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Belonging, Friendship, and New Investment in WLAIP

Xavier Cienfuegos used to feel ashamed of his speaking ability. 

“I have always had a fear of public speaking, not because of big crowds, but because my English doesn’t flow as well as my Spanish,” said the incoming freshman from McAllen, Texas.

“I went to a small school where everyone spoke Spanish, but their English was also near perfect, yet mine lacked in so many ways,” he said. “I have had a whole class laugh at me because I stuttered saying a word I didn’t quite know yet, and I was called estúpido.”

He worried the next four years at Wabash would be a repeat of high school. After completing the Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program (WLAIP) four-week summer institute, Cienfuegos is confident that won’t be the case.

Cienfuegos was one of 28 WLAIP students — from Indiana, California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas — who shared his story with the campus community during a listening party in Lilly Library. Students were tasked with completing an audio essay about their own experience with and commitment to education.

Thanks to the support of his Wabash peers and professors, Cienfuegos is now proud of his language.

“My Spanish is what makes me, me,” he explained in his audio essay. “WLAIP has made me feel more comfortable with my English, as the people that surround me (other students) have shown me that I am not alone. The more that I hear them talk, the less I see language as a struggle, but as a background anchor that reminds us who we are and how far we have come.

“My feelings about both reading and writing have improved because I saw how it is something that people of all backgrounds can take advantage of,” Cienfuegos said, “we just have to find it and claim it for ourselves.”

Hearing Cienfuegos’ story and others — oral essays ranging from personal accounts of struggling with what it means to be a first-generation college student to finding community away from home — brought on lots of emotions, smiles, and sparked rich conversations among those who attended the event.

The listening party, marking an end to WLAIP’s summer events, exemplified the importance of the program and the opportunities it gives students of color, Pell Grant recipients, and first-generation college students before starting the first semester of college.

The WLAIP’s impact also recently inspired an anonymous foundation to establish a $1 million endowment that will help secure the long-term support of the program.

“From its inception, WLAIP has been vastly fueled by philanthropic support,” said Dean for College Advancement Michelle Janssen. “168体育平台下载_足球即时比分-注册|官网 are so grateful for these past foundation grants and private donations from individuals which propelled the early success of this critical program. Now, impressed by our track-record of successfully retaining and graduating students at rates that meet and/or exceed non-WLAIP students, an anonymous foundation partner has made a $1 million endowed gift to assist in ensuring that WLAIP will exist to change the lives of Wabash students for generations to come.”

One of the many students who will benefit from this support is Jaylen Bobbitt, a student-athlete from St. Petersburg, Florida.

In his audio essay — creatively transformed into and presented as a rap song — Bobbitt spoke about growing up in a single-parent household with two younger siblings, living in a community that struggles with gun violence, crime, and drug abuse. He hopes attending Wabash helps him continue to grow as a man for the betterment of his family.

“I know if I do this for four years, I will see myself rise above,” Bobbitt sings.

“There were plenty nights my momma was broke and had nothing to eat but rice. I joined WLAIP, the first step to change her life,” he said. “One day I’m going to pay her bills, and she won’t have to check the price.”

Jill Lamberton, associate professor of English and special assistant to the president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, said the WLAIP was envisioned as a way to help improve the retention and graduation rates of first-generation and traditionally under-represented populations.

Recent data shows that students participating in the WLAIP were retained at a record high of 96% while non-participating but eligible students were retained at 77%.

“When we look at the outcomes, we are also seeing these students assume ownership during their four years at Wabash,” said Lamberton, who along with Crystal Benedicks, taught English composition this summer, giving WLAIP students the opportunity to complete their first college credit.

“They become the president of La Alianza. They go on to speak at the ’shOUT Chapel Talk. They are football captains and leaders in their fraternities and living units,” she said. “So many of them come back in the summer to work with new incoming WLAIP students as mentors and tutors. In fact, six out of the seven student-workers this year are members of WLAIP.”

Benedicks said WLAIP’s summer institute also teaches students how to develop critical writing and reading skills necessary for success in college courses and beyond.

Additionally, Benedicks said these students are now also prepared to tackle the “hidden curriculum” most struggle with their freshman year, like how to look at a course catalog and connect with the various offices and people on campus who will support them.

“I have done interviews with graduates of the program over the years, and one thing that just keeps coming up is they say, ‘I’m bonded with those guys. They are my family,’” Benedicks said. “That’s what this is all about. While their writing improves a lot, while their knowledge of the hidden curriculum is expanded, the most important piece of it all is that they feel like they belong here.”