St. Olaf College

Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat - Quo Vadis means “where are you going?” The annual Quo Vadis Retreat offers St. Olaf sophomores a unique opportunity to step away from campus to reflect on where they have been, who they are, and where they are going within a supportive community.


  • Audience: Any sophomore. 15 small group facilitators are selected who are juniors and seniors.
  • When: Offered once in fall semester in early November, and once in the spring semester, typically early April.  It starts at 5:00pm on a Friday evening and ends at approximately 6:00pm on Saturday evening.
  • Frequency: Once a semester.
  • Approximate Number of Participants: 180 participants attending two distinct retreats.
  • Focus of Retreat: Faculty members, staff, student leaders, and young alumni share perspectives on vocational discernment and living a meaningful life. Sophomore participants reflect on and discuss these and related topics in small groups facilitated by student leaders.

Funding & Operations

  • External Support:  None
  • Operations: Approximately $9000 per retreat for 95 students or $18,000 per year for 190 students.


The Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat is a unique opportunity for sophomores to step away from campus for 24 hours to think about who they are becoming and where they are going as part of supportive community made up of fellow students, staff, faculty and young alumni.  Through this opportunity students reflect on joys and challenges of their lives, explore questions of meaning and purpose, gain insights about their values and interests, and consider potential next steps for vocational discernment and career exploration. 


The Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat was developed to offer sophomores an opportunity to gather in community, build relationships, and reflect together on the concept of vocation.  The retreat was a response to the unique developmental opportunities and needs of sophomores and the desire to create an opportunity for more sustained reflection of “big questions,” especially those related to awareness of one’s values, interests and identities. Quo vadis means “where are you going?” and the retreat was formed with that question in mind. 

The retreat evolved to become one of the signature programs of the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation & Career, the office charged most directly with helping students discern their talents and interests, achieve their full potential, and prepare for life after college. In addition to significant reflection on questions of meaning and purpose, the retreat also includes activities that help students “take the next step” to take advantage of the career center and other campus resources.

The scale of the retreat has grown dramatically. The retreat grew from 40 students in year one to 100 students by the third year. In year four, a second retreat was offered, increasing the number of participants to over 180.

Recommended Resources

Piper Center for Vocation & Career:

  • Mary Stuart Hunter, Barbara F. Tobolowsky, and John N. Gardner. Helping Sophomores Succeed: Understanding and Improving the Second-Year Experience. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010
  • Sharon Daloz Parks. Big Questions Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith. San Francisco: Joseey-Bass, 2000
  • Kaethe Schwehn and L. DeAne Lagerquist, edit. Claiming Our Callings: Toward a New Understanding of Vocation in the Liberal Arts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014


Operations: It costs approximately $9000 per retreat for 95 students or $18,000 per year for 190 students.


Yes, we ask participants to complete an online survey within a few days of attending the retreat. The response rate is typically over 75%. In 2013-2014, approximately 90% of students indicated that the retreat was “extremely valuable.” 35% of student participants mentioned a feeling of relief or reduced anxiety.