Helping students 'figure it out'
Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:00 am
Helping students 'figure it out'
By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
College life can be a frenzy. But when the stress of juggling class, work and student activities rises, a few people around campus offer students a little peace.
"As the semester goes on, students can get overwhelmed," said Sister Pam Mueller, director of Campus Ministry at Brescia University. "I try to meet them where they are and give some direction."
The Rev. Kent Lewis, campus minister and chaplain at Kentucