First-generation accounting student and mentor featured in I Am First Too campaign
Throughout his time at KU, accounting student Kasi Ross II has exemplified what it means to be a role model and student-advocate. This year, Ross was featured on the second-annual I Am First Too commemorative poster for his personal success and dedication to mentorship.
The I Am First Too Campaign is an effort by KU’s Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) to highlight the accomplishments of first-generation students, faculty and staff.
This year’s commemorative poster honors twelve first-generation individuals who have excelled as role models, trailblazers and advocates of first-generation student success. The poster also features Steven Johnson Jr., the business school’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion student programs.
A student is considered first-generation when none of their parents or guardians received a bachelor’s degree.
Ross’ involvement with the CEOP began during his freshman year.
He was introduced to the CEOP as a freshman when he attended OPTIONS. OPTIONS (Opening Paths to Individual Opportunity and Success) is a five-day program designed to help incoming freshmen transition to life at KU. This program is offered to students who are first-generation, low-income or have disabilities.
OPTIONS attendees move into their dorms a week before classes begin and are connected with campus organizations and resources to help them start college on the right foot.
“Some students don’t have the opportunity to visit KU before coming here, so being able to come to campus a week early is really important,” Ross said.
While at OPTIONS, Ross was introduced to several organizations that serve black students at KU. The students that came to table were important mentors for Ross and encouraged him to get involved on campus.
In his sophomore year, Ross was the president of the Black Student Union. During his junior year, Ross chaired the Big 12 Council on Black Student Government. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and has served in various leadership roles with the organization.
“It was important for me to see the example my mentors set and how they wanted to help students of color,” he said.
Inspired by his mentors, Ross began to give back to other first-generation students and students of color.
As an upperclassmen, he volunteered as a leader for OPTIONS and served as a tutor for TRIO, a CEOP program that serves students who are first-generation, low-income or have a disability. Ross tutored students in introductory business classes such as ACCT 200 and ECON 142.
As a young student, Ross struggled to reach out for help from his professors. Now, he feels it is crucial to be a resource for students that are in the same position.
“The majority of the students that the CEOP services are minority students, so having someone who looks like you who can explain it to you makes it easier for you to ask questions,” he said.
“When you’re first-generation, you really don’t know how to approach college or the resources that are available to you,” he explained. “I had to come in and learn everything from scratch. I wanted to make sure that I was able to inform other students who came after me of the opportunities that they have so that they don’t have to struggle to find those resources, or never find them at all. It was important to me to pay it forward and make sure that other people in my same position had an easier adjustment to KU than I’ve had.”
The I Am First Too campaign helps to advance this goal.
The poster features individuals who have achieved amazing things at the university. Ross hopes that the visibility of these people will empower other first-generation students to realize their potential.
“If you have never seen someone do something that you want to do, you may not feel like you can achieve it,” Ross said.
Ross will graduate with his bachelor’s this May and continue his KU education in the MAcc program.
He is also planning to study abroad over the summer in South Africa. After his trip abroad, Ross will intern at the Ernst & Young Atlanta office in risk advisory. He plans to move to Atlanta and work in this area full-time after earning his master’s.
He intends to continue his mentorship efforts throughout his career.
“Ultimately, I’d like to have my own consulting firm or nonprofit that helps people understand how to manage their money and be financially free.”
Working with the CEOP has given Ross the tools he needed to excel at KU. And, through volunteering with the office and his own personal mentorship efforts, Ross is able to pass down the knowledge he has gained to those who need it.
“I feel that, if you have been helped out by others, it is really important to pay that forward. I like to measure my success on how much I can help others out as opposed to accolades I’ve earned,” Ross explained.
“I feel like your hard work goes a lot further if you’re passing it along to another person as opposed to keeping that knowledge or those resources to yourself.”