St. Olaf College | News

New program helps students take first steps in discerning their vocation

St. Olaf Piper Center Director Branden Grimmett ’03 (far right) speaks to students during the Focus on First Years program.

By the time St. Olaf College first-year students arrived on campus this fall, most of them were already familiar with the Piper Center for Vocation and Career.

As part of a new program, the center administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment to 95 percent of first-year students — most of whom completed it before they even began classes. The entire class recently gathered for Focus on First Years, an event co-led by Residence Life that aims to help students interpret their results and begin thinking about how their values, interests, skills, and abilities relate to vocational discernment and professional life.

Students listen to Piper Center staff members explain the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment as part of a small-group session during the Focus on First Years program.

St. Olaf has made a very public commitment to becoming the best liberal arts college in the country at helping students discern their vocation — what they are called to do — and then translating that calling into an actual career that will lead to three things: financial independence, professional accomplishment, and personal fulfillment.

“Many conversations between Piper Center staff and soon-to-graduate students start with ‘I wish I would have.’ When students connect with the Piper Center early on and take advantage of our resources and programs, ‘I wish’ changes to ‘I did,'” says Associate Director of Career Education and Coaching Janine Knutson, who organized the Focus on First Years program. “Working with the Dean of Students Office, Residence Life, and Athletics, we collaborated to build a purpose-filled program that had the greatest chance of reaching the majority of the first-year class.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an assessment that measures how people perceive the world and make decisions. It’s a widely used tool that Piper Center Director Branden Grimmett ‘03 says can serve as a significant foundation for students’ discernment process.

Before receiving their results, the 632 students who participated in one of two Focus on First Years sessions learned more about the purpose of the Piper Center and listened to personal stories about vocation from Grimmett and St. Olaf seniors Emily Goodhue, Will Raun, John Avino, and Alana Patrick. They then broke into small groups and worked with Piper Center advisors to go through each possible outcome of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and what it indicates.

The goal of the event is to help students start thinking about what they are passionate about, Grimmett says, while reminding them that it is likely to change over time. Their next step will be to put these results to the test through different professional experiences — something he encouraged students to begin doing sooner rather than later.

“We spend a lot of time with students thinking about how they can test their theories about what it is that they’re interested in,” Grimmett says. “You can imagine how testing these theories now, as a first-year student, is much less risky than as a senior.”