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Freshmen Belles embrace common experience

and | Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Though 9 a.m. classes, milkshake Masses and anticipated football games keep planners brimming and schedules tight, Saint Mary’s Belles learn to adjust by participating  in weekly advising meetings with their freshman mentors as part of the Sophia Program.

According to associate professor of music Laurel Thomas, these advising sessions are part of the Sophia Program and are mandated to encourage social development, stimulate academic understanding and embrace distinct viewpoints.

First-year student Morgan Micetich said her advising group encourages her to succeed and serves as a support system during what would otherwise be a difficult transition.

“The [advisory meetings] teach me to focus on myself and not to live by the expectations of others,” Micetich said. “It introduces me to my new sisters and helps me work through stress.”

This new initiative benefits not only the students, but also the advisers and peer mentors who partake in the experience as guides for the freshmen class, Thomas said. Thomas said it becomes clear how exceptional each student is during the meetings and she hopes the emphasis on individuality will help them uncover their passions.

“The class itself involves community building because students get to know people from other majors on a more personal level,” Thomas said. “We want everybody to be on the same page, to have heard this background information.”

Thomas said the Sophia Program’s focus on self-discovery and a concept called integration of learning lies beyond the information covered in lectures and examinations in a standard classroom.

Students are urged to synthesize what they grasp in one area of life with other concepts to best comprehend everything they learn and to gain a better understanding of collegiate life, said Thomas.

“The courses that you take teach you different ways of thinking,” Thomas said. “Talking intentionally about integration of learning helps because at the end, you’ll be able to say much better what it means for you. I don’t think I realized until after I graduated from college and began graduate school that I actually could incorporate the learning that I had before. It sort of dawns on you that you’ve done it.”

Throughout the advisory meetings and first-year required lectures, all first-year students read “What the Best College Students Do” by Ken Bain. The book details the atypical journeys of successful individuals like J.K. Rowling and Stephen Colbert, Thomas said.

Students learn, through close readings, to focus more on their knowledge than on letter grades, as true understanding remains permanently beneficial while assessments cannot always accurately measure one’s ability, Thomas said.

“The book is full of stories about people who did not take the standard path and who developed themselves based upon their interests and their passions,” Thomas said.

First-year student Katie Long said she relates to the universal themes illustrated throughout the book and is confident that what she learns throughout the common course will assist her for her entire life.

“Meeting with my adviser and mentor every week keeps me on track and reminds me to pursue my goals,” Long said. “I always look forward to the class because the environment is so friendly and productive. It’s a great learning opportunity.”

Because the Sophia Program enforces leadership skills within its members, students engaged in this class are well prepared to take on every opportunity that presents itself, Thomas said.

This common experience, though personalized, unites its participants in the values of persistence, ambition and dedication that will lead them to a lifetime of success, Thomas said.

“The social responsibility aspect of the Sophia Program is especially unique about Saint Mary’s,” Thomas said. “We want our students, when they graduate, to be citizens of the world, responsible people who know what’s going on and are able to create change.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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