Targeting the sophomore slump, unique pilot program bolsters second-year scholars

A new program aims to help second-year students at NIU avoid the sophomore slump.

First- and Second-Year Experience has partnered with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to create the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Second-Year Scholars program.

With a “second-year space” dedicated to them at Reavis Hall, a group of students already have taken part in a meet-and-greet with faculty and an overnight retreat. They will go on a field trip to a local company, take an internship planning course and be part of a major declaration ceremony, as well as more activities and events throughout the year.

NIU alumni, Career Services and other NIU and community entities are involved in the initiative, said Kelly Smith, director of First- and Second-Year Experience.

“We want to make sure every student leaving second year feels confident in their major, confident they’re going to graduate from NIU and has a plan,” she said.

With up to 20 students taking part in the retreat this past weekend, and about 40 more invited to become College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Second-Year Scholars, the goal is to pilot the program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and expand it during future years. Students of all majors were randomly selected to be part of the pilot program.

“The aim of this initiative is to assist second-year students to overcome, or avoid, the sophomore slump and help them set and attain academic, professional and personal goals during their sophomore year and into their junior year,” Smith said. “The intent is to assist in retaining students into their junior years and increase their satisfaction with their experience at NIU.”

The program is based on data that shows the “sophomore slump” is a very real thing at NIU. The new program targets four pillars important to address during the second year–career development, faculty connections, leadership and service, Smith said.

Upon learning more about the sophomore slump through working with First- and Second-Year Experience, Jack King, director of student professional development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was eager to partner up.

He helps students prepare for the job market after graduation. Often, the focus has been on second-semester juniors and seniors, he said.

“But what happens is by the time we get to them, many students did not have the opportunity or think about the opportunity to try to get an internship or to try to take advantage of opportunities that might have given them more skills when they go on the job market,” he said.

“Connecting with students in their second year, we can say things like, ‘You should think about building an internship into the program or studying abroad while there’s still time.’”

The program also aims to keep students at NIU.

Along with networking and career events with employers and alumni, as well as a career preparation course often affectionately called the “how-to-get-a-job class,” students in the program have access to a space in Reavis to work on resumes, start looking for jobs and internships and meet with graduate assistants, faculty and staff.

“This is a cultural shift for NIU, and it will take the university community to embrace our second-year students and their needs to eliminate the second-year slump at NIU. It has to be a partnership,” she said.

Those interested in partnering or learning more about this or other second-year programs at NIU should contact Kelly Smith at fsye@niu.edu.

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