The Faculty Committee on Enrollment recently unveiled a new attempt to curb the recently-weaning retention at Lawrence. Departmental open houses across all fields of study were held across campus last Monday, April 9, through Friday, April 13.
Departmental open houses are a chance for students who are potentially interested in learning more about a particular major to meet professors, talk about the curriculum and make a schedule for their four years at Lawrence. The open house events also provide underclassmen opportunities to talk to graduating seniors about what happens in the Senior Experience, and also about what their prospects are for life after Lawrence. The Faculty Committee on Enrollment began this effort due to recently low retention rates that they attribute to a lack of guidance among sophomores. Currently, there are 144 students with junior standing still with undeclared majors.
The economics department advertised their open house with an encouraging note to “take an important step towards self-actualization and to meet some fellow economics students.”
At the economics and mathematics open houses, sophomore Thomas J. Lee was looking to meet with professors in the department and ask them how to best turn his interests into a major. He is a double degree-seeking student interested in pursuing majors in education and sociology. Sociology isn’t offered at Lawrence, so he attended several open houses to better understand how to turn his interests into a major.
Professor of Economics and John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor in the American Economic System Merton Finklerexplained that students don’t declare their major, and a lot of sophomores aren’t thinking about it, either.
During the event, one professor jokingly used a phrase to describe the large sophomore and junior populations, without academic advisors. He said, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Students are finding themselves at the end of their sophomore year without a set track and still unsure what they want to do at Lawrence.
Associate Professor of Economics David Gerard admitted that we lack the safeguards necessary to guide sophomores through finding a major and meeting with an academic advisor. The freshman studies program aids the transition into college academics and we have the Senior Seminar to conclude thing, but we lack a buffer for sophomores to link up with professors and learn about [other opportunities].
At the art history open house, freshman Emma Wandro was hoping to pursue a biology and art history double major. The faculty in the department explained that her interests are actually a more-common-than-thought coupling of majors — and much to Wandro’s surprise, she was reassured that it is an attainable goal.
Art history had a bit more of a formal format. The professors in the department explained how double majors combined specifically with art history could have overlaps that would be helpful to identify for the students’ Senior Experience projects.
The professors in the department made themselves accessible to interested freshman and expressed their willingness to work with them, but Wandro was still the only underclassman in the room. Wandro explained to me that she came to learn more about the Senior Experience project, because before today she had only heard of it, but never understood exactly what it was.
It was a theme throughout the afternoon that upperclassmen, already set in their majors, showed up to learn more about what is available; there was a consistent paucity of freshmen in attendance.
Assistant Professor of Art History Elizabeth Carlson, who is also on the Faculty Committee on Enrollment, says that these open houses are meant to “create some comradely within the department.”
“We are attempting freshmen and sophomore outreach” said Carlson. “We have been failing to connect students who are interested with the right path.”
The biology department open house had a decent turnout of about 18 underclassmen interested in pursuing the major, but Assistant Professor of Biology Kimberly Dickson said, “(for) one of the largest majors at Lawrence, 18 underclassmen is a relatively small turnout. Those students represented about a third of the 50- or 60-per-graduating-class that will graduate with a degree [in biology].”
“People are busy, it’s late in the year and maybe the word didn’t get out quickly enough to reach all students interested,” she explained. Although this might be true, making sure that underclassmen are declaring a major may be a way to help them understand the hoops of navigating through a major. For sophomores, finding an academic advisor may help students find encouragement and a path for their four years here at Lawrence.