addressing second year retention through a focused programming

Session M4B
Addressing Second Year Retention through a
Focused Programming Effort
Eduardo Gandara, Rebecca Simon, Dr. Kristi J. Shryock
Texas A&M University, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Abstract - With universities seeing sustained high firstyear retention rates, the focus has now shifted to the next
large hurdle with respect to retention, the sophomore or
second year in the curriculum. To address issues in this
second year, several universities have begun to focus
efforts on this particular group of students. In the college
of engineering at Texas A&M University, SophoMORE
Week was piloted to target second year “slump”-causing
issues specific to engineering students by creating a series
of daily events during a one week period. These events
encouraged second-year engineering students to interact
specifically with others in their cohort. The results of a
survey conducted during the events showed that students
felt significantly more connected to their department and
to the new friends they met during the events. In addition,
students who attended a SophoMORE Week activity
agreed they would return to a similar event in the future.
Index Terms – Retention, second year students, sophomore
With a large amount of programming efforts and significant
changes in courses occurring in first year programs,
universities have begun to experience higher retention rates
at the end of this critical year. Many institutions are now
facing larger losses during the sophomore or second year in
the curriculum [1]. During the freshman year, most students
are in a phase Molly Schaller refers to as random exploration
[6]. Students are in a new environment with more freedom
and tend to make decisions without consideration for the long
term. During the second year, many students transition to a
phase of focused exploration where concern for the future
begins to influence decisions [2]. During this time, students
can enter a stage classified as “sophomore slump [3]-[4].”
Students may enter this “sophomore slump” for various
reasons [2],[5]. For example, some students might have
struggled academically-wise during their freshman year and
continued to experience this struggle through the rigor of the
second-year coursework, leaving them with the feeling they
are not “meant to be” an engineer. This can cause students to
explore new majors or leave the university during their
second year. Other students who experience the “sophomore
slump” might have been academically successful in their
freshman coursework but begin to question their career path
and alter their major selection [2],[5]. In addition to
academics, relationships are also an area where students
experience a transition. Students might feel disconnected
from their original cohort of friends typically from various
departments and colleges as they now take classes with many
unfamiliar faces in departmental-specific courses [2].
Universities have begun to address issues second year
students might face in a more collective manner, although
most are focusing on programming efforts at the university
level, as opposed to college-specific methods [5]-[8].
In the college of engineering at Texas A&M University
(TAMU), SophoMORE Week was designed as a pilot
program to begin targeting “slump”-causing issues for
second year engineering students. A series of daily events
during a one week period was created where engineering
students in the second year in their curriculum interacted
specifically with others in their cohort. Similar to related
efforts at other universities, the events primarily addressed
areas of interpersonal relationships and academic support and
opportunities [5]-[8]. Having the events focused solely on
engineering students, however, provided a more unique
aspect to the project at TAMU.
SophoMORE Week began with a Speed-Friending & Ice
Cream Social, allowing students to interact with one another.
During the event, students were partnered and answered
questions asked by the moderator. After spending
approximately twenty seconds discussing the question, one
partner was asked to rotate to the next seat, and the speedfriending continued. This created an environment where
students could connect on a personal basis outside of an
academic setting, such as a classroom, as some students can
feel it is inappropriate to forge personal relationships in a
place where academics are the primary focus.
The second event of SophoMORE Week was a luncheon
with academic advisors from across the college of
engineering. Advisors and students were intermingled to
allow for interaction outside of the typical advising session.
To initiate and facilitate conversation, cards from the game
TableTopics were available to each group. This event
allowed students and advisors to discuss topics that are not
commonly found in an advising session and become better
acquainted with each other. The goal was to reduce the
apprehension many students have about approaching their
advisor by building interpersonal relationships.
