St. Olaf Magazine | Fall 2019

Piper Center Spotlight: The Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat

Brendan Weed ’21, photographed on the St. Olaf campus by Matt Clark

“At Quo Vadis, I learned to realize the influence of friends and peer competition in my decision-making process.”  – Brendan Weed ’21

The sophomore year of college can be a tough one for many students. They’re no longer transitioning to college as first-year students, and they haven’t yet delved into upper level coursework, mentored research, internships, and off-campus study. Some second-year students struggle with what’s known as the “sophomore slump,” or a decline in academic performance, and most are laser focused on the next step of choosing a major.

To help sophomores navigate the murky waters of that second year, St. Olaf developed the annual Quo Vadis — Latin for “Where are you going?” — Retreat in 2011 as a 24-hour, off-campus experience at Camp Ihduhapi in Loretto, Minnesota. The 85 or so students who attend each year interact with upper-class students, faculty and staff members, and young alumni who share their vocational journeys and offer ideas for living an engaged and purposeful life.

“The second year is so important for making decisions about your major field of study, for starting to identify a career path, and for defining how you’re going to make the best use of your time at St. Olaf,” says Nate Jacobi, associate director of career development, data, and operations at the Piper Center. “This event is just for sophomores. It focuses on vocational discernment and asks the foundational questions of ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘What’s important to me?’ and ‘How do I get where I want to be?’ ”

The retreat helps students think along those lines through discussion and reflection. St. Olaf College Pastor Matthew Marohl opens the event by speaking on vocational discernment — the process of discovering how your skills and interests meet the needs of the world, which is often a new concept to sophomores. Juniors and seniors — mostly past Quo Vadis attendees — lead small group discussions, faculty and staff members share “crossroad” events that altered or shaped their lives, and young alumni provide insight into their career paths, sharing both their stumbles and their successes.

“The students map out their interests, experiences, and influences, and then reflect on where those are leading them,” Jacobi says. “We talk about taking ownership of your own definition of success and not one that’s been projected onto you.”

The Quo Vadis Retreat also serves as an introduction to the Piper Center’s other programs, as well as additional campus resources students can take advantage of as they begin to explore and develop their paths through college and beyond.

“Quo Vadis is a mix of discernment, leadership and personal development, social connections, and networking,” Jacobi says. “It’s about a space for sophomores to step away and reflect on where they want to go.”

Brendan Weed ’21
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Psychology major | Neuroscience concentration

Brendan Weed initially thought the Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat sounded kind of corny. “I thought it would be a lot of the ‘here is your major; here are your job options,’ sort of thing,” he says. But an older friend and past attendee talked him in to signing up, and he found the retreat “so much more meaningful than basic career exploration.”

Heading into the retreat, Weed was feeling a lot of peer pressure to attend medical school. He’d always been interested in the idea of clinical psychology, but “I was worried about medical school,” he says, “and feeling some indirect competition with others about who was going to attend the most prestigious school. At Quo Vadis, I learned to realize the influence of friends and peer competition in my decision-making process.”

Weed says talking in small groups and having the opportunity to relax and reflect at the retreat helped him to “collect his thoughts” and learn to let his interests, not those of others, lead him where he needed to be. He now plans to attend graduate school to become a neuropsychologist, working with those with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of brain-related diseases. This summer, he’s interning at HealthPartners Neuroscience Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, conducting cognitive assessments with elderly patients. He found the internship after learning at Quo Vadis about the Piper Center’s many tools and resources that help students shape their futures.

“I’d recommend the retreat to all sophomores,” Weed says. “It gave me the ability to think about what I want out of life, including my career, and my personal, spiritual, and social goals. It was in the perfect outdoor environment and was very refreshing.”