Hailey Marcus, a first-year in history, said she recalls seeing the option to participate in the Second-year Transformational Experience Program on her housing application, but considers the program an “unknown, slightly vague thing.”
“I filled out my housing application with a bunch of freshmen who also had no clue what it was,” she said. “We all just checked the box in case it was important.”
Undergraduate Student Government released a report detailing the concerns some students still have after three years of the Second-year Transformational Experience Program’s existence. The report highlighted that not all first-year students were aware of the program, and there are concerns regarding the new second-year on-campus living requirement.
The report was compiled after USG released a survey to 59 STEP faculty mentors, 115 first-year students, 128 second-year students and 59 STEP alumni.
Jacob Lester, a first-year in security and intelligence, said he doesn’t know much about the program either, adding that he thinks other first-year students are unfamiliar with the program as well.
“I know the scholars students definitely know about it and maybe some pre-med students. Not a ton know, but some,” he said.
STEP is under the microscope again with its new requirement that all second-year students live on campus, which will go into effect next autumn. However, the report found that 30 percent of freshmen were unaware of the program’s existence.
“If we’re going around the country talking about how great of a program (it) is and how we’re blazing trails with second-year experiences, then we need to make sure we’re making our freshmen aware of that opportunity,” said Annie Greer, a third-year in industrial and systems engineering and co-chair of the report.
Emily Underation, a fourth-year in public affairs and education policy and co-chair of this report, said that including information in freshman orientation or survey classes would help let students know STEP is an option.
STEP offers a stipend of up to $2,000 to students who apply to pursue a project in one of six categories: artistic and creative endeavors, internships, leadership, service-learning and community service, education abroad and undergraduate research. This application includes a proposal of the project as well as a project budget.
Greer explained that the full $2,000 might not be given to students accepted into the program, a change from how that stipend was originally awarded because of the expected influx of students into the program.
“Obviously if everyone now wants to be in the program, where is that money coming from?” Greer said.
In addition, Underation expounded on the report suggestions that off-campus housing might also be affected by this requirement.
“We were afraid of rents spiking with landlords feeling nervous about losing the population of second-years looking for housing,” Underation said. “Also the predation of landlords trying to get students to sign leases their freshman year for housing in their junior year way before they need to.”
The report offers recommendations to make the requirements of STEP more clear and transparent as well as to lower stipend restrictions and add further accountability to the program with the addition of student evaluations of their instructors.
A joint email from Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, and Linda Martin, director of STEP, said, “We will carefully review and consider suggestions in the report as we continually assess and enhance all aspects of STEP. We are grateful for both the input and the attention of USG to this groundbreaking program.”
A resolution to modify the program passed unanimously through USG on Feb. 10.
“STEP is such an important opportunity, and we want to make sure that it is an opportunity done right,” Greer said.