This fall we asked ourselves how we could enhance our culture of service at Ursinus, to provide more of the rich civic engagement opportunities that connect an Ursinus liberal arts education with the needs of the greater community.
I am happy to report that through the administrative auspices of the Council for Independent Colleges, Ursinus is the recipient of a grant from NetVUE, the Network for Vocation and Undergraduate Education. Ursinus is one of 33 institutions in the United States to be selected.
The grant will underwrite workshops to integrate civic engagement in the curriculum, enabling us to create additional internships, research projects and service opportunities. What if economics majors created a business plan for a struggling business district? What if politics majors studied how new immigrants in a community could be better served? We want to provide our faculty with the tools to determine the best ways to connect academic study and vocational calling in coursework, advising, and research.
The object of the grant is to encourage students to connect their academic learning and experiential education to the personal values that impel them to lives of service. How one earns a living should be an extension of the values that guide one’s life, and our hope is that our graduates will find their personal flourishing intertwined with the welfare of others. Ursinus students already are actively engaged in service, and applicants to admission to the college overwhelmingly note community service as an interest.
Civic engagement often puts such students on a path to discover a lifelong vocation. Kaitlyn Cherry’s work with the campus chapter of Best Buddies has helped her decide to work as an occupational therapist serving individuals with intellectual disabilities. As president of the Ursinus chapter of Best Buddies, the Orlando, Fla., senior has gained practical experience and, says she, developed character traits such as patience.“Everything I have been doing at Ursinus for the past two years has come full circle in helping me towards my future career goals,” she notes.
Service activities do shape life aspirations. Mary Kathleen Speth, a junior from Chicago, has volunteered at the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy in Schwenksville, the Urban Tree Connection in Philadelphia, and the campus organic farm. After graduation, she would like to promote sustainable living practices in Third World countries.
Biology and French major Jamie Faselt, a sophomore from New Jersey, also works with environmental organizations, and she says that her experiences volunteering “are some of my best at Ursinus and have led me to decide to try to join the Peace Corps when I graduate before going back to medical or graduate school. No matter what my future endeavors are, giving back to the community through service will always play a key role.”
As an undergraduate, I was deeply touched by the writings of philosopher Sam Keen, who I recently learned is a 1953 graduate of Ursinus College. In his To a Dancing God, Keen asked three questions that have been a useful frame for my life and those of students whom I’ve addressed over the years: What are your gifts? What gives you joy? What is the intersection between your gifts and the needs of the world?
Through the NetVUE grant, we now have the opportunity to better help our students answer these questions as a means of finding their purpose in society. Ursinus has been a leader in offering an education in which values matter. In this seasonal time of reflection and giving, this grant is fortuitous. What we want for our students is an ideal of service rooted in values that may be shared across cultural, religious and political boundaries.
And in that spirit, let me wish you all a meaningful and happy holiday season.