- Helping College Students Find Purpose: The Campus Guide to Meaning-Making
In recent decades the topic of meaning-making by college students during their college years has increasingly captured the interest of practitioners, theorists, and researchers in higher education. In Helping College Students Find Purpose: The Campus Guide to Meaning-Making, Robert Nash and Michele Murray explore the topic of meaning-making from the blended perspective of a longtime faculty member and a veteran student affairs professional. Their intended audience includes those in the professoriate and higher education administrators and their over-arching theme contends that we are all—educators and administrators alike—participants and influencers in the experience of meaning-making among our students. This book is intended to make us both more capable and conscious of our roles in helping students to find meaning and purpose to their lives during their college years.
Chapter 1 explores the developmental construct of the quarterlife generation (Robbins & Wilner, 2001) and the readiness of "quarterlifers" to undergo a search for meaning. Meaning in this case, according to the authors, is [End Page 505] a sense of purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth (Baumeister, 1991) that gives purpose and direction to our lives. They describe five meaning-making cycles of the quarterlife era (ages 20 to 35) with the existential theme for each stage of choice. The chapter concludes in narrative fashion, as is the case throughout the book, exploring in this case the story of Maigret Lisee Fay, a 27-year-old "cycle-five quarterlifer" and her own self-told processing and reflections on her life's meaning.
The second chapter, entitled "Exploring the Meaning of Meaning: Existentialism and Postmodernism," is a largely philosophical exploration of the concept of meaning within the framework of existentialism and postmodernism. Drawing heavily on the writing of Viktor Frankl (Frankl, 1979), the authors weave the story of Amy, a high-achieving senior about to graduate summa cum laude with a double major and a heavy dose of crisis of meaning. The chapter provides an expository view of Robert Nash's background as a philosophical ethicist in its cogent critique and comparative analysis of existentialism and postmodernism and the views of both on the subject of meaning.
Chapter 3 focuses on religion and spirituality as means toward meaning-making. The authors make the case for the inseparable place of religion and spirituality in many students' quest for meaning during the college years. They present a typology of religious believers, from orthodox believers through mainline believers, mystics, and secular humanists (Nash & Bradley, 2008). The chapter vignette features Lara Scott, a student known by Nash for a dozen years and a self-proclaimed spiritual pragmatist. The chapter closes with a discussion of "mixed-belief capaciousness" (Nash & Baskette, 2008), or the practice of acceptance by one belief group of the acceptances of another in our quest to assist students' pursuit of meaning through religion and spirituality.
In chapter 4, the authors introduce the concepts of the "pedagogy of constructivism" and "deep meaning learning." The authors describe deep meaning learning as "interdisciplinary" and "integrative" learning which encourages "honest self-examination and a continual reexamination of what is important and what is not in the ongoing search for meaning" (p. 88). They suggest that such learning is best facilitated by interdisciplinary offerings across the humanities and that deep meaning learning is "emotional and cognitive, speculative and practical, spiritual and material, religious and secular, theoretical and experiential" (p. 88). The constructivist pedagogy facilitates such learning, according to the authors, by putting the emphasis on what the student knows and feels about the subject at hand, allowing students to construct and reconstruct knowledge as they receive it according to their own individual learning styles and life experiences. The chapter is rounded out with examples of deep meaning learning and constructivist pedagogy taken from the authors' experiences.
Chapter 5, entitled "Make Room for Meaning: Practical Advice," does just as it says. This chapter provides tips and suggestions for educators designed to set...