Headed by Dean of the Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) Raj Bellani and Interim Director of the Sophomore Year Experience Kim Taylor, Colgate’s SYE program has expanded and improved in recent years, receiving recognition in a national publication.
“I am excited about my work and profession because I have the opportunity to help young people succeed in their personal and professional growth,” Bellani said.
Taylor is equally encouraged by her interaction with students.
“What motivates me is to have students, because of [SYE], say they never thought of something in this way before or that was an opportunity they didn’t know existed and they were moved to do more,” she said.
Bellani graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a concentration in public administration. He worked at Geneseo for a year as a program assistant of student activities. He then attended graduate school at Western Illinois University, where he pursued his Master’s of Science degree in college student personnel. Before coming to Colgate, he worked at Holy Cross and Wesleyan. In August of last year, he sought to continue his own education by entering into a doctorate program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Taylor attended Syracuse University, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in history and education. She then obtained her Master’s degree from Colgate in history and education, and subsequently taught at the local high school. She returned to Colgate in the summer of 2003 and worked with Bellani to help implement the SYE with the former Dean of College Adam Weinberg.
“Raj was given a charge by Dean Weinberg to make a diverse array of options for sophomores with big ideas about democracy and civic education and its importance in higher education,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, the focus became brainstorming and ensuring that the programs met both the needs of the students and the goals of Dean Weinberg regarding public speaking, critical thinking, engaging with the faculty and career components.
They both agreed that the main focus was improving the programs that were already in place.
Bellani commented that the SYE program differs from the First-Year Experience (FYE) in that “it’s a transition of the heart, an internal transition.”
Taylor agreed, saying, “I think it’s about providing that safe space for experimentation for sophomore year. You’ve adjusted to being here, now why are you here and what is your purpose?”
Bellani commented on the importance of student interest and their awareness of the value of the programs.
“We had some challenges in trying to institute inter-group dialogue work and we’re still working to see how we can integrate that,” Bellani said. “The first year we just tried everything and we’ve come to find the rhythm of the students.”
Taylor cited the “Dinner and a Good Book” program as an example of meeting student needs and interest, explaining that one of its main goals is encouraging interaction between students and faculty from different academic disciplines.
Bellani also enumerated other successes, including The Leadership Options for Tomorrow (LOFT) II program at 94 Broad Street, and the Alternative Spring Break trip visiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Washington, D.C.
“We’re always moving forward,” Bellani said. “LOFT II was new this year, and we’re hoping to extend the alternative spring break component.”
Bellani is impressed with the support and commitment of the alumni and hopes to improve the alumni connection with sophomores. He also appreciates the financial backing allowing for a great deal of programming, including off-campus trips that would not be possible otherwise.
“I think that the development of some of our trips has been really integral to the program,” Bellani said. “We have an endowed trip to the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum that we take every year. I think it has taken ideas of social justice and has an academic component as well as class unity.”
“Part of our biggest role is trying to assess where students are and where they want to be and how to make those two things come together,” Taylor said.
The SYE even received some national press, including a feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s September 8 article on “After the Freshman Bubble Pops.”
Bellani and Taylor are currently looking for ways to continue the SYE’s success.
“I think the next phase is now to stabilize our programs and ask some reflective questions,” Bellani said. “Ideally, I would love to see Colgate continue to grow this program and it be the central jewel of the higher education curriculum at Colgate.”