October 2013 newsletter
The excitement surrounding first-year students is often palpable — freshman socials, floor meetings, taking generals, meeting new people and all the on-campus support that comes with that. By sophomore year, much of the thrill fades away to the background. Students have to make big decisions like whether to study abroad, how to get an internship and the biggest of all: declare a major.
Since there has been much research that shows sophomores tend to be more disengaged academically and dissatisfied with their college experience, many private institutions have acknowledged that the sophomore year is a crucial time for college students. The sophomore slump, it appears, is indeed real.
“Sophomores are drifters. So much is focused on first year students, planning activities for them. Juniors are looking for jobs and feel more comfortable on campus and seniors are ready to graduate,” said Charlie Potts, director of residential life at Gustavus Adolphus College. “But sophomores may not have a major yet, feel the pressure and stress of that decision and other decisions that will affect their future.”
When Gustavus’ Residential Life created four positions called FAIRS (Faculty/Administrator in Residence), live-in, professional staff or faculty who are charged with creating and sustaining living environments on campus, they wanted to promote building community among their students and have mentors readily available.
“When we created the FAIR positions, it made sense to have them focus on natural groups: first-years, sophomores, and juniors and seniors. We do some great first-year programming but we put a lot of thought into what can we do consistent across the board for sophomores. The research shows that sophomore year is often characterized by soul-searching, identity formation and the urgency to make big decisions and we wanted to respond to that,” Potts said.
So the Dinner-in-a-Box program was created. Dinner-in-a-Box is a tub filled with everything a student would need to cook dinner for four to six people including ingredients, pots and pans, napkins, electric candles, guestbook and even cards with questions to get sophomores talking about the big issues in life. The only caveat is that only sophomores can check out the dinner.
“The students just love this program. It has been highly successful,” said Heather Dale, director of health services and faculty/administrator in residence for the Sophomore Experience. “We encourage our sophomores to invite a faculty member or new friends — or maybe their parents are in town and they can cook them a meal. Because this program is only for sophomores, it has increased the excitement surrounding it and helped in creating that sophomore class identity.”
Gathering resources together
Recognizing the major and career indecision often facing sophomores, the University of St. Thomas created the Sophomore Dinner Series. St. Thomas already offers apartment-style housing only available to sophomores, but the dinner series is geared toward academic and success topics.
“Sophomores tend to get a little lost. They have a lot of stress and need guidance but don’t necessarily want to ask for help,” said Cari Fealy, associate director of residence life at St. Thomas. “The Sophomore Dinner Series is an opportunity for sophomores to come together for a free meal and hear from some of the different offices on campus like study abroad, academic advising, career development and representatives from our service trips.”
St. Thomas plans to host at least three sophomore dinner events during the school year. The students will be able to engage with the representatives from various campus offices together with their peers. “Sophomores want to be treated like juniors and seniors. But this is their first time making decisions by themselves and diving into classes that are not all generals. They begin to question what they want to do with their lives,” Fealy said. “The sophomore dinner series is a starting point. We will continue to build it and work to find a format that works.”
Gustavus is also gathering resources together for sophomores in a weekly social event. The Sophomore Social takes place every Tuesday afternoon and often includes up to 10 faculty and staff members available to chat and socialize with students. Staff members include representatives from study abroad, the chaplain’s office and career services.
“The faculty and staff response has been amazing,” Dale said. “The sophomores that come have specific goals in mind or want to meet a specific faculty member. We are reaching out and providing resources for things that are really in the forefront of their minds.”
- St. Olaf College: Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat, offered through the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, provides second-year students with an opportunity to think intentionally about their values and interests as they begin to connect their work in college with future plans.
- Concordia University, St. Paul: The Sophomore Success Social was developed in 2010 to increase first-year retention rates. Representatives from student life, academic advising, disability services, financial aid, career services and conference and events, as well as first-year seminar faculty, come together to implement the SSS program. The attendance at the SSS is one of the largest for any campus event — those who attend are promised early registration.
- Gustavus Adolphus College: Sophomore website outlines top 10 things to do in your sophomore year, specific to the campus.
Although our campuses are a place for serious study, that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had. During October, our campuses are abuzz with activities…including those related to fall and Halloween. This inspired our quiz for anyone who has a slightly macabre bent at this time of year. Take the quiz to test your knowledge.
New videos support young people whose parents are not fluent in English — sharing valuable information specific to those communities. The Paying for College series showcases the many ways families can finance a four-year college degree and includes versions in Hmong, Somali and Spanish.
