A new college department, the Center for Servant Leadership will soon be moving into the Johnson Student Union. This department will be the result of a merging of the Community Service Center (CSC), the Center for Vocational Reflection (CVR) and the Office of Church Relations.
These three departments have existed separately for many years and are coming together to serve as a collaborative vocation and service-learning resource.
“This isn’t a new thing. We were really doing a lot of things together already. There was really a perspective ‘aha’ moment when we took a step back and realized that we’re like three branches coming from a common trunk. That trunk was the basic conviction [of] service,” Director of Church Relations Grady St. Dennis said.
“We’ll be able to build on the best of what we have each developed over [the] years,” Director of the Center for Vocational Reflection Chris Johnson said.
“I think it is a great opportunity for growth. It will be interesting to see what we are capable of. We all have ideas, but no one knows how it will work out,” Junior Health Fitness Major Jill Manthey said. She is an intern at the CVR.
The directors of the three current departments will serve as co-directors of the new Center for Servant Leadership for the first year. All staff members, including work-study students who are a part of one of the existing departments will be a part of the new center. Each existing department will bring what it already does, and through collaboration the new department hopes to be able to expand the work they already do.
“The practical reality of being together will help us be more efficient,” St. Dennis said.
“We’re exploring ways in which current programs might be more closely woven together, or even merged or combined over time. There are conversations about how the Servant Leadership Program (SLP) that comes out of the CVR and the Service Leadership Cohort that comes out of the CSC, might be more closely intertwined,” Johnson said.
“One of the things they are still trying to figure out is how we can still do our jobs but also assist the workers in the CVR and Church Relations,” Senior Biology Major and CSC Student Office Staffer Katie Lowery said.
The departments also recognize that they have individual strengths that they will be able to better share with others through new structure.
“Part of what I do in terms of the Office of Church Relations is outreach for the college. We have a connection with a lot of folks, so part of the conversation is the idea of being able to do more for the students, but then also into your alumni [years],” St. Dennis said.
The idea of expanding service learning beyond the college years will be a key part of the new department.
“The outreach capacity will enable us to be of service to people across their life spans, beginning with prospective students and their parents. [We will] certainly focus on students while they are here, but then working with congregations and congregational partners. Community partners will get … off the hill and into people’s lives as they are actually lived,” Johnson said.
“The question really is what do you do and why do you do it. If it was me and I was five years out in the field, that would be a really helpful question. I think it will really change [and] enhance the way we will do alumni relations. There’s a possibility to look back to the high school years [also]. We can start some of the critically reflective work that is done in a liberal arts kind of way earlier,” St. Dennis said.
“It is an opportunity to think about community in a different way. It’s a different way to engage people outside of ourselves. Not that we don’t do that currently, but this is going to expand these possibilities,” Director of Community Service and Service Learning Jeffrey Rathlef said.
“I think that I find really exciting is the ability to take what we do and do it better. In service, we talk a lot about not just doing service, but doing service well. I think this is an opportunity of people’s inner calling to serve, and how you take that inner calling and apply it to the world in ways that embody excellence,” Rathlef said.
“It will bring more meaning to your volunteering,” Lowery said.
Currently, the CSC and the CVR are located in Johnson Student Union. The Office of Church Relations is located in the Retreat House, near Norelius Hall.
To support the work of this new department, a new space will be constructed. The work will take place over Christmas Recess, January Interim Experience and Touring Week.
“The current CVR and Linner Lounge will be repurposed and brought together for the new home for the new center. It is a very visible and accessible location,” Johnson said.
“It will be nice to have resources centrally located on campus,” Junior Communication Studies Major Megan Gaard said.
The newly vacated spaces will continue to be used for similar types of things.
“The Community Service Center will become the new Linner Lounge,” Johnson said.
“The space over there where our offices currently are will be used as additional space for the house. The house purpose [will be the same]. It is overnight housing for folks participating in retreats and things like that,” St. Dennis said.
The departments decided that this is a good time to pursue a merger for a number of reasons.
“The idea and the conversations that have been happening for a number of years are ripened now. That background work has been done, so it is ready to go. The Commission [Gustavus] 150 process is really big, in terms of several major priority areas that were part of [the] process focused on work that each of our individual offices did. The creation of the center will allow the college to make significant progress towards implementing more than 70 recommendations that grew out of the process,” Johnson said.
“Another factor was that grant funding that was the origin and has been the support for the CVR is coming to an end next month, in December. It has been phasing down, [and] the college has been stepping up its ownership. The college needed to figure out how we [would] live up to the commitment that we have had for 10 years,” Johnson said.
The newly formed department will seek to be inclusive of people who wish to participate in its programs, regardless of their faith or lack thereof.
“We see a value of being inclusive. It’s not a new development that we’re suddenly inclusive because of this arrangement. This is how we have operated,” St. Dennis said.