Cultivating Conversation

June 4, 2003

This fall's freshmen will experience a few changes in a longstanding Baylor tradition -- Chapel. 
In addition to required attendance at Chapel services on Monday and Wednesday, all freshmen will attend Chapel Friday -- new, small-group discussion seminars led by University faculty and professional staff. 
The seminars, to be held the first six weeks of the fall semester, give students an opportunity to process what they've heard from Chapel speakers earlier in the week, a need students have expressed in Chapel evaluations, said Dr. Todd Lake, dean for University Ministries. 
"The current structure of Chapel simply does not allow for a chance to discuss what is being presented, nor does it provide an opportunity to reflect on how one might integrate these insights into one's life," he said. "Chapel Friday is one way to address this." 
Last spring, student, faculty and staff representatives collaborated on the development of the new programming. More than 100 faculty and staff members volunteered to lead 20 to 25 students during the six, 50-minute sessions. 
Aside from providing an open arena for discussions about students' spiritual questions, the small-group settings will help create a "sense of connectedness" -- a factor that affects student retention, said Dr. Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life. 
"We all desire to be part of a caring community, and that is especially true when a person is transitioning to a new level of independence," Dr. Hulme said. "Research has shown us when freshmen have a chance to interact in small groups with faculty and staff, they feel more connected to the University, and that ultimately helps retention." 
At the end of the six weeks, students can choose to join one of three covenant groups -- a local ministry team, a small-group Bible study or a group exploring the Christian faith. Participation in any of these groups is voluntary, Dr. Lake said. 
Dr. Cathleen Corrie, assistant professor of French, participated in previous discussions with Dr. Lake about involving faculty with students' religious lives. Although she's unable to lead a group because of scheduling conflicts, she sees great value in the program. 
"Faith certainly has a part in the life of the mind, and being a committed Christian as well as an educator means caring for the students' development overall, not just, for example, French students," she said. "Every time a student has an opportunity to integrate one part of campus life with another, there is a wonderful chance to gain a more holistic perspective on life."