Mellon Awards $800,000 to Support Sophomore Experience | St. Lawrence University Corporate and Foundation Relations

Mellon Awards $800,000 to Support Sophomore Experience

St. Lawrence University has been awarded a large grant by a private foundation to support a new program aimed at enhancing the academic experience for its second-year students. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded St. Lawrence a four-year grant totaling $800,000 to support the “Sophomore Journeys” program.

This new program will offer a new series of second-year student seminars and courses that are linked to experiential learning opportunities, including internships, community outreach and summer research fellowships. Sophomore Journeys will be organized around a variety of principles, such as fostering integrated and varied learning opportunities, which ultimately will challenge student perceptions and intensify their participation in campus social life in positive and meaningful ways. These principles will become the cornerstone of an interactive learning approach on multiple fronts, including infusing the existing Business and the Liberal Arts major with a greater understanding of social responsibility and global citizenship and creating intergroup dialogue seminars that will address cross-group relations and issues of social justice.

“This bold initiative’s guiding principles are grounded in several years of institutional self-reflection and research,” said President William L. Fox ’75. “Sophomore Journeys is a pivotal moment for St. Lawrence with tremendous potential to spark faculty creativity while also encouraging students to explore their interests and claim ownership of their academic and professional aspirations at a much earlier junction in their undergraduate careers.”

During each semester of the four-year grant period, the University will enroll up to 300 students—or about half the number of second-year students in any given year—in five Sophomore Journeys seminars, up to five enrichment courses, and a number of summer internships and fellowships. More than 25 percent of the teaching faculty will be actively involved in the program as teachers, student mentors and advisory committee members, establishing a faculty community dedicated to enhancing the quality and impact of this sophomore-year experience.

Sophomore Journeys will also build upon St. Lawrence’s nationally-recognized First-Year Program, which helps students transition from high school to college life. Now in its 30th year, the FYP offers first-year students an integrated living-learning environment, where students live together with their first-year course classmates and cover a wide variety of interdisciplinary topics.

St. Lawrence’s Institutional Strategy and Assessment Committee, or ISAC, undertook a two-year comprehensive study of student experience and focused its attention on the sophomore year experience. ISAC interviewed key faculty members, administrators, and numerous students, including those in leadership positions, and carefully looked at existing academic structures, learning how they intersect in complex and sometimes unexpected ways.

What they found is that while the FYP offered first-year students successful guidance, the desired effects tended to wane for students in their second year.

“Much of the second semester of the FYP and the first semester of the sophomore year are devoted to meeting core requirements composed of introductory courses,” said Richard Jenseth, associate professor of film studies and chair of ISAC. “These courses are critical to academic progress and are well taught, but they also tend to be larger surveys that offer fewer opportunities for the small seminar experience, where students with shared passions can have their ideas challenged by peers, and to work at collective problem-solving. Offering sophomores engaging, innovative courses and experiences will also connect them with faculty who share their passions and who can play a vital role as students begin to find their intellectual path through college and beyond.”

The Sophomore Journeys program is likely to become a key fundraising initiative in St. Lawrence’s upcoming comprehensive campaign. The University intends to incorporate the program into its institutional budget beginning in 2021.

This is the third large award St. Lawrence has received from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the last five years. In 2012, St. Lawrence was awarded $700,000 to fund a four-year project called “Crossing Boundaries: Re-envisioning Humanities for the 21st Century,” which encouraged academic thinking across traditional disciplinary boundaries. And in 2015, Mellon awarded St. Lawrence $240,000 to fund Global Gateways, a program intended to foster a better transition to academic life in the United States for international students and create domestic student ambassadors who serve as conversation partners. Mellon also awarded a $100,000 presidential discretionary grant in 2010 to launch the Innovation Grant program, which funds small-scale projects with immediate and positive effect on the quality of campus community life.

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