About the Sophomore Journeys Mellon Grant | St. Lawrence University Sophomore Success Initiative

About the Sophomore Journeys Mellon Grant

from our PROPOSAL TO THE ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION JULY 7, 2016


Sophomore Journeys Organizing Principles
We have identified the following organizing principles around which we are creating new academic courses and experiences and, in many cases, reimagining and
redesigning existing offerings.


Varied Approaches for Varied Experiences
Given that students experience this transition in different ways and at different times, no single response or formal programmatic structure will be consistently effective. Instead we are designing a rich, nuanced menu of opportunities that students will come to on their own or will be guided to by advisors or peers.


Challenge Perceptions
If we are to achieve our ambitious goals, we need to challenge common student perceptions of the transition between the FYP and the declaration of a major, currently perceived as a kind of liminal time that students spend checking off core requirements and avoiding courses that might put at risk their cumulative grade-point average. For many students, both the second semester of the first year and the first semester of the sophomore year are opportunities to intensify their participation in campus social life in positive (and sometimes negative) ways. Our message to students is clear: intentional exploration at every stage is the path to the richest possible experience in college, and every student at every step should be fully present and engaged.


Sustain Academic Intensity and Creative Engagement
The focus of Sophomore Journeys is not to strictly prescribe the sophomore transition by imposing a single correct path. This approach would neither be effective given what our research tells us about students navigating the transition in their diverse ways and at different times; nor would imposing yet another layer of requirements foster student agency and responsibility, which we see as vital to academic excellence. For these reasons, our approach will be to compete for student time and energy by offering new or newly-redesigned academic options and linked experiential learning opportunities aimed at intensifying the creative thinking about real-world issues that begins in the FYP.


Foster Integrated Learning in the Sophomore Year
Creating serious opportunities for integrative learning has long been part of how we approach our work with students; in fact, we recently added an integrative learning component (ILC) as a graduation requirement for all students. This new element in our curriculum is illustrative of our faculty’s understanding that intertwining varied disciplines and ways of knowing is a hallmark of liberal arts learning; since our faculty had long appreciated and sought to cultivate the ability to synthesize new knowledge in this way, we ultimately changed our curriculum to reflect this expectation of all students. Thus far, much of our attention directed toward this new requirement has focused on providing these experiences for juniors and seniors already in a major. For this reason, a key component of the proposed grant project is to make more integrative learning opportunities available to sophomores. This practice of integrative, collaborative thinking is an important goal of the Sophomore Journeys programming that we describe below; courses are both interconnected with each other and linked with relevant experiential learning opportunities and co-curricular activities, including community-based learning, internships, community outreach, and mentored summer research.


Sophomore Journeys Curricular Initiatives:
Based upon these guiding principles, we propose to launch a new series of five full-unit courses each semester designed specifically for second-year students, to be known as “Sophomore Journeys Seminars.” To maximize the potential impact of the program, these seminars will only be open to sophomores. While there will be no formal selection process for student enrollment, we will commit the time and resources needed to widely publicize these courses and related experiential learning opportunities by making presentations to First-Year Seminar students during the spring semester and inviting students to interact with program faculty at several informal gatherings during the same time period. Experience with the FYP and launching previous programs has consistently revealed that students are naturally attracted to innovative courses that offer creative approaches and opportunities for engagement—both hallmarks of the proposed Sophomore Journeys program. Guided by their interests and interactions with program faculty, second-year students will now be able to explore a wide array of
disciplines and subject matter before they are required to narrow their focus by selecting a major at the end of their second year.

For those sophomores eager for more intensive enrichment experiences, Sophomore Journeys will offer a number of summer internships and fellowships across the disciplines, including opportunities for community outreach. Ultimately, our goal is to involve 200 to 300 students annually in Sophomore Journeys programming. As we look to the promising—and ambitious—work ahead to implement a new program on this scale, it is critical that our curricular initiatives are grounded in a common set of student learning outcomes. This approach is doubly important for effective program assessment, which will actively involve faculty in refining course design and encourage them to take ownership of the program. For these reasons, the Sophomore Journeys Seminars and partial-unit courses will adhere to the following student learning outcomes:

  • Students will be engaged through innovative approaches to course design and teaching;
  • Students will be exposed to various forms of integrative learning;
  • Students will have multiple opportunities to apply critical thinking skills;
  • Students will explore a wide array of disciplines and subject matter;
  • Students will be encouraged to forge strong connections with faculty and peers; and
  • Students will be empowered to develop a sense of purpose and intentionality with regard to their academic choices and undergraduate journey.