Furman University

Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection  - The Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection encourages individuals and groups to reflect upon their vocational choices, and it provides resources to support that reflective engagement.​​​​​

Format

  • Audience: First-year students, sophomores, all undergrads.
  • When: Pre-orientation program; spring break program; annual events for all students.
  • Frequency: Summer program, spring break, annual events which include 1.5-hour lectures, workshops, and dinner programs plus overnight or weekend-long off-campus retreats.
  • Approximate Number of Participants: Pre-orientation program: 18 freshmen; spring break program: 12 sophomores; annual events for all (over 100 students per year).
  • Focus of Programs: The Pre-orientation Program offers four primary resources for exploring vocation: faith, personal assessment, creative expression, and community engagement. The spring break program invites students to participate in a study-away service learning program (in Cuba, Mexico, New York City, or Northern Ireland) that emphasizes three aspects of vocational exploration: faith and social action, social and economic justice, and international humanitarian efforts.  Annual events offer various activities and information related to vocational reflection.

Funding & Operations

The Cothran Center was started with generous grant funding from the Lilly Endowment. It is now supported through a combination of endowment funds and operating funds provided by the university.

  • External Support: 

Our center originated with a grant from the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) to fund a “center for the theological exploration of vocation.” Currently we are funded by a university endowment established by generous donors (including the Cothran family, for whom we are named) who are committed to helping to keep meaningful programs for vocational reflection available for future generations of Furman students.

  • Operations:

(1)  Pre-Orientation Program:  $20,000-25,000 per year.

(2)  Spring Break Program: depending on travel destination, $18,000 (New York City) to $30,0000 (Northern Ireland) per year.

(3)  Annual Events: about $14,000 per year (not including expenses for the annual public lecture featuring a well-known speaker).

Description

(1) Pre-Orientation Program: SUMMER CONNECTIONS. Connections is a fun and inspiring residential program that offers incoming freshmen an opportunity to appreciate their own “life stories” as they discover that discernment of personal vocation yields authentic and unique human beings.  The program offers four primary resources for exploring vocation: faith, personal assessment, creative expression, and community engagement. Each participant is challenged to grow spiritually, intellectually, physically, and socially through a variety of classroom, individual, small group, and community activities.  A theology class helps students identify, examine, and work within the beliefs of their own faith traditions.  In addition to the study of theology and ethics, students have the opportunity to explore vocation through personality assessments, journaling, artistic expression, movies, and other creative and meaningful activities.  A significant community service engagement brings classroom and personal learning to life as participants consider what it means to include others in the journey of vocational discernment.

(2) Spring Break Program: FOCUS (Finding Our Challenges, Understanding Service).  The FOCUS program of the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection invites 12 sophomores to participate in a study away service-learning program that emphasizes three aspects of vocational exploration: faith and social action, social and economic justice, and international humanitarian efforts.  Students not only gain a global perspective on these issues but also return to campus and the community more attuned to local injustices and struggles, ready to connect with organizations that work to solve these problems.  In past years, groups have traveled to Cuba, Mexico, New York City, and Northern Ireland; and since 2014, our group has traveled to the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland,  an ecumenical Christian community dedicated to work on issues of peace, understanding, respect, and cooperation. Students hear stories from those involved in justice and reconciliation efforts, visit cities and communities, and participate in personal and group vocational reflection sessions and discussions.

(3)  ANNUAL EVENTS.  Our center’s annual (or twice-annual) events encourage students to reflect on their sense of calling, in their work and in their life. The formats vary:  a public lecture by a well-known speaker, short workshops, dinners at which faculty members reflect on their own vocational journey, Saturday service-learning opportunities and “pilgrimage hikes” at nearby state parks, day-long retreats, overnight retreats, and weekend stays at a Trappist monastery.  All events are designed to engage one or more of what we call “the three questions of vocation”:  Who am I – most authentically?  What do I believe – most deeply?  What does the world need – from me?  Over time the Center’s vocational themes and reflective approach have become more integrated into university conversation beyond the Center; for example, we have been invited to participate in planning for new programs in academic advising and new programs designed for the freshman-year experience.

History

Our program started in 2001. Two Furman faculty members, with the support of the academic dean, applied for and received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to establish a “Center for Theological Exploration of Vocation” to encourage students, faculty, alumni, and others to reflect on their sense of calling.

Recommended Resources

Cothran Center: www.furman.edu/cothran

 For Pre-Orientation Program:

  • Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
  • The Essential Enneagram by Daniels and Price

For Annual Events:

In addition, we use several books and resources that have come out of the Programs for Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) effort.  We are also part of the Lilly Youth Theology Network (LYTN) and share ideas with other institutions hosting similar programs around the country.  These resources through LYTN are available online and via annual consultations and gatherings.

Administration/Operations

Our center originated with a grant from the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) to fund a “center for the theological exploration of vocation.” Currently we are funded by a university endowment established by generous donors (including the Cothran family, for whom we are named) who are committed to helping to keep meaningful programs for vocational reflection available for future generations of Furman students.

Assessment

(1)  Pre-Orientation Program:  At the end of the summer program, students complete a detailed evaluation form.  Additionally, we maintain contact with the students during their time at Furman—and as alumni.  Typically, every few years, we compile new videos and conduct interviews on the impact of this program during a student’s time at Furman.  We also have a number of students who return to help with the program in future years in some way.

(2)  Spring Break Program:  At the end of this program, students complete one-on-one exit interviews with Center/program staff.  These responses are compiled and then reviewed by the staff for program evaluation.  Additionally, we maintain contact with program participants over the years to consider the impact of this program on their current and future endeavors.

(3)  Annual Events:  In addition to attendance count, we use questionnaires to evaluate and improve individual components of most of our programs.  The most helpful form of feedback is (written or spoken) reflection from students about the impact on them of specific events, or the cumulative impact of participating in many events. We receive these not only in the questionnaires but also in spontaneous notes and emails from students, and from student remarks at the annual “senior celebration” dinner for the small group of seniors that have been involved with center programs over all four years at Furman.