Finding Purpose in Frustration

Students attend a lecture from the Boucher Career Education Center on best practices for resumes and job opportunities PHOTOS COURTESY OF PURPOSEFUL LEARNING

Aurora York | News and Features Editor |

 The class of 2026 at St. Michael’s College became the first class to participate in the new Purposeful Learning program. This program and the Office of Purposeful Learning which created it were born out of the college’s 2020 Strategic Plan, Forward with Purpose.With the Office of Purposeful Learning Heidi St. Peter was appointed director along with three success advisors, with the class of 26′ split between Vernita Weller, Lou Dimasi, and Katie Barry. 

As a member of the class of 2026, I attended the large group and small group classes. And I heard the complaining everywhere I went. St. Peter, director of purposeful Learning and leader of all group activities, said she was shocked by the outrage from the class of 2026. “I guess I really didn’t expect that much anger,” she said. Even though the first semester wasn’t perfect, were we out of line in our complaints? Should we instead have tried to absorb the good teaching and information from this new course?

Students expressed many complaints, the first being when the class occurred. When Purposeful Learning was formed as a class, the only available time frame was noon. Unfortunately, that was the only time many students could eat lunch. Another issue for students was the large group meetings. Since the class of 2026 was so small, for St. Peter, it seemed a no-brainer to put the whole class in the auditorium. But for some students, especially those immuno-compromised, the issue of COVID and other illnesses was a significant concern, as many people in a tight space are at high risk for spreading germs. And finally, may students had  issues with the topics that the panels and the professors talked about. Many topics were repetitive, and many classes included long forums with a lot of listening and almost no discussion or talking. 

While I felt many of these complaints were valid, the anger seemed like far too much. Although it was repetitive and a little infuriating at times, it was still informative, and I couldn’t imagine going through my first semester without it. But eventually a rumor about a second semester of Purposeful Learning appeared, and several students went to go do something about it. 

One of the students who met with St. Peter was Ruby Sorenson, Class of 2026. Sorenson, student representative for the class of 26 at the time and now Senator-elect for the school year of 2023-2024, heard the complaints and felt it was her job to communicate the issues. “I got the feeling that there was something that needed to be done about it,” she said. Sorenson emailed St. Peter and eventually met with her in person. Through this meeting and a few others, St. Peter understood the students’ frustrations and gained a deeper understanding of what the class should be like in the future. 

Yet many of the student’s experiences were not as St. Peter intended them to be. “I didn’t want them to feel like they were guinea pigs because both of us were going through this new experience together,” St Peter said. She went on to say that many of the issues weren’t what they expected, and many they could not control, such as the scheduled class time for both large and small group meetings. And although there was going to be a second semester of Purposeful Learning, the class structure, as well as the content taught was changed according to students’ criticisms as much as possible.

The time was moved to be later, and the large groups were annulled. Instead, there were small groups that met once a week, where students could pick the professor they wanted and even plan to be with their friends if they wanted to be. In addition to this, the workload was shortened-the topics were broader and future-focused. Instead of focusing on the now familiar resources and activities on campus, students focused on leadership, their place in the community, and post-college opportunities. 

 Peer mentors were also added to the structure of the class, older students who had already experienced the toughness and challenges of being a first-year in college. Peer mentors offered support and wisdom, participating in the teaching and planning as much as each mentor wanted to. Jenna Walker,’24 a student employee at the Office of Purposeful Learning and a peer mentor in one of the small group classes, said that every class was different. “It was up to the professor and the peer mentor to decide how much teaching and leading they wanted to do, and every Purposeful Learning class was different in that way,” Walker said.  

Overall, the feedback for the second semester was much better. Students engaged further, learned new things, and applied topics they learned to their lives. Sorenson commented that she witnessed the rise in engagement firsthand. “It really seemed like students wanted to engage more in the second semester, especailly since they were enocurgaed to be involved in more applicable situatinos in the second semester”. Sorenson said.  

But how could we have been different?

For St. Peter, the response was astounding. “I was shocked by the outpouring of anger from everyone,” she said. It was such a new perspective to see St. Peters’s reaction to the response that, at the time, seemed warranted. When I saw the hurt and confusion on her face it completely changed my perspective on the first semester of Purposeful Learning. Were we as a class overdramatic? Did we step too far in our collective anger that we forget that real people on the other side created these activities and courses with our interests in mind? 

Of course, there were some bumps at the beginning of Purposeful Learning. But like any new thing, there are bound to be some problems that need to work. We forgot our empathy, our respect, and most of all, our kindness in our response to Purposeful Learning. I am proud to be part of the St. Michael’s community, and I am proud to be part of such an already successful class. But our response to Purposeful Learning was not something to be proud of. Overall, I think it was a learning experience for everyone, the Purposeful Learning office and the class of 2026. Although we needed to communicate and advocate for ourselves, the hate and anger were something that wasn’t necessary, and I would go back and change if I could. 

The curriculum and resources must be broad in a class of so many students. As much as I believe it can feel redundant and sometimes condescending to have the same topics taught multiple times, many of the resources we were made aware of during the Purposeful Learning class completely changed my college experience. Learning about things like the writing center, club opportunities, Bergeron health services, and so much more allowed me to choose the best resources according to my interests and needs. 

In the future, I hope they can combine a mixture of topics focused on-campus resources available to students and a broader perspective of careers and life. 

We as students lost our sense of perspective when reacting to Purposeful Learning. But most importantly, we forgot that this was new for everyone. Overall, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been better. But in the end, the experience was the one we got, and the true skill of any person is being able to take the good from any experience.