First-year students living in Donner House, New House and Morewood Gardens on Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh campus are participating in a pilot program aimed at helping them identify and develop their personal values.
The "Big Questions" program is an opportunity for students to discuss meaningful issues with faculty and other students in a relaxed and informal setting.
"It's been a wonderful opportunity to sit down with an eager group of freshmen and discuss a wide range of issues — career, success, happiness, family — in a completely open and non-academic setting," said Mark Stehlik, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon and faculty volunteer for the program.
He added, "It's the kind of thing any faculty member would make time for — just being able to sit and chat with students; it's invigorating and it is what makes being an academic at Carnegie Mellon so rewarding."
Stehlik and 24 other faculty members are leading the twice-monthly discussions that explore compelling, provocative and inspiring questions related to finding purpose and meaning in our complex world.
Experiences vary from group to group and session to session but include reflection on short readings, local field trips and other activities. All are designed to get students thinking more about who they are and how they engage the world around them.
"My group explored the Chihuly Exhibit last week," said Amy Burkert, associate department head for biological sciences. "It was incredible to view it together and share our interpretations of the work. I have been able to connect with students from a variety of majors I probably would not have interacted with otherwise."
The program is led jointly by John Hannon on the student affairs side and Patricia Carpenter on the faculty side.
"As a group, the faculty volunteers are beginning to reflect on our big question about how to best nurture our students' capacity to reflect," Carpenter said.
Joshua Debner, a first-year student in the College of Engineering, has enjoyed getting to know a university professor better than he would have in a standard classroom setting and is pleased with the program.
"Our floor is predominantly engineering- and technical major-focused, and we had a heartfelt discussion on what we call a 'fluffy' topic — what is love?" said Debner. "It was incredible seeing everyone be really open about such an interesting topic, and try to come out of their comfort zone of numbers and solid arguments for something that is beyond comprehension."
The Big Questions program is a partnership between Carnegie Mellon's Student Development Office and the Office of the Vice Provost for Education.