The Sophomore Experience
An important part of the St. Olaf liberal arts experience is having exceptional support for our students’ academic and career development throughout their four years on the Hill, and beyond.
While many colleges create opportunities for new students to learn about campus resources during orientation, most students spend their first year just getting acclimated to college life and wait to focus on their future until later on.
By then, their first week on campus can feel like a dim memory — a mix of unknown buildings, schedules, and people. Which is why St. Olaf has always offered additional support and engagement for students during their second year to help fill this gap.
This year, however — understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic marked the first-year experience of our current sophomore students — our normal team effort was strengthened to help support this group even more and get them on track with their goals.
The Sophomore Experience is the result of these efforts, and it caters to the needs of our dynamic second-year students in ways that hadn’t been previously imagined.
“Our focus with the Sophomore Experience this year has been to provide opportunities for students to cultivate ‘Ole Moments’ with their peers to help them realize they are valued members of the St. Olaf community and that their potential here is limitless,” says Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16.
One way to help restore this sense of community for our sophomore students, who missed out on many of their own milestones as high school seniors, was to host a prom on campus, just for them. The Office of Student Activities helped facilitate the planning, and students chose the theme “Roaring 20’s”; the Sophomore Prom was held in the Pause on Saturday, September 18, 2021.
In our roles, we don’t always get the opportunity to plan an event like the Sophomore Prom … This experience was a moment in our careers that we as a professional staff will not soon forget.Director of Student Activities Brandon Cash ’16
“In our roles, we don’t always get the opportunity to plan an event like the Sophomore Prom,” says Cash. “Planning this experience was a blast!
“It was a distinct joy to bring this idea to fruition and to involve the Class of 2024 in the planning. Everything from the theme to the decorations to the music was derived from student feedback which made the prom all the more special. This experience was a moment in our careers that we as a professional staff will not soon forget.”
One of the quickest paths to success at St. Olaf is by checking in with the coaching staff at the Piper Center for Vocation and Career as early as possible. Coaches are specialized by field of interest, and walk-in appointments are always available with student advisors as well, to help with resumé building, discuss challenges, find internships, and more.
A week of specialized career coaching for sophomores was hosted by the Piper Center on September 13-17, 2021. Students were encouraged to drop by and meet with a peer advisor to get started and help them define their career interests.
On September 16, 2021, sophomores were invited by President David Anderson ‘74 to sign the College Book. Typically our first-year students will sign the campus book during orientation. However, due to the pandemic, orientation looked a lot different for the Class of 2024 last year. So signing the book was rescheduled for this fall — a meaningful keepsake that generations before them have signed.
That same day, departments held open houses across campus for students to visit with faculty and discuss their prospective majors and programs.
“The class this year is definitely different because they missed out on a lot of in-person experiences,” says Assistant Director of Retention and Success Jillian Rowan. “Which is one reason why we had the open houses, to physically see where the departments are.
“A lot of students are still undecided in their sophomore year; the department and program open house is to help them work towards finding their major, for the Major Declaration Celebration in March.”
Major Declaration Day is one of the most distinctive events of an Ole’s career, when the whole class gathers to celebrate their academic programs, majors, and trajectories. This fun-filled day usually includes photos with Ole the Lion, a selfie wall, a build-your-own sugar cookie station, and free t-shirts.
Happening next month, the Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat is an immersive, daylong event that helps students reflect on who they are and where they are going next. Our supportive community of staff and faculty help assist with this program, and students are given plenty of time to have fun and collaborate with each other to dive deeper into their passions which often become an Ole’s vocation. This year, it will be held on October 22-23, 2021 at Camp Ihduhapi.
To help keep momentum going between events, the Sophomore Experience team has also created a Sophomore Bucket List to encourage participation in St. Olaf events, opportunities, and experiences throughout the year.
I think that one of the overall goals is for students to be able to find their place.Assistant Director of Retention and Success Jillian Rowan
“I think that one of the overall goals is for students to be able to find their place,” says Rowan. “Maybe with the choir, a sport, or in their major. One of the overall goals is that they’ll use this entire year to explore those things.”