Dean develops sophomore year experience to begin this spring

Assistant Dean of the College Rashanda Topp introduced the first phase of the Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) program in an email to first-year students on Friday. The program, designed to provide sophomore students at the College with holistic support, will launch at the end of the academic year, with current first-years piloting the program.

Having joined the dean’s office from Louisiana State University in August, Topp identified the lack of direct support given to sophomores as problematic given the robust structure of the first-year experience. “With 13 years of higher education experience, I was able to come into this position and determine what the needs were,” Topp said.

The SYE program will provide holistic support to sophomore students. “The goal is to have a year-long, programmatic experience,” Topp said. “There will be academic workshops on major selection, contract majors, study away opportunities and networking in addition to developmental support.”

In addition to new workshops designed for sophomores, the SYE program will act as a central hub for existing support from offices such as the Career Center. “I am not trying to recreate the wheel, but instead offer something new and inventive,” Topp said.

Topp is designing the SYE program with members of the dean’s office, the Office of Student Life and the Davis Center.

The new program has been created in response to the so-called sophomore slump.  “I talked with students who identified with the sophomore slump, which is something that happens globally. It’s not unique to Williams,” Topp said. “Not all students suffer an academic slump. Sophomores oftentimes struggle developmentally and socially. I think it’s middle child syndrome.”

The unique structure of the entry system may add to the potential difficulty of the transition to sophomore year at the College. “Students sometimes struggle to feel socially acclimated, especially if everything in the first year was built around the entry. Without the entry, some students lose their identity and close friend groups,” Topp said.

Current first-years will have the opportunity to experience the SYE program with the new sophomore retreat next fall. The retreat, previously called sophomore orientation, will seek to address concerns from current sophomores. “We are going to revamp the entire program. Although it will not be mandatory, we will focus on building class affinity beyond the first class meeting and senior year,” Topp said. “We hope to build excitement during the soft-launch of the program in May.”

In her email to first-year students, Topp also introduced a new leadership position at the College, the Sophomore Ambassador (SA). According to the email, SAs will “serve as liaisons, assist with programming and perform different duties and tasks to promote SYE events on campus.” Topp hopes to find to six to eight current first-years for this new leadership opportunity.

An informational meeting for the SYE program will be held Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Paresky 220. Topp encourages current first-years interested in the program or the SA position to attend.

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