Barry McNamara  |   Published May 16, 2016

New Beginnings

Eleven members from first session of transitional program graduate
  • Ruby Castaneda of Franklin Park, Ill., (left) and Zoe Sutton of Oak Park, Ill., started their Monmouth College experience with New Beginnings in August 2012 and completed it on May 15, receiving their diplomas.

In August 2012, Monmouth College introduced New Beginnings, a three-day transition program for new multicultural students. On May 15, 11 members of that first group completed their four-year journey when they received their Monmouth diploma from President Clarence R. Wyatt.

Newly minted Monmouth graduate Ruby Castaneda of Franklin Park, Ill., said New Beginnings helped her college career begin with a solid foundation.

“As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Castaneda, who earned a degree in Spanish. “I didn’t know how everything worked. Moving in early helped me get settled before everyone else arrived and not be super overwhelmed.”

Also a first-generation college student, Zoe Sutton of Oak Park, Ill., had an additional culture shock that New Beginnings helped address – she had attended a small private girls’ high school, Josephinum Academy.

“It was super jarring being at college, and it was really bizarre being around boys,” said Sutton, who was a business major. “I was really nervous. I remember being really excited about moving in a week or so early. It gave me a chance to just get comfortable. It had a lot of value for me.”

Sutton said her new beginning at Monmouth was made possible because the College’s faculty and staff worked closely with her.

“I was surprised how receptive and accommodating Monmouth was when my parents and I set up our summer visit,” she said. “We were impressed by the school. They made us so comfortable, and everyone was so caring and so genuine. They took a lot of time to help me. There was help at every turn.”

Sutton said the help offered to her when she visited campus was extended to her experience in New Beginnings.

“There was no way they were going to let me fail,” she said. “There are a lot of services available, so it’s like a package deal. All your needs are met. I know that not every college is like that.”

This fall’s New Beginnings program will be Aug. 16-19. Topics to be addressed include: managing family and academic obligations; creating a culture of excellence; familiarizing students with who, where and when to seek help; and effective time management.

“The program focuses on helping American minority students not only to adjust to a small liberal arts college located in a rural town, but also helps them negotiate college so they are able to persist and eventually graduate,” said associate dean of students Mohsin Masood. “We are very proud that a large number of our minority students take advantage of this very important program.”

Castaneda said a New Beginnings panel discussion with faculty members taught her important lessons about the journey she was about to undertake.

“The professors talked about the expectations they had for us,” she said. “They told us to take advantage of their office hours, helping us understand that we could go see them if we needed help. They also helped us understand what was required from us in their courses – that work would need to be done outside of the hours in class.”

Castaneda, who has family in Monmouth, recalls a photo of her taken in front of the Monmouth College sign when she was “6 or 7 years old.” She said she is proud of the example her college degree sets within her large family.

“All of my life, I’ve been a role model for my younger cousins and younger brothers,” she said.

A large contingent of Castaneda’s family was on hand to see her receive her diploma, including 18 relatives who posed with her for a post-commencement picture.

“Going to college is a time you know everyone is watching you,” she said. “It’s like, ‘She’s doing it – I guess I can do it, too.’”

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