Filling a gap
When Awo Ahmed, a literacy coordinator at Metropolitan State University, was seeking out information about colleges she often felt overwhelmed. “It was really hard. My mom did not speak English so the responsibility of seeking information was overwhelming,” she said. “I found myself thinking can I really do this? I think these videos will fill that gap between parents and students and bring a clearer picture of the process to the parents.”
A cultural connection is also key within the language-specific clips and important particularly within the Somali community. “Seeing someone from our community talk about college in their native language is a great conversation starter. A lot of parents value education but get intimidated by the college process because of the language barrier and jargon used in the world of higher education,” Ahmed said. She plans to reach out to youth and parent groups to share these videos, doing what she can to eliminate the language barrier.
Particular challenges within the community
While each language-specific video covers the basics of paying for college, they do delve into specific challenges unique to each community. For example, the Somali clip highlights interest-free loans and the importance of researching private scholarships available online and the Spanish clip features information about immigration status and how it can affect financial aid.
“These videos will help take some fear away from the uncertainty parents have when their children approach them about financing their college,” said Gaosheng Yang, who was a resource for the video. “I believe the Hmong community will need to address the changing economic backgrounds of each individual family and how that will look different for every student. However, that doesn’t make education any less valuable if they pay less or more for it than those around them.”
Share in various communities
The language-specific videos are useful not just for students and their families but also for staff who work with and in the different communities highlighted. “The Paying for College videos includes people who know their community well, have experience and are actually from that community,” said Juve Meza, community organizer for Minneapolis Public Schools and a resource for the Paying for College video series. “We’ve seen and we know that many immigrant families don’t have access to good and accurate information about going to college. This series is very specific and particular to each community. It has a lot of good information about how a student will apply to college and navigate the process.”
Grant aid to students at our member institutions grew from $224 million in 2000-01 to $554 million in 2010-11 (the most recent data available). Institutional grants accounted for 90% of the increase.
- Carleton College’s Gao Hong, lecturer in Chinese musical instruments, won a $53,600 “Folk and Traditional Arts” grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. It supports the master pipa player in promoting and preserving the traditional Pudong style of pipa music, and in giving concerts and lectures in three Minnesota locations.
- Ahmed I. Samatar wrote the opinion, “Beware of the Jihadist Component” for The New York Times. Originally from Somalia, he is the James Wallace professor of international studies at Macalester College and was a candidate in Somalia's 2012 presidential elections.
- Hamline University’s longtime mascot, the Piper, has revealed the results of an extreme makeover. Over the past year, staff, with input from students, faculty, alumni and community members, worked to rebrand the Piper to better fit the needs of the community and update the look of Hamline’s number one fan.
- The Helen and Sam Kaplan Foundation sponsored an original composition and world-premiere performance on Sept. 28 at Saint Mary's University. The SMU Concert Band debuted “Katanya,” a Jewish oral folk tale set to music by Larry Bitenski. The foundation supports interfaith understanding through the work of Jewish artists and scholars.
- St. Olaf College students Will Lutterman ’15 and Serina Robinson ’15 each received a prestigious two-year research fellowship from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The fellowship, part of the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program, will enable Lutterman to study water policy and Robinson to examine bioremediation.
- The College of St. Scholastica has been designated a Military Friendly School by Victory Media, meaning it is among the top 20% of colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide that are doing the most to welcome military members and veterans as students and ensure their success on campus.
- Concordia University, St. Paul's fall 2013 enrollment has reached an all-time high of 3,632 students, exceeding last year's record of 2,941. Concordia welcomed 442 new students to campus this fall, a 61% increase compared to last year’s census.
- The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded St. Catherine University $3.3 million to launch National Catholic Sisters Week during Women’s History Month 2014, to honor the contributions of women religious. The three-year grant will support a variety of activities.
- The Minnesota Private College Fund welcomes Sara Barrow as its new vice president of development.
- Jesús Hernández Mejía, assistant dean of financial aid at Gustavus Adolphus College, is featured on the LearnmoreMN blog this month. Read his post Families find ways to make college affordable and consider joining the conversation by adding your comment. Carol Stack from Hardwick-Day will be blogging in November.
- Find it hard to keep up with higher education news? Here are a few recent articles worth reading:
- Higher Education's Payoff, Inside Higher Education, Oct. 7, 2013
- Your attention, please, on higher ed, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 3, 2013
- The New, Nonlinear Path Through College, Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 30, 2013
- A Nudge to Poorer Students to Aim High on Colleges, New York Times, Sept. 26, 2013