Fifteen years later, the song and the mantra haven’t changed – they are still being used by the younger generation (swap out Michael W Smith for Taylor Swift). Working with college and university students, I often find that this desire to find a place in this world is incredibly strong. College and university students have a strong desire to make an impact on the world, they desire to see their energy and skills applied to meaningful ways of affecting positive change, they desire to serve and volunteer and respond to the pressing problems that society encounters. How they will go about doing this, while focusing on their academics, important relationships, and discerning a vocation that must take into consideration financial capitol or lack there of, is another question.
As 21st century university graduates prepare to leave their academic institutions and enter the work force many feel the tension between making a strong impact on the world and making an income. Many would like to do both however many feel that ultimately they will need to go into a field that can help them either achieve financial stability or help them pay back their college loans – or both. Many students feel that concepts of service or making a difference may need to take a back seat until they have everything figured out.
Certainly the world in which students are entering today is different then the world I entered ten years ago, but I would suggest that there are some things that we can do to support our young adults in their quest to find a place in this world.
Create space to serve: This being said, there is a good amount of research on the effects of short term service/mission trips and we should be wise in what type of opportunities we are constructing, the affects on our partners, and of course never making something just for the sake of making it – but if your community is engaged in service and opportunities arise to engage young adults in service or volunteering, please save some space for your college students. Seek them out, see if they would like to get involved – please note that they will be busy and may not have a lot of time to give, but many have a desire to serve, make a difference, and think about how this desire relates to their life values and mission.
Additionally, not unlike what we see in our congregations, after a national or global crisis, disaster, or tragedy it is incredibly common to find university students ready to reflect and respond. Often times students want to do something in response and might choose to organize supplies drives or put together trips with club/university approval. When we create space for our young adults to serve, volunteer, and help respond to crisis, we are creating space for their growth, nurturing their avenues to conversations about faith, and allowing the opportunity for discernment to happen.
Consider inviting them in as colleagues: Many university students are actively thinking about discernment and seeking out opportunities to try their possible fields on for size. Many colleges and universities offer community service work study programs (offered through the Federal Work Study program) where non-profits can create work positions for local university students and the students are paid through their financial aid packages. If you think that your organization would be open to having an intern that is a psychology, theology, sociology, education, or social work major this would be a great way to invite students into your community to consider their vocation. Check with your local college or university Financial Aid office for more details on FWS programs open to community partners in your region.
Create space for discernment: When I lived in Oregon my faith community, a local Lutheran church, offered discernment circles. This was an opportunity to have a group of committed sojourners pray and discern alongside you as you discerned something in your life. The best part of these circles was that the person discerning knew they were not alone in their big contemplation. Likewise the circle was then committed to going through their own discernment as they prayed and walked with the person in the circle. By creating space for discernment in our congregations and communities, students and others seeking support in discerning feel supported.
We are all looking for our place in this world, some would say it is a continuous quest -help the college students in your community find their place in this world by creating avenues for discernment this year.