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Emory Purpose Project offers opportunities for students to reflect on purpose and meaning
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In its inaugural year, the Purpose Project is fostering conversations on purpose and meaning through programming that includes workshops, events, trips and coursework.

If Emory chose a word of the year as dictionaries do, “purpose” would be a strong contender. The Emory Purpose Project (EPP) promises to further embed purpose and meaning into the fabric of the university’s educational experience and culture through collaborative programs and workshops for Emory students, faculty and staff.

“Pursuit of purpose is a very personal journey, yet we don’t embark on that journey alone,” says Ira Bedzow, EPP executive director. “We therefore need to build a community where people care about each other and the impact each of us can have. That is what the Emory Purpose Project is working to do.”

The inception of one of its fall programs demonstrates this ethos. Brewing With Purpose is a collaboration between fourth-year student Layla Dhabaan, an interdisciplinary studies major, and Bedzow.

Dhabaan first met Bedzow when she sought his counsel on her thesis, a bioethical examination of fertility treatment for refugee populations. Together, they envisioned Brewing With Purpose, where students and faculty could have meaningful conversations outside the classroom that weren’t simply about their courses. Their event during fall semester brought students and faculty together for coffee, conversation and connection at Kaldi’s at the Depot.

“I hope to see the Emory Purpose Project and Student Flourishing initiative expand their reach in the future,” says Dhabaan.

Learning to be purposely mindful

“The Purpose Project supports student flourishing and elevates the student experience,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who launched the Student Flourishing initiative and its Purpose Project.

“It points the way for students to find meaning and identify the values that will help them navigate complex issues and create fulfilling lives.”

Emory’s preeminence in purpose education positions the university to create a community for students who want to know why and how to apply knowledge in service to humanity.

This is the Purpose Project writ large: to help students build and access a muscle for reflection that allows them to explore, discover and act on what gives their life and work meaning to meet personal and professional goals.

The Purpose Project Spring Break, a new endeavor, will join Purpose Saunters, Flourishing Chats and the Tough Topics discussion series on the robust roster of EPP programs.

The goal of the Purpose Project Spring Break is to help students disconnect from the noise and stressors of everyday life to create moments of reflection. It’s a way to stimulate new questions for students related to who they are and how they want to exist and coexist.  

During Purpose Project Spring Break, 12-16 students will join Bedzow and Ed Lee, senior director of inclusivity for Emory College of Arts and Sciences, for five days to set aside their regular routines for unstructured contemplation and reconnection in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Phones, devices, books and any other entertainment will be left behind so that students can cultivate the stillness necessary for mindful presence.

“Whether it’s through meditation, mindful walks or sitting in silence, the practice of doing nothing can help students find a sense of calm and clarity,” says Lee, who is also the senior director of the Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation and Dialogue. “Aristotle would agree that free and leisured contemplation is the ultimate end of human beings. It is our only self-sustaining mechanism for flourishing.”

Purpose Project Spring Break registration is open to all students, and recommendations are not required. Bedzow encourages faculty and staff to share this opportunity with students who may feel overwhelmed or have expressed an interest in thriving. 

Bringing purpose to the classroom

Purpose work, however, is not simply an extracurricular activity. It is making its way into the classroom as well. Building on work done in Health 100 and ECS 101, the Purpose Project is working with faculty and the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence to incorporate meaning and mattering into courses.

This spring, Ariel Liberman, Paul and Marion Kuntz Scholar in Law and Religion at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, is launching new purpose-built courses. Liberman, who is also the Center’s director of undergraduate outreach and engagement, consulted with Bedzow while developing his syllabi.

Liberman’s goal for the courses, which include “REL 250: Introduction to Religion and Law” — currently waitlisted with more than 30 students in its first term — goes beyond preparing students to learn about the interdisciplinary field(s) of religion and law. He also wants students to use those studies to interrogate their own values and perspectives, and how they inform opinions on important challenges faced by our society. 

Honing these skills of self-reflection and understanding the interdisciplinary field’s diverse and widespread “religion and law” concerns will allow students to purposefully move toward their personal, intellectual and professional endeavors.

Liberman believes in the potential impact of this practice. “This will give Emory students an edge,” he says, “that will produce capable leaders in civic society and in their fields.”

Spring semester will also feature the Purposeful Teaching Fellowship, run through the Center for Faculty Development. Participating faculty will work on on curricular design, focusing on how to incorporate self-determination theory in their course offerings.

“Finding Your Voice and Speaking Your Values” is a workshop that Bedzow offers for faculty and staff units across Emory. It addresses the purposeful navigation of professional matters.

“I truly believe the core principles of the Purpose Project, when applied by leaders, can completely transform the decision-making process,” says Keiko Price, associate vice president of Campus Life and Clyde Partin Sr. Director of Athletics. The Athletics and Recreation leadership team participated in the workshop last semester. The team came away with a blueprint for implementing a values-based decision-making framework.

Team members were in consensus about the impact of the workshop, which tied leadership, flourishing, purpose and meaning together with service to the university community. 

“Emory is a university whose identity is tied to shared values. We should be proud of who we are and what we care about,” says Bedzow.

To contribute and learn more about working with the Purpose Project, contact Ira Bedzow, who is interested to know how members of the Emory community want to incorporate purpose, reflection and meaning into their lives and the lives of others.

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