campus partner(s)

Skidmore College

Colorado College

Connecticut College

St. Lawrence University






Fresh Thinking

award date


project director

Michael C. Ennis-McMillan

Skidmore College

Grant Summary

$100,000 over 27 months. The "sophomore slump"—what happens when a second-year student lacks the motivation to achieve academic, personal, and career goals—is a persistent problem in undergraduate education. Skidmore College, Colorado College, Connecticut College, and St. Lawrence University seek to address this issue, particularly at liberal arts colleges, by developing frameworks for small group dialogues which they argue will enhance sophomore engagement and learning in the liberal arts. These dialogues will bring students closely together with faculty and staff to discuss the goals of a liberal arts education, how to draw on that education to explore personal identity and examine ethics and values, and how to commit to a liberal learning approach as a critical means of discovering one's place in the world. The project has three principal phases:

  1. The group will begin by establishing baselines on student achievement and engagement. They will meet—face to face and electronically—to learn about sophomore initiatives on the four campuses, and compare existing institutional (on retention, GPAs, declared majors) and survey (e.g. NSSE) data. Additionally, they will administer pre-test surveys on "reflective judgment" and on sophomore engagement. They will also conduct interviews with students following a Perry scheme of intellectual and ethical development.
  2. The group will run a two-year pilot with at least two dialogue groups on each campus. General dialogue structure will be determined by the group at its first meeting, and then adapted by a "dialogue leadership group" comprised of faculty, staff, and students on each campus. Students will undertake post-test surveys and interviews. Progress, results, and strategies will be shared at a series of joint meetings.
  3. The group will produce a comprehensive guide on "academic interventions, best practices, and strategies for enhancing sophomore engagement on liberal arts colleges." Findings will be presented at professional meetings. Skidmore College will develop a project website that will "present results and provide resources for faculty working for sophomores."