St. Olaf College | News

Program helps students reflect on the meaning of vocation

Cheryl “Mia” Philip ’10 (left), a philanthropic associate at Lutheran World Relief, talks to St. Olaf students at the Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat.

At the third annual Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat, 100 St. Olaf College students took a weekend to reflect on their sense of purpose and vocation.

The retreat, which is offered through the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, provides second-year students with an opportunity to think intentionally about their values and interests as they begin to connect their work in college with future plans.

“The sophomore year is such a critical one for students as they try to define what their academic career will be and how it will help them build a future,” says St. Olaf Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht, one of the five faculty members who attended this year’s retreat.

Quo Vadis simply means, “Where are you going?” Participants at the retreat were asked to think deeply about that question as they listened to alumni, faculty and staff members, and student leaders talk about their own life experiences and vocational interests.

“The most meaningful part of Quo Vadis for me was hearing many alumni speak about their paths after graduation. They shared about how their lives took unexpected turns and about how they overcame their obstacles and dealt with difficult decisions,” says Sarah Langer ’15. “They helped me to realize that more important than the question of what I will do with my life is the question of why and how I will live.”

The sophomore participants also took part in discussions led by junior and senior students, in which they explored topics like, “How do I make the most of campus leadership positions?” and “Do my relationships reflect the person I want to be?”

Nathan Eklund ’95, a professional speaker and the owner of Eklund Consulting, gave the keynote speech, which many students considered a highlight of the retreat.

“His insightful definition of vocation (that it is not a destination, but a process, and that it’s not about what we do, but how, why, and for whom we do it) set the tone for the whole weekend and got me thinking about my future from a completely different perspective,” says Andrew Wilder ’15.

Feedback from the retreat was overwhelming positive, notes Associate Director of Civic Engagement Nate Jacobi, who led the event. “Students gained perspective on their own lives, new relationships, and confidence in their ability to develop their interests and pursue their goals,” he says.

In the three years since the retreat was started, attendance at Quo Vadis has grown from 50 students to 100. To accommodate this growing interest, next year there will be two separate retreats — one in the fall and one in the spring.

Of course, students do not have to wait until then to reflect on where they are going and how they will get there. St. Olaf students can always visit the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, contact alumni who share their interests, or discuss their future plans with faculty members.

“As a classroom instructor and academic advisor, I am constantly involved in these types of discussions with students,” says Engbrecht. “One of the great joys of being a St. Olaf professor is the commitment we have to working with students beyond the confines of the classroom to talk about the larger questions of life.”