For many first-year students, moving into an environment where you know few, if any, of your peers, can feel a bit intimidating.
Last fall, four students recognized as Ambrose Scholars did just that, but they didn't let the unknown hold them back. These students-- Damon Wolter, Leah Taylor, Rachel Wiedman and Nathan Tappen-- spent the year growing academically, making new friendships, joining clubs and activities, and contributing to the Ambrosian community.
Today, as second-year students, they look back at how much they've grown and look forward to doing so much more.
Damon Wolter is a triple major -- in finance, accounting, and business economics -- and has plenty of SAU faculty and staff support in his goal to become an attorney specializing in mergers and acquisitions.
"If you want help, there is so much available to you," Wolter said.
"I had a great experience my first year. SAU is a great school and one of the best things it offers every student is a personal experience," he said. In fact, once last year when Wolter was talking with a professor, he was hit with an unexpected question.
"What extracurriculars are you involved in?" he recalled the professor asking. "It was a question that came right out of the blue, but it showed he cared about what I was doing outside of the classroom," Wolter said.
And, he was doing a lot outside of classes. His first year, he was involved in Finance Club, Habitat for Humanity, and through an honors course, he (and some classmates) volunteered for World Relief and helped two refugees from Burma transition into life in the U.S.
He also joined Mock Trial, participated in several intramural sports, and was highly involved in Dance Marathon, serving as finance chair. This year, he is on the DM executive board, serving as finance director.
"Dance Marathon just drew me in and it took a lot of time and work, but when you see the smile of the face of a child you are helping, nothing is more rewarding than that," Wolter said.
Lessons he learned as a first-year student: "I am more productive when I have a lot of things going on," he said. "And time management is a huge part of being successful in the classroom. You have to build your own schedule, and being organized is really important," Wolter said.
He's glad the new academic year is underway. "When I first came to campus, I didn't know anyone. That was a bit frightful in the beginning," he said, but through, classes and activities, he's met great people.
"I am looking forward to seeing my friends again," he said, "And I look forward to taking some more challenging classes."
Starting her first-year in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program straight from high school, Leah Taylor was thrilled.
She still is, and is working hard to achieve her goal. In fact, in addition to her exercise science major, she is considering a minor in biology, another subject area that will help her prepare to enter the DPT program after she graduates.
While academics are her main focus, it is not her only focus. Last year, she joined intramural volleyball as well as STAMVOJA, the jazz acapella ensemble. "I absolutely loved it, and the students in that group have become like a family to me," Taylor said.
And, she spent time almost every day at the Wellness and Recreation Center, running the indoor track or lifting in the weight room.
"My first year was absolutely amazing. I am so glad I ended up going to St. Ambrose. I honestly couldn't imagine being anywhere else," Taylor said.
"There are so many people who are kind, reached out and showed they cared for me, definitely my peers but my professors as well. I could talk to them even if was about something outside of class. They genuinely like their jobs and they like their students," she added.
Taylor said her first year on campus changed her, in a very good way. "The biggest thing was my growth in confidence. In grade school and junior high, I didn't have much confidence in my abilities. In high school, I started to realize I had a lot going for me. At St. Ambrose, that became even more amplified," she says.
"I have values and I set priorities, and I stuck to them. It was a really, really good year."
Villa Park, Illinois
Rachel Wiedman started her first-year with a plan to major in psychology and in economics, but that plan changed, just a bit after she met Larry Skillin, PhD, associate professor and chair of the history department.
"He helped me realize how much I enjoyed history and how much I wanted to continue learning," she said.
Wiedman enjoyed the lessons so much, she switched her second major to history and will now minor in economics. "I feel you get a very personal experience at SAU that you won't get at larger schools. Here, it is all about catering your education to your wants and needs, and I really like that," she said.
Wiedman also discovered that she enjoys Model U.N., a program she joined mid-year at the encouragement of Duk Kim, PhD, chair of the international studies department. She added it to her list of activities, which included: The Buzz, Marching Band, Symphonic Band and Jazz Band.
Already this fall, she's added one more activity: Wiedman is a Peer Campus Minister.
"One of the things I realized about myself last year is when I am in a new environment, I tend to become shy or timid. I learned to overcome that and not let it stop me from doing all of the things I wanted to do," she said.
"This year I am really looking forward to expanding what I do and how many people I meet. Your first year is about finding your footing in a certain sense, then you can expand outside of your circle more," she said.
"I found where I was at, and now I want to expand my circle and have a wider reach."
Crystal Lake, Illinois
Nathan Tappen wasn't sure what major he wanted to pursue when he came to SAU as a first-year student in 2017. This semester, he is taking a closer look at the computer science program and is enrolled in some classes to see if it is the right fit.
He said SAU faculty and staff have been encouraging and guiding him along the way and he's on track to graduate in four years.
"I would tell a student who hasn't decided on a major that they are not alone and that the process is designed such that all students can explore and try new things and discover their true passion without needing to worry about knowing everything the first day of school," Tappen said.
He moved back to campus about a week early this fall to prepare for marching band, as he is a member of the drum line "I am very excited. I know it will be a lot of hard work. I enjoy playing the drums and I like the other band members that I have come to know so far," he said.
Tappen said one of the biggest lessons he learned his first year was time management, "something that must be developed if one is to have a successful college life," he said, adding he has a grasp on things now and is looking forward to his second year as an Ambrosian.
"I've enjoyed the new environment that is college. I've enjoyed the independence, freedom, and responsibilities. The thing I've enjoyed most probably was meeting such a great group of friends," he said.