This January, nineteen students enrolled in Luther College’s newest, original course, “Lives that Matter: Vocation, Self, Service”. The course was funded by Luther’s Sense of Vocation Program. The curriculum was centered on Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass’ Leading Lives that Matter, a diverse anthology that poses thought-provoking questions about “what we should do and who we should be”. The experience encompassed a workshop with the Career Center, service-learning through Urban Immersion Service Retreats of Minneapolis, MN, and various panels and presentations conveying how students can offer their gifts to both local and global needs. Not only was “Vocation, Self, Service” an academic success but it also created a community of people who are learning, reflecting, and sharing in and outside of the classroom. According to Sophomore Carina Schiltz, “The class never stopped… This class is about life”.
The course was the result of rich collaboration among Luther faculty and staff. It was taught by Assistant Professor of Religion, Sean Burke and Assistant Professor of Theatre, Lisa Lantz. Ruth Kath, director of the Sense of Vocation program; Carol Johnston and Mark Peltz from the Career Center; Jon Lund from Student Life, and other Luther faculty also worked together to develop to develop the course.
“Vocation is a rich and productive way to think about life,” asserts Professor Sean Burke. Students were challenged to reflect on how they want to live their lives versus what they want to do. “I have realized that vocation is not just limited to one’s job and that I can find self fulfillment from various parts of my life—job, family, volunteering, and just being the person I want to be,” explains Sophomore Carrie Niehaus. According to Professor Lisa Lantz, the open and honest discussions provided students the space to “find their own definitions of vocation”. She continues, “We want the course to ask more questions than answers. We want it to be an introspective exploration”. Students were challenged to live balanced and intentional lives.
During the first week of the course, students took the Strengths Quest Assessment through the Luther College Career Center. Mark Peltz and Carol Johnston used positive psychology to teach the students how to identify and develop their strengths and manage their weaknesses. By better understanding one’s self, students gained insight about how they can serve others in a way that energizes and fulfills them. According to Burke, many students “began to rethink their weaknesses as strengths”.
The second week of the class was focused on service through an Urban Immersion Service Retreat. Urban Immersion is a component of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches that seek to “unite people of faith” and “serve people in need” through a large range of social service programs for families and individuals. Associate Director, Gennae Falconer and Coordinator, Brian Reusch, created a service-learning experience for the Luther students. “Through volunteering we talk about social justice and invite participants to talk about how their gifts and talents fit into the world’s needs—not in the future but starting now,” explains Reusch. Students had the opportunity to share meals with the clients of The House of Charity, a non-profit organization in downtown Minneapolis.
The service week was a powerful experience for many. “I knew there were needs, but being put in the situations and being able to see just part of one city really opened my eyes,” shares Sophomore Krista Canoy. Schiltz was “surprised by how little [she] knew about poverty in the United States”. Not only did students’ see the reality of poverty up close but also they explored why so many people are in need. Sophomore Kelsey Bausch was reminded not to judge others and hold onto hope when circumstances are difficult.
Through the Urban Immersion experience Schiltz learned that “there is joy in service”. Although she did not know the stories of the people she met, she was able to connect with them in a meaningful way. “Almost everyone I talked to shared their faith with me, a stranger. They reached out to me, who was supposed to be meeting their needs. Instead we served each other,” explains Schiltz.
Strong bonds of community were formed through constant conversation, collaborative service work, and countless crazy games. “The relationships I have formed with people and the conversations I had can’t even be put into words. I met and got to know some of the most incredible people I can imagine, and for that, I am grateful beyond words,” shares Bausch.
The professors of the course were not excluded from this community. “After returning from the week in Minneapolis, I felt like I was coming into a room filled with friendship and camaraderie. I felt like I knew the class on an intimate level,” shares Lantz. The ties that have been established throughout this course will offer accountability and encouragement as students hope to continue with volunteer work in the Decorah community. “I am much more thankful for what I have and will definitely strive to be more aware of the situations of those around me,” shares Junior Jakob Scheele. Furthermore, Sophomore Michanda Hoffman was surprised to learn “that [she] is not alone” in her desire to make a difference.
“I wish all Luther students could experience what we did this past week: the closeness of our group, the realization of problems and solutions in our society, and understanding that it’s not about us. It’s about how we fit into the world around us, how we understand and integrate, how we serve and let ourselves be served as well,” shares Schiltz.
The students’ deep appreciation for the opportunity has led to high hopes for the future of this course. "We were extremely fortunate to have the experience paid for by the Sense of Vocation Program. It is my hope that in the future, other students can also commit to this opportunity without the worry of a financial burden" states Sophomore Kristin Westby. Certainly, “Lives that Matter: Vocation, Self, Service” has yielded a unique and valuable experience. Bausch believes that “With an open mind and heart, lives can be changed through this course”.