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The Kolvenbach grants program guidelines

In a speech delivered at Santa Clara University in 2000, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the former Superior-General of the Society of Jesus, had this to say about the connections between direct experience, intellectual inquiry, and constructive engagement in Jesuit higher education: 

When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity, which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.  Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively. 

Discussions at the Intersections Common Room faculty retreat in New Hampshire often center on the lack of integration between experience, inquiry, and engagement in the lives of Boston College undergraduates. The academic programs and intellectual interests of our students are often quite disconnected from the domestic and international service and immersion programs in which they participate. Faculty and administrators who participate in Intersections retreats and immersion trips may face similar issues of connection and integration in their own lives. 

Jesuits often use the term magis, the Latin word for more.  Derived from the motto of the Society of Jesus, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam ("For the greater glory of God"), magis for our purposes means looking at something more closely, delving a bit more deeply, and making connections between the experiences that we've had and the work that we do. 

Upon returning from New Hampshire, Maine, or Nicaragua, retreat and trip participants often want to do something with their group -- to keep the group together through meetings or common projects.  We completely understand and appreciate this sentiment, having felt it often ourselves.  But our experience in Intersections suggests that this doesn't work.  Once back on campus, we all get drawn back into our own pursuits, be they administrative or academic.  Given the reality of our day to day lives, it is difficult to find the time and energy to contribute in substantive ways to new projects and programs unrelated to what we are already doing.

What does seem to work well is when faculty and administrators incorporate some aspect of the retreat or trip into their own work -- a new or revised course, a new trajectory or emphasis in an ongoing research agenda, an expanded understanding of advising and mentoring, or new forms of collaboration between existing programs. 

What could you do?  There's no one-size-fits-all response to Common Room, Villa, or the Nicaragua immersion trip.  Participants take away very different things from these programs, in keeping with their own interests and inclinations.  Here are a few examples of what some of colleagues have done with Kolvenbach grants, along with some of their own thoughts about their experiences (grant recipient quotations in italics).

Jim Weiss, Theology Department (Nicaragua immersion trip and Common Room faculty retreat):

  • As a faculty member in the PULSE program and the founder of the Capstone program, Jim often discusses the connections between service, academics, and social justice with his students.   After participating in a Nicaragua immersion trip and a Common Room retreat, Jim realized that he too needed to “let the gritty reality of this world” back into his life so as to strengthen the connection between direct experience, intellectual inquiry, and social engagement in his own work and other commitments.  Jim’s Kolvenbach grant covered the travel expenses involved in a week-long trip to the Jesuit-run Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.  Long a financial supporter of the school, Jim wanted to spend time living, working, and talking with its students and teachers.
  • “The results of my Kolvenbach Grant thus far are like sprouts in early spring, signs of new life without clear definition. Let me name them. First, I shall look for ways to integrate “Red theology” (akin to Black theology) and the historic injustice against Native Americans into my PULSE course when I resume teaching it next fall. Second, a wonderful opportunity has opened for me to design a Capstone Seminar for the Cristo Rey High School in New York…I’m also proposing to do this for Cristo Rey in Boston.  Third, for my sabbatical, as a result of my long engagement with the Lakota, I’m planning serious reading on the theme of forgiveness in the face of historic injustice.”

Celeste Wells, Communication Department (Common Room faculty retreat):

  • Common Room discussions led Celeste to look for a way to both connect with students outside of the classroom and to model what being a man or woman for others might mean in their lives after college.  Her Kolvenbach grant funded a get-together in her home in which students prepared holiday stockings for the grandchildren of traditional elders of the Dine’ people of northeast Arizona, distributed through an organization Celeste volunteers with on a regular basis.
  • “This project was an exploration into what it means to be an educator and mentor in the Jesuit tradition. Until joining Boston College, I had always felt unsure about my role as a professor, because I felt like I was being discouraged from working with students beyond their academic needs, that modeling an ethical life outside of the classroom was something that was ‘beyond my purview.’ My experience in the Common Room retreat provided me with a framework of education that was deeply meaningful.  Be attentive.  Be reflective.  Be loving.”

