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Posted by: Date: January 18, 2008 In: ,

First year students reflect on ‘big questions’

When senior Kerri Greenaway talked about love being the one thing that can always be taken to the extreme, it struck a cord with first year Danyelle Thomas.“It made me think about why I do what I do,” she said. “I love people to the extreme.”

Thomas was among 150 first year students who chose to participate in the fourth annual EXPLORE! retreat, held two weekends ago in at Camp Berachah in Auburn, Wash.

The retreat aims to give students the keys to guide their college experience and avoid looking back on it after graduation and wondering, “What if?” Students are able to learn what PLU has to offer early in their college careers and begin figuring out what they want to achieve in their time here.

It also aims to help students begin the process of discovering their vocation, identity and purpose. The first years are just beginning to understand what the vocation of a student is, how that fits with what they are studying and how it will fit into their life after college, said Jessica Holden, SIL graduate assistant and co-planner of the retreat.

During the 28-hour retreat, students participated in small group discussions led by faculty, staff and student leaders. The group discussions typically built on ideas presented by a movie or a panel of speakers.

One of the panels included Greenaway, recent graduate Jason Schonau-Taylor and ASPLU president Carl Pierce. The three discussed their experiences at PLU that led them to find purpose and meaning in their life.

“It helps students identify different points in the journey of questions,” Holden explained. “It shows what the process looks like.”

SIL director Eva Johnson, assistant education professor Steve Woolworth and assistant philosophy professor Pauline Kaurin made up the second panel. The three related their experiences in college to how things turned out in the rest of their life, an exercise first year Erik Arnits found especially helpful.

“I really liked listening to Eva,” he said. “She knew exactly what we were thinking.”

In the small group discussions, students talked about their experiences and began thinking about their identity and future. The group facilitators – faculty, staff and student leaders – represented the diversity of campus, with faculty from across the disciplines and staff members from various campus organizations.

“It was really overwhelming at first,” Thomas said. “I’m usually a really loud person, but I spent a lot of time reflecting on the conversations we had and having conversations that I wouldn’t have had on campus.”

Both Thomas and Arnits said they would recommend the retreat to first year students next year.

“I got a better idea of what questions to look for that are important to me,” Arnits said, adding that he learned how to look for those questions and how to begin answering them.

“I don’t have any answers right now,” he quipped.

Thomas said she’s been struggling recently with whether she should major in education. While she’s always loved working with children, she worried it wasn’t a high enough calling. But after her time at the retreat, she’s more comfortable with the possibility.

“I think that as long as I love being an education major and love the people I’m working with, it’ll be alright,” she said.

University Communications staff writer Megan Haley compiled this report. Comments, questions, ideas? Please contact her at ext. 8691 or at haleymk@plu.edu. Photo by Photo Services Intern Claire Plourde.