Summer Events Usher In BC's Intersections Project

Summer Events Usher In BC's Intersections Project

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

The end of the academic year saw an encouraging start for the University's Intersections project, which aims to help undergraduates discern their possible vocations.

The program's first major activities took place on June 2, when 92 members of the University community traveled to Waterville Valley, NH, for the inaugural Halftime weekend, described by organizers as a "reorientation" in which BC students entering their junior year reflect on their college experiences and possible career and life choices.

On the day Halftime concluded - June 4 - 25 faculty and staff members began a 10-day series of campus-based workshops and seminars on vocational discernment. Program administrators say these presentations and discussions will serve as a means for faculty and staff to better understand the important role they can play in students' personal development.

The June events represent a significant step forward for Intersections, according to administrators for the project, which is being funded through a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. Even as they prepare to launch other project activities, Intersections personnel are evaluating these initial programs and considering possible improvements or additions.

"It's gone very well so far, and what we've heard has been most encouraging," said Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Joseph Appleyard, SJ, whose office is overseeing the project.

"We'll continue to listen to and look at what people say about their experiences in Halftime and the seminars. We have a lot to learn and we are addressing a challenging problem: the disconnect students often point to between their academic lives and the experiences through which they develop as human beings. Many faculty and administrative staff express a similar feeling of disconnect between their professional training and the ideals that led them into academic life originally, to generate wisdom and mentor younger generations of men and women.

"One of our objectives is to engage students, faculty and staff in an increasingly wider conversation about how to integrate these experiences, what it means to be a human being, to live in a community, how to identify one's gifts and talents, use them for the good of the community, to live a meaningful life. These really are the central themes of Jesuit education."

Intersections Program Director Burt Howell said, "Everything we've heard in recent years suggests that students value having opportunities to think and talk about integrating their college, life, and career, with the help and guidance of caring adults. At the same time, there are faculty and staff members who may be unsure, or even unaware of, the qualities they can bring to this exploration. That's where Intersections comes in."

Halftime's 47 participants were accompanied by seniors, recent and older alumni, and administrators and faculty members, who served as discussion leaders and facilitators and guest speakers. A few of the University staff also brought their spouses and children, Howell noted. The weekend schedule was "intensive," said Fr. Appleyard, and featured small and large-group discussions as well as periods for reflection and journal writing.
Students were encouraged to consider a series of questions, such as: What are my accomplishments at BC thus far? What relationships have I developed that have enabled me to grow? What talents and gifts have I discovered in myself? What qualities have teachers, coaches, and other mentors confirmed in me? What kind of future work and professional life does this knowledge point to?

"We didn't tell the students that we had all the answers," explained Howell. "So many undergraduates can feel trapped by pressure and high expectations, and at the same time often face so many options for life and career, that it's difficult for them to sort it all out. The idea here, we said, is to look at how you can begin to wrestle with those questions."

The faculty-staff seminars - led by Fr. Appleyard and outgoing Center for Ignatian Spirituality Director Howard Gray, SJ - approached the same issue from another angle, Howell said. "In this setting, we wanted to look at the different ways of promoting vocational discernment in students. Some attendees had considerable experience in this, and were able to share their perspective with others who have less or no experience.

"The hope here is that these seminars might help faculty and staff change their day-to-day work in some way so they can offer mentoring or guidance to students. We emphasize that it's not an additional task to perform, but rather a refinement in the way one goes about his or her job: How do you talk to students, and what activities can you plan, that will help them to reflect on college, life and career?"

The Intersections Web site, www.bc.edu/intersections, offers more information on the project.

 

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