Josh Kelly

Juliet Wahleithner, Ph.d.

“The First Year Experience at Fresno State helped students feel like they had a group with which they felt connected.”

When she was recruited to teach a course for the First Year Experience (FYE) program at California State ​University, Fresno in 2015, Juliet Wahleithner, Ph.D., was brand-new to the campus. But it didn't take long for the assistant professor of literacy education to find her true calling: mentoring students.

The FYE placed 100 first-year students (who are also first-generation) in four cohorts; for one year, they took all their courses together. “The goal was to support them as they transitioned into the university, keep them enrolled and help them on their path to graduation," explains Dr. Wahleithner, who teaches courses focused on literacy for undergraduates, teachers' credential candidates and graduate students. The program aligned with the goals of the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025, which strives to foster a sense of belonging for students on campus, leading to improved student outcomes.

Wanting to make an even deeper impact, Wahleithner also sought out FYE students as volunteers for her research on understanding how people learn to communicate. The experience quickly bonded the 13 students who opted to participate. In the process, the Stockton, California, native also became their mentor.

“First-gen students have the emotional support at home, but they may not have people to go to when they have questions [on campus]," she explains. “That's what I felt I became for a lot of them. They would text me at random times, 'Can you talk?' Through the process, I became really close to them. I've written a million letters of recommendation.

"Two are graduating this semester and the rest next semester. I'm thinking, This definitely had an impact. How can I continue this and who needs it?"

Learn more about Juliet's story and about the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025, which strives to increase graduation rates for all students while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

Check out more programs around the CSU that assist students with their transition to college:


PHOTOGRAPHY: patrick record and courtesy of
Dr. Juliet wahleithner

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