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Faced with the pressure of earning a degree and moving into the working world, how does a student navigate college to ensure they are going in the right direction?

The answer: Ask for directions.

That was the focus of Whitman College's first Sophomore Summit, held Jan. 11-12, 2019. The summit was created to help students figure out how to find their way during their academic careers at Whitman and beyond.

"Sometimes, when we have a GPS, the steps are laid out for us. But the fun part is when you're in an in-between space where you get to explore with your compass," said keynote speaker and alumna Danielle Garbe Reser '97. "If you're lost - ask for directions. There are a lot of people on campus to help you find your way."

She encouraged the students to use their time at Whitman to find their passion.

"Your inner compass is what drives you to action. A true compass is made with magnets so it points north to what it's attracted to," said Garbe Reser, CEO of the Sherwood Trust in Walla Walla. "You need to point toward the things that attract you."

The inaugural Sophomore Summit was a joint effort by the Student Activities and Dean of Students offices and the Student Engagement Center (SEC).

"We felt the collaboration was a great opportunity for all offices to test our concepts together and I think working together has allowed us to build a really strong pilot," said Kim Rolfe, director for Career Development in the SEC.

Sophomores in particular benefit from a program like the summit because they are in a unique part of their journey at Whitman, and have different needs than first-year students or juniors and seniors.

"They are someplace between the excitement of their first year of college and really knowing what they want to do with their life," said Juli Dunn, associate dean of students.

The organizers hope the program will spur sophomores forward in their planning, as well as better use the resources available to them at Whitman.

"We believe that if sophomores can be more proactive about considering their future plans, we can help them access a greater breadth of experiences and help them work toward those plans. The pilot is intended to help students gain knowledge and skill sets that will assist them in that process." Rolfe said.

The summit was comprised of five sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of college and career planning, including budgeting for summer internships, building leadership skills, and information about graduate school.

The summit helped India Flinchum '21 of Mountain View, California develop a plan for her spring semester.

"The summit was a great opportunity. It remined me that we need to be reinventing ourselves based on our values and beliefs," Flinchum said. "It helps create an overall trajectory. This spring I want to reframe my semester based on my core beliefs."

One workshop helped students focus on creating a "why" statement to guide their academic and career plans.

"At first I thought ‘why statements' were cliché, but the process helped me understand my why statement and repeating it helped me improve how I talk to others," said Josh Karpatkin '21, from Bethesda, Maryland.

Crafting a "why" statement helped Cody Jose '21, a politics major from San Diego, California clarify his beliefs. "I like to give relief to people. I have sympathy. I do everything I can to help others see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of this, I want to be a nurse practitioner and, later in life, I'd like to be a city councilman."

The pilot program concluded with an etiquette dinner lead by Candice Dietz, coordinator of Conferences, Events and Scheduling. The dinner was designed to help students navigate professional settings in the future so they would feel comfortable and confident.

The events' coordinators will collect feedback from the summit and evaluate making it an annual event.

"This year's program was small in terms of numbers, but hopefully powerful in terms of impact," Dunn said. "In the future, I would hope that we could expand to ensure that every sophomore who wants to attend this program is able to. My hope is that the current first-year class is getting excited about Sophomore Summit 2020 and that the participants from this year can be instrumental in helping plan and facilitate next year's summit."