At Valparaiso University, the Institute for Leadership and Service is giving undergraduate students the opportunity to combine a summer internship with a communal, reflective experience as a way of developing deeper purpose and a sense of calling through the Calling and Purpose in Society (CAPS) Fellowship Program.
“The point of the CAPS program is to give students a non-traditional internship experience that is professionally relevant and socially engaged,” said Rachel MacDonald, Program Coordinator at the Institute for Leadership and Service. “It’s rooted in reflection. Throughout the summer we help the students pull from their real world experiences and connect that to a deeper part of themselves in order to inform their future and understand their calling and purpose.”
The Institute provides Fellows with orientation and debriefing, a stipend for living expenses, and an alumni mentor. Cohorts are placed in cities around the U.S., and Fellows also participate in reflective discussions via Zoom, post on the CAPS Fellows Blog, and write a final reflective essay on their internship.
“We had three group reflection times throughout the summer, “ MacDonald said. “In the first, we discussed expectations – what did they expect from the workplace and how were those expectations met or not met. In the second one, we discussed calling, and in the last one we focused on purpose. We had about five fellows in each group, and that gave them each space to talk.”
The program views reflection as key to CAPS Fellows gaining insight into themselves, how they might best serve others, and what a purposeful life could look like after graduation.
“Taking time to reflect helps students pay closer attention to what they are experiencing and and consider what that might mean for their sense of purpose,” MacDonald said. “In addition to group reflections, students were given questions to ask themselves periodically throughout the summer: ‘Where did I give love? Where did I withhold love? What did I enjoy? What did I not enjoy?’ Reflecting on their experiences allowed them to identify patterns and consider what they really feel drawn toward. All of that culminated in a reflection essay at the very end.”
The CAPS Fellowship started in 2014. Fellows intern with organizations for 9-11 weeks in the summer, for a total of 300 hours. Through an application and selection process, up to 20 Fellows are selected and placed with organizations in NW Indiana, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Indianapolis, Austin, and a handful of other locations.
“The Fellows are walking away with a deeper understanding of life and are becoming more mature in the process. I’ve been blown away by our students and what they’ve learned,” MacDonald said. “I think this type of program could really benefit all students.”