Brian Gareau, Sociology Department (Villa faculty writing retreat):

  • Having recognized the importance of contemplation and reflection to his own work at the Villa faculty writing retreat, Brian applied for a Kolvenbach grant to fund a one-day “Villa” student retreat as part of a course on industrialization and the environment that he and his wife, Tara Pisani Gareau (Environmental Studies), planned to teach in London later that summer.  Supplied with good food and a contemplative setting, students were asked to reflect upon the ways in which they might incorporate what they learned in the class into their daily lives, their course and major choices, and their future vocational plans.
  • “Several students remarked that they wished that they had the chance to reflect on ALL their courses at the end of a term.  They seemed to really value this event, several remarking that they felt that they might remember more of the experience having had the chance to discuss the course and its importance to their lives.  Others mentioned that it brought about ideas about how they might bring change into their lives that would help with the environmental issues that we discussed in the class.  Many ideas of personal change came organically out of our discussions that very day!”

Erin Wecker, English Department (Common Room faculty retreat):

  • As a participant in a Common Room faculty retreat, Erin noted that often students return from service trips only to find that there are few opportunities for sustained reflection upon and critical analysis of their experiences.  Her Kolvenbach grant funded a trip to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to explore the possibilities of creating a writing seminar with a service learning component linked to the community.
  • “The experience the Kolvenbach grant afforded me will impact my teaching in many important ways.  To mention one, I would note that it is a necessity to provide students with creative spaces to engage with the daily events of service while in progress.  More important still is the need to continue critical engagement (through the act of writing) well beyond the completion of service.  When I returned home I found myself craving the reflection that writing afforded me while in Aquinnah.”

Marilyn Matelski, Communication Department (Villa faculty writing retreat):

  • Marilyn found discussions with colleagues over dinner at Villa to be a particularly valuable source of creative and interdisciplinary ideas related to her research on intercultural communication, diversity, and social change.   Several discussions about human rights and environmental justice, in particular, led her to rethink part of an ongoing research project.   Marilyn’s Kolvenbach grant funded her participation in an immersion trip to Ecuador, where she explored the impact of oil drilling on the peoples and environment of the Amazon River basin.
  • “Appalled by the contamination left by Texaco after its “drilling rush” from 1964 to 1992, I returned home to write a paper proposal, which has since been accepted by Common Ground for its Twelfth Annual International Humanities Conference.  Entitled "The Amazon’s ‘10W40’ Generations: Ill-Fated Beneficiaries of Texaco's 'Glorious Gamble,’" this essay describes the long history of Chevron/Texaco’s expensive, forceful and unrelenting publicity campaign to win popular support outside the courtroom through propagandistic mass media appeals…The Villa faculty writing retreat and the Kolvenbach grant [were] a true catalyst for expanding my research and teaching horizons.”

Up to $1000 is available per grant for proposals that derive from your experiences during the Common Room faculty retreat, the Villa faculty writing retreat, or the Nicaragua immersion trip.  Proposals need not deal directly with educational or scholarly issues raised at Common Room or social issues encountered in Nicaragua or Jamaica.  There needs to be some connection, but it's likely to be a personal one, rooted in your own work or other aspects of your life.  We're not looking for ideas to transform the university in one fell swoop, but rather for manageable and sustainable ways to build on retreat and trip experiences. 

Here are some possible expenses that could be covered by a Kolvenbach grant:

  • books and other teaching materials for a new or revised course;
  • travel expenses related to research trips or conference participation;
  • tuition and other expenses related to a course or other type of educational program;
  • funding for a spiritual retreat, such as the 7-8 day silent retreat offered at Jesuit retreat houses around the country

We can't provide income or electronics but we'll consider almost any other kind of expense.  Grants will take the form of expense reimbursements in accordance with the usual university rules.

Click on this link for information on how to apply.