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Real Life Project holds first dinner

Alicia Smith | Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Real Life Project, a program designed to help Saint Mary’s students discern vocations, sponsored its first faculty-student dinner Wednesday in a series that will give students the opportunity to discuss spirituality and career paths with their professors.

Though this is only the program’s second year, Dr. Kathleen Dolphin, director of the Center for Spirituality and professor at the College, said The Real Life Project is starting to realize its potential as a resource for students.

“We subsidized it as a pilot project last year. The results were so overwhelmingly positive that we decided our finger was on the pulse of something here,” Dolphin said. “It really prompted us to keep going with it.”

Religious Studies Associate Professor Anita Houck and Kim Abeel, a Saint Mary’s alumna from the class of 2008, originally created the program, Dolphin said.

For each of the semester’s four sessions, students and faculty converse about how to think for the future over a dinner hosted in Welsh Parlor in Haggar Hall.

“Small groups of students and faculty share our experience in making major life decisions. And we do this over dinner,” Dolphin said. “Faculty have goals and dreams as well, and to have conversations with students with what that looks like in our lives is really well received.”

Dolphin said students think of the program as a chance to have an important conversation with their professors that they may not have opportunities for during class.

“The students feel like this is really an adult conversation they’re having with professors. It’s a good opportunity for a quality conversation,” Dolphin said. “Students tell me that these evening sessions are unique and that faculty and students have these adult conversations about personal matters in ways that may not be possible in the classroom.”

According to Dolphin, before each meeting students and faculty are responsible for doing some “homework.” These background exercises help participants to prepare for a more meaningful conversation.

“All of us enter into a discernment process. We all come prepared. We’ve all do our homework. Homework includes such things as journal keeping, quiet reflection, prayer and participating in a personality inventory,” Dolphin said. “They come prepared, and they come for a meaningful discussion over dinner.”

The project coincides with the Cross Currents Program at the College, which also attempts to help students determine their passions and life goals.

“The Real Life participants help sophomores address their questions of ‘what are my passions?'” said Dolphin. “We are going to focus mostly on sophomores because of the Cross Currents Program.”

Dolphin said after this semester, 40 students and 11 faculty members from seven different academic departments will have participated in the program.