Overcoming the “Sophomore Slump”

The sophomore slump is real. Very real. Kevin Hernandez ’19 shares how he plans to keep the positive momentum going from his first-year at NC State.

So, before getting into too much detail, I think I should introduce myself. My name is Kevin Antonio Hernandez. I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the smallest state in the U.S.A. Both of my parents are from Colombia (the country, not the city in South Carolina). They moved to America when they were both in their twenties to start a new life. Why did they particularly choose to move to Rhode Island? I honestly have no clue. I should probably give them a call and ask them right now. When I turned nine years old my family and I moved to High Point, North Carolina, and I have lived there ever since. I am a sophomore here at NC State majoring in Microbiology and intend on becoming an infectious disease specialist. Now that I have gotten the basics out of the way, let us move closer to the plot of this article.

Ahhhh sophomore year is here. I am no longer a so-called young and inexperienced first-year student. I have conquered one of the most exciting, yet challenging years of my life so far. To first-year Goodnight Scholars, CONGRATS you are in college! Your first-year is filled with thrills of a new environment. What constitutes this environment is new friends, a new home, new classes, and a level of insecurity that keeps you on your feet at all times. Everything is new and exciting, from your first NC State football game, to your first rainy day when you forgot your umbrella, every experience you make is one that you will surely remember.

But as a returning student, things are very different. Over the summer I had the idea that the first weeks of college, often characterized as the most exciting weeks of the year, were going to be as thrilling as the previous year. But that turned out not to be the case. It took me a few weeks to describe this change in atmosphere, but I realized I had hit the so-called “sophomore slump”. Wikipedia (yes I just looked up on Wikipedia) says that the sophomore slump is when a secondary effort does not live up to the standards of the first effort. In my situation, the excitement of a new home and meeting so many new people at one time was no longer with me as I began my second year. I came back to college with great friend groups and organizations from the year before, so the thrill of meeting new best friends and finding organizations was gone.

It took some time to move onto the fact that it was no longer my first-year, but once the transition did occur, I realized a critical rationale as to why the sophomore slump may exist; Last year was about exposure, while this year is about depth. In the first-year we were exposed to a new everything – from the clubs we joined, to the people we met, to even a new style of living. This year, the depth comes in. Increasing depth in clubs by accepting leadership positions, taking more major specific classes, and even an increase depth in the friendships with close friends. For me, something new that I have joined that allows me to deepen my connection to this university was becoming an ambassador for the College of Sciences. The College of Sciences Ambassador Program is a student organization that serves as the “face” of the College of Sciences representing the college to alumni, donors, prospective students and the community. This program allows me to have a significant role in my own college and make an impact with other people with the same academic interests as me. For me, becoming a science ambassador was a full circle experience; last year I was a first-year who knew nothing about this campus, and now I am able to take on the role to direct students who are currently in the same shoes this year.

Two things that I am very excited to be more involved in this semester are research and my service fraternity.

Two things that I am very excited to be more involved in this semester are research and my service fraternity. Last semester, I began undergraduate research as an assistant in a lab in the Department of Chemistry here at NC State with Dr. Kotnis and Dr. Pierce. The short version of our goal was to synthesize the sleep drug Ambien more effectively and efficiently by using a one-pot synthesis. A one-pot synthesis is when reactions are held back to back with the reuse of acids and bases, so to avoid purification techniques which are quite lengthy. I was taking the first section of Organic Chemistry last year, so I was applying concepts I had just learned to research, while research was also teaching me things that I had not learned yet. I also used techniques I had learned from the lab portion of organic chemistry to the research lab, and I loved how I was doing both things simultaneously. I am very excited to see what this semester has to offer as I will no longer be just an assistant and can hopefully begin my own project soon.

Last semester I joined a national co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, as I wanted to continue my passion for community service for my school and the city of Raleigh. This is my first semester as a fully inducted brother, and I am very excited for all the service opportunities that are to come. As a brother, I have the ability to become more involved in the organization then I could have been when I was just a pledge.

Now to the Goodnight Scholars Program. Last year I went to many events and workshops, and racked up a total of forty Goodnight Scholar Points (GSPs). One GSP is equivalent to one hour per Goodnight event, and the minimum for the year is twenty GSPs. Now besides going to these events, I did not do much else with the Goodnight Scholars Program. I did not apply to any of the big trips that the program has to offer, such as the Fall Break Boston, Spring Break Trinidad and Tobago, and the Spring Break Mountains to Coast trip. Part of me did not apply because I missed my family and wanted to visit them over the breaks, but another part of me thought I was just a first-year and I had the rest of my college career to go on these trips. Looking back, it was a very naive decision on my part, as I should apply to every great opportunity that is presented to me. As a result, this year I applied to the Boston Trip (got placed as an alternate but at least I applied!). I also joined the Goodnight Fellows Program. This program allows sophomore and junior Goodnight Scholars to be paired with mentors from the Raleigh and Triangle area in our related field of studies. I believe this program will be an amazing way to gain inside knowledge from professionals inside our intended career fields and provide great networking opportunities.

Along with an increase depth within organizations and the university as a whole, sophomore year has brought a new mindset towards the future. During my first-year, I was more concentrated on how I can be a part of the school, and while that is still important, I believe this year brought a mindset of what I could do now so that I will be prepared when I graduate college. From internships, to research, to study abroad, sophomore year is definitely the time to lay the tracks for the last two years of college. I knew I wanted to study abroad sometime in college, so I am planning on studying in Poland this summer (hopefully) for biotechnology credit. I believe studying abroad is a great way to get out of my comfort zone and to gain new skills and ideas by being immersed in a completely different region of the world.

So, advice to first-years: go out and try a bunch of different/new organizations that you would have never thought you would have tried before. Hey, you might even find a new passion. But don’t feel the need to try every single new club and organization, as you will surely become overwhelmed with school still in the picture. Save some things you want to try for sophomore year so that you can come into your second year with new experiences to try. Sophomores: if you feel as if you are experiencing this “sophomore slump” as I did, just don’t look so much in the past and look toward the future. There’s so much left in the world to experience, and it’s our time to begin leaving our mark.