Ethnography: Duke’s Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) Program

June 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

One thing I have been looking into in my study of the sophomore year experience is the university response to increased scholarship on how to help sophomores succeed. For most institutions, the “transition initiatives” predicated on studies of student development, are driven by the desire to increase retention rates (Hunter et al., 4). Scholars and student affairs staff at universities have increasingly recognized that second year issues such as decreased administrative support, and selection of an academic major,  are significant to retention efforts because of their impact on student success and persistence to graduation (Tobolowsky and Cox, v). As a result, the number of colleges with initiatives dedicated to second year issues more than tripled between 2000 and 2007 (Tobolowsky and Cox v).

Duke University has had a programming initiative called Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) for the past five years. However, according to Jenni Davidson, the SYE Coordinator at Duke whom I have mentioned in a previous post, the University has high retention rates meaning that retention is not the priority of Duke’s second year initiative. However, good retention does not mean that there are not similar second year issues faced by Duke sophomores and I was interested to hear how Jenni identified the goal of SYE.

Jenni responded that “each year in college is a different transition,” and she went on to outline the “typical” four-year time line of a Duke student’s career and the university organizations that typically offers support during each year’s transition. First year students are making the adjustment to college—First-year Advisory Counselors (FACs), First Year Experience (FYE), Devil’s After Dark, and academic resources provide a highly specified support system for freshmen. Juniors are most likely to study abroad and therefore have a smaller presence on campus. Additionally, juniors who are applying for summer internships are often getting support from the career office. The career office also offers support for seniors who are looking for post-graduation employment. But the alumni association also starts planning events for the seniors throughout the year. That left the sophomores. And the purpose of SYE Jenni said, was to provide a university presence for the sophomores, and be a service for students looking for something different.

The program funds events exclusively for sophomores to help reinforce a sense of class unity. Events include major panels and faculty lunches, but also tickets to see plays at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or Full Frame Film Festival. One thing I noticed was that while SYE works towards connecting sophomores with other sophomores, and connecting sophomores to faculty, it does not currently make an effort to forge connections with students in the other classes, though Jenni did mention hopes of expanding SYE to better facilitate peer mentoring between upperclassmen and sophomores. In other aspects of my research, I have found that upperclassmen prove to be valuable resources for sophomores whether it’s during their major considerations, or simply drawing them into greater involvement in campus organizations.

 

Works Cited:

Hunter, Mary Stuart, Barbara F. Tobolowsky, John N. Gardner and Associates. Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding the Second-Year Experience. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Tobolowsky, Barbara F. and Bradley E. Cox. Shedding Light on Sophomores: An Exploration of the Second College Year. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition., 2007).

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