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Students Discern Passions, Explore Life’s Calling Through VITAS Program

Students and their mentors celebrate the end of the VITAS program

(Left to right) Students Emily Lustig, Kavitha Srinivasan, Lizzy Garreau, and Abigail Curran stand with Jami Curley, Ph.D., of the School of Social Work, after receiving a framed letter signed by University President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., honoring their completion of the semester-long VITAS program, which centered on helping undergraduates practice vocational discernment. Photo by  Floyd Welsh, Career Services

Nearly 100 students, guests and mentors drawn from SLU faculty and staff members gathered April 27 to cap off the students’ semester-long vocational discernment program at Busch Student Center. The program, Vocational Inquiry Through Advocacy and Service (VITAS), received $25,000 in support from the NetVUE and the Lilly Foundations. Ten mentors, representing a variety of campus areas, worked with students on professional development activities, read books about vocation in higher education and discussed the concept of discernment with students. The program's tagline was “Where your greatest passions meet the world's greatest needs," a phrase coined by theologian Frederick Buechner.

At the closing ceremony, students kept Buechner’s words in mind in thinking about their own passions and paths forward, even if they were still reflecting on their post-graduation options.

"VITAS has allowed me to remove some of the harsh pressure the world places on students and consider the idea that my vocation I choose immediately post-graduation doesn’t define me for the remainder of my life if I don’t want it to,” senior Brenna Sullivan said.

As part of the program, Tim Clydesdale, Ph.D., the author of The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students about Vocation, visited SLU and spoke to over 100 faculty and staff about the importance of vocational discernment among undergraduate students.

Following Clydesdale’s visit, in the spring, 45 students took part in community service and advocacy efforts through VITAS. The spring also included a series of small group discussions led by faculty and staff mentors, one-on-one mentoring meetings and off-campus activities. At the end of the program, students were invited to write an essay reflecting on their VITAS experiences.

Senior Brian Dugan said that taking part in the program allowed him to think about what his vocation encompassed.

“My vocation has something to do with writing and the honest pursuit of truth, that much I know,” Dugan said. “What type of writing, or to what extent I write, well, those threads on my map are still a bit tangled. Through the VITAS model, I’ve discovered my own greatest passion."

At the ceremony, each student received a framed letter signed by University President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., congratulating them for taking the time to reflect upon their life's calling and completing the VITAS program.

Data collected from the students on their experiences and reflections on the vocational discernment process will be made available to the University community in the early fall 2017.