Posted by: Date: January 14, 2010 In: ,

Explore! 2010 Draws Record Numbers

By Brielle Erickson

The Explore! first-year student retreat celebrated its seventh year as part of the Pacific Lutheran University experience this past weekend at Camp Berachah in nearby Auburn. Every year, about 150 first-year Lutes pile into buses loaded with overnight gear, excited to spend some time away from the daily routine of homework, classes and jobs.

Student group leader Jeremy Loween rallies first-year students for some fun activities. (Photo by Brynn Olive)

Student group leader Jeremy Loween rallies first-year students for some fun activities. (Photo by Brynn Olive)

Explore! is much more than just an overnight getaway for students, though. In fact, the retreat would not even be a reality without a grant from the Lily Foundation, an organization that provides grants to universities to encourage exploration of the concept of vocation among students. When PLU received the grant, it was entitled “Wild Hope,” and out of that concept came the idea for Explore!

What exactly is vocation? During Friday night of the retreat, campus Pastor Dennis Sepper defined the concept of vocation as one’s calling.

“The word,” he said, “is not as important as the concept. Vocation describes the idea of being called with a purpose that will affect the community, and the community would not be the same without each member.”

According to Amber Dehne, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership, Explore! is a unique opportunity for participants to try to find their individual vocation.

“This weekend really gives students permission to ask questions that can help identify things that they are called to do,” she said. “In college, there is a lot of pressure to have all of the answers, but here the students are the ones who get to ask most of the questions.”

And ask they did.

Crystal LaPorte, a Port Orchard native hoping to earn a degree in Nursing said that she was already thinking about the weighty question of what kind of mark she wanted to leave in the world. She would like to become a pediatric nurse and decided to participate in Explore! because she felt that it could be an opportunity to help broaden her social skills, which she acknowledged would be an asset in her profession.

Last-minute participant Amy Larson said that she was contemplating the most critical aspects of her future career and how to find a balance between the importance of a college education and real-world experiences like professional networking. Larson hopes to graduate with a degree in business and work with non-profit organizations.

Explore! Student Coordinator Elizabeth Ginsberg said that as a participant in last year’s retreat she dealt with similar questions as LaPorte and Larson.

“College provides a lot of opportunities and even encourages students to ask a lot of questions,” she said. “It’s nice for these students to have a weekend to get away and think about the issues that they faced during the first semester. That’s what I did last year, and now I want to help other students do the same.”

Like Dehne, Ginsberg discussed the ways in which Explore! helps participants find their specific vocation.

“All of the participants have small groups with a leader who can answer questions throughout the weekend,” she said. “Questions are more valuable when there’s a chance to talk them over. We also have student panels with upperclassmen and a staff/faculty panel where the panel members discuss their vocational development since graduation. It really opens students’ eyes – it shows them that everyone deals with these same issues.”

And this year’s program affected a record number of students – about 150. In fact, this marked the first year that registration for the retreat had to be shut down due to more students signing up than could be accommodated at the campground.

The retreat will continue to provide first-year Lutes the opportunity to explore their vocation and, as Dehne put it, “give them a chance to consider what they want to take advantage of as a college student.”