Asking Questions ‘Worthy of the person you can become’ – Jillian Yoder

19 Mar

In her work, ‘Big Questions, Worthy Dreams,’ (2000) author Sharon Daloz Parks calls attention to the significance of the young adult years and the essence of mentoring environments in the development of meaning and faith. In part inspired by Parks’ work, the Worthy Questions program at The College of Wooster encourages the important process of meaning making through quality conversation and critical thought within a unique, intergenerational community.  While the program is not specifically faith-based nor rooted in any one religious tradition, student participants (called Questers) are encouraged to ask questions ‘worthy of the person [they] can become,’ deepening their reflection on their own personal commitments.

The Worthy Questions program currently serves approximately 50 student Questers and 50 adult/community participants (Mentors). Questers are selected in the fall semester of each academic year. Mentors join our community from both the College and the surrounding area, bringing a wide range of age, interests, and perspectives. Mentors aren’t regarded as the experts – rather, they serve as a bit more experienced companion for the ‘Quest’ of responding thoughtfully to a curriculum put forward in three parts. New Questers and Mentors are paired each January.

Each semester, a theme is put forward for the Worthy Questions community to consider together. While each semester’s theme becomes more specified in the planning process, general examples include relationships, identity, and ethics. Following a kickoff retreat each January, three central components of the Worthy Questions program are centered on this theme for the semester.

  • Large Group sessions, open to ALL participants, are scheduled for one evening each month, and typically feature a speaker and reflection activity that advance conversation around the semester’s theme.
  • Questers only participate in Small Groups of 8-12 that, with the guidance of a facilitator, offer a smaller venue for intentional conversation with peers three times per month.
  • Finally, each Mentor/Quester pair meets at the time that best fits their own schedules. This can include conversation and a meal, walks, or shared activities – at the preference of the pair.

As the coordinator of the program, it’s a joy to work with such a thoughtful, diverse, and engaged community. It is also a privilege to share program leadership with 2-3 Worthy Questions student interns each year. These students, current Questers, meet for a minimum of one hour per week to provide insight and guidance for the program. Interns contribute their own reflections on the theme, and provide suggestions for speakers and materials they believe to be highly relevant. These good thinkers also manage a great deal of the careful communication necessary to nurture the community as a whole – checking in on Mentor/Quester relationships, and following up on attendance questions. At the intersection of a pre-planned theme and their lived student experience, Interns play an essential role in planning a curriculum and activities that are interesting, thought provoking, and theme-appropriate.

While I always find it a bit challenging to describe the mechanics of the Worthy Questions program in full, I am confident that the fruits of these logistics can be seen most clearly in the sense of shared relationship and trust fostered by the program. While not every Mentor/Quester pair stays in touch after a Quester’s graduation (though I am always surprised by how many do!), this diverse group creates an environment of trust where students feel safe in expressing the questions that are important to them. Questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What would a purposeful life look like?’ may not a given a great deal of time in other campus spaces, but Worthy Questions provides the space, time, and a trusted community that encourages young people to dwell with exactly these types of ‘big questions.’ It is my hope that for all who participate, the program will provide far more questions that it answers – and that students will continue to use the tools they’ve been given to continually pursue questions of both meaning and faith.

 

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Jillian Yoder is the Assistant Chaplain for Interfaith Campus Ministries at The College of Wooster in Wooster, OH. Jillian has been the Assistant Chaplain since 2013, she joined the staff at The College of Wooster in 2011. She holds an M.A. in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and is a 2009 graduate of Ashland University.  On campus, Jillian coordinates the Worthy Questions and Queer Spirit programs, coordinates residential programming and reflection initiatives for service, charter, and program houses and manages the Office of Interfaith Campus Ministries. If you have any questions, she would love to talk with you about the program. Don’t hesitate to email Jillian at jiyoder@wooster.edu.

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