February 2020

Excerpted with permission from St. Olaf College. View original article.

Brendan Weed

The sophomore year of college can be a tough one for many students. They’re no longer transitioning to college as first-year students, and they haven’t yet delved into upper level coursework, mentored research, internships, and off-campus study. Some second-year students struggle with what’s known as the “sophomore slump,” or a decline in academic performance, and most are laser focused on the next step of choosing a major.

To help sophomores navigate the murky waters of that second year, St. Olaf developed the annual Quo Vadis — Latin for “Where are you going?” — Retreat in 2011 as a 24-hour, off-campus experience at Camp Ihduhapi in Loretto, Minnesota. The 85 or so students who attend each year interact with upper-class students, faculty and staff members, and young alumni who share their vocational journeys and offer ideas for living an engaged and purposeful life.

“The second year is so important for making decisions about your major field of study, for starting to identify a career path, and for defining how you’re going to make the best use of your time at St. Olaf,” says Nate Jacobi, associate director of career development, data, and operations at the Piper Center. “This event is just for sophomores. It focuses on vocational discernment and asks the foundational questions of ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘What’s important to me?’ and ‘How do I get where I want to be?’”

The retreat helps students think along those lines through discussion and reflection. St. Olaf College Pastor Matthew Marohl opens the event by speaking on vocational discernment — the process of discovering how your skills and interests meet the needs of the world, which is often a new concept to sophomores. Juniors and seniors — mostly past Quo Vadis attendees — lead small group discussions, faculty and staff members share “crossroad” events that altered or shaped their lives, and young alumni provide insight into their career paths, sharing both their stumbles and their successes.

“The students map out their interests, experiences, and influences, and then reflect on where those are leading them,” Jacobi says. “We talk about taking ownership of your own definition of success and not one that’s been projected onto you.”

The Quo Vadis Retreat also serves as an introduction to the Piper Center’s other programs, as well as additional campus resources students can take advantage of as they begin to explore and develop their paths through college and beyond.

“Quo Vadis is a mix of discernment, leadership and personal development, social connections, and networking,” Jacobi says. “It’s about a space for sophomores to step away and reflect on where they want to go.”