A first-generation freshman college student walked into the Center for Academic Student Achievement searching for help with her education and found Lauren Untalan, a mentor at CASA who would later change her life.
When Untalan first met this student, she was struggling in all of her classes. The student had an F in every class and was struggling with her academic duties and her work duties. The student was so busy helping her family with the family business that she neglected her studies which caused her grades to drop.
“Look, I know you need to help your family, but this is what you are paying for,” Untalan said.
Untalan reached out to the student and offered to help her get into the First Islander’s Scholars Academy, which is a program CASA offers for first-generation college students. The program had a counseling center for the student and her family which allowed the student to bring up her F’s to all B’s and one C by the end of the semester.
“A lot of the times that’s really all they need, is that push and that knowledge that they are not alone,” Untalan said. “It was life changing.”
Untalan refers back to that student experience as her fondest memory throughout her two and a half years mentoring at CASA.
The Center for Academic Student Achievement does not just offer the First Islander’s Scholars Academy program, it also offers tutoring services and mentoring, which is what Untalan does. The organization offers math, reading, writing and science tutoring which is mostly walk-in ready except for the Writing Center. The Writing Center is appointment only because students get to work one-on-one with their tutors.
“[CASA] is to make sure that they’re able to reach their full academic potential,” Untalan said.
The mentors that are offered by CASA are held at a very high standard in order to give the best help for the students. They have to have three teacher recommendations, a high GPA, and must be an upper-level student. The mentors must know a lot of information in order to work there also, they have to know every building and what takes place in every one of them.
“I think CASA is like the hidden sorcerer’s stone,” Untalan said.
There are many people at CASA that are there to help students succeed whether it be mentors, tutors or people in the First Islanders Scholars Academy. There is a diverse group of students and faculty that can offer any answers on different majors and organizations.
“There is always someone here that can help no matter where you are at, CASA can benefit you.” Untalan said. “People should know about CASA because the whole point is for us to help them in any way we can.”
The faculty and staff at CASA have a passion for what they do, they genuinely want the students to succeed, not only in school but in life, said Dr. Ana Billeaux, program coordinator for the First Islander’s Scholars Academy.
“We try to give them sets of skills that will help them be successful here and hopefully later,” Billeaux said.
The First Islander’s program allows first-generation students to learn the answers to questions that their families cannot answer because they are the first generation to go to college. The program gives first-generation students the information and support that they need to further their education and to succeed, Billeaux said.
“We are like the home away from home,” Billeaux said.
Students in the program and in CASA have a close-net relation to the staff and are often referred to as family. Billeaux has said that students come to just talk with mentors and staff because they have made a tight bond with one another and are family.
The First Islander’s program began in 2015 with 75 applicants and three advisers and has grown to approximately 250 applicants with six mentors this year. The program continues to grow as new incoming students and freshmen enter the University each year.
“The only job we all have is to help the students be successful,” Billeaux said. “Success is in everybody’s mind and in everybody’s heart. It is in yours, it is in mine.”