Social Sciences Pilots Program to Improve Sophomore Year Experience

sye.pngStarting your second year at SSU or beginning as a new transfer student is challenging. Sophomores, for instance, may experience a loss of excitement after the first year, harder coursework, larger GE classes, less direct contact with professors than during freshman year, and increased anxiety about the future (including choice of major and career).

New transfer students share many of these experiences, compounded by the challenges of adapting to a new university. At the same time, there is less institutional support for students than during freshman year.

The School of Social Sciences will be addressing these concerns with the pilot year of the Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) in 2013-2014. This program, directed to second-year SSU students and incoming transfer students, is designed to help bridge the gap between the first year (or previous institution) and what comes next, says History Professor Michelle Jolly, one of the founders of the project.

It is funded by a $206,040 grant from the California State University system which will also support a campus-wide SYE coordinator to start up other SYEs across campus.

Why Sophomore Year?

As SSU has moved toward creating more Freshman Learning Communities, faculty in the School of Social Sciences became aware of the particular needs of sophomores and transfer students, many of whom take Social Sciences GE courses or introductory major courses during these years.

The faculty members conducted a series of focus groups with SSU students (freshmen to seniors from a variety of departments and schools) in spring 2012 to learn what these students thought about the social sciences and about the needs of sophomores.

What students say about their sophomore year

"There's the gap between finally getting your classes together and what are you going to apply them to. We spend all this time on tests, papers, and flashcards, but what is the point? My roommate and I kind of sit and sometimes think, what is this for?"

"My sophomore year I wasn't prepared for, I wish it would have been more challenging but in a gradual way."

"I feel like there is a huge jump between freshman and sophomore year, and it's in the classroom."

"Sophomore year you start to think about what you want to do."

The SYE Pilot Program at Sonoma State

"We connected the focus group results with national studies about sophomores and sophomore programming," said Jolly. The pilot program includes:

Summer letter and Welcome Back event - outlined appropriate goals for the year and providing resources for students to address these goals and offer students a chance to reconnect with faculty, peers, and the campus.

Sophomore Seminar: How to Think Like a Social Scientist - In this course, students and faculty explore the disciplinary ways of knowing specific to the social sciences. More information available at

MAP (My Academic Plan) - Advisors and students will work together develop a coherent, meaningful story of the student's learning in both academic and non-academic realms.

In addition to these classroom and advising components of the program, there will be an opportunity for students to turn their interest in the social sciences toward the community outside the classroom through the Undergraduate Project Initiative.

In this program, students who complete the sophomore seminar will be eligible to apply for funding to engage in research or community projects under the sponsorship of a faculty member. The results of their work will be presented in a public forum each year.

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