Sophomore Symposium, now in two parts, helps ease transition to the second year

Sophomore year is a time when students can really get involved with Wheaton to leave a legacy, develop a program or be a leader,” said Dean Denyse Wilhelm, Sophomore Class Dean, of Sophomore Symposium, which took place on Sept. 27. The half-day event was held in Watson and Meenely and its goal was to remedy the lack of support for college sophomores, a nation-wide problem.

In his opening remarks, President Dennis Hanno said that sophomore year was an important time to start thinking about how to tie in all four years and get the most out of the college experience. He shared personal anecdotes and his “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Future Leaders.” 

These included advice on building networks, acting with passion, being humble and remembering what is important. “You need to take advantage of the resources that are available and figure out how to solve problems in your life and in your community,” he said. 

Wilhelm added that Sophomore Symposium has been in existence for six years, and in the past was held in January with alumnae/i. She said that the “sophomore year experience commttee” decided to move several components to September in order to benefit students earlier in their academic year. This year had the highest registration ever, of 300 students, or 75 percent of the class.

Wilhelm said that the focus for the symposium was for students to have information on four key areas: internships, study abroad, deciding on a major, and balancing co-curricular activities. This was reflected in the schedule for this year’s symposium, which included a choice of seven workshops focusing on the key areas.  

There was also a majors fair hosted by faculty-nominated students. Wilhelm said, “The dialogue and enthusiasm that students had with sophomores made a lot of sense about how to go about declaring a major or what that even was.”

Wilhelm added that future plans include follow-up workshops in the fall, lead by peer mentors along with facilitators. She added that the alumni meetings would still take place in a yet to be decided format. “Alumni clearly want to connect with sophomores. The alumni department will carve out the plans so that something can come together formally.”

Another feature of this year’s symposium was the introduction of peer mentors for sophomores. Wilhelm said that this was an attempt to mirror the guidance of first-year students by preceptors. This summer, 31 peer mentors were hired and encouraged to virtually connect with their mentees. “I think that camaraderie with peer mentors makes a big difference,” she said. 

Wilhelm stated that while preceptors are primarily trained to work with first years on academically related components of their experience for navigation of their first semesters, peer mentors could expand that role. She said that their function is not only academic but also about exploring a larger way to connect to Wheaton, as a sophomore.

Peer Mentors, Shelby Forbes ’16 and Melissa McCann ’15, added that it was a great idea to revamp and reboot the symposium in order to suit the needs of the sophomore. McCann said that it was valuable to meet with mentees and make herself available as a resource for their questions and difficulties. Forbes added that peer mentors had been through similar decisions and struggles during their sophomore year and could provide valuable insights. 

Avi Anshika ’16, a sophomore peer mentor and a member of the committee working towards enhancing the sophomore experience, agreed with these statements. She said that sophomore year is crucial and can often be overwhelming. “I wish I had this mentoring program when I was a sophomore.”

Anshika also said that the symposium has always improved because of feedback from sophomores. “We take them very seriously because if students aren’t enjoying it and don’t find it helpful, then we might as well just not have it.” 

She added that initiatives towards enhancing the sophomore experience, such as peer mentoring was based on trial and error and is an ongoing process.

In terms of student feedback, Jenish Amatya ’17, said that he was very glad he had attended the symposium. “I loved (Alex) Trayford’s session on internships and planning for summer and winter. Many people are trying to invest in our experiences and careers and I think that attending such sessions could open up a lot of opportunities that we are yet to discover.” If these words are any indication of the feelings of other sophomores, it seems that students who attended the symposium took away much more than just the fleeces.