Sophomore Challenge provides on-campus resources for academic and career success
Sophomore year is a time of transition for many students and oftentimes encompasses the most important decisions of an individual’s college experience. Whether it’s finalizing a choice of major, planning off-campus study, or applying for internships, this year lays the foundation for personal and career development. However, despite being such an important time, many sophomores feel forgotten amidst the excitement of first-year students arriving and seniors preparing for new life roles.
To better engage and support sophomores, St. Olaf College has developed a new program specially designed to help second-year students more fully connect with faculty, staff, and fellow students to have meaningful conversations about their current and future aspirations.
The Sophomore Challenge is a collaborative initiative among the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Center for Advising and Academic Support (CAAS), Dean of Students Office, and Office of Student Activities (OSA). Assistant Dean of Students for Programming and Assessment Joshua Lee convened the offices last summer, and the Piper Center led development and programming efforts.
“It’s very important for students, and sophomores especially, to feel known by the college. There are multiple people who care about them, care about their future, and care about their well-being,” says Piper Center Associate Director Nate Jacobi. “The Sophomore Challenge will help communicate that we do care about each student, and we are all motivated to help them move forward and achieve their goals.”
Engaging with resources
Throughout the academic year, sophomores are challenged to complete five components that are all valuable for achieving future pursuits. A Major Declaration Celebration will then be held as the culminating event of the Sophomore Challenge to congratulate students on their accomplishments during this pivotal year.
The first Sophomore Challenge component, meeting with a Piper Center Peer Advisor, was emphasized during fall semester and provided students with an opportunity to be introduced to available resources and have holistic conversations about their interests. Additionally, sophomores are encouraged to utilize five academic support services offered through CAAS, get involved with a student organization, complete a Career Coaching Appointment, and upload a resume on Handshake, which is an online career platform students use for sourcing jobs and internships.
“The Piper Center may seem intimidating or the idea of thinking about your future might be a scary thought for students,” Jacobi says. “So we thought that emphasizing a connection with a fellow student would be a good way to make that more approachable. It’s an easy way to get started without feeling intimidated.”
In total, 24 Peer Advisors received training on resources and opportunities that are particularly useful for sophomores, as well as the process of developing a resume. Each student was then randomly assigned 30 sophomores, with whom they set up initial appointments to go over the components of the program.
“Our role is to be the connection between the Piper Center and the students in the Sophomore Challenge,” says Peer Advisor Kristian Noll ’21. “The goal, first and foremost, is to get to know them, and familiarize them with the work of the Piper Center and other offices. It’s not so much to do resume work as it is to build a relationship with them.”
The Sophomore Challenge encourages second-year students to utilize necessary resources.
“The Piper Center is a place that’s here for everybody. Our job is to help students of all backgrounds, interests, and ages to get ahead on any documents or questions they may have about the work process or internships,” Noll says. “The Peer Advisors and Piper Center Career Coaches are eager to engage with students. The coaches are among the smartest, most well-connected people that I know, so having a good working relationship with the Piper Center is something that everyone should take advantage of.”
The Piper Center is a place that’s here for everybody. Our job is to help students of all backgrounds, interests, and ages to get ahead on any documents or questions they may have about the work process or internships.Kristian Noll ’21
Creating a sense of belonging
St. Olaf has more than 250 student organizations, and the Sophomore Challenge prompts second-year students to take advantage of opportunities with these groups to explore diverse interests and make meaningful connections outside of the classroom. According to Associate Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16, active involvement in co-curricular organizations builds social groups, contributes to academic success, and increases one’s sense of belonging to the college.
“Humans are social beings, and we all have a need for connection. Student organizations provide a chance for connections that aren’t so academically focused,” Cash says. “A lot of times it allows for us to have well-rounded and robust experiences. We get to exercise our passions, and it’s another way to make sure you’re connected to our campus community.”
Furthermore, participating in extracurricular activities allows students to pursue leadership roles and gain skills in communication, multitasking, event planning, and delegating tasks to a team. Part of the Sophomore Challenge is to help students obtain these important life experiences while simultaneously promoting social belonging.
“We are unique human beings, so how we navigate and feel connected to this campus is going to be different. A common thread with a sense of belonging is social connection — doing things that are meaningful, that you find a sense of purpose in. A lot of that can come from student organizations,” Cash says. “When I think about campus, I think of the people. Our campus is the students, staff, and faculty of St. Olaf College. How can I build connections between people? That’s where I see a lot of that sense of belonging and connectedness rooted, and that’s why I think organizations are a great way of doing that.”
