David Coleman – CLT Article

Unconventional Times Require Creative Measures As We Orient Two Classes

A Unique Time For Rising Second Year Students

Can you feel it? We are beginning to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Face covering and social distancing restrictions are being lifted, people are coming back together (in person!) to enjoy one another’s company, and a sense of relief is emerging as we look to the future with hope and promise. For what seems like forever, we quarantined, distanced, pivoted, coped, adapted, zoomed and showed remarkable resilience to navigate the seemingly endless obstacles that Covid threw in our way. Please allow me a moment to applaud you for your “never give up” attitude and your exceptionally courageous spirit.

As graduation ceremonies are being celebrated nationwide, many campuses are making plans to reopen in the fall and find themselves in the initial stages of planning for New Student and Transfer Orientation. New Student Orientation has long been accepted as one of the most important programs of the year due to its impact on student success, retention, and a student’s overall sense of satisfaction. What is becoming clear is that due to the highly unconventional academic year our rising sophomores faced in ’20-21, and the far from standard freshman year experience they received, many second-year students need the same guidance and assistance normally reserved for new students.

It is generally assumed that a returning second-year student would know the campus and surrounding community well, have interacted and formed close friendships with their classmates, developed rapport and a personal connection with faculty and staff, attended a variety of on and off-campus events, and united in a common bond of enthusiastic school spirit. They would have created and honed a successful academic routine, held leadership positions in several campus organizations, and formed a clear plan of progression to follow in the years ahead to realize their career goals. However, given the rigid guidelines and protocols we were forced to follow during the pandemic, the scenario described above may be far from reality. Our sophomores, in many respects, are new students as well.

What makes this all the more important is that few campuses provide programs specifically designed to address the specific needs of second-year students and the unique position they hold and the role they play on campus. Sophomores often struggle to define themselves- to determine what they want to do. Without intentional programming and consistent interplay with others, they often flounder and find themselves at a loss as to where they fit in and what their logical next move should be.

Sophomores seek personal growth, meanginful connenctions, a sens of ownership, defined purpose, a feeling of belonging, and to make their impression on campus, yet many rising sophomores spent precious little time this past year interacting (non-digitally) on campus or in direct interplay with others. At a time when their relationships should be maturing and deepening, many may find themselves meeting others and forming friendships for the first time. They are finally going to be exposed to upperclassmen and receive educational, vocational and co-curricular advice, tidbits, modeling and guidance, and be expected to do the same for this years’ new students. In a traditional rite of passage, our new students and transfers will naturally look to sophomores for vital information and guidance, but in this unique year, our sophomores may not have the answers and may even need them themselves!

Sophomores are the ones we recruit to move in and welcome new students, lead and fill many campus organizations and support and applaud upper class students for their contributions. The last thing we want is for them to feel confused and unsettled, feel embarrassed to seek out help, get poached by another campus and end up going through the process all over again. To assume that this year’s sophomores are already acclimated, comfortable and dialed in would be a mistake. Where do we fit in and how do we help? So, what does this mean for those of us who are fortunate to work with, teach, advise and entertain this year’s rising second year students? The bottom-line premise behind the idea of The First Year Sophomore is to create an orientation experience whereby second-year students are inspired to learn about, celebrate and embrace campus and the college experience (in a way that was inhibited in ’20-21) without feeling as if they are deficient or being treated as new students all over again. They showed tremendous resilience and adaptability in successfully completing last year’s academic schedule and should be applauded and rewarded for their courage and diligence. They chose courage over fear and have developed a strong mental muscle memory that will serve them well in the future when potential problems or crises arise.

