We Established a Sophomore Year Experience Program...Now What?

We Established a Sophomore Year Experience Program...Now What?

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University

In my last post, The Successes and Challenges of Sophomore Year Experience Programs we discussed the evolution of the programming. While I would dare to say that no institution has mastered how to perfectly support their second year students, I can confidently say that we have come a long way in helping to lay a foundation for a successful sophomore year for all of our students.

The question to explore today is, what are institutions and professionals of higher education doing to support and empower students post-sophomore year? While the majority of this blog series has been dedicated to discussing the needs of our second year students, I do not want us to forget the duty we have to provide the greatest support possible to all of our students.

Junior and senior year experience programs are becoming increasingly popular across the country. Similar to first and second year programming initiatives, most junior and senior year experience programs are broken into categories such as: academics; campus & community involvement; career preparation; and money management. Let's break down these areas in order to learn a bit more about the post-sophomore year experience and highlight some schools who are excelling in these areas of programming.

Academics. In the area of academics there becomes an increased focus on discussion and preparation for graduation. This can be done through a variety of ways and often includes meeting with an academic advisor and/or a faculty mentor. Typically, during junior and senior year institutions attempt to bring awareness to help students prepare for their transition to their first job or graduate school. Two prime examples of how institutions go about bringing awareness to this area is through programming and easily accessible information on their website. For a great example, check out the department of Student Transition Programs at the University of Texas at Dallas to see some of their great efforts in supporting academic success.

Campus & Community Involvement. Colleges and universities are placing an increased focus on keeping students involved within the campus community and within the community in which the institution is located. There is a push for students to participate in athletic events, Alternative Spring Break trips, leadership and service opportunities, and professional organizations that will benefit their future career. Loras College is a great example of an institution which provides a variety of resources to encourage campus & community involvement.

Career Preparation. In the area of career preparation institutions urge their students to meet with a career counselor to discuss their potential career paths and opportunities. Additionally, institutions work with students to update their resume and educate them on how to best apply for positions of interest in their chosen career field. Career service departments are often facilitating career fairs and mock interviews for students in order to prepare them for their upcoming careers. For a great example, check out the website for the Career Services department at Southeast Missouri State University highlighting their multi-faceted programmatic efforts.

Money Management. Finally, the topic of money management can play a crucial role in the programmatic initiatives of junior and senior year experiences. As our students grow closer to graduation, many will need to learn how to manage their financial debt if they have not learned to do so already. Programming initiatives that you will see commonly facilitated are meetings with financial aid counselors to discuss student load debt, financial options for graduate school, and general money management workshops. Southern Illinois University Carbondale has a strong financial literary program, which utilizes the program iGrad when working with students. For a collection of some of the top financial literacy initiatives from colleges and universities across the country checkout iGrad for Schools.

After reviewing the above categories, it makes me think that all institutions should have specific programming initiatives for each class level. If retention and graduation rates of our students are of the upmost importance, should we not be focusing on the specific needs of each class year? There are a handful of universities that have these programs in place, and The Ohio State University is a great example to consider as you ponder what programming model would be most effective at your institution.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to go on this journey with me. I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to explore the ways that we as professionals and institutions are supporting our students.

About the Author: Heather Brake oversees 400 student organizations at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Prior to SIUC, Heather worked at Southeast Missouri State University (2010-2014) where she also earned her Bachelor’s degree in Recreation (2008) and Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration (2010). Her research interests include the sophomore year experience and relationship building between professionals & staff members and how it correlates to higher retention numbers. Outside of work, Heather enjoys spending time with friends & family and cooking.

Heather Brake

Coordinator, Student Involvement, Southern Illinois University