?The committee looked at longitudinal trends nationally for the Council of Christian Colleges and Univer?sities?what was happening longitudinally with sophomores,? Cantwell said.
?We then looked at Tabor and what?s been happening over the last five years with retaining sophomores at Tabor.?
The retention committee, formed more than a year ago, discovered that on some years Tabor was above the national average of sophomore retention, and some years below.
?Were we awful? No,? Cantwell said. ?We could have stayed the same. But Christ wasn?t about mediocrity, he was about excellence. I think that when the committee got together, we thought, ?Hey, we can do better than that.??
The sophomore slump
According to research literature titled ?Visible Solutions for Invisible Students: Helping Sophomores Succeed,? sophomores receive the least attention of any class on college campuses.
There are fewer programs, fewer contacts with major professors, fewer leadership positions and little attention from student development.
Tabor isn?t different, Cantwell said. Compared to about 20 unique opportunities for seniors, the sophomore class at Tabor has one unique opportunity?to plan the Christmas banquet.
?They come to be a sophomore, and they don?t know what their identity is,? Cantwell said.
A reason to stay
Cantwell was approached by Jim Elliott, vice president of advancement, to chair the sophomore retention committee.
The committee first decided to rename ?sophomore slump? to ?sophomore surge.?
?When our committee came together a year ago, we didn?t want to be associated with slump,? Cantwell said. ?We thought it was kind of negative.?
With a new name, the committee went to work pouring over research and discussing the improvements Tabor could make.
?We then put a plan together on what that would look like for the next 12 months to address sophomores,? Cantwell said.
The committee came up with a strategic plan to address three specific issues: career connections, developing identity and belonging and fit.
The strategic plan included a variety of sophomore events during the school year, including a swim night, snow cone nights, a dinner with the president and two sit-down dinners where sophomores could connect with professors and young alums of the college.
?The research says the more involved they are, the more likely they?ll stay in college,? Cantwell said. ?And so we looked for ways to get them involved on campus.?
Don?t be roadkill
One special event came to fruition April 10. With the theme, ?Don?t Be Roadkill: Proceed With Purpose,? sophomores were invited to attend a sit-down dinner with department chairs and young alums.
The goal of the dinner was to help them connect their academic endeavors to life-long career aspirations, Cantwell said.
?I know that?s a fancy way to say it, but it was to help them connect being in classes and what they?re doing with what they?re going to do after they graduate,? she said.
?Research says sophomores really struggle with that. They don?t see a future and they give up hope.?
The event was the culmination of a semester-long project for Cantwell?s Advertising Management class of 15 students.
The class came up with the theme, planned the dinner, served and cleaned up at the dinner and designed all the advertising for the event.
?They got so pumped and excited to do it,? Cantwell said. ?It was great fun.?
Combining two passions
Cantwell said being involved with sophomore retention studies has combined two of her passions: bringing Tabor to a level of excellence regarding retention, and helping her students apply theoretical knowledge to practical application.
?I?m passionate about allowing students to tie theoretical knowledge,? Cantwell said. ?So even though they have the big advertising book that they had to read this semester, that they would see the theory and think, ?But how do we apply it???
Even though the results of the year-long effort won?t be seen until the 20th day of classes in September, Cantwell can already see a reward.
?I was able to sit back and watch and think, (my students are) getting it,? she said. ?And now they?re thinking, ?Can I help somebody else, can I pass it on.?
?To work with these guys thinking?how incredible is this to watch them get so engaged and do this? I just love it. I?m grateful, very grateful.?