The transition from high school to college can be one of the biggest transitions a student ever makes. Being new to a college campus, most incoming freshmen are unaware of what services the library offers and where they can receive assistance. As the library staff, we can be quick to use library jargon and start teaching these students about information literacy. Before we drive into the hard-hitting library content, it’s important for the library staff to connect with students.
By Beth Black and Hailley Fargo
Recognizing that underclassmen students at Penn State were often overwhelmed by the process of identifying and applying for fellowships, student engagement librarian Hailley Fargo teamed up with Caitlin Ting, director of the University Fellowships Office, to create the Spark Program. In this interview she shares how they launched their collaboration, what inspired them, and how the program has evolved.
I looked forward to ACRL 2019 in my home state of Ohio for weeks, and the conference in Cleveland did not disappoint. As I reflect on the conference, a key theme of challenging assumptions and taking the time to talk with others began with Michele Norris’ opening keynote about The Race Card Project.
Supporting second-year students in the midst of the multifaceted transitions they face is more than a matter of getting them to persist into their third year. Instead, we want our students to thrive. Thriving is an expanded picture of student success defined by Laurie A. Schreiner as optimal functioning in the three key areas of academic engagement and persistence, interpersonal relationships, and psychological well-being (Schreiner, 2010). “Sophomores who are thriving are investing effort in their academic work and in the process of selecting a major that interests them and brings out their best. They experience a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives that provides direction as they engage in their classes, become involved in campus and community life, form healthy relationships, and make a difference in the world around them” (Schreiner, 2018).
The theme for this year’s ACRL conference is “Recasting the Narrative,” and in this era of rapid-fire disruption it’s hard to avoid thinking about how institutions we take for granted will have to transform themselves. As the information landscape flips upside-down and inside-out, librarians are uniquely positioned to help people navigate this new reality. But rather than serve as the traditional gatekeepers and tour guides of information, one of the trends we’re seeing today is the evolution of librarians as storytellers.
In Student Success in College, George Kuh, the student affairs expert on student engagement, and colleagues note that educators are in many places on an effective college campus, and each has a part in making an engaging college experience for undergraduate students (Kuh, et. al., 2005). Of course, librarians and libraries have much to offer toward these efforts.
When talking about second-year transition initiatives, it’s easy to focus on instructional strategies, faculty collaborations, or splashy events—but don’t lose sight of the small, everyday interactions your staff have with students. Surveys show that second-year students feel less supported than their fellow undergrads, a perception that could manifest itself as a barrier between them and your library’s outreach efforts.
One of the challenges of working with second-year students is finding them: unlike first-year students, who can often be located thanks to FYE programs, second-years aren’t as easy to connect with. While more campuses are building second-year programs (46% of institutions that responded to the 2014 National Survey of Sophomore-Year Initiatives reported offering such programs), they take a variety of forms. In fact, most of the initiatives have only been in existence 2-5 years and are likely not as comprehensive as their first-year counterparts.
Last week I talked about the unique needs of second-year students, a group all too often overlooked in higher education. The “sophomore slump” is a phenomenon we take for granted, but there are strategies we can use to support students who, after making it through their first year, still face challenging transitions. Here are a few things I’ve learned about working with second-year students as a faculty mentor for Ohio State’s Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) and as the coordinator of library workshops for the STEP Professional Development Co-Curricular series:
What is special about the second year of college? Following the excitement and the external transition forced in the first year of college, the second year seems quieter at first glance. These students have figured out how to navigate campus, made the transition to the more rigorous expectations of college courses, and made friends with peers. However, the idea of a sophomore slump is not new: I recently found an article dating back to 1956 on the subject. The author claimed that, at his institution, the “sophomore slump” was not as widespread as expected (Freeman, 1956). Yet even in this article skeptical of the concept, he notes challenges common to second-year students.