Saturday, January 15, 2022
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The diverse student experiences at UMKC

Last year, Chancellor Agrawal unveiled a 60-page, 10-year strategic plan intended to grow and improve UMKC.

The first pillar, “Provide exceptional student learning, success and experience,” included specific, measurable goals. Example: 

  • Increase first-year retention for full-time transfer students from the current three-year average of 71% to 75% after three years, 78% after five years and 85% after 10 years. 

Now, imagine the figures in this example are not represented by numbers, but instead by students, real people at UMKC who walk the campus and raise their hands during lectures. 

One of those students is Sophie Simes, a 28-year-old senior who transferred to UMKC in 2018. 

“It’s been awesome, actually,” Simes said of her experience at UMKC. “I feel like I’ve developed more of a community here than I thought I would, being a non-traditional student.” 

Simes, an English literature major, has had a unique, interrupted collegiate path. After being homeschooled, she attended The University of Central Missouri for three semesters before transferring to Longview Community College in Lee’s Summit to complete her associate of arts degree. From there, she took a break from school and moved to California, where she worked as a chef in upscale restaurants in the Bay Area.

When she decided to continue her education, Simes applied to Emory University, where she was essentially rejected based on her age alone. 

“They said, ‘We just think that you would be uncomfortable here because our student body on average is 18-21 years old,’” Simes said. “They wouldn’t send me further information.” 

In sharp contrast, Simes felt welcomed and accepted at UMKC.  

“I know that because the school is urban and in a bigger city, UMKC is much more open to the idea of people who have had different paths, wanting to go back to finish or further their education,” said Simes. “I honestly feel like they’re encouraging about being a non-traditional student.” 

Simes loves the diverse student body and the ease with which she was able to become involved and connect with others by joining on-campus organizations like UMKC’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honors society. She plans to graduate in December.  

Beth Graham, another non-traditional student, has had a similar experience. Graham said her favorite aspects of UMKC are the community and diversity. 

“There are people from all different walks of life,” said Graham. “So you get to learn a lot about different cultures and still make some really great friends.” 

The creative writing major transferred to UMKC after completing an associate’s degree at St. Charles Community College near St. Louis. She recalled touring UMKC’s campus at age 16, walking through the quad, and seeing a young woman wearing a hijab, sitting on a bench under a tree, playing the ukulele. 

“That memory has stuck with me. People here are from different cultures,” said Graham, who plans to graduate in May. “I liked all the diversity that I saw, and I love the city. I really liked the community of students that I found.” 

Freshman Addison Collier, a student with a more traditional path, said she chose to enroll at UMKC after visiting the campus last year. 

“The thing that really drew my attention to UMKC was that it was a smaller school, and it was in a city,” said Collier. “Once I saw the campus, I knew that it was the place I wanted to go.” 

While Collier said the people she has met at UMKC have all been kind and welcoming, staying connected to them has been difficult. 

“Something that I feel that is a little bit of a downside to UMKC…is that it is a large commuter school, which has made it difficult to make new friends and stay in contact with people,” said Collier. 

Last year, in a meeting with the University News staff, Agrawal stressed his intent to transform UMKC from a commuter school into a more traditional, residential campus that would create a social, exciting environment.

Matt Botkin, 21, was a student at UMKC before Agrawal arrived and began implementing his strategic plan. 

Coming from his home in St. Louis, Botkin enrolled at UMKC in the fall of 2016, excited for the university’s location, diversity and potential social life. But after two semesters, he felt the school’s social life was nonexistent, and the academics were subpar. 

“I left, in part, because UMKC didn’t have the social aspect I was looking for,” said Botkin. “But the main reason I left was because UMKC couldn’t provide me with the best education for my dollar. I was not pleased with the staff or the courses.” 

Botkin left UMKC after the spring semester in 2017 and transferred to The University of Missouri – St. Louis. 

“UMKC is someone’s perfect school,” said Botkin. “But it was not my perfect school.” 

Simes, Graham, Collier and Botkin are just four of the thousands of students represented by the numbers from Agrawal’s strategic plan, in which he stated UMKC is committed to providing an educational experience tailored to each individual’s needs, both in its academics and co-curriculars.

However, the trick will be finding the right balance of tailored needs to serve as many students as possible.

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