Search PLU
Life of the Mind. Sharon Parks spoke on the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life .

Grant offers wild hope to students and faculty willing to ask questions

Children talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Often, college students focus on what career they’ll have. But PLU wants to inspire students to think more critically about their lives with a deeper question:

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

Directors of a new PLU program borrowed the line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” because it fits: “wild” because so much is possible and unpredictable and the complexities of the world are so great, and “precious” because the life of each individual student is vital and full of promise.

The new initiative to help students find their calling has been named the Wild Hope Project. The university has always worked on the premise that each individual is a gift. With a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation, this five-year project will help students use their gifts and find their meaning and purpose in life, said Paul Menzel, philosophy professor and project director.

The project will challenge the university to grapple with vocation in an intellectually rich way, to nurture students to claim meaning and purpose for their lives and to cultivate faculty and staff to help facilitate understanding by students, Menzel said. Among other things, the grant will allow the university to offer enhanced service-learning courses, a more provocative first-year orientation program, study seminars for faculty and more personnel in Advising, Career Development and Campus Ministry.

One of the core tenets of PLU’s mission is to help students discover their calling – what Martin Luther referred to as “vocation” – and to find ways to use their talents to serve others.

“We wish for every student a dynamic, purpose-filled life that, regardless of specific career or avenue of service, is charged and energized by a lively sense of calling and vocation and a commitment to action,” President Loren J. Anderson said.

The Wild Hope Project was the subject of the University Fall Conference, and the consultant who helped write the grant proposal spoke about the importance of nurturing vocation.

“You are going to be a mentoring community, a mentoring environment,” Sharon Parks told faculty and staff members.

Parks is associate director and on faculty at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton, Wash. She has been an associate professor at the Harvard Divinity School and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and served in faculty and research positions in leadership and ethics at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose and Faith” and co-author of “Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World.”

Students have big questions about how poverty, crime, environment, politics, family and debt affect the world and their lives, she says. While trying to succeed in school and preparing for the future, the core questions about what they can do and contribute can be overlooked.

Parks said students need mentors who help them examine such questions, while recognizing and nurturing their talents and dreams. Good mentoring involves recognizing not just “who I am” but “who I could be.”

Each person’s unique talents, skills and dreams make them an individual unlike any other. And when formulating their dreams, Parks said students should ask themselves,

“Will the dream ultimately bless others?”

“The biggest questions do take us deeper into the mystery,” she said.

Provost prepares academic roadmap to guide university

Academic excellence and financial strength are two core aspirations of PLU 2010. To reach them, PLU is developing an academic roadmap to provide “driving directions for the preferred route” to a strengthened, academically and financially viable academic program. Since January, various members of the faculty and administration have taken steps toward the creation of the map, with the goal of creating a new academic vision.

“To distinguish ourselves in the competitive higher education marketplace, to build on our academic strengths, and to address the challenges we face forthrightly, we need to ‘go deep’ into ourselves – recreating a Rose Window for the 21st century,” Provost James Pence said. In comparing the academic program to the PLU logo, Pence urged a re-examination of curriculum and academic structure in light of traditional commitments.

At Fall Conference, Pence outlined several strategies for grappling with difficult changes such as the possibility of adding or removing academic programs to best meet curricular and financial needs. “Can we make a curriculum that is distinctively us?” Pence asked.

Revising a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., he said PLU is working in the “fierce urgency of the curricular now,” and that changes will come.

The provost has asked for input on the development of the roadmap from the Faculty Assembly, the Faculty Executive Committee, the Faculty Affairs Committee, the Educational Policies Committee, the Academic Deans’ Council, the Academic Support Council, the Graduate Council and other individuals.


Dean WaldowChemistry professor Dean Waldow received a $150,000 National Science Foundation-Research in Undergraduate Institutions grant that will fund his research in polymer blends for another three years. Waldow has had two successful three-year RUI grants already, funding a total of 15 summer research students. The current grant will fund 10 summer research projects through May 2006.

Mathematics professor Bryan Dorner received a $141,602
National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement award to introduce new ways to teach calculus. Faculty members Daniel Heath, Jessica Sklar and Richard Louie are also involved.

Anthropology professor Laura Klein’s book “Women and Men in World Cultures” (McGraw-Hill, 2004) was released in October.

Chandra ManningChandra Manning, assistant professor of history, won the annual C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize from the Southern Historical Association. The award is for the best dissertation on some aspect of southern history. Manning’s 2002 dissertation, “What This Cruel War Was Over: Why Union and Confederate Soldiers Thought They Were Fighting the Civil War” compares what Union and Confederate enlisted soldiers believed caused the war and traces how their ideas about what the war should achieve changed over time.

Psychology professor John Moritsugu is a recipient of the Distinguished Contribution Award from the Asian American Psychological Association. He was recognized for his outstanding and meritorious contributions to the Asian American community.

Doug PageDoug Page, senior development director of gift planning, gave a presentation at the 15th annual Northwest Planned Giving Conference in Portland, Ore., on “Fundamentals of a Strong Donor Call.” About 200 fundraising professionals attended.

Jim PenceTwo PLU administrators are serving with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Provost Jim Pence is a member of the AAC&U Board of Directors. Janet Rasmussen, director of the Wang Center for International Programs, is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the organization’s magazine Liberal Education. Pence wrote an article for Liberal Education, one of the organization’s publications, this fall.

Next Section: Leadership and service


  • Grant offers wild hope to students and faculty willing to ask questions
  • Provost prepares academic roadmap to guide university
  • Accolades


Photo Credits

By: Jordan Hartman ’02


 Back to top  Winter 2003 Scene Copyright 2003 Pacific Lutheran University  Credits ~ Last Updated 12-05-2003 ~ Comments