True North: A Systematic Discernment App

To help students explore the most significant questions of their young lives, and to scaffold them on their college and vocational journey, Lynch School Professor of Counseling Psychology Belle Liang and her research team are developing a digital application they’ve named “True North.”

Bell Liang

Belle Liang

Professor, Lynch School of Education and Human Development

 A decision-making tool that guides students through a systematic discernment process, True North uses evidence-based best practices in youth motivation and formative education to help students investigate and discover personal pathways to finding “purpose,” which goes well beyond the narrow definitions of success in a society that frequently emphasizes personal fame and fortune as the definitive measure of achievement.

True North guides students to focus on four elements—called the 4 P’s—which contribute to finding purpose based on Liang’s and her colleagues’ research:
(1) People—empowering relationships with people who nurture and encourage them in their journey toward purposeful aspirations;
(2) Passion—defining what is loved and valued;
(3) Propensity— identifying particular skills and strengths related to one’s purpose; and
(4) Prosocial benefit— identifying ways to use one’s passions, strengths, and skills that contribute toward the greater good.

Liang’s research team—a collaboration between BC student and faculty researchers, and practitioners—is working to advance the Lynch School’s Formative Education work by designing empirically based tools that equip students in creating lives that are personally meaningful and of consequence in the world.

Our research shows that young people who ultimately are the most fulfilled and joyful are guided by a sense of purpose. Formative education helps students to identify their passions, and how they can use them for the greater good.
Belle Liang, Professor, Lynch School of Education and Human Development

Strategic Direction II

Enhance the University’s commitment to formation among students, faculty, and staff to further Boston College’s mission and strengthen its institutional culture.

Boston College’s distinctive culture of formation is foundational to and animates the University’s approach to education, particularly its goals to integrate intellectual excellence, religious commitment, and service to wider society, and to remain faithful to its educational and religious heritage. Boston College holds that liberal arts education, participation in research and scholarship that advances the common good, and service to the local, national, and global community help students to be more free and human, and to become generous and engaged members of society.

During the last ten years, Boston College has devoted significant resources to formation, especially among undergraduates, inviting them to consider their gifts, relationships, and actions, and to live lives marked by integrity, engagement, and connection with others. It especially desires that students develop the habits of mind and heart—such as ethical reasoning, eloquence, resilience, and empathy—that distinguish Boston College graduates. But the University recognizes the need to expand and deepen understanding of formation, particularly in more intentional ways among faculty and staff, who serve a critical role helping students develop not only intellectually, but also personally, ethically, and spiritually.

To implement this Strategic Direction, Boston College will:

  • strengthen programs to increase engagement among faculty and staff with Boston College’s mission and heritage;
  • advance the University’s culture of care and welcome;
  • create “neighborhoods” that bring together more members of the Boston College community for conversation and learning;
  • establish formation programs specifically designed for graduate and professional students; and
  • sustain and promote Boston College’s Jesuit heritage.


"I define student formation as a three part journey—social formation, spiritual formation, and academic formation—and understanding how the three are interrelated, interconnected, and weaved into each other."

— Michael Osaghae '20