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Learning For The 21st Century

Becoming Laurentian

Using a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, St. Lawrence is developing a program to help our struggling sophomores develops a sense of belonging.

It’s true: at times, some sophomores struggle.

Maybe they had a great first year.  Maybe they had to work harder than ever.  The point is, in their second year, some are having a tough time, academically and socially.

“At first, these struggling sophomores might seem apathetic or withdrawn, but they probably aren’t either of those things,” Mary Jane Smith says.

She’s an associate professor of history at St. Lawrence.  She’s also the faculty director of a program that’s shown great promise in helping sophomores face challenges and thrive.

“To counter apathy and avoidance,” she says, “students need a sense of belonging and engagement.  Sophomore Journeys is giving that to our students.”

This initiative is a multi-faceted approach with a focus on mentoring that includes sophomore seminars, research projects, and co-curricular programming tailored to the needs and development of our second-year students.

If this sounds like the First Year Program (FYP) at St. Lawrence, there’s good reason for that.  Sophomore Journey’s furthers the FYP’s focus on creating intentional learning communities.

Recent surveys of sophomores found new details about students and their perceptions of St. Lawrence.

“The data demonstrate that sophomores like being in a classroom with only sophomores,” she says.  “Partly because they don’t have to compete with students they might think are more knowledgeable or sophisticated.  Plus, the intellectual level of sophomore seminar classrooms can be raised above the first-year level.”

This can help sophomores build confidence, Smith adds.

“We want sophomores to take more intellectual risks,” she says. “They are now doing that in classrooms with each other.  We see some preliminary evidence of students developing that sense of being on an intellectual journey with their peers.”

This is how communities take shape, she adds, and when you have a meaningful role in a community, you also have belonging and engagement.

“Our classrooms are communities,” she says.  “Sophomore Journeys seminars help our second-year students take on more meaningful roles within these classroom communities, because they-re both academic and experiential.”

Here are the program’s five seminars taught in the fall of 2019:

Geopolitics of Resources
Students explore the synergy between the global economy and the local resources on which it depends through local field trips and global connections.  Sophomores travel to sites of mineral and timber extraction, solar, wind, and hydro-power production, the Seaway, and the local communities that host them.

Does Money Make the World Go Round?  Understanding the Federal Reserve System Globally and Locally
Students meet former and current Fed staff and financial market participants to discuss the financial system.  Sophomores also travel to New York City to connect with industry leaders and policymakers, learn about jobs in finance and economics, consumer protection, and community development.

Parks and People
National parks have been called the “best idea we ever had,” but are they “absolutely democratic” reflection “us at our best rather that our worst”?  To explore this question, sophomores consider a diverse range of perspectives on parks and public lands and explore careers in the Park Service.

Positive Youth Development in Sport: Opportunity, Access and Reform
What is the promise of youth sports programs and why does the experience fall short of its potential for many students?  Sophomores meet and get to know the vibrant Canton youth sports community.

What’s the Story?  Writing for Your Community
Sophomores explore the stories people in the North Country care about, need to know about, and the ones not being told.  Students work as news “teams,” to produce a variety of contributing content for our local news sources, The Hill News, Nature Up North, and Weave News.

Outside the classroom, other aspects of Sophomore Journeys support the learning – and sense of community – that happens in the classroom.

This is called co-curricular learning and Chris Marquart M’09 is trying to ensure this kind of learning happens more often.  He’s assistant dean of student life at St. Lawrence and director of residence life and housing.

“Our sophomores are asking big questions,” Marquart says.  “’What am I going to do with my life?  What is important to me?  What are my values?  How do I have an inspiring, meaningful career?’”

Some students can answer these questions during their first year on campus.  Others may be willing to wait until their junior or even senior years for this kind of souls searching.

Many students, though, are actively looking to answer these questions in their second year, but have not.  These are the students most likely to experience the sophomore slump.

“These students are looking for some kind of opportunity, in the classroom and co-curricular, to figure out who they are and what’s important to them.  What’s more, we now know these students hope those opportunities will help them land on a path that’s going to run through the rest of their sophomore year, the rest of their college career, and beyond, when they’re pursuing the life they want.”

