After graduating from high school, I decided to attend Monmouth College, which is a small, residential liberal arts college in western Illinois. The summer before my freshmen year, I received a letter from Monmouth College inviting me to participate in a program called SOfIA. SOfIA would put me in a small group with fellow students and a faculty member to work on an intensive project in the month before fall classes start. This program really interested me because I would get to know the campus and put some names to faces before classes were to start. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
SOfIA stands for “Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities,” and Monmouth College has been sponsoring this program for three years. This year, some sixty students (both returning and new) moved into their dorms three weeks before classes began to start their projects. There were 17 projects this year, ranging from developing a weather balloon to writing songs for young children, with a touch of every discipline that you could imagine. My project combined English and technology, two areas that interest me, to develop a website for Monmouth College’s Writing Center. I worked with three other students (two returning and one other first year) and a professor, Bridget Draxler.
The Writing Center’s website was outdated and hard to navigate, so our project’s aim was to make something that was convenient and easy to use for all students, with information and examples tailored for incoming freshmen at Monmouth College. For our host website, we used a free blogging program called WordPress. With this program, we were able to create as many pages and sub-pages as we needed while also being able to embed other media, such as a video that defines plagiarism or an Annotation Prezi, which are now viewable via the website.
We created about ten handouts and flyers that would help guide students when writing papers, all of which are available both online and at the Writing Center today. Three major guides we focused on contained information about how to cite sources in the three main citation styles: MLA, APA and Chicago. Another guide helped students work on creating Theses, while another tackled how to use Quotations and Signal Phrases. Allof the examples pertain specifically to campus life at Monmouth, and each citation example that we used was from a publication by Monmouth College faculty.
We also worked on creating resources related to Monmouth College’s shared vocabulary, which gives students key terms (such as Close Reading, Synthesis, Prewriting, etc.) that they will use to learn writing in general education and major courses. Our goal was to give students additional resources to help with their writing that focus on how writing is taught at our school.
As a small liberal arts college, students get one-on-one writing instruction from faculty or peer tutors. This project gives students one more resource to improve as writers, and it’s just a click away. The website is not yet completed – as three weeks is hardly enough time to finish such a massive project – but it is still being worked on and has a lot of information available so far.
Working together toward a common goal is an essential part of attending a liberal arts school. SOfIA was a great way to introduce me, and other students, to both collaborative learning and the liberal arts education. The experience made my transition from high school to college so much easier because I not only got to know the campus before everyone else moved in, but I also got to know many of my future classmates and professors.
As I wrote the guides, I began to realize that I had been making mistakes in my own writing for years. I learned that plagiarism can be borrowing ideas, not just exact words, without citation. I also fixed several grammar mistakes, such as my overuse of semicolons and my tendency to end sentences with prepositions. All my problems were rather basic and easy to fix, but I feel as if my writing has greatly improved.
When I decided to do SOfIA, I was taking a leap that pulled me miles outside of my comfort zone. Now I know that doing something that pushes me to my limits is one of the best ways for me, as a person and a student, to grow. I have gained a heightened awareness of my possible major and minor, stronger communication skills, and lasting friendships because of this project. As I reflect on the intellectually engaging experiences that I encountered in SOfIA, I wanted to pose this question to other students: How have projects like SOfIA benefitted you, your campus, and your community?