Boyer Hall and Hostetter Chapel sit side by side on Messiah College's campus.
Every fall, a new group of students start college at Messiah.But these first-year students won’t be the only “new
kids” on campus. While new students are attending the semester-long orientation known as Core Course, new Messiah faculty and other personnel directly responsible for communicating the College’s mission will have their own foundational classes to attend: the Provost’s Seminar.
For 13 hours last fall, two dozen educators and employees in their first year of employment at Messiah College took their turn as students in this in-depth introduction to Messiah’s history, heritage, and foundational values. Engineering department chair Randy Fish was one of them.
Fish says that never in his 15 years at four other colleges and universities has he encountered such a thorough and thoughtful orientation, which for him served as a springboard into the campus culture. His introduction in the Provost’s Seminar to Messiah’s emphasis on putting faith into action gave context to the existence of events like annual Service Day — an event when all classes are cancelled and hundreds of students, educators, and community volunteers devote their time to service projects on campus and in area communities.
Fish also says that he has never before seen service-learning applied throughout all the educational disciplines as it is at Messiah. “In engineering,” he explains, “we have a whole sequence of classes called the Integrated Projects Curriculum, in which all projects are designed for the betterment of society.”
Messiah’s living heritage
This distinctive service-learning emphasis grows out of Messiah’s foundational values, which reflect the
College’s theological heritage and, in 1996, took the form of Messiah’s present mission statement “to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service,
leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.” Also in 1996, the Provost’s Seminar was created, as a “means to flesh out more fully what our mission statement means,” says Rhonda Jacobsen, director of faculty development and professor of psychology. Initially, over a period of four years, all Messiah faculty and other employees tasked with communicating the College’s mission completed the seminar. In its current form, the seminar is presented annually over 13 weeks during the fall semester.
“A college can be successful in achieving its mission only if all employees, especially educators, understand that mission,” says Provost Randy Basinger. “At Messiah, in particular, it is important to understand how our two identities — being Christian and being a college — work together.”
To foster this understanding, Provost’s Seminar participants study the heritage that has shaped Messiah College. It is this heritage that continues to guide the College’s educational vision, which today embraces a
commitment to community, to service and reconciliation, and to the unity of faith, learning, and life.
Vocation within community
Messiah’s Provost’s Seminar also provides ample opportunity for faculty and staff to explore the meaning of Christian vocation in their own lives, through scholarly reading and discussion in smaller groups that continue into the following fall semester. “We describe our common calling as an institution, and we encourage our educators to find their own individual callings, to see a purpose for their lives that fits within our larger mission,” says Jacobsen.
Associate professor of nursing Nancy Woods who also attended the Provost’s Seminar last fall has incorporated her own passion for social justice into her students’ clinical experiences. Tapping into her more than 30 years of clinical experience that include teaching at the College of Notre Dame in Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, she has arranged for students to be trained as state-certified domestic violence counselors in the context of the public health course she teaches. And, in her obstetrics courses, she and her students visit a local pregnancy center to observe compassionate clinical care provided to pregnant women in difficult circumstances.
Fish also welcomes the focus for scholarship provided by Messiah’s mission, “which has got me rethinking the direction of my personal research toward something that has a real impact on people’s lives,” he says.
The success of blending a personal academic vocation with a faith-based institutional mission is a testament to the College’s hospitable academic and ecumenical atmosphere. The Messiah community welcomes and is enriched by a variety of Christian faith traditions while continuing to uphold its academic legacy. Woods, a Roman Catholic, says of the Provost’s Seminar, “There were many different denominations represented among the new faculty and staff, but it was so evident that we, looking for the common ground, all shared this unity of faith — of Christ preeminent.”
Through assigned texts, lectures, discussions, and one-on-one mentoring among faculty, the Provost’s Seminar articulates and conveys “Christ preeminent” throughout its curriculum, exemplifying how Messiah’s unifying values are intricately woven into college life. Fish’s and Woods’ experiences verify the adage that “what works well begins well”— whether in the rich heritage that gave birth to the College’s present-day mission statement or in the Provost’s Seminar, which provides a solid beginning for new faculty and staff to carry on that mission.
— by Rebecca Jekel
First-year students learn the ropes with orientation courses
While some new employees attend the orientation course known as the Provost’s Seminar, first-year students participate in their own assimilation into campus culture with First-Year Seminar (FYS) in the fall and the Created and Called for Community course in the spring.
An effort to help students become acclimated to college-level work, the First-Year Seminar explores thought-provoking subjects and focuses on teaching students to write proficiently. They are placed in specific peer groups, giving them an immediate opportunity to get to know each other. Megan Sisson ’11 says she benefited from the group dynamic. “My FYS group became really close, and the friendships went beyond just that first week of college when I didn’t know anyone,” she says.
Every spring, Messiah College’s first-year students attend the Created and Called for Community course, where they spend a semester pondering the question, “What is my vocation as a faithful steward of God’s creation?” John Eby, a professor of sociology who has taught the course, says, “By requiring it, we are saying that we think exploring these ideas is important for every Messiah College student, just like learning to write, to do art, to do math, to communicate.”
Through class discussion and readings, students focus on creation, community, and vocation through the lens of the College’s religious identity and values. The creation unit explores the idea of being made in the image of God, and what that means for students’ interactions with each other and with the earth. Students then express their creativity in an assigned project — anything from their own musical compositions to art projects.
“I really admire Messiah for having a class that explains the foundations the College was built on,” says Bethany Grosso ’12. “I know I came away with a deeper respect for the values Messiah holds, and the people of faith who began it.”
For the community unit, students consider the nature of interaction within the Church, the campus, and the world. The syllabus summary explains, “Along the way, we will consider both exemplars of community and areas where communities fall short — segregation, racism, isolationism, and violence.”
The final section of the course details how to incorporate the creation and community sections into one’s life. Service Day, which occurs in the middle of the unit, gives students a chance to practice what they’ve learned. Whether serving as a buddy for a Special Olympics athlete or pulling weeds at a nearby church, first-year students then implement the ideas they have talked about all semester.
— by Abigail Long ’12