Sophomore Journeys also includes financial components that support students, like Rachel Loyst ’21, who are driven to pursue specific opportunities.

Loyst earned a Saints Start Challenge grant, available to five sophomores each year who want to conduct independent research over the summer.

Her research took her to Hospeace House, a certified and licensed hospice in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  The care center’s staff and volunteers tend to the needs of terminally ill patients who need a home and help in their final days.

“The experience provided me so much clarity on what care should be,” Loyst says, “and deepened my resolve to pursue a career in healthcare.  Dying has become so medicalized and I have learned that life is more about quality experiences, rather than the quantity of years.”

Hospeace House gives families the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, without worrying about administering their medication, bathing them, and many other aspects of end-of-life care that the patients can no longer perform on their own.

“I have learned the importance of human contact,” Loyst says, “and how to provide emotional support to people during a very difficult time.  This program allowed me to grow not only as a student pursuing medicine, but as a person as well.”

Leah Rohlfsen is associate professor of sociology at St. Lawrence and she worked closely with Loyst before, during, and after her time at Hospeace House.

“Rachel experienced dying and caregiving in a way few other undergraduates are able to,” Rohlfsen says.  “I think she began at Hospeace House not knowing what to expect, trusting me that it would be a valuable experience, but over the course of eight weeks, she grew into an empathetic, open-minded caregiver.  She showed patience and maturity and could not have been more caring or compassionate to the residents, their family members and friends, and fellow volunteers at Hospeace House.  Mentoring these students in this type of experience is why I teach at St. Lawrence.”

This is just one example of the impact made – on students, faculty, and this learning community – by the Sophomore Journeys program.

The Mellon Foundation’s funding for this program will soon stop.  Every Laurentian can play a role in keeping it running for sophomores next year, and every year after that.

To learn more about Sophomore Journeys, please click here or contact Terri Selby, executive director of major and planned gifts, at: (315) 229-5508 or

Support for Sophomore Journeys

From 2016-2020, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is supporting the development and implementation of the Sophomore Journeys program at St. Lawrence with a grant totaling $800,000.  Our students have benefited from the seminars, mentoring, research opportunities, and other, specialized curricula that are part of this program.

“Every Laurentian now has the opportunity to invest in the transformative educational initiatives that make up Sophomore Journeys.  Like our First Year Program, Sophomore Journeys can be a global model for engaging students.  Each of us, together, can support these efforts:

Sophomore Seminar Courses
Sophomores need optimized courses and classrooms that allow more learning at their level.  We can encourage greater achievement among second-year students, if they don’t have to compete with juniors and seniors to get their ideas heard.  Sophomores also appreciate raising the intellectual challenge of course beyond the first-year level.

Community Engagement and Mentoring
St. Lawrence sophomores are eager to continue building community.  They’re seeking out mentoring relationships with faculty and staff.

Communications and Interpersonal Skills
New strategies can help our students feel more comfortable with face-to-face communication.  By building their confidence in social situations, they can be more adept at negotiating differences and conflicts.

Saints Start Challenge
These summer fellowships support both independent research during the summer and development of recipients’ leadership skills.

Integrative Research and Experiential Learning
This programming helps establish greater connections between faculty and sophomores who have a clearer idea of their academic trajectory.  These students – and their achievements – encourage other sophomores to be more intentional in thinking through their academic career goals.

Digital Technology Fellows
These fellowships fuel the intellectual work of sophomores already immersed in digital learning environments.

Sophomore Journeys is an important part of Learning for the 21st Century, one of the “Big Ideas” that make up The Campaign for Every Laurentian.  It is the largest fundraising effort in the University’s history.

Learning for the 21st Century – and the Campaign itself – will strengthen St. Lawrence’s reputation as one of the nation’s top institutions focusing on the liberal arts and sciences.

For more information about supporting St. Lawrence second-year students and the Sophomore Journeys program, please contact Terri Selby, executive director of major and planned gifts, at: (315) 229-5508 or