Mid Years Engineering Experience (MYEE) Conference
March 22 – 24, 2015, College Station, TX
Session M4B
The third event focused on academic enrichment
opportunities and included having representatives from the
Career Center, the Engineering Study Abroad office, and the
Engineering Academic and Student Affairs office discuss
professionalism, internships, international opportunities, and
undergraduate research programs. This event prompted
students to think about how they, as second year students,
could enhance their academic experience and emphasized the
importance of an early start in building their portfolio.
SophoMORE Week concluded with a social at a local
bowling alley. This event helped reinforce the importance of
networking and creating social support within a cohort.
Students were placed in an environment where they were
more apt to expand their network by meeting new people but
also build social support among individuals they might have
previously met at other SophoMORE Week related events.
Each of the events in SophoMORE Week was tailored to
meet needs of students who might have characteristics
related to the “sophomore slump.” As a result of activities
during the week, students were able to meet other students
and socialize with people they otherwise might not meet in
class. This allowed for students to begin understanding the
importance of networking with students within their
engineering college as well as the importance of building a
social support system that will serve them throughout their
engineering program. Moreover, SophoMORE Week
provided students with the opportunity to interact with their
advisors on a more personal level to help build a stronger
bond between them. By building relations between advisor
and student, students can feel compelled to better
communicate with their advisors on classes they might be
struggling with or doubts they might be having about the
major. In addition, SophoMORE Week provided students
with the opportunity to begin thinking about career orientedsteps they could take to prepare for job fairs, as well as job
searches upon graduation. In addition, students learned the
importance of study abroad opportunities as well as
internships, which will better prepare them as well-rounded
individuals for the workforce they will enter upon
Students were surveyed after each event, and the results
indicated students felt significantly more connected to their
department and to new friends they met during the events.
Students remarked they appreciated seeing the importance of
soft skills, typically not learned in the classroom, which
would help them as they advanced and transitioned into their
third and fourth year as students and into their professional
careers. In addition, 100% of the students who attended a
SophoMORE Week event said they would return to similar
events in the future.
Through the program focused on second-year engineering
students, participants discovered common fears and doubts
about engineering and received support from peers.
Moreover, SophoMORE Week provided students with the
opportunity to meet engineering advising faculty and staff
outside of the usual office setting and began building
relationships independent of the typical end-of-semester
registration appointments. The focused week-long events
were built on the idea that each individual student matters and
they are an important asset to the engineering community at
An important lesson learned through the incorporation of
SophoMORE Week included the reliance by students on the
encouragement of their faculty to participate in events. Future
plans include expanding beyond a one-week setting, starting
marketing efforts to students at the end of their first year in
engineering, and adding a team of sophomore students to
assist in the planning and implementation of the program to
ensure topics covered are relevant to second year engineering
Higher Education in Science and Engineering: Undergraduate S&E
Students and Degrees in the United States. (2002).
Schaller, M. (2005). Wandering and wondering: Traversing the
uneven terrain of the second college year. About Campus. Wiley &
Sons, Inc.
Wilder, J. S. (1993). “The sophomore slump: A complex
developmental period that contributes to attrition,” College Student
Affairs Journal, 12, 2, 18-27.
Holloway, B. M., Reed-Rhoads, T., and L. Groll. (2010), “Defining
the ‘sophomore slump’ within the discipline of engineering”, ASEE
Global Colloquium on Engineering Education. Singapore.
Casper, J., Khoury, A., Lashbaugh, K., & Ruesch, A. (2011). The
sophomore year experience final report to Dr. Laura Coffin Koch,
Associate Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education. University of
About the Sophomore Slump. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2015,
SOPHOMORE Week 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2015, from
A Week for the Sophomores. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2015
Eduardo Gandara, Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M
University, [email protected]
Rebecca Simon, Retention Specialist, Texas A&M
University, [email protected]
Mid Years Engineering Experience (MYEE) Conference
March 22 – 24, 2015, College Station, TX
Session M4B
Dr. Kristi J. Shryock, Senior Director of Retention, Texas
A&M University, [email protected]
Mid Years Engineering Experience (MYEE) Conference
March 22 – 24, 2015, College Station, TX