Ave Maria University is introducing a newly developed Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), “Sophomore Success: Preparing Leaders for the Third Millennium.” The Sophomore Success QEP forms an integral part of the University’s reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The new sophomore-experience program focuses on the growth and formation of students during their sophomore year at college. The so-called “sophomore slump” is a well-documented phenomenon. During orientation, freshmen are equipped with the materials to begin their journey through college. Juniors and seniors are thinking hard about the future, focusing on excelling in their field of study, gaining experience and developing a strong resume. Sophomores have moved beyond the uncertainties of their first year in college, but they have yet to reach the goal-driven intensity of their junior and senior years. Sophomores sometimes find themselves, so to speak, in limbo.
The Sophomore Success plan is designed to help sophomores turn this “limbo” into a year of personal growth and flourishing. Sophomores at Ave Maria University will confidently commit themselves to their education and begin to transition from students to professionals and leaders in a wide range of fields.
The goals of the program are twofold: (i) enhanced student integration with the liberal arts tradition, and (ii) proactive career development facilitated by growth in self-knowledge. Each of these goals can be broken down into two concrete outcomes.
First, students will understand and be able to articulate the nature and value of a liberal arts education within the Catholic intellectual tradition. How can a student be expected to commit to his or her studies without understanding the reasoning behind and the value of a liberal arts education? The Sophomore Success program proposes to help students embrace the value of their education, beginning with a specially devised sophomore orientation and followed by additional readings and discussions in Nature and Person (PHIL 205). With guidance from their professors, students will come to know the benefits of a liberal arts education within the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Second, sophomores will work on building oral skills, mastering the tools necessary for clear and effective communication. A study of great American political speeches will be integrated into the required sophomore year American Civilization course (POLT 203), culminating in a presentation that demonstrates a grasp of the conceptual and rhetorical elements of oral communication. Students completing their sophomore year at Ave Maria will be better prepared to articulate the understanding they’ve gained of and through their liberal arts education. Armed with the tools for effective communication, they will be ready to inspire others and be leaders in the 21st century.
A third outcome is that students will spend time identifying their talents and strengths. During sophomore orientation, students will become acquainted with the process of identifying their strengths and weaknesses through the Clifton StrengthsFinder questionnaire. Faculty members will be trained to mentor sophomores in light of the questionnaire, guiding students as they make choices about their course of study and future career. Dr. Keith Houde, Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the QEP Development Committee, said: “The Ave Maria University Quality Enhancement Plan reflects our ongoing commitment to improve the learning of our students.” Increased self-knowledge is a concrete way in which students at Ave Maria will be able to maximize the gains of their education.
The third outcome leads directly into the fourth and final outcome: Students will evaluate their goals, both academic and career-related, in light of their talents and strengths. Building on the knowledge gained in the discussions of the nature and benefits of a liberal arts education, the study of great speeches, the completion of the StrengthsFinder questionnaire, and in the meetings and discussions with faculty mentors, sophomores will begin looking towards the future. Working with Ave Maria’s Career Services, each sophomore will start to build a strong resume that reflects his or her unique strengths and moves the student forward on the path after college. As John Henry Newman writes, “[When] the Church founds a University, she is not cherishing talent, genius, or knowledge, for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society” (Newman, Idea of a University, p. xxxix).
The goal of the Sophomore Success program, and ultimately, of a university education, is to form individuals ready to enter the world as responsible citizens and confident leaders. “Although it is focused on sophomores,” Houde remarked, “it is expected that the gains acquired during the sophomore year will be carried into the junior and senior years and beyond. We hope that the love of learning, eloquence in speaking, knowledge of self, and career preparation acquired here will translate into lives well-lived in the service of others.”