Whether it be a rocky start to your freshman year, or a cursed feeling commonly diagnosed as the “sophomore slump,” Housing and Residence Life is well aware of the second year struggle.
With that stress in mind, Living Learning Communities (LLC) and Second Year Experience (SYE) were introduced to campus. Stemming from a nationwide program, these models came into existence not only to combat some of the most prominent struggles of first and second year students, but also to bring Gonzaga into “best practice” under the national standard.
“Nationwide, the Living Learning Communities, learning programs or even theme-floors, are considered ‘best practice’ in terms of the co-curricular experience of the college student,” said Jared Payton, the assistant director for Housing and Residence Life.
The “theme-floor” model can be seen in Coughlin Hall, which houses almost half of the LLCs on campus, according to Payton. Each floor holds a different theme that students may apply into based on their interests.
The second floor is Learns 2 Lead, which emphasizes the development of leadership. The third is Cura Personalis, a phrase not uncommon to GU students that translates to “care for the whole person.” The fourth and fifth floor are Women 4 Others and Global Citizenship, respectively, both highlighting a level of understanding in regard to others.
Elisabeth Ehnert, a sophomore at GU who lived in Women 4 Others her freshman year, highly recommends living in an LLC and agrees it helped to ease the transition.
“It was a lot of bonding and getting to know other girls,” she said. “We helped each other settle into college and make sure the transition was smooth.”
Existing outside of Coughlin, there are five other LLCs across campus: Solidarity and Social Justice, Engineering and Computer Science, Outdoor Pursuits, Pre-Health and Honors.
These programs were designed within the national standard, but also in accordance with what students are most interested in on campus, Payton said. This leads to strong engagement and a high level of interest each year that the programs continue.
“In terms of student satisfaction data, individuals who are in the LLCs have shown that they have stronger engagement and stronger satisfaction as compared to their peers in traditional style residence halls,” Payton said. “On a scale of one to five, the numbers are just higher.”
To people considering applying or moving into an LLC, Ehnert makes the case.
“It was a really good experience for me,” she said. “You get to find one that fits your interests and will help you get what you want out of GU.”
Similar to the LLCs, Second Year Experience is again informed by the idea of “best practice.” SYE, however, is specifically designed to combat the struggle of being a second-year student that manifests itself in the form of the “sophomore slump.”
“There is so much effort given to the first-year students to be welcomed, find a sense of belonging and be apart of Zag nation. They have so many opportunities,” Payton said. “Sophomore year the perception is, ‘Ok, you got it, college student.’”
This assumption, however, isn’t always true.
“There is a belief that [sophomores] are A-OK, and at times we find that maybe they’re not,” Payton continued.
Katie Steele, the residence director that oversees Kennedy Apartments, Burch Apartments and Dussault Apartments, has been instrumental in the development of SYE. She agrees that the programming model is designed with second-year students’ well-being in mind.
This focus has led to the development of five “puzzle pieces” or pillars that programming events are designed around: developing resilience, finding purpose, well-being and healthy living, cultivating intercultural fluency and connectedness and accompaniment.
“The puzzle pieces that were developed for SYE were intentionally developed with what our second-year students need in mind,” Steele said. “What are they struggling with? What kinds of developmental things typically go on when you are 19 and 20 years old, as opposed to college freshmen or upper-division students?”
Originally created around the first four pillars, Steele made major modifications last year based on an assessment project that involved engaging student conduct records, resident assistant (RA) performance and resident engagement.
From that feedback and data, Steele noticed a few resounding gaps that needed solutions. Sophomores identified a lack of connection stemming from apartment-style living, a lack of connection to campus due to Kennedy’s location and even more specifically, a lack of connection to Spokane.
In response, Steele began to draw from her own time as a college sophomore.
“I started thinking about my own experiences at a Jesuit institution and I thought a lot about the experiences that I had,” Steele said. “Out of that came this idea of connectedness and accompaniment.
“The beautiful thing about my sophomore year in college was that I really felt like people journeyed with me. I was allowed to uncover my own experience, but I also had someone walking alongside me.”
This, she said, is the Jesuit idea of accompaniment.
Now, with the development of the fifth puzzle piece, Steele sits down with RAs and plans events around the idea of connectedness and accompaniment.
A recent event held in collaboration with SYE, worked with an organization called Blessings Under the Bridge. Residents made fleece blankets and hygiene packs for those experiencing homelessness in Spokane in one of their apartments.
“That event accomplished a couple of things,” Steele said. “They intentionally hosted that event in one of their apartments, which made it more personal and doing service together not only gets people to connect on a different level, but it also serves an outreach purpose in Spokane.”
After every event, as a part of the ongoing assessment, Steele and the RAs in charge of the event will always ask for resident feedback, and according to Steele, they always take it to heart.
“Students, whether they recognize it or not, are informing how this program is developed,” she said.
Steele is continuing to measure things, making sure the programs are accomplishing what they are supposed to. She hopes that as they continue, they will land in a place where they have five well-developed puzzle pieces.
“The program is still in its infancy,” Steele said. “The hope is that we will eventually have the program as a model in all second-year housing.”
For now, Steele will continue to develop the program, building from her love of working with sophomores and the large amount of potential the model still has.
“I think the exciting thing for me is that it has a lot of potential,” she said. “I am really big on the future, so, I would love to come back in 15 years and see that it’s something they’re still doing.”