SOAR visitors enjoy a head-start on college
SOAR, a four-day pre-orientation program for incoming Saint Michael’s College first-year students, welcomed 32 participants who were seeking a head-start on the college experience from Wednesday through Sunday, June 20-24.
The acronym stands for Summer Orientation for Academic Excellence and Retention. According to the SOAR program web page, “SOAR is designed to be a fun and transformative experience that builds confidence.”
Directing the weekend of outdoor activities, academic advising and community-building/reflection were 20 current students who serve as leaders and stay in a campus residence hall with the visitors, while participating with them in activities that included an Adventure Sports Day, a day at the Edmundite-run St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte, and panels with faculty and staff to talk about academics and support.
This successful program was conceived 14 years ago by Moise St. Louis, associate dean of students and director of Multicultural Student Services, to serve incoming students of color; it adopted its current programming structure 12 years ago. The group always includes several students who received Presidential Community Partner Scholarships through the College’s Admission Office (six students this year). Mike Stefanowicz, director of admission, said Presidential Community Partner Scholars are drawn from school groups that Carlos Vega, the office’s Associate Director of Admission for Multicultural Enrollment and Athletics Liaison, has worked with during the previous year’s admission recruiting process.
The visitors ate together in the Alliot Hall’s Green Mountain Dining Room, visited downtown Burlington in groups, had time to socialize, and purposefully talked with students, faculty and staff about classes, professors and student life, said Kimoi Seale, coordinator of multicultural & international programs and educational initiatives/ assistant dean of students for the Student Life Office.
Eben Widlund, assistant director of the College’s Adventure Sports Center, said that on Thursday of last week’s visit — the incoming students’ first full campus day — “as part of an ongoing collaboration, the Adventure Sports Center provided the SOAR program with a day of outdoor programming including canoeing, mountain biking, rappelling and hikes on Mt. Mansfield.”
Seale said the group has an “Academic Day” on Friday, where faculty and staff come in and talk to them about their expectations and the support services available on campus. Faculty participants this year were Ray Patterson (religious studies), Doug Facey (biology), Katie Kirby (philosophy) and Traci Griffith (media studies/journalism/digital arts), who presented as a panel, as did Jonathan D’Amore (assistant dean in Academic Affairs), Tim Mackin (Writing Center), along with Toni Messuri and Heidi St. Peter (Academic Support Services). Those panels took place in second-floor Alliot spaces: the Vermont Room and Eddie’s Lounge.
Seale said Saturday at St. Anne’s Shrine was dedicated to the student leaders sharing personal experiences from their time at Saint Michael’s in order to show the first-years examples of what college life might be like, “and what they’ve overcome, to show them they might not be alone, and that leaders are there to support them when they do struggle.”
“That’s whole idea,” Seale said – “that when they come to campus in the fall they already have a community of students, peers, they can turn to when they’re facing challenging situations, a friend group that lowers anxiety about having to come to campus the first time.”
In addition to the Presidential Community Partner Scholarship cohort, Seale said, the four days’ activities also target first-generation and multicultural incoming students, though SOAR is open to anyone –“so we end up with a pretty diverse group of students.” This year’s participation of more than 30 was up from previous years, which typically attracted groups of 20 to 25 students, he said.
“Overall I thought it was another success after hearing from the students. They all talked about how good their experience was, and many said they wish it was longer, maybe a full week,” Seale said. “That said to me that it was a good experience. They’re all looking forward to reconnecting back on campus in the fall.”