Sharinda Welton, the Director of Student Activities, Commuter Services and Leadership Development at The University of Findlay offered her seasoned perspective:

“We always strive to empower students to train new leaders and have a quality transition of leadership. This could not happen, as easily, in the ’20-21 academic year. Programming and interactions were “abnormal”. There was no shadowing. Students were busy being reactive to COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. No one went to live conferences to book talent, network or ideas with other students from around the country. This would have been an opportunity for first year students to get better connected, begin to consider moving into leadership roles and have a voice in the events booked for the upcoming academic year. With current student leaders, we were able to use the dramatic changes to have the conversation regarding the important life principles of being flexible, practicing resilience and thinking outside of the box. If a leader is well prepared, it’s easier to practice flexibility. Their confidence level will be higher, so they are more easily able to brainstorm and adjust as situations arise. This was a conversation transpiring with current student leaders serving on E-Boards. It did not happen with last year’s new students (this year’s rising sophomores) as they were the ones in the audience attending programming and events. So, rising sophomore leaders will not have received the peer-to-peer in-depth training, shadowing or had the conversations that the past leaders had on flexibility, practicing resilience and forward thinking.  Additionally, as we move into the new academic year, programming is once again transitioning to more “normal”. However, for the sophomores our “normal” will feel extremely “abnormal”. We work and move forward from a frame of reference from our life experiences. This new generation of leaders will at times feel “lost” as the rest of the campus returns to “normalcy”. Our juniors and seniors have a point of reference for what “normal” feels like. They will happily return to pre-covid standards. However, sophomores will potentially feel like they are spending their second year once again “catching up” as many will feel “new” again. This year’s rising sophomores will require an extra dose of understanding from their peers, from their educators and those we bring to campus (such as David) to aid in the college experience. Additionally, they will need resources and contacts that recognize the special place they find themselves.”

Sophomores may need to acclimate to the physcial campus and surrounding community, learn the best places to eat, study, exercise, and find supportive employment. They will need to build rapport with their professors and instructors and pick up valuable tidbits from upper class students that would have manifested during a more normal first academic year.

An exciting element to look forward to is actual students sitting in actual seats, rooting for and supporting their classmates and attending programs and events as they embark upon their chosen involvements. A culture of connection can once afgain begin to form, and the students can unite and bond behind a common spirit and sense of purpose that was lost to rigid pandemic protocols.

With all the texting, chatting, phone calling, facetiming, zooming and other various electronic communication platforms that defined our pandemic routines, will our students’ personal skills be up to interacting more directly and receiving an individual’s reaction in person? Time will tell, but we will no longer be able to hide behind our static screen image and mute our involvement as we will once again be communicating face-to-face.

Interactions with other students may alter vocational aspirations as well. When communicating with classmates, vocational options are often discussed. Students become more in tune with their educational choice and start getting more serious about their major. But will having to acclimate to campus, much like a new student, stunt this important stage of development? Students were primarily locked virtually into their curriculum and involvement in ’20-21, but now, coming back to campus and interacting live and in person may have a profound impact on their area of study, the involvements they choose, and the relationships in which they engage.

Orientating Our Sophomores

In looking to orient our rising second-year students, some areas of importance emerge that might not seem standard, including:

• Acclimating them to the physical campus and community (perhaps for the first time)

• Learning the offices, services, and personnel available to assist in their success

• Understanding the most common struggles second- year students face

• Learning the unique advantages and responsibilities of being a sophomore

• Developing and maintaining true friendships as well as casual acquaintances

• Creating and honing a solid routine that leads to academic excellence

• What co-curricular opportunities exist and how to engage in leadership programs

• The positive impact of being involved and engaged on campus

• How to manage and navigate long-distance relationships

• Developing, managing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships

• Dating and relating from afar may transition to more face-to-face in nature

• Learning to transition from a more sequestered lifestyle to one of group engagement

• Finding and cultivating (a minimum of three) mentors

• Serving and leading others with intention and purpose

• Being an outstanding classroom participant and engaged scholar

• Academic endeavors become more refined, defined, saturated and time consuming

• Transitioning from distance learning, in person or hybrid to whatever lies ahead

• Becoming a walking ambassador of the campus and community

This is just the tip of the iceberg: if there was ever a time for all of us who are blessed to interact with and positively impact the lives of college students, to selflessly come together for their benefit, that time is now. They deserve our focus and our best effort.