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Sophia Program adds a class

Annemarie Loessberg | Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Class of 2017 is the second class at Saint Mary’s to be a part of the Sophia Program, a general education curriculum, but the first to take a part in the First Year Common Course, a weekly one-credit seminar for first-year students.

Sophia Curriculum Committee Chair Julie Storme said first-year students are enrolled in the common course this semester in order to focus on advising, to gain a better understanding of what the program entails and to provide the incoming Belles with a common experience.

The Sophia Program began last year with the Class of 2016, and all aspects of the program will be implemented in time for the Class of 2019, student chair of the Sophia Curriculum Committee Shannon Schalk said.

“This year’s Class of 2017 is phase two and that’s pretty much just to make sure that if there is a problem within Sophia that they didn’t catch, before they implement the entire thing, they can catch it,” Schalk said.

The transition into the Sophia Program has been difficult, especially for the current sophomores, but the changes that have been made and the continual effort to make the program an integral part of Saint Mary’s education made it easier for the first-years, Schalk said.

“They (The Sophia Curriculum Committee) have time and the ability to adjust when they need to so that it’s even better for the next class,” she said.

The Sophia Program is the only of its kind in the country, Schalk said, and it caters to all the different majors on campus in order to help the women of the College be citizens of the world.

“Saint Mary’s gets you ahead by making sure you can actually be a part of the world around you when you leave rather than just your field,” Schalk said.

Schalk, a sophomore, said she originally wanted to attend Michigan State in order to pursue the school’s pre-med program, but one of the aspects of Saint Mary’s which made her change her mind was the Sophia Program.

“Technically, Michigan State does have a better major, but at the end of the day, for the person that I want to be, and the person that I want to become, is more than just a doctor, and I realized that Saint Mary’s could give me that,” she said.

Storme, the first-year advisor and the teacher of the common course, said the class is about building relationships.

“How can we facilitate a real relationship? Well, have them in a class,” she said. “That is where faculty and students really form relationships, typically.”

The course also draws from the human level of shared experiences, which form a common bond, Storme said. One of the common experiences for the new students is they are all reading a book titled “What the Best College Students Do” by Ken Bane.

“That’s what we want Sophia to be, too. It’s built around learning outcomes … and what you should be able to do as a student at the end of the course as a learner,” Storme said.

Student reactions to the class, which first-years have attended once a week since starting classes, are mixed.

First-year student Jessica Jones said she could be using that hour for studying.

“It gets you comfortable with professors,” Jones said, “but sometimes it just puts on extra work.”

However, first-year Madeline Lay said she viewed the class as an advantage.

“It’s a very intelligent choice,” Lay said. “It ensures that we have a fully integrated education rather than just a specialized one.”