WU holds first ever Sophomore Welcome for Class of 2024 after largely virtual first year
The Class of 2024 kicked off the school year this weekend with Washington University’s first ever Sophomore Welcome. The three-day orientation, open to all returning sophomores, formerly remote sophomores and transfer students, came one year after last fall’s Bear Beginnings was conducted virtually due to COVID-19.
The orientation commenced Aug. 26 with the arrival of all students who wished to attend. While returning sophomores moved in, activities were scheduled for formerly remote students, who arrived a day earlier. Among the events planned were information sessions with the Learning Center and Writing Center, a campus tour and an excursion to the City Museum.
“We know that the Class of 2024 did not have the start to WashU that we would hope,” Director of the First Year Center Katharine Pei said. “We are hoping that Sophomore Welcome can be a chance for students to arrive early, to get connected with their classmates, and to get connected to resources, so that people can kind of have a second start to WashU.”
Students also met with their Sophomore Washington University Student Associate (SWUSAs), a paid position serving the same purpose as first-year WUSAs but with more limited involvement in student affairs after orientation. Both formerly remote and returning sophomores were able to meet with their SWUSA groups.
“As a WUSA last year, I definitely saw that first years, through the remote environment, really struggled to adjust to campus, and it was difficult for them to make those connections that I found really helpful in my first year,” junior Jason Jin, a SWUSA and former WUSA said. “Some of them may have been stepping onto campus for the first time as a sophomore, and I really want to be able to help those students out and make sure that their college experience is as whole and complete as possible.”
Other academic events of the Sophomore Welcome included group meetings with students’ four-year advisors and orientation events within individual schools, such as the Olin Ice Cream Social, an advice session with the Dean of the Sam Fox school and a welcome session for the McKelvey School of Engineering.
College of Arts & Sciences sophomore Rachel McCabe found these programs particularly useful for getting reoriented on campus.
“It was nice to be able to meet with our advisors,” McCabe said. “Since we’d met with them a bunch over Zoom freshman year, it was nice to be able to see them in person.”
McKelvey School of Engineering sophomore Sophie Paradi said talking to professors and hearing about the different majors in person was the most helpful part of Sophomore Welcome.
“As freshmen, we didn’t really have any expectations of us in terms of research or internships, but as sophomores, we have way more academic responsibilities, so it was nice to have a baseline for what we should be expecting this year,” she said.
While this was the first Sophomore Welcome at Washington University, the idea of a sophomore orientation had been around for a while among staff of the First Year Center, but the pandemic provided the impetus to translate those ideas into an actual program.
First Year Center coordinator Dacoda Scarlett and his colleagues based the idea of a second year orientation off a growing body of research that suggests sophomores need a special type of attention as they transition out of their first year.
“A lot of sophomores feel like they have a lot of support in their first year, and then all of a sudden they’re sophomores and they feel abandoned,” Scarlett said. “What literature shows us is that if you try to recreate the first year for sophomore students, you’re just delaying that until their junior year. So a lot of schools across the country are now creating sophomore experience programs where you kind of wean the sophomore class off of this support they had their first year.”
Despite the overall success of Sophomore Welcome, administrators experienced several logistical hurdles such as difficulties getting students to RSVP and thunderstorms Friday evening that forced the Tailgate Dinner to relocate from the parking lot outside Simon Hall to the Bear’s Den. The most difficult obstacle to overcome, however, was COVID-19.
“I think the greatest logistic challenge had to do with COVID,” Pei said. “Things that we hoped to do last May that seemed like they were going to be possible as people were getting vaccines and numbers of cases were going down, started to come into question over the summer as the Delta variant rose in this community. We’ve worked really closely with the COVID monitoring team for the University to make sure that we’re following all of the guidelines set by the St. Louis County Health Department as well as the University.”
These guidelines required masking indoors, but allowed for an unmasked outdoor class dinner, a significant change in protocol compared to fall of 2020. Many were excited to see the campus looking more like it did pre-pandemic.
“We’re really excited to see people without masks, walking around somewhat normally,” Village faculty fellow David Hudson said in a speech at the dinner. Others, however, were more wary of the relaxed restrictions.
“There’s so many people all around each other unmasked, even when we’re outside,” sophomore Emma Platt said. “I’m not used to this. I feel like there could have been a little more masking.”
According to Scarlett, sophomore welcome and the second year experience were not intended to be an equivalent replacement to Bear Beginnings. For some students at least, Sophomore Welcome succeeded in helping sophomores transition to their second years.
“I thought [Sophomore Welcome] was the right thing to do, but I’m glad that it wasn’t the full week that freshmen had,” Paradi said. “We went through the WUSA stuff last year and we did a lot of getting familiar with WashU, so I’m glad we didn’t have to redo that. But I’m glad that they at least tried to do something for us, even if it wasn’t necessarily what we would have wanted.”
As Sophomore Welcome came to a close, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Wild congratulated the Class of 2024 on its accomplishments and perseverance as students were presented with commemorative lapel pins.
“We hope you’re able to reflect on and recognize the growth you had and the accomplishments that will continue to build and share your legacy that each one of you leaves,” Wild said. “Not only did you choose to come here, but you did so knowing the challenges that we would face together. No parties, all remote classes for some of you, wearing masks, living with uncertainty. But you did it. You did it together. Congratulations you guys. It’s great to have you back.”