Current Students | Faculty and Staff | Alumni | Parents
home features sections archive campus voice  

Changes in J-Term help first year students find answers to big questions

A groundbreaking program for first-year students re-energized J-Term on campus this year by encouraging students to consider deep questions in revamped classes and at intense overnight retreats.

“We wanted to treat the whole student,” said Lisa Marcus, associate professor of English and director of the First-Year Experience program. “We wanted academic class work to work on a personal level.”

That personal level is evident in the program’s title: “Building skills to ask big enough questions.” The development is part of the PLU’s five-year Wild Hope Project, designed to help students find their vocation, or purpose in life.

Organizers found that around Christmas break, first-year students begin to assess their life and their future goals. “They get barraged with questions about their college experience,” said Assistant Dean of Students Kathleen Farrell. “It tends to be the time when students say to themselves, ‘I’m not the person I was.’ So, we saw this as the natural time to address these ‘big enough’ questions.”

The co-curricular program marries the First-Year Inquiry seminar classes – called “190s” – with activities organized by Student Involvement and Leadership.

The 190s are small first-year-only classes designed to foster the critical thinking that is required of a university student. This year, faculty members teamed with non-faculty facilitators, who hosted hour-long weekly sessions outside of class, creating a comfortable atmosphere to synthesize lessons learned in class with issues students confront every day.

These questions were also addressed in depth at two off-campus overnight retreats, where first-year students, faculty and facilitators could together dig deeper into these “companion questions” – questions that accompany people as they continue through life’s journey. More than half of the entire first-year student population attended one of the two weekend seminars.

The program was created by faculty members Marcus, Paul Menzel, Rona Kaufman, Patricia Killen, Tamara Williams; Farrell and Pat Roundy, dean for student academic success and director of academic advising.

“It’s a brave move,” said Menzel, director of the Wild Hope Project. “People have been talking for years about their experience during J-Term.

I think we have a conception of what a unique education could be.”


Youth Leadership Institute will encourage development of skills

PLU will help young people become leaders in their communities and churches through a new program funded primarily by a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. The $100,000 grant will help establish the Youth Leadership Institute, a partnership between PLU and the Southwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Youth Leadership Institute seeks to challenge close to 400 14-to-24-year-olds annually to act as culturally aware, faith-based, service-minded leaders in their schools, communities and congregations.

PLU was one of three institutions in the Pacific Northwest to receive a Thrivent Financial for Lutherans grant for youth leadership programs.

On campus, the Youth Leadership Institute will draw upon the resources and work of the Wild Hope Project, a five-year initiative to help students find their meaning and purpose in life.

The Youth Leadership Institute also will work with the Peace Community Center, nonprofit affiliate of Peace Lutheran Church that serves a large low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood in Tacoma.


Scandinavian center sponsors walking tours through Norway

The Scandinavian Cultural Center and the Norse Federation are offering two tours along the medieval pilgrim route from Gudbrandsdal to Trondheim, Norway, this summer.

The first is an eight-day trip mostly on foot over the Dovre Mountains and on to Trondheim from July 21-29. The group will join hundreds of other pilgrims for midnight worship in the Nidaros Cathedral at the end of the journey. Cost is $1,390.

The second tour, from Aug. 6-14, will include visits to historical sites, a classical concert in the mountains and shorter walks. It will also conclude at the Nidaros Cathedral. Price for that trip, which will include a bus throughout, is $1,890.

To secure a spot, send a check deposit of $250 by April 1 to the Scandinavian Cultural Center, PLU, Tacoma, Wash., 98447. For more information, contact professor Audun Toven at 253-535-7314 or or visit


Busy music season sends ensembles to Northwest and Scandinavia

Several student music ensembles will tour this spring, and the Choir of the West performed at a prestigious conference as part of its January tour.

PLU’s jazz ensembles and the University Wind Ensemble will perform in Norway, Denmark and Sweden in May and June.

University Chorale will perform in Seattle, Lynnwood, Bellingham, Whidbey Island, Wash., and Vancouver, British Columbia April 8-12. The University Singers will tour Gresham and Astoria, Ore., and Aberdeen, Wash., April 21-24. For a detailed schedule of performances in your area, visit

The Choir of the West performed at the American Choral Directors Association 2005 National Convention in Los Angeles as part of its January tour to California.


PLU awards Gary Severson honorary doctorate

Former Chairman of the Board of Regents Gary Severson received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Winter Commencement on Dec. 11.

Severson served 16 years on the board, including seven as chair. He played a critical leadership role as the university weathered challenging times to emerge stronger in enrollment, endowment and financial management.

Severson helped frame a critical institutional recovery strategy for PLU in 1992 and played a fundamental role in engineering the long-term financial growth of the university. He worked diligently to professionalize and strengthen the Board of Regents, engaging them in the life of the university as advisors and advocates for academic rigor.

He is a pillar of the Pacific Northwest community in service and in action. Now chairman of Laird Norton Financial Group, he previously was chairman of the board of First Interstate Bank. He is an active community volunteer with a particular emphasis in education.

He has also served an on the board of the Independent Colleges of Washington.


here & now

© Scene 2005  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Spring 2005

|    Contact Us