Message from Corey Landstrom, Vice President and Dean for Student Life

On September 5, sophomore students (including transfers) were welcomed to the Sophomores on the Commons event. Since the football team was leaving that afternoon for a game in California at Whittier College, the community was invited to send off the football team, including sophomore team members, at 4 p.m. The event began at 4:15 in the Center for Faith and Life, and featured a current student, faculty member, and an alumnus reading letters to their sophomore selves.


This was the second year of Sophomores on the Commons, and to say these spoken letters were powerful is an understatement. For Claire, the current student and senior, her sophomore year was not so far back in memory, and she shared the challenges she faced and overcame during her second year at Luther. In essence, she told her sophomore self to “just chill out.” I could appreciate her call to chill out given the hurried and complex nature of a student’s life. Given this event was on only the second day of classes, hopefully her wisdom, encouragement, and perspective touched those sophomores gathered in the audience.


The next two speakers both had more extended life experience and perspective to offer to their sophomore selves. I noted those faculty and staff who were gathered around me resonating with the respective letters. What was particularly compelling to me was that my sophomore year was coming into much clearer focus as I sat and observed and absorbed what Lindsey, Eli, and even Claire where sharing.


In my sophomore year a long-term relationship ended, I grew dissatisfied with my major, I experienced the worst GPA’s of my college career, and came to the realization I was not fully engaged in campus life. In essence, it seemed like a lost year - one not filled with new beginnings, but rather challenges and questions. But, as Lindsey and Eli also shared and I now know from my own experiences, it was not so much a year of loss but really one of growth. The experiences they respectively had prepared them for where they are today, and I trust Claire’s have as well.

 
Eli shared how his sophomore year was marked by irresponsibility and angst. He reflected on how he learned to be responsible and that it was ultimately his decision to join the Army Reserves that September which led him to better understand the role commitments play in our lives and how responsibility rears its head in the right moments. This sense of responsibility and purpose later led him to found Leave No Veteran Behind following his military service.


Professor Lindsey Row-Heyveld shared her letter to her sophomore self accompanied by two current Luther students. She wove in the narrative of her experience with music during the course of her delivery. It was moving, powerful, and left many with tears, including President Ward who found herself on stage with no Kleenex (see tweet below):

 


As Professor Row-Heyveld moved toward the end of her letter, she commended her sophomore self, stating, “You were strong when you didn’t think you were.” I found that to be such a powerful statement and one that I imagine many college students may not realize in the moment of their greatest challenges.

 
Rather than trying to capture this part of the event further, I highly recommend you give yourself 45 minutes and view the program on-demand (you can scroll forward to the 13:50 mark for the beginning).


What followed was a meal on Bentdahl Commons with small groups of sophomores seated together with a faculty member and a staff member. I was one of the staff members who shared a table with sophomores, and for all the tables it provided an opportunity to engage in reflection. Last fall, during their first year, students were invited to write a letter to their future sophomore selves. After we gathered and introduced one another, sophomores read the letter they wrote.



They were prompted when writing the letter to consider what they want their college experience at Luther to be. Why are they here? What do they want to get out of their time here? What are their hopes, goals, and ambitions? In addition to these questions, they were asked - What are you going to do to make that experience happen?


The meal conversations focused on their letter and what they have since learned as they reflect back on their first-year experience, whether at Luther or another institution. Have your goals changed? What did you learn about yourself and how did you change? What would you like to keep doing? What are some things you would like to change? What was an activity (academic, co-curricular, social) that was most impactful? Was there a difficulty or challenge in your first year that helped you grow? What is one thing you wish you could tell your first-year self?


After we had an opportunity to facilitate reflections on the first year, we pivoted to the current and future years and presented students with the Exploration Menu. Given we were sharing a meal, the menu is designed with courses from which students can choose to explore.

 

As a sophomore, you’ve entered a year of exploration and reflection. This is a “menu” designed to connect you with people and experiences, and ultimately to help you reflect upon who you are and what you hope to become. Use this menu to help guide you, take advantage of all that Luther has to offer, and make the most of your sophomore year.

First Course

Exploring Ideas, Connecting with People

Second Course

Broadening Experiences

Third Course

Exploring Academics

Fourth Course

Exploring Career

Dessert

Reflecting on Purpose


Faculty and staff facilitated dialogue around questions such as: What does your sophomore year mean to you? What are your expectations and what do you want to accomplish? What are you excited about? What questions or uncertainties do you have and how might you face them head on? Have you thought about how you might engage with January Term? What issues or questions might you have that are unique to who you are?


Finally, students were asked to share some of their goals for their sophomore year. Additional questions were framed as time allowed, for example: What they would like to explore and why? In reviewing the menu, what might be hard for you to do? Why would this be hard? How are you going to reflect upon these experiences? When, where, and how do you reflect?


Since you have access to the Exploration Menu, I encourage you to review it and engage your student in questions like those above, even if they are not sophomores. The engagement your student has with these questions and others won’t eliminate challenges and frustrations they may experience, but may help to ensure their current year, especially if the sophomore year, is one of growth.