Upper Iowa University recognized three graduates for their Universitywide and community leadership during its May 8 Commencement ceremony at Fayette Campus. Those graduates – Jayde Blue, West Union, Iowa, Alyson Carroll, Oswego, Illinois, and Kaitlin Niedert, Independence, Iowa, – each were recognized as Csomay Honors Program graduates for their representation of the university through community involvement and engagement, and through their success as students, athletes and professionals.
Prior to her death, Barbara (Rankin) Csomay ’46 established UIU’s Csomay Honors Program. Csomay, who graduated from UIU with a teaching degree, committed $847,000 toward the creation of the Csomay Center for Honors at Fayette Campus and the Csomay Endowed Scholarship.
To be accepted into the Honors Program, students must have at least a 26 ACT score and at least a 3.5 high school grade point average. Students admitted to the Honors Program in any given year take the same courses as their fellow honors students. Each course generally is interdisciplinary and team taught, with active, participatory learning. All honors courses require extensive, integrated, advanced writing skills. Seniors complete both an honors project and a thesis in their area of interest. Extracurricular experiences – such as service learning, attending professional conferences and other special events – are an integral part of the program.
A fourth generation UIU alum, Blue earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business marketing and management at UIU in October 2020. She is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in general management. While attending UIU, Blue was a member of Peacock Spirit, Athlete Peer Educator Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Student Government Association, Peacock Entertainment Crew (PEC) and Chi Alpha.
The energetic graduate first joined the Csomay program because one of her friends was involved in the program and informed her of the available scholarship. Through the program, Blue made numerous friendships, learned about the global history and lifestyles of different cultures, and achieved academic success.
“Every semester, I exceeded my own academic expectations,” Blue said. “I believe the Csomay program allows students to grow closer to one another. Regardless of your lifestyle, it provides you student peers who you feel comfortable with – people who can answer questions, study and hang out with.”
As part of her Honors project, Blue built a cheerleading website with all of the information and resources located in one place and which could be adapted for future use by different sport teams. As a Csomay Honors student she also benefitted from studying abroad for 10 days in London, Paris and Amsterdam in March 2020.
“I worked hard to obtain my degrees in a timely manner while at UIU, but I also wanted to explore the world and have the opportunity to achieve something greater,” Blue said. “I was able to learn so much from the different cultures, while also gaining knowledge and experiences that only comes around once in a lifetime for most people. These experiences will assist me in being proactive in my future career choice, not only allowing me to be effective and efficient, but also being as accountable and flexible as the position requires.”
Reflecting on her overall UIU educational experience and its impact on her life, Blue also noted she was able to complete a pair of marketing and management internships with West Union (Iowa) Economic Development and the City of West Union.
“Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I would not have chosen UIU,” Blue said. “Then I realize that I would not have made the networking connections or lifetime friendships from all of my real-world experiences. There were times that it was stressful, but as I work to achieve my master’s degree I could not be more proud of myself or my University. Nothing is perfect, but my experience at UIU was not too far off.”
Majoring in instructional strategist II for BD/LD/ID K-12, with endorsements in reading K-8 and elementary education, Carroll is the outgoing SGA secretary. She was also involved in the Best Buddies Club.
Carroll saw the required Csomay program curriculum as a way to further challenge herself academically. Similar to other Honors program students, she soon discovered that the professors worked tirelessly to turn the learning environment into something that the students could relate to their interests. Open classroom discussions with diverging viewpoints led to improved critical thinking skills.
Carroll originally chose to attend UIU because of her enjoyment of the school’s education program. Consequently, her Honors project featured different types of special education classrooms and the social and academic impacts inclusive and self-contained special education classrooms have on students.
“This project has given me further insight on what I want my future students to benefit from,” Carroll said. “I wanted to explore the best ways I can provide my students an environment where they will grow both academically and socially to the best of their potential.
During her last semester at UIU, she was a student teacher at the Central Community School District in Elkader and Starmont
(Strawberry Point, Arlington, Lamont) Community School District for a total of 16 weeks. The real-world experience consisted of 12 weeks in special education classrooms and four weeks in a third-grade classroom.
“I feel all of the UIU opportunities pushed me to my fullest potential,” Carroll said. “Everyone at UIU cares about one another and wants everyone to have a great experience. I think if I would have gone to a different university, I would not have had as close of relationships with people that effect my learning the most.”
Niedert graduated from UIU with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with endorsements in TAG, coaching, reading and
language arts. The 2020 Peacock Homecoming Queen served as the SGA internal relations officer and was a member of the Best Buddies Club, Education Club, Kappa Zeta Tau, and UIU volleyball team.
Niedert chose to attend UIU not only because of its eight-week sessions and athletics, but also because it felt like another home to her.
“My experience at UIU has given me so many friendships and opportunities that I will forever be thankful for and never forget,” Niedert said. “I have also created friendships in the classes I took that I will always cherish.”
Niedert viewed the Csomay Honors program as a way to challenge herself during her educational experiences. Her favorite part of the program was working with other students and professors outside of her main study areas. The program also allowed her to study abroad in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
“I really enjoyed working with students who I normally wouldn’t work with in my major, because it gave me the opportunity to meet new people and learn from others,” Niedert said. “I can apply what I learned from this program and my other experiences to my career and future education.”
The aspiring school counselor’s Csomay project consisted of studying the required training and knowledge that educators, support staff, and administration have when working with a child who may be impacted by trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In addition to realizing the need for more ACEs and training session awareness, the study provided Niedert beneficial information that she can use in her future classroom and the inspiration to pursue a masters in school counseling.
“I feel that an education at UIU differs from other institutions because of its class sizes and the ability for students to connect with their professors and peers,” Niedert said. “I was able to build relationships with my fellow classmates and caring professors, who were positive role models in my life and college career. I have loved my time at UIU and I am so glad I chose to become a Peacock!”
For additional information about the Csomay Honors Program and UIU, visit uiu.edu/academics/honors-program/.