When I think about campus, I think of the people. Our campus is the students, staff, and faculty of St. Olaf College. How can I build connections between people? That’s where I see a lot of that sense of belonging and connectedness rooted, and that’s why I think organizations are a great way of doing that.Associate Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16
Celebrating academic success
Without the excitement of new student orientation or the wealth of workshops provided to first-year students, coming back to campus sophomore year may feel disappointing. In addition, second-year students often experience unspoken challenges, as they feel pressured to make important decisions about their college career. The Sophomore Challenge helps alleviate many of these concerns through supporting students in their academic journey.
“The sophomore slump is real,” says Director of Advising and Academic Support Kathy Glampe ’92. “Students are making what they view as big decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. Am I studying abroad? Doing research? What about an internship? What’s my major? Am I completing my general education requirements? Do I have a four-year plan? It’s important that we support sophomores and let them know that we understand the big decisions that they’re making and take the time to celebrate their accomplishments.”
It’s important that we support sophomores and let them know that we understand the big decisions that they’re making and take the time to celebrate their accomplishments.Director of Advising and Academic Support Kathy Glampe ’92
One of the roles CAAS plays is ensuring that sophomores are having conversations with their advisors and exploring possible major options. Additionally, the office assists students in achieving academic goals and provides necessary information to fulfill graduation and general education requirements. To encourage the use of their services, CAAS offers Strive for 5 cards each semester. Students who utilize at least five services — tutoring, workshops, and Supplemental Instruction (SI), among others — and submit the cards are entered into a drawing to win one of two $20 gift cards to the St. Olaf Bookstore.
“We always want to normalize that most students use CAAS services before they graduate. The more services you use, and the more often you use them, the better your likelihood of academic success,” Glampe says. “Not everyone needs every service, but everyone can benefit. For example, even if you’re a great writer, you can always get better with the Writing Desk.”
The deadline to declare a major is March 15 of a student’s sophomore year. This date was set by the Curriculum Committee so that students would finalize majors before registering for their junior year in April. After declaring, students will typically have their names added to a department email list. Second-year students are then expected, preferably by May 1, to switch to an academic advisor in their major before leaving for summer term. According to Glampe, an advantage of having an advisor in a student’s major is better access to information about class sequencing, department events, research and internship opportunities, and graduate school programs within a particular discipline.
As the final event of the Sophomore Challenge, a Major Declaration celebration will be held on March 11 for students, faculty, and staff to honor each sophomore’s academic journey. “CAAS wants to celebrate students declaring a major because we know it’s a big decision and represents a milestone in their journey as a college student,” Glampe says. “It’s fun to see students smiling and getting a chance to engage with their faculty members and their peers to celebrate an academic achievement.”
Throughout the past several months, the Piper Center, OSA, the Dean of Students Office, and CAAS have seen interest in this new program from students. During fall semester, the Piper Center Peer Advisors interacted with 45 percent of the sophomore class, almost double the 25 percent reported last year, and OSA has seen an uptick in interest for joining student organizations. However, COVID-19 has made engagement difficult as well. While CAAS did not have nearly as many students turn in cards, they are aware of about 2,000 students who use their services annually. Due to its success, the college is committed to continuing the Sophomore Challenge program.
“We want to provide a foundation of support for all students, not just ones that are very proactive in seeking things out on their own,” Jacobi says. “We will continue to reach out to students who have not yet met with someone from the Piper Center with the goal of having an initial conversation with every sophomore.”
While sophomore year may be a tumultuous time, Glampe advises students to take advantage of the opportunities provided. “My biggest piece of advice is to use resources. There are so many people who want to help on campus — use SI and the Writing Desk, meet your advisor, have a conversation with International and Off-Campus Studies,” she says. “Get to know people, build relationships, and use your resources.”
Jacobi notes that exploration is crucial for finding one’s passions. “Live in the present moment. Take time to think about what your interests and goals are, and then be courageous in trying things — whether that’s on campus, an internship, or study abroad,” he says. “St. Olaf is a wealth of opportunities. Each time you try something, think about what you learned about yourself. That will help your life unfold in a way that you would like it to. Be courageous in trying things.”
St. Olaf is a wealth of opportunities. Each time you try something, think about what you learned about yourself. That will help your life unfold in a way that you would like it to. Be courageous in trying things.Piper Center Associate Director Nate Jacobi
Cash recalls a story from a previous mentor. “Keep your spoon. The idea is that when you’re eating in the cafeteria and putting away the rest of your plates, dessert is still coming, so keep your spoon. The reason I say this is, sophomore year can be a challenge for folks,” he says. “However, remember that there are still experiences coming in your time here and beyond St. Olaf that will have great excitement and light to them. Stay the course, keep your spoon, the best is yet to come. Even if sophomore year feels rough, the memories and experiences you’re going to build are going to be incredible.”