday, Aug. 14, with classes starting Monday, Aug. 20.
“They help them navigate lots of systems,” said Carrie Pierson, senior director for the Center of Academic and Professional Performance. “In high schol you have teachers, principal, here you have professors and deans and what in the world is a registrar and what do the folks in financial aid do?”
Many of the EDGE students are first-generation college students, and their parents can't answer all their questions about college life and expectations.
“Higher ed across the nation is expensive. You get a bill from student financial services that has a comma in it, and they're like, 'What do I do with this?'" Pierson said. "These ladies and gentlemen help navigate that: what office to go to, what questions to ask, what experience they've had. That's a pretty scary thing to see a bill with a comma in it.
Most of the mentors were in the program themselves as freshmen. Their job is to anticipate those concerns and guide the EDGE students.
Something as simple as how to print something and where the printers are can shake up a new student, said Korren Baltimore, a senior from Decatur who is studying business management. The mentors also hold study sessions with their groups, and talk about how they can use their time wisely, even free time, so as to avoid getting overwhelmed.
Without EDGE, said Keivon Evans, a sophomore from Rockford, he would not have made it through his freshman year. Baltimore was his mentor, and the two of them have remained good friends.
“It really gave me a big head start,” said the health, fitness and recreation major. “When it came to the end (of the EDGE week), we realized it was preparing us for college, so when we went to our classes, we already knew how to do the email, and knew what to expect as far as papers.
"I tell them, now, a lot of people will get here and be lost and not know what to do, versus you. You'll make some friends and get an idea how things work and where things are," Evans continued. "I really enjoyed it and (Baltimore) helped me out a lot. She guided me in the right direction and pushed me. There was so many times I didn't want to do it, and she made me work.”
Evans had two roommates — one who was in EDGE with him, the other who was not, and they were able to help him settle in more quickly.
“He was a football player, and the only things he knew were 'room' and 'football,'” Evans said. “We were able to help him and show him where his classes were and everything.”
A big advantage to the program, said Hailey Stokies of Huntley, a graphic design and biology major, is that some of the students arrive thinking they won't be successful. After finishing the week of EDGE and with the continued advice and help from their mentors during that first difficult semester, however, those students often become campus leaders.
Millikin President Patrick White addressed the students midway through their week with encouragement to work hard now to reap the benefits later in life.
"When you're successful, we're all successful," he said.
He handed out index cards and asked them to put their names and campus addresses on one side and write a note to their future self on the other side. In January, he said, he'll send those cards back to them so they can see how far they've come in only one semester.
"You might say something that's said far too rarely around here," White said, smiling. "'President White was right.'"
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter