Partnering For Student Excellence

Blake Cesarz, Student Support Specialist

Kaitlyn Leach

For Kaitlyn Leach, her Support Specialist Blake Cesarz, and her Academic Intervention Coordinator Stephen Ferris, the goal had been clearly articulated even before the start of the pandemic: Help Kaitlyn get off academic probation, achieve academic success in her program, and progress toward graduation.

If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that partnerships and teamwork are essential aspects of success and cornerstones of the human experience. Traditionally, we have worked best as part of a team when we have worked closely and consistently with one another, side by side, but how do we do so in a time of social distancing, and how do we coordinate between different team members to support our students in higher ed? Effective lines of communication must necessarily be drawn, and a clear vision or goal must be articulated so that our partnerships can be successful and our students can be supported.

But, with the pandemic settling in like a dark cloud on the horizon of 2020 and 2021, this was going to be a challenge. To better support Kaitlyn, and other students on probation, the SALT Center made a crucial programmatic change to tunnel through the static and noise of the pandemic. Each Specialist was to partner exclusively with one Academic Intervention Coordinator, so that both might better serve students on probation. This seemingly simple change proved to be a revelation and allowed Blake and Stephen to coordinate support, share important documents, and track Kaitlyn’s progress much more effectively.

Kaitlyn had gotten a lot out of her partnership with her Support Specialist already. In her own words,

"I have built a great relationship with Blake as he is always there for me and meets with me every week and helps me balance the demands of my college curriculum with my extra-curricular activities. He has helped me to develop my time management skills and has taught me how to prioritize tasks."

Nevertheless, Kaitlyn had struggled managing her academics with her social commitments on campus, and with the advent of the pandemic and the shift to online learning, the situation only became more challenging. Ultimately, it wasn’t until she partnered with Stephen Ferris, her Academic Intervention Coordinator, that everything really started to gel. She commented:

"Stephen shared key insights regarding study techniques, how to build good study habits, and note taking strategies, and he also has great knowledge of my major, which is Early Childhood Education. Because of this, beyond general study techniques, Stephen and I often worked on assignments, class projects and exam preparation, which was all extremely helpful."

Currently, Kaitlyn is entering her senior year in good academic standing, having finished her last term with a 3.2 GPA. She is very much enjoying the increasing focus on her chosen major and is looking forward to gaining experience as a student teacher as she works toward her ultimate goal of becoming a full-fledged teacher in her own right. On her journey so far, she remarked:

"I have learned how to discipline myself in many ways. I learned how to live on my own, do my own laundry, and make my own decisions. College is very fun and can be a great time, but you have to remember that there are responsibilities and you have to balance your priorities."

Apart from these adjustments to our Academic Intervention Program, the SALT Center is making a continual effort to improve the quality and nature of supports it provides to the University of Arizona students who utilize our services. As Fall 2021 gets underway, we are excited to announce the new SALT Center Peer Mentor Program headed by Natalie K. Schleining, another of our esteemed Student Support Specialists. The program is beginning with 5 mentors who will support 20-25 mentees by providing guidance in making campus connections and in facing other transition-related challenges.

Additionally, Natalie will also serve as the chapter advisor for Eye to Eye, a national award-winning mentoring program that connects undergraduates with learning and attention challenges to their counterparts in middle school. In this role she will support two University students who utilize SALT Center services, helping them secure meeting spaces and providing general support as they work with these at-risk youth.

Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris: “Working with Kaitlyn was such a pleasure because of her determination to do well and improve her learning skills. She has a great work ethic and a desire to succeed, and I am very proud of her accomplishments.” 





Blake Cesarz

Blake Cesarz: “I am so very proud to have been a part of Kaitlyn’s journey. To me, she is a student who embodies perseverance, and I have no doubt will distinguish herself in her academics and in her career.”