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August 11, 2005
Contact: Wendy Rohleder-Sook, Freshman-Sophomore Advising, (785) 864-2896; or Erin Michaelis, Student Involvement and Leadership, (785) 864-4861

Where's Waldo? KU students from small towns form group to help one another

LAWRENCE - When University of Kansas sophomore Alisha Ann Ridgley tells other KU students she is from Waldo, she knows exactly what they will say.

"They know the cartoon and ask 'Where's Waldo?'" says Ridgley, whose hometown is in north central Russell County, between Paradise and Luray.

Laughter turns to amazement, however, when Ridgley says that Waldo's population is 54. "It's quite a shock. Most kids at KU think of a small town as maybe 5,000 to 6,000 people. Most people don't even think there's towns that small."
This fall Ridgley is one of nearly 50 KU students from small rural communities -Waldo may be among the smallest - who have formed Kansas Connections - Helping Small Town Students Succeed. At 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, in the Burge Union Relay Room, about half of the members will be offering to mentor incoming KU students from rural communities. The meeting is part of Hawk Week activities at KU -- a series of orientation events before classes begin Aug. 18.

Less than a year old, the campus organization was formed by two KU alumnae with Western Kansas roots who now work at KU: Erin Michaelis, 2003 graduate in Spanish and psychology, from Hays and Wendy Rohleder-Sook, originally from Plainville, who earned a bachelor's degree in 1998 and a law degree in 2001, both from KU. Michaelis is assistant director for the Student Involvement and Leadership Center and Rohleder-Sook is assistant director/pre-law coordinator in the Freshman Sophomore Advising Center.

When the two met during a KU conference and realized both were from Western Kansas communities, they exchanged stories about their early experiences as KU students. One story led to another and both women saw a need for an organization that would allow small town students to help one another find their way on a campus teaming with more than 25,000 students.

They contacted students they knew from rural communities in February 2005 and by April, a group had formed and elected officers. Nathan Ladd, junior in business administration and international studies, from rural Effingham (pop. 588) in Northeast Kansas serves as president.

Michaelis remembers: "I came to KU and people were talking about brands of clothes, schools and activities that I had never heard of. It was difficult to relate to people who grew up in a society focused on shopping at Nordstrom's when The Buckle was upscale in my high school. Aside from the focus on material items that I was not accustomed to, I felt behind in many senses. From music to vernacular, I did not relate to my peers from urban areas."

Although Michaelis forged friendships with students from urban areas, "I would have loved to have had a group of students to assure me that my different experiences were something to be proud of...and for me, that is why I am interested in Kansas Connections."

Ridgley agrees a small community has its benefits. Her senior class at Lucas-Luray High School in Lucas had about 15 students. The small size "almost forced you to be involved in everything." Ridgley was in band, sports clubs and an editor for the school paper and yearbook. "I guess we're more well-rounded in that aspect," she adds, comparing her small school to some of those of her new KU friends from urban schools.

Both Ridgley and Ladd recommend that students from small towns focus on that well-rounded asset and not on the size of the KU population or classes.

Ladd, one of KU's Summerfield Scholars, says, "Getting involved is the key. Find an organization. I got involved with Student Senate, which is great way to find out what's going on campus." In addition to being elected to represent the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Student Senate, Ladd is a proctor in Grace Pearson Scholarship Hall and will be working in the Center for East Asian Studies. He spent three weeks in China this summer as a KU Kansas Asia Scholar.

Ridgley hopes to mentor another Lucas-Luray High School student arriving at KU this fall. "Like me, I am sure he's kind of uncertain about making an adjustment."

If nothing else, she can prepare him for helping classmates and roommates learn Kansas geography. If, for example, Ridgley tells students her hometown is near Russell, she has discovered many don't know where it is either.

"I tell them Waldo is in the heart of Nowhere Kansas because nobody seems to know where it is. Everyone is like 'I know where Salina is.' I have to give them credit for that."

