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Kean Student Wins Tuition-Free Semester through Cougar Climb: First Year Experience

Michael Diaz

Cougar Climb: First-Year Experience winner Michael Diaz

Kean University architectural studies major Michael Diaz will have a tuition-free semester in Fall 2020 as the winner of the Cougar Climb: First-Year Experience program raffle. 

The top 200 student achievers of the pathway program, which challenges freshman to become involved in life on campus, were entered into the raffle.

“It feels surreal,” said Diaz, who is from Hamilton. “This pandemic was really negative, not just for me but everyone, and something like this was a boost for morale. I received a lot of knowledge from attending events as part of the Cougar Climb. It was a lot of fun, and I also made new friends and learned more about Kean’s culture and diversity.”

Developed by the Office of Student Success and Retention and the Division of Student Affairs, the Cougar Climb: First-Year Experience kicked off in Fall 2019 with the goal of promoting student retention and success at Kean. In the program, students attend workshops and cultural, athletic and community service events; join organizations and teams; meet with peer mentors and counselors; and visit offices such as career services and health services.

“Cougar Climb is a guided path for first-year students to follow to achieve success,” said Neva Lozada, Ed.D., director of the Office of Student Success and Retention. “Studies in higher education positively show that the more socially and academically involved students are during their first year of college, the more connected they become to the institution and the more likely they are to achieve at higher levels and graduate on time.”

The program highlights six distinct areas to give students a well-rounded first-year experience: academic engagement; career development; health and wellness; social engagement; civic engagement; and global and cultural awareness. Students are tracked on Kean’s Cougar Link portal as they complete tasks, which are tailored to fit their specific involvement needs and aspirations. 

“I learned that Kean has a lot to offer, a lot of resources,” Diaz said. “If you do the Cougar Climb, you experience everything Kean has.” 

All of the students who participated in the inaugural year of Cougar Climb were recognized during a virtual closing ceremony and honored with a certificate of achievement. In Fall 2020, Cougar Climb: Upperclassmen Experience will launch to encourage engagement and promote retention and academic success for returning students.

Having gone through the freshman program, Diaz has advice for any student who wants a fuller college experience.

“Don’t be shy. Take every opportunity you’re handed,” he said. "College offers a new slate, a blank canvas to paint how you want it.”

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