On Aug. 29, returning sophomores participated in the âBuild to Breakâ program designed to deepen the connection of students to the local community.

Bridging First- and Second-Year Success

Olivia White ’17

A student’s sophomore year is often characterized as an ambiguous time. After transitioning from the comprehensive immersion of St. Lawrence University’s First-Year Program and the structure of the First-Year Seminar, many students in their second year scramble to find their niche, to fill the University’s distribution requirements, and to take ownership of their own academic career. They must also confront the looming deadline of declaring a major by the second semester of their sophomore year.

Beginning in 2014, the University’s Institutional Strategy and Assessment Committee (ISAC) spent two years consulting with students, faculty members, administrators, senior staff, and trustees on how to motivate and maximize engagement of students during their sophomore year while fostering their long-term success. ISAC submitted their initial proposal to the Board of Trustees in June 2015 and immediately launched into the 2015-16 academic year working to secure funding in order to develop the new strategies identified in their report.

In Fall 2016, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded St. Lawrence an $800,000 grant to address the uncertainties of what is often known as the “sophomore slump.” The Sophomore Journeys program was born, and programming is now in the first phases of its development.

“We’re trying to help students see their sophomore year as a time to make important choices about their intellectual career and their lives after college: to start thinking about internships, fellowships, and summer opportunities,” says Sarah Barber, associate professor of English and faculty director of Sophomore Journeys. “The new programs are designed to address the concern that sophomores are struggling to choose a major, struggling to make appropriate choices in their social lives, and missing the support system of the FYP.”

There are several components to the initiative, which involve different facets of faculty and student engagement, from mentoring workshops for faculty and staff to guest speakers to specialized academic offerings targeting sophomores known as Sophomore Seminars.

Faculty interactions with students tend to be concentrated in the classroom, and, according to Barber, the Sophomore Seminars are an important component of the St. Lawrence strategy. The seminars are tailored to provide innovative pedagogy while emphasizing the “hands-on” learning that St. Lawrence is well-known for delivering. This fall’s seminars include courses such as “Book Arts,” “Citizen Journalism,” and community-based learning (CBL) courses “Books Build Bridges” and “CBL and the Seeds of Change.” The connections and discussions aim to motivate second-year students and encourage them to take agency in their own scholarly pursuits sooner in their academic careers.

“It’s not a program that all sophomores have to take,” Barber clarifies. “If you are a sophomore who knows exactly what you want to study, go forward and study it. But, there should be exploratory courses, too: If you’re not sure what you want to major in, you won’t even know where to start. We hope these seminars will facilitate that exploration.” 

Deborah Dudley contributed to this report.