kids jumping

Learning Self, Skills, and Strengths

Monica Holb ’09

from Fall 2017

“One might be surprised to learn the tennis bubble is not the only bubble on Butler University’s campus. Bubbles pop up in dorms, clubs, and classrooms. Students may have remarkable experiences, but if contained to their own bubbles, they may not recognize their learning in one area can impact others,” Caroline Huck-Watson, Director of Programs for Leadership and Service Education (PuLSE), said.

But a powerful force is bursting these bubbles by intentionally connecting students and introducing reciprocal learning: the PuLSE Office. 

The office is the campus hub for co-curricular activities, including Ambassadors of Change (AOC) and the Emerging Leaders Program. Using the term co-curricular is an indication of PuLSE’s intentionality. Students arrive on campus with a high school resume filled with extra-curricular activities, but quickly learn how that term differs from co-curricular. During Welcome Week, Huck-Watson relieves brand-new Bulldogs of the need to feel their work outside of the classroom is additive. 

“It is not extra. These service and leadership activities are woven into your overall experience,” Huck-Watson said, explaining the importance of reciprocity between co-curricular programming and academics. Huck-Watson also sees the value in Butler’s new Themed Living Communities (TLCs). “Students are living in an environment where they are exploring things in an intentional way,” she said. (See related article on page 6.)

Intention and reciprocity are top bubble-bursting strategies. Reciprocity means that students bring the ideas they are studying in the classroom and breathe life into them through co-curricular activities, and vice-versa. “It is about making meaning of one’s experiences. Students come to the University to learn and develop. That is happening in the classroom, but we certainly see it happening outside the classroom as well,” Huck-Watson said. “One might say of PuLSE programming, ‘that was fun.’ But behind that was a myriad of opportunities to learn about one’s skills, self, and strengths. That is what staff in the PuLSE Office, and all of Student Affairs, looks to do: connect ‘fun’ to opportunities for growth.” 

Indeed, learning is not confined to the classroom: service-based education allows students to engage in a service opportunity and learn about the theories behind it, such as the active citizen continuum. “Service education is the cornerstone of everything we do,” said Jen Agnew, Associate Director of PuLSE. “Students learn how they operate in their community and how they can contribute in a meaningful way.”

One of the flagship PuLSE programs is AOC, a pre-orientation program that focuses on service to society and leadership skills development. The program challenges students to understand themselves and see how they fit into the larger Indianapolis community—and what they can do to change it. During AOC, in the days leading up to Welcome Week, students begin understanding “their head, their heart, their hustle,” in the context of service and discover social justice issues in Indianapolis, Agnew said. 

AOC facilitates asking “why” questions and using the community voice to analyze the root causes of issues like food insecurity. Done during the first few days of the transition to college student, these exercises prime young minds to continue that line of questioning into the classroom. “Hopefully that becomes a process they carry with them in their other campus experiences, too,” Huck-Watson said.

Such holistic development gives Butler students license to understand themselves and the power to change their communities, while building a foundation for their own well-being. The 2016 Gallup-Purdue Index, a national survey of graduates, found that those with experiential learning and involvement in activities and organizations had double the odds of being engaged at work and thriving as an adult. 

Interest in this type of engagement is popular among students, but Huck-Watson urges them to be intentional, just like the programming designed by the PuLSE Office. PuLSE encourages students to invest in the programs that are of interest to them and allow time for meaningful contributions. 

“A message we emphasize is that your involvement should bring joy. There are a million and one things to do. Look at the opportunities. But at the end of the day, to grow and develop you need to be intentional,” Huck-Watson said. 

The bubbles have met their match.