Sophomores and S’mores: New ‘Experience’ Spotlights Second Year

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Gary Morris '88 has got a couple of aces up his sleeve when it comes to trying to get the attention of bewildered college students.

Fehmi Damkaci et al.

With late night s'more sessions on the lake, pizza-fueled information meetings between professionals and students, and trips to maximum-security prisons, Morris effectively helps students realize that the time is now to start keeping an eye keenly on their future.

Morris is the chief mastermind behind the Sophomore Year Experience, which helps second-year students who may be struggling to prepare for the future ahead of them. He knows the transition from freshman to sophomore isn't always the smoothest of changes.

"Some people call it the sophomore slump," Morris said. "Others call it the lost year, but it's such an important year."

Going from a carefully guided first-year student to a more independent student on campus can be hard, he said. Important decisions like declaring a major or career are even harder.

"What we are trying to do is enhance the feeling of being valued, of being back on campus," he said. "You are no less valued as a sophomore."

The program, while focused on helping sophomores figure out what they would like to do in the long term, also puts an equally strong emphasis on their immediate future, including tackling pressing issues such as major declaration.

"Part of what we are trying to do is make the process of major and career exploration and declaration one of self-discovery instead of anxiety," Morris said. Help is here on campus, he said.

The program hosts numerous events throughout the academic year, including the Job-A-Rama job fair, the S'mores with Sophomores welcome back event and Pizza with Professionals, where professionals from various fields come to campus to share a meal and chat with students.

Students also have the opportunity to take their interests in a certain field off campus with the program's "Test Drive Your Career" events, where Morris and faculty members take students on trips to businesses that primarily hire graduates from their major.

Morris usually takes anywhere from three to six "Test Drive Your Career" trips each semester. Past trips have included taking broadcasting students to Clear Channel Radio, computer science majors to Lockheed Martin and public justice majors to Auburn Correctional Facility.

This October, 20 chemistry majors made the trek to Rochester to learn about the science and engineering involved in the manufacturing of contact lenses at Bausch & Lomb in Rochester, where they met with alumni who worked at the facility.

The alumni spent time talking to the students about what it means to be a winning industrial chemist, what employers look for in new hires, and how the sciences and engineering fields work together to take an idea from research and development to a packaged product.

One alumnus, Stephen Maier '84 M '88, spoke to the sophomores about the importance of the opportunities presented to them at Oswego.

"The first thing I mentioned was you can go through your regular programs and end up doing well," Maier said. "But in hindsight, there were things that you can do or choices you can make, like taking more classes, that really help separate you from other students. The more research you do really helps you decide whether this is what you want to do for a living."

Maier knows of the struggles that underclassmen go through firsthand. He started college as a meteorology major. It wasn't until the summer following his freshman year he realized he wanted to change majors and become a chemist. He said programs that help younger students figure out whether a certain field is right for them, such as the Sophomore Year Experience, can go a long way in helping them decide where their future lies.

"For freshmen, sophomores and even juniors it would definitely [pay] to take more Sophomore Year Experience trips," he said. "One or two can really set the tone for what you want to do."

Morris said the trips serve as a firsthand glimpse of what could be one career path for students in their respective field. The trips help reinforce a student's desire to pursue a degree in that field or helps them realize they may be better suited going down a different route of study.

"Say we have a group of chemistry students on campus who aren't quite sure what they want to do," Morris mused. "They love science and chemistry, but the career options might be fuzzy. We try to give them the information they need to make the right decisions."

 Jesse Vanucchi '13 said the trip showed him what type of chemistry to home in on post-graduation.

"It helped me see what I can possibly do with a biochemistry degree and helped me quite a bit to know where to branch off after receiving my degree," Vanucchi said.

Now in its second — or sophomore — year, the Sophomore Year Experience has come a long way in helping second-year students figure out what the immediate and long-term future holds for them.

The program hosted a "Sophomore Conference" in November to help sophomores in a variety of aspects including how to get an internship, how to manage college finances and how to develop a plan for the rest of college and post-graduation.

The program also has arranged for local businesses to come to campus to recruit students for part-time jobs, and the Job-A-Rama continues to be a hit among all students on campus. The program also received a $5,000 grant in November that Morris plans to use to send cash-strapped sophomores around the world to perform community service in foreign communities.

With a growing attendance rate and new events virtually sprouting up every month, the program continues to grow with each passing semester. That's music to the ears of Morris, and even better news for Oswego sophomores, who now have a powerful resource in helping them prepare for the challenges ahead.

— Kyle C. Gargan '11 

Chemistry majors spent a day at Bausch & Lomb in Rochester to learn what it means to be an industrial chemist. Fehmi Damkaci, left, assistant professor of chemistry, joins biochemistry majors, from left, Andrew Preischel '12, Ryan Cotroneo '12, Jesse Vanucchi '13 and Jake Demarree '11, among 20 to make the trip.

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