The Road to Remarkable

Our New Avenue Experience

Saint Mary’s is reinventing the undergraduate experience to serve both incoming students and the world they will enter after graduation. With a blend of intellectual discovery, intentional community building, experiential learning, and career education, the College’s new Avenue experience is focused on empowering women to achieve at the highest professional levels. Through rigorous academic programming, individualized advising and mentoring, hands-on learning experiences, and professional preparation, each student will map out the “avenue” she will travel during her time at the College. Because each student will follow her own passions and plan around her unique strengths, President Katie Conboy believes incoming first-years “can think about the Avenue experience as exploring who they will become as well as what they will become.”

While some elements of the program are in experimental mode on campus this year, the holistic approach to supporting students as they discover their purpose and identify their professional pathways launches officially with the Class of 2028. Beginning next fall, every first-year student will participate in a comprehensive four-year advising program that goes far beyond the typical college offering. Mentored by a team of faculty, career development professionals, alumnae, and others, students can seek guidance from a wealth of sources to explore and set goals that are both curricular and beyond.

College Provost and Senior Vice President Barb May says the new initiative ensures students have multiple opportunities both inside and outside the classroom to develop their readiness “to lead and to change the world.” She explains: “With Avenue, a student will develop her voice and her skills. Her advising team will offer more than career guidance; they will accompany her as she practices ways of being a socially engaged and responsible citizen—a good person as well as a good leader in all dimensions of her life.” 

Begin With Belonging

Intrinsic to any student’s success in her life beyond Saint Mary’s is her feeling, from the very beginning, that she “belongs” on campus. Connectedness is foundational to Avenue and is nurtured even before a student starts classes. Over the summer, each first-year student will meet with a team of advisors thoughtfully assembled with her individual path in mind. Students will identify areas of study they are excited about and narrow their choices for first-year coursework. On-campus orientation will offer opportunities to meet not only with students who live in the same residence halls but also with students who are excited about the same issues and engaged with the same activities. Saint Mary’s is animated by the commitment to promote human dignity and solidarity, so students will be introduced to skills for a shared communal life, and will be encouraged to see and understand complex issues, to reflect purposefully on what they see, and to act in ways that promote belonging, justice and community.

That lays the foundation for what follows. Through multiple cohort opportunities—the First-Year Seminar, interdisciplinary pathways that fulfill graduation requirements, and experiential opportunities inside and outside of the classroom—students will be fully engaged in finding their joy and their place at Saint Mary’s: that sense of belonging.

You Belong

The First-Year Seminar

The Avenue experience will extend the feeling of belonging and mattering that is fostered in the College’s residential, social, and spiritual life programming by creating an intellectual community in each first-year seminar. In classes of about 20, students will immerse themselves in an enduring question or a contemporary challenge. These courses encourage problem-based learning, where students work together to imagine solutions to these problems—and in so doing, build a supportive and responsive class community. They practice listening and promoting dialogue. They learn to respect and include the contributions of people with different perspectives. They work in teams to find answers to questions and challenges. While these are learning outcomes, they are also professional outcomes: collaboration, inclusion, intercultural humility, and civic and workplace leadership. President Conboy notes the powerful message of giving every undergraduate a substantively similar experience: “It’s got to be 100 percent of students,” she emphasizes. “You have to scale this experience so that every single student is touched by it. That’s daunting, but it’s also really exciting to think nobody falls through the cracks at Saint Mary’s.”

While two roommates may graduate without taking the same Avenue classes, the First-Year Seminar ensures both have had the same opportunity to begin their college experience through deep engagement with a complex topic, guided by the College’s dynamic faculty. “That  year-long seminar is a passion course for the faculty member, and it’s introducing the student to what intellectual passion looks like,” Conboy explains. “And the end goal is that, in the final year, when the student is undertaking a senior comprehensive project—it’s her passion that is guiding that project.”

Developing Just Leaders

Beginning with the bedrock seminar work of their first year, students will be charged with exploring and addressing ongoing issues of inclusion and justice. This introductory exploration will allow them to deepen their understanding over the ensuing years, when they enter their major areas of study. “There will be some work to incorporate an equity lens into every major we have across campus,” Provost May says, while noting that some do this already. “But we want to make sure that, as students approach their careers, they are able to do so with that lens of social justice, understanding how to advocate for underrepresented populations as they go into health fields, business, or any other profession.” Students also develop these skills through community-based learning, community service, and leadership opportunities. 

Career Exploration and Experiential Learning

Beyond facilitating the student’s initial engagement with her advising team, Avenue will offer a variety of approaches to career exploration. In the first year, the emphasis will be on self-knowledge. Using a strengths-based approach, students will come to a greater understanding of the assets they bring to their studies. They will have the opportunity to evaluate their interests and investigate a variety of career communities. Each spring, Saint Mary’s will offer a “Career Launch Day,” where students can hear directly from alumnae and other professionals about how to embark on careers in their industries. Sophomores can shadow a professional in an area they are interested in and consult with their advising team about which experiential opportunities will enrich them or help them to advance. They may choose to study abroad, and they will also build their resumé and LinkedIn profile so they are ready for internship and research options. By their junior year they should be engaged in internships, externships, or career credentialing. Seniors will be prepared for the job search process or applying for graduate study or for postgraduate fellowships and awards. 

“It’s a personalized Avenue,” says May, “but everyone gets to participate. Everyone has access to numerous experiential opportunities.” This approach to advising and career preparation will also incorporate access to a robust new alumnae mentoring platform, allowing students to connect with our vast alumnae network in order to learn about specific industries and job families and to ask about the experiences of other SMC graduates in their professional lives. Saint Mary’s is vetting these systems this semester, and alumnae should stay tuned for more details on how they can participate. 

The College has been able to dream big about supporting career readiness because of a transformational gift from the Prikkel family. Jennifer Mathile Prikkel ’95 and her husband Patrick recognize the importance of strong career support for this next generation of students. Almost a third of Saint Mary’s students are first-generation college students, and they are looking for professional preparation. Career education can help all students understand how they can succeed, whether they major in a professional field or in a traditional liberal arts discipline. This wonderful gift guarantees a promise made to all Saint Mary’s students through the new Avenue experience.

What’s in a Name?

Graduates consistently tell us that The Avenue is the single most important symbol of their time on campus: as they say, “The Avenue will always lead you home.” But the literal Avenue that students travel also prepares them for all the other avenues they will take in life. It is the emblem of every individual journey in our history, and the majestic trees that line the College’s storied entrance to campus stand as a reminder of the growth and the remarkable potential of every student. 

The Avenue Experience


As the insert in this issue of Avenues illustrates, naming our signature program Avenue is a reminder that Saint Mary’s offers a road to discovering possibilities: students can visualize their studies from start to finish on a timeline that is also the map to all that lies ahead. 

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