Founded in 2016, the Sophomore Success Initiative empowers students to see their second year as an opportunity, not a slump. Students who participate create their own paths by exploring academic passions and investigating career interests.
‘Great Value Colleges,’ a program and degree-ranking website, awarded St. Lawrence University the 18th spot on its list of The 50 Best Colleges for Getting Over the Sophomore Slump. This list assesses the “wide range of ways that colleges are encouraging second-year students to thrive” so their second year is “a high point of college life.”
St. Lawrence’s approach, known as the Sophomore Success Initiative, bridges the gap between students’ first and second years. The program, founded in 2016, consists of sophomore-only seminars, one-on-one mentorship opportunities, research projects, internships, volunteer opportunities, and events that support and inspire students as they investigate academic and professional interests and pave their way for future success.
“We designed our program to encourage students to think more intentionally about the curricular and co-curricular choices that they make during their second year,” says Mary Jane Smith, faculty director of the Sophomore Success Initiative. “Our programs focus on skills and community building whether through classroom, experiential, or co-curricular opportunities.”
The program illustrates one of the many ways the University invests in every student as they explore, experiment, and grow. Smith, who is also an associate professor of history and coordinator of African American Studies, notes that the initiative “overachieves in attracting students of color, first-generation students, Pell-eligible students, and international students” and has had a positive impact on retaining and engaging students of all backgrounds.
There is a multitude of ways for students to take part in the Sophomore Success Initiative. Three of the program’s past participants include Madison Amico ’22, Matthew Derouchie ’22, and Fernanda Leon Canseco ’22. Madison and Matthew both enrolled in Sophomore Seminars, while Fernanda pursued a digital fellowship, which allows sophomores to investigate a variety of digital platforms and their impacts on society. They recently shared some insights into their experiences.
Q: What drew you to your chosen sophomore-specific opportunity at St. Lawrence?
Madison: “I chose to take a sophomore seminar because I was still unsure of what I wanted to study. ‘What’s the Story?’ was an excellent choice for me because it allowed me to explore my interests in writing and communications through journalism.”
Fernanda: “When I learned about the digital scholar fellowship opportunity, I really liked the multidisciplinary and interdepartmental approach of the project. Learning about technology, accessibility, and uses for technology in educational settings was so empowering and eye-opening.”
Matthew: “When planning for my sophomore year fall, I read a course description of the economics-focused sophomore seminar. It mentioned studying the Federal Reserve's role, exploring the economics major at St. Lawrence, and connecting with alumni who studied economics. This seemed like a great option for me as I was considering majoring in economics, had already taken a course with [Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics Cynthia] Bansak, and wanted to learn about the career paths an economics major can expect.”
Q: What kind of projects did you work on, and how did you collaborate with others?
Madison: “Throughout the semester, we worked on progressing our news writing through responding to news articles, writing our own hard news stories, and ending with our own feature stories. We also wrote for news organizations on campus. For one project, my group went out into the community to do interviews and take pictures for an article that we submitted to Weave News.”
Fernanda: “I designed a website for that I will lead this coming summer. The conference aims to empower the professional and personal development of young women in my state. I believe there is a lot of talent in my hometown, but there is a lack of opportunities and spaces to discover it. I worked with my fellowship instructors along with my advisor, [Associate Professor and Chair of Education] Jeff Frank.”
Matthew: “We conducted informational interviews with alumni, learned about and discussed monetary policy decisions, and presented our own interpretation of economic conditions. After our professors connected us with alumni to interview, we discussed the best ways to conduct informational interviews, which helped us develop networking skills.”
Q: What did you get out of this experience that you have brought with you to other courses or experiences?
Madison: “This course solidified what I wanted to study. It also introduced me to a fellowship opportunity with our local radio station, North Country Public Radio. Overall, this course bettered my writing and reporting skills, which I brought into my experience at NCPR and as a news editor for The Hill News, our student-run newspaper.”
Fernanda: “The digital scholarship fellowship helped me get to know fellow sophomores and be inspired by their different desired career paths while finding common ground in our learning experience with technology. Now, I feel comfortable using different web design formats and resources. I was able to create a digital display of an essay I wrote for my English class as well as a personal website thanks to the activities and projects I have been involved with.”
Matthew: “I still consider this the most beneficial course I have taken at St. Lawrence. The small class size and discussion-focused learning allowed me to explore the economics major while developing relationships with my peers and professors. This was also the first time I reached out and spoke to alumni to learn about their experiences and career path.”
Madison Amico ’22 is an English and performance and communication arts double major from Ballston Spa, N.Y. Matthew Derouchie ’22 is an economics and math double major from Massena, N.Y. Fernanda Leon Canseco ’22 is a government and global studies double major from Oaxaca, Mexico.