Kansas Connections members planning to attend Monday's program are listed below by their hometowns

ATCHISON COUNTY
From Effingham
Nathan Lee Ladd, junior, majoring in business administration and international studies, son of Ray and Cindy Ladd; Atchison County Community High School graduate; president

ELLIS COUNTY
From Hays
Bethany Marie Beilman, junior majoring in sport science, daughter of Mike and Linda Beilman; Hays High School graduate; Hays; Events Co-Chair

John Alexander Herman, junior majoring in philosophy and preparing for law school, son of John Herman; Thomas More Prep-Marian High School graduate; member

Emily Anne Meder, sophomore preparing to major in business administration, daughter of Dale and Bertie Meder; Hays High School graduate; Outreach Hays

MONTGOMERY COUNTY
From Cherryvale
Justin Ryan La Mort, senior majoring in psychology, son of Shelia Simmons; Cherryvale Senior High School graduate; member

From Independence
Alexis A Bannwarth, senior majoring in journalism strategic communications, political science and preparing for law school; daughter of David and Marlene Bannwarth; Independence Senior High School graduate; member

Emily Catherine Bannwarth, sophomore preparing to major in accounting, daughter of David and Marlene Bannwarth; Independence Senior High School graduate; Mentoring Program Co-Chair

MARSHALL COUNTY
From Axtell
Amy L Mathewson, junior majoring in psychology, daughter of Robert and Lisa Mathewson; Axtell Public School graduate; member

NEMAHA COUNTY
From Corning
Renee Lynne Winkler, junior majoring in mathematics, daughter of Roy and Connie Winkler; Nemaha Valley High School (Seneca) graduate; member

From Sabetha
Samantha Jean Key, senior majoring in sport science, daughter of Edward and Lora Key; Sabetha High School graduate; member

PHILLIPS COUNTY
From Phillipsburg
Melissa Kaye Babcock, senior majoring in language arts, daughter of Greg and Kim Babcock; Phillipsburg High School
graduate; member

Christine Marie Rachow, senior majoring in social work and preparing for law school, daughter of Kurtis and Kathryn Rachow; Phillipsburg High School; member

PAWNEE COUNTY
From Larned
Ann Frances Giessel, sophomore majoring in human biology and preparing to majoring in physical therapy; daughter of Tom and Sheryl Giessel; Larned High School; member

POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY
From Wamego
Tyra L Blew, sophomore, majoring in political science and international studies and preparing for law school; daughter of
Kenneth and Cynthia Blew; Wamego High School graduate; Mentoring Program Co-Chair

RUSH COUNTY
From Rush Center
Jennifer Lee Meitl, senior majoring in speech-language-hearing, daughter ofDuane and Nancy Meitl; Lacrosse High School graduate; Campus awareness chair


ROOKS COUNTY

From Plainville
Jessica Marie Casey, sophomore, preparing to major in pharmacy, daughter of Jerry and Karen Casey; Plainville High School graduate; Events Co-Chair

From Stockton
Amber Lee Kollman, sophomore preparing to major in journalism, daughter of Chris and Ginger Kollman; Stockton High School graduate; member

RUSSELL COUNTY
From Waldo
Alisha Ann Ridgley, sophomore majoring in political science and international studies and preparing for law school, daughter of Brad and Beth Zweifel; Lucas-Luray High School (Lucas); member

SHAWNEE COUNTY
From Dover (unincorporated)
Amy Bainum, senior majoring in communication studies, daughter of David and Lucinda Bainum; Mission Valley High School (Eskridge) graduate; Admissions Liaision

SUMNER COUNTY
From Milton
Lisa Marie Coulter, senior majoring in accounting and business administration, daughter of Maurice and Carol Coulter; Norwich High School graduate; member

From Wellington
Jessica Diane Fergen, senior majoring in journalism strategic communications, daughter of David and Karen Fergen; Belle Plaine Senior High School graduate; member

SEWARD COUNTY
From Liberal
Jeffrey Scott Crick, graduate student in architecture urban planning with 2005 bachelor's degrees in history and in political science from KU, son of Ken and Jane Crick; Liberal High School graduate; member

Michelle Anne Ferguson, graduate student in public health with 2005 bachelor's degree in social work from KU, daughter of Roger and Linda Ferguson; Liberal High School graduate; member

NEBRASKA
From Minden
Sarah Ann Smith, junior majoring in elementary education and planning to major in sport sciences and community health, is the daughter of Betty Smith-Meisenbach; Minden High School; member

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