Lunch Talks and Movie Nights Spur Meaningful Engagement

Published: Oct 16, 2009
Layer by layer, UT’s newest addition is slowly evolving steel and bolts into the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values. Ready and eager now, though, are the students and staff participating in programs offered by the Resource Team for Faith, Values and Spirituality.

The chapel construction triggered the formation of the resource team which was launched in the fall, said team leader and Associate Dean of Students Stephanie Russell Holz, adding that it is filling a gap in the UT community. In essence, they couldn’t wait until the chapel’s completion.

“We felt this initiative is bigger than a building. That’s why we decided to start now,” said Holz, also the director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement. “We’re filling a need, creating excitement for when the chapel does open, and we’re hopefully relieving any nervousness about the chapel.”

Unveiled during the groundbreaking, Holz said the resource team’s mission is to further strengthen UT students’ academic and personal development through character-building, spiritual development and enhancing their understanding of world cultures and religions.

“There are people out there who aren’t religious but who might be into world cultures,” she said. “Hopefully, our programs are broad enough and encompassing enough that everyone can find something they are interested in.”

A Spirituality and Film Series debuted Sept. 25 with the showing of Doubt with more than 90 students engaging in discussion afterward. The Last Lecture book club started Oct. 2 and will meet again Oct. 16, followed by the Life of Pi book club on Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, each with more than 15 students, faculty and staff per group.

“The goal is to get people to have meaningful conversations,” Holz said. “We want to trigger people to talk.”

Charu Bahl ’10 said that she believes this kind of programming will help dispel a lot of preconceived notions students have of the chapel.

“These programs help students go into depth and understand the different ways this place can be used and what sort of discussions will be brought on from it,” said Bahl, who is majoring in advertising and public relations.

Community Conversations kicked off in October and involves three lunch gatherings where faculty, staff and students are grouped for that meaningful conversation. While munching their lunches, they chew over topics like if humans are born with a conscience.

David Wistocki ‘13 said he joined Community Conversations as a way to meet student peers and professors while providing a break from the stress a freshman feels from multiple angles.

“I was a bit apprehensive to sign up because it seemed to be one of those opportunities that could be either great or a bit regrettable. Yet, my first impression was far from regrettable,” said Wistocki, who is majoring in international business and public health. “I was very surprised by the informal process of the meeting and how easy it was to engage within the conversation amongst so many others. While at times it seemed the conversation moved towards a dead-end, it remarkably was picked back up and moved along.”

“Everyone was engaged in the topic and the group was presented in a way that made me personally feel comfortable and free to speak without any predetermined judgment,” he said.

Based on response to these piloted programs, Holz said they most likely will be repeated and expanded in the spring. A Feb. 20 values-based retreat has been scheduled in conjunction with Spartan Leadership Connection and is open to 100 students.

For more information, contact the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at (813) 253-6233 or studentengagement@ut.edu. A calendar of events is also listed on SpartanWeb.

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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