Freshman Finds Support and Guidance During First-Year Experience Course

Hannah Heagerty is now a sociology major at Lebanon Valley College.

Hannah Heagerty ’21 loves children and assumed through high school that her natural career path would be teaching. Then she arrived at Lebanon Valley College and began to feel unsure of herself and the choices she had made.

“I was feeling lost and confused on what I really wanted to do with my life–let alone next semester,” she said. 

Heagerty’s story is not unusual—almost 30% of college students change their major, and many more their career goals. At some colleges and universities, such a change could mean extra semesters or even years of enrollment, and the extra tuition that goes along with that. But at LVC, students like Heagerty have access to multiple resources and people to help them pivot in new directions. 

Heagerty connected with Dr. Robert Valgenti, chair and professor of philosophy, and Jill Russell, director of global education, through her Thinking Changes Everything First-Year Experience (FYE) course. Valgenti’s seminar-style course focused on academics such as strengthening critical thinking and writing skills, while Russell’s companion course emphasized the transition to college. Seeing the professors multiple times during those first few weeks made a powerful impact on Heagerty.

“In Dr.Valgenti’s class, we talked a lot about philosophy being something that is different for everyone. It really got my mind thinking in a more advanced way to approach situations from different angles, and taught me how to write college papers,” Heagerty said. “In Jill’s class, we learned critical information you should know when you start college. The class acknowledges that college is a huge step in your life.”

As part of the FYE, students are required to meet with their instructors for individual coaching sessions that allow them to express any questions or concerns they are experiencing. It was one of these meetings with Russell where Heagerty shared her doubts about her major. Russell encouraged her to explore the LVC website for another program that might spark her interest. Sociology caught her eye, and she set up a meeting with the Dr. Sharon Arnold, the department chair.

“I let her know how much I love children, then she brought up how I would be great with family studies, a program I didn’t know about,” said Heagerty. “In that moment, I felt that I already knew what I was going to do. Feeling so happy with how my meeting went, I emailed Jill right away letting her know. I remember walking into class the next semester feeling that I had found my calling.”

As she enters her sophomore year at LVC, Heagerty feels transformed in terms of her academic strengths, confidence, and outlook for the future.

“The FYE helped me with the whole process because when you have a strong bond with your instructors, it’s like having a support system and having someone to look over you during your first year at college,” said Heagerty. “I feel that if I went to a larger school, most likely the instructors wouldn’t know who I was or care that I was changing my major. But, here at LVC, instructors care and want the best for each student. I couldn’t be more blessed to be at my dream school with amazing staff and incredible people.”