The Purpose Model

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  -- Parker J. Palmer

Purpose has long been part of our culture and the education and advising we offer our students, even though we have not formally call it by that name. We have a long tradition of helping students think through the skills they are developing and how they may align with particular career paths. We also encourage students to explore new areas for growth and engage in experiences to fuel their interests and passions. And we pride ourselves on having a community in which students can thrive – creating strong, lasting relationships, contributing to the lives of others, and appreciating these relationships in how they enrich their own lives.

Until recently, the connection of these efforts to purpose has not been clear. How does one help students develop a sense of purpose? Some students arrive at college with a clearly defined sense of purpose in life. It may be rooting in theology, or aligned with a career path, or simply a willingness or desire to engage in the world in a particular way. Still, for many students, having a sense of purpose is far from their thinking. With this Quality Enhancement Plan, we will now work to frame up what we do every day for students in a way that will bring purpose to life in an accessible way for more on campus and help promote the College to new prospects and other external audiences.

To facilitate purpose-driven engagement, processing, growth, and decision-making, we have developed a model to prompt and guide student reflection. Our Purpose Model is clear and simple, yet powerful.

The Purpose Model

Each part of this diagram represents an element of development and reflection. Experiences, programming, and conversations can then align with one or more element, and students can be prompted to reflect on these elements.

  • SKILLS is a reflection on what makes you, you. It is a critical reflection of your talents, skills, beliefs, values, and other elements of self. It should also explore areas of potential and growth.
  • LOVE is a reflection on your motivations, interests, and passions. A question about what gets you excited about the day – what you’ll do and how you’ll engage in the world to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • NEEDS is a reflection on how you engage in the world. Who are your communities? How do you contribute to these communities and the lives of others? How do they shape who you are?
  • VALUE is a reflection on what’s important to you. What personal and professional rewards do you value? And how do these rewards contribute to your wellbeing?

Reflecting on these elements leads to an understanding of how they intersect within the context of an experience, event, or conversation, and provide a means to find purpose within that experience. As a student develops, so does the degree of comprehensiveness (quantity and depth of response) and the degree of complexity (quantity of connections and tie/relationship to concept) of their reflections. For example, a 1st-year student might describe themselves as being good at math but have little understanding of what to do with that knowledge. As a senior, their response would have evolved into a statement about their ability to solve complex problems through their skills in quantitative reasoning and statistical analysis. They may even connect this skill with an interest/passion and understand how they could use this skill effectively in a particular career path. And they may even find it rewarding to think about their ability to do so. In this way, they develop a sense of purpose in that work.

The simplicity if this approach is two-fold. First, student development is guided through conversations and reflections. Students can be prompted to think and reflect on these questions as they develop their personal narrative. And we can assess student progress through various direct and indirect measures. Second, the model provides a framework for all members of our community to contribute to helping students develop a sense of purpose – instructors can remind students of the skills they develop in a course; academic advisors can ask advisees about their interests and passions; and office managers can provide opportunities for student workers to explore the importance of their work for the community. By using common language and this simple model, we can all – the entire Roanoke College community – contribute in small and large ways to helping students develop a sense of purpose. As new initiatives are begun and programming introduced, they can be aligned with purpose through the language that we use.