With eyes towards retention, a new network of support for sophomores

In light of increasing difficulty by colleges in retaining sophomore students, Wheaton is implementing a new program designed to give sophomores added support as they go throughout their second years.

The program, called the sophomore peer mentors, was conceived when representatives from Wheaton participated in a webinar about sophomore retention with a number of different regional colleges and universities, such as Amherst College, Boston University and Northeastern University. Sophomores go through numerous changes during their second years, and often do so without peer advising.

Denyse Wilhelm, dean of the sophomore class, emphasized the uniqueness of sophomore year when talking about the program. “This is the only time, juniors are studying abroad, and seniors have minds towards careers and graduation,” she said.

Wheaton was influenced to participate in the webinar after discovering what dean’s intern Avi Anshika ’16 described as “a huge drop” in sophomore retention at Wheaton, largely for financial reasons. Wilhelm reached out to Anshika and several other students who live in theme houses to participate in the webinar.

Anshika, Eric Esten ’16 and Samantha Barnett ’16 ended up participating. Later, Anshika asked Michael Ratliff ’16 to participate in the planning process. Now, Ratliff and Barnett, who is currently abroad, are serving with Anshika as Wilhelm’s dean’s interns.

Brandeis University has a similar peer mentor program. “Peer mentors were a big part of the support system,” she said.

The mentors’ main job is to be knowledgeable about the academic resources available, especially those relevant for sophomores, such as Career Services and the Center for Global Education.

Anshika said that mentors “provide a link between all the resources that are already available on campus.”

Peer mentors will also be actively involved in planning this year’s Sophomore Symposium, an annual event that provides a series of career-oriented workshops for sophomores. The Symposium will be divided into two parts for fall and spring this year, as opposed to the traditional single-day event. 

Mentors will run workshops at the Symposium as well. A summer survey of rising sophomores revealed four major goals they wanted to be addressed in the symposium: finding an internship, declaring a major, study abroad, and dealing with stress.

“In many ways it’s a very crucial year, because this is the year when you declare your major and figure out the rest of your Wheaton life,” Anshika said.