Director of Community-Engaged Learning
On February 8, 2015, I boarded a flight with Associate Dean (soon to be Vice Provost) Shirley McGuire to the Pacific Northwest for a two-day Examen retreat at Seattle University. The Examen group was created as an attempt to strengthen informal but vital relationships between colleagues doing community-engaged work at similar institutions. This was the third annual gathering of service-learning directors from Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, St. Mary’s College of California, University of San Diego, and University of San Francisco. The beauty of this gathering lies in its focus on connecting peers from across institutions; integrating a “guest ally” from each institution to learn more about our field, reflecting on common successes and challenges inherent in our work; sharing insights and resources to enhance our practice, and revitalizing our unique commitments to community engagement as a vocation and calling.
This year’s gathering included an opening and closing Examen (a technique of prayerful reflection through which we can discern God’s presence in our lived experiences), a walk through a labyrinth at an historic local church, a “shop talk” on assessment of student learning and community impact, and several shared meals. It was especially wonderful to share the experience with Shirley, who is a dedicated champion of the work of the McCarthy Center and a kindred spirit with regard to our mutual passion for “Assessment.”
I always leave this gathering feeling renewed, inspired, and equipped with a few new resources to integrate into my work. I also leave feeling a deep kinship with the other participants, and often call upon them throughout the year for advice and support. At the end of this particular retreat, each participant was invited to select a clay heart with a word written on it as a reminder of the feelings elicited during our shared experience. I selected the heart with the word “gratitude” to help me evoke this feeling both in times of trial and triumph. I’ve already found myself picking up the heart from the top of my desk and turning it over in my hand several times since our gathering a few weeks ago. It really does seem to have talismanic powers. As I hold the heart, I hold abiding gratitude for all the ways the work of community—engagement fulfills and challenges me.