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New track to address sophomore needs

Freshmen have Towering Traditions and the First Year Seminar. Juniors are required to take junior cornerstone and third-year writing courses, and seniors complete their tenure at Belmont with a senior capstone class. But what about Belmont sophomores?

The administration has decided to address this sophomore slump by creating the Sophomore Year Experience program.

As a proposal for the Quality Enhancement Plan required every 10 years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a strategic team of faculty, administration and students recognized the need for intentional programming and self-exploration for sophomores. Dr. Jimmy Davis, associate provost and dean of the University College, led the team.

“You come as a freshman knowing exactly what you want to do,” said Davis, “but once you get into your second, third and fourth semester, the shine begins to wear off.”

Research regarding the sophomore transition shows after a student’s first semester, he or she begins a process of focused self-exploration, asking significant questions such as, “Who am I?” or “What will I become?”

The Sophomore Year Experience intends to provide support and structured programming to better meet the needs of sophomores who are beginning to question their future and the impact they will make on society.

Davis said the program “does not intend to prevent sophomores from being confused or asking these specific questions” but is designed to enhance their experience during the second, third or fourth semester through a series of collective as well as individualized components.

Academic components of the Sophomore Year Experience will continue to include the Linked Cohort courses, but they will be restructured over time to function more as Learning Communities courses, possibly characterized by a service-learning element or other aspects of expanded learning.

Davis would also like to see more consistent cohesion and interactive learning between the two courses throughout the semester.

Fundamentals of Speech Communication would serve as an additional key academic component of the Sophomore Year Experience. The objectives will virtually remain the same, the subject matter of the speeches, for example, might be revised to facilitate more self-reflection, a primary objective of the sophomore program.

Outside of the classroom, sophomores living on campus will primarily remain in Kennedy, Thrailkill and Wright-Maddox, where RAs will be specially trained to work with sophomores and meet their specific needs. The idea is to create “coherent sophomore communities,” said Davis. These communities would offer sophomore-specific convocations and even some academic courses in the residence halls.

The spiritual and service components in these communities will be integral to the success of the program as well.

Davis said the spiritual emphasis on discovering one’s vocation over simply finding a job will challenge sophomores to question, “who do I want to be in the world?” and “what difference will I make?”

He recognizes “you can’t divorce students from asking these types of questions, but you can help them start asking vocation questions and not job questions.”

Sophomores, Davis said, will also be encouraged to do things together and discover how their unique passions can meet the world’s needs.

Through existing initiatives at Belmont such as KIVA, Living a Better Story and the University Ministries-sponsored Spring Break Immersion Trips, sophomores will be pushed to explore their passions and serve others.

But aside from participating in these different programs, how will sophomores find the individualized guidance they need?

The new Sophomore Transition Center is designed to answer individual questions sophomores may have and provide accountability and support for students questioning their purpose and vocation.

Available space on the second floor of the library will serve as the future home for the Sophomore Transition Center. Staff will include a full-time director and two part-time professional sophomore coaches. The SYE staff will plan sophomore-specific courses and events throughout the year and will facilitate specialized RA training and meeting with individual students.

“It is not a counseling center,” Davis said. “It’s an individualized program to help organize and provide accountability for students.”

A program may involve attending specific convocations, participating in a service project related to a personal interest or analyzing the student’s Strengths Finder results. Coaches will hold students accountable by periodically checking in with their progress.

The transition center staff will also establish a Sophomore Summit—a new Welcome Week-esque experience for students entering their second year. Held a few days before fall classes begin, the Sophomore Summit will feature outside speakers in addition to the SYE director and coaches.

The Summit is designed to “mark the transition to the second year and launch the sophomore conversation,” said Davis. In a series of events, the summit will invite sophomores to start the process of asking the integral vocation-based questions.

Before the Sophomore Year Experience can be implemented, however, representatives from SACS, who will be visiting the campus in mid-February, must approve the Quality Enhancement Plan. The administration also values students’ ideas and opinions and wants their approval of the plan.

Three convocation events on Feb. 2-4 titled “What do Sophomores Need” will allow students to voice their concerns, questions and individual needs as sophomores to better ensure the success of the Sophomore Year Experience.

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