Pacific Lutheran University

Explore! Retreat - Explore! is a retreat between the first and second semester of the first academic year which supports students in their transition to the college experience and is a collaborative effort of faculty, staff, and student leaders. 

Format

  • Audience: First year students.
  • When: First weekend of January-term, a one-month short term in which students take a single four-credit course. The retreat itself begins on Friday evening of the first week of classes and concludes the next afternoon.
  • Frequency: Once a year.
  • Focus of Retreat: Prior to the actual retreat, facilitator triads (consisting of a faculty, staff, and upper division student member) participate in a training retreat, which takes up a Saturday morning and early afternoon in November.

Funding and Operations

  • Operations: The cost for the 2015 retreat was $13,000.  This includes the cost of both the event itself and the facilitator training prior to the event. Training expenses included travel and honoraria for our trainer, supplies, T-shirts, breakfast, and lunch for those who attended.  Event expenses included facility rental for our off campus venue, transportation to that venue, meals for both days, supplies, promotional costs, and small stipends for our facilitators.
  • External Support: The initial Explore! Retreats were funded as a part of the Wild Hope Project (through the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation). They have now been fully institutionalized, and are funded within the Wild Hope Center for Vocation and Student Life budgets.

Description

Explore! is intentionally situated between the first and second semester of the first academic year. It supports students in their transition to the college experience and is a collaborative effort of faculty, staff and student leaders. The retreat is informed by the PLU mission and invites students to consider the opportunities available through the curriculum and co-curriculum to engage in “inquiry, service, leadership and care—for others, for their communities and for the earth.”  Over the course of the weekend students begin to articulate “big enough” questions and learn effective ways to wrestle with them.  They consider their vocation as a student and how that vocation may extend beyond their time at PLU. It is not a weekend of answers, conclusions, or outcomes, but a weekend of formulating questions and weaving their strengths into the fabric of who they are and will become.

 

History

In 2002, PLU received funding from the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation and launched the Wild Hope Project. The Project’s first programs began in September, 2003, and the first ever Explore! retreat for first-year students took place in January, 2004. The objective of the Wild Hope Project was to enhance the capacity of the entire university (faculty, staff and students) to serve as a mentoring community – one that produced students who embody the PLU mission to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care, for others, their communities and the earth. In 2008, the university received a sustainability grant from the Lilly Endowment that continued funding for the Wild Hope Project through 2011. In May, 2011 the PLU Board of Regents, upon recommendation by the faculty assembly, created the Wild Hope Center for Vocation to carry on the work of the Wild Hope Project. 

Recommended Resources

The primary text that informed the curriculum for the Explore retreat was Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose and Faith by Sharon Daloz Parks.  The work of  Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda informed some of our activities, particularly her writings on student development theory. Finally, Explore! is the subject of an article in the October, 2010 Journal of College and Character written by Wendelyn Shore, Eva Johnson and Amber Dehne-Baillon entitled "The Pedagogy of Event Planning: Facilitating First-year College Students' Reflective Learning."

Administration/Operations

The cost for the 2015 retreat was $13,000.  This includes the cost of both the event itself and the facilitator training prior to the event. Training expenses included travel and honoraria for our trainer, supplies, T-shirts, and breakfast and lunch for those who attended.  Event expenses included facility rental for our off campus venue, transportation to that venue, meals for both days, supplies, promotional costs and small stipends for our facilitators.

Assessment

Each year, our final session with students includes a survey instrument in which they are invited to respond to a set of categorical questions and also give longer-form written responses. These data have served as the basis for a published article (see resources above), and continue to inform adjustments in response to perceived student needs. This year we revised our assessment tool to more closely reflect our stated learning outcomes. In addition we sent a survey to facilitator triads in order to record the observation of learning within the small groups and compare perceptions between the two groups.