December 3, 2018
Erin Ulrich ’18
Image of Dana Hamdan
Associate Dean of Students and Interim Director of the Career Development Center Dana Hamdan Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources (SOAR) is a pilot program launching this February that will support sophomores as they begin making decisions about their academic and postgraduate futures, such as declaring a major and applying for jobs. 

The program begins with a two-day retreat following the end of winter term and continues with three follow-up sessions throughout the spring semester.

SOAR was conceived in large part by the Sophomore Experience: Advising and Winter Term Task Force, a cohort that spent the beginning of the fall semester developing concrete advising learning goals for second-year students. Members of the task force include professors from the college and conservatory, deans, students, and staff from the Career Development Center, Bonner Center for Service and Learning, and the Office of Study Away and Winter Term. The task force has laid the groundwork for SOAR, including creating activities for the program retreat, such as “Building Mentoring Relationships,” “Imposter Syndrome Workshop,” and “Networking 101.” At the culmination of the retreat, students will have developed a five-semester educational plan, consisting of course work in their intended majors as well as summer and winter term career-building opportunities.

SOAR was born out of the Student Peer Advising Leaders (PAL) program, which is a collaborative effort between the Academic Advising Resource Center, the Division of Student Life, and the College of Arts and Sciences that provides student mentors for first-year students. The majority of SOAR student leaders have gone through the PAL program themselves and are not only passionate about their fields of study, but have a vested interest in supporting their peers. SOAR leaders represent 15 majors across the social and natural sciences and humanities.

Associate Dean of Students, Interim Director of the Career Development Center, and Director of the PALs Program Dana Hamdan says that SOAR not only provides students with personalized academic blueprints, but will help students visualize how their academic interests can translate into professional opportunities.

“Our hope is that SOAR will help sophomores envision personally integrated educational pathways and prepare for opportunities beyond Oberlin that align with their academic and career interests.”

SOAR also offers students structure and professional guidance from advisors and professors. It also gives them confidence to talk about their passions and pursuits in realistic terms.

Dance SOAR leader and junior Kara Nepomuceno says that it was in her sophomore year when she realized that her varied interests actually complement each other. “SOAR is the program I wish I had had as a second-year,” she says. “I wish I had talked to someone earlier about how the interests outside of my first major could in fact be valid and serious academic commitments. Those conversations not only helped me organize an academic plan which excited me, but also opened up future opportunities.’’

Chemistry SOAR leader and junior Tyler Hartman says that, although many sophomores have already developed their own academic and planning strategies, SOAR provides students with the institutional and peer support they need in order for their goals to come to fruition.

“I believe that the SOAR program can help those who do not feel as comfortable reaching out to leaders in their field to build that confidence and begin developing a substantial network,” he says. “I wish I had the emphasis on organization and the opportunity to engage with a group of talented advisors that SOAR offers when I was a sophomore.”

In addition to working closely with SOAR leaders in their major areas of interest, SOAR participants will interact with professors who teach courses in the majors they’re interested in pursuing. Laura Baudot, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of English says, “while it can be intimidating for students to meet with a professor they have not already worked with, there are enormous benefits.

“It gives the student the opportunity to articulate their interests and goals for a new audience. A professor not already familiar with the student’s work can bring a fresh perspective to the student’s academic and professional interests.”

More than 160 sophomores have applied to SOAR’s pilot program and, Hamdan says, “if the experience if successful, we hope to offer this opportunity to sophomores from all academic majors with departmental interests.”

Read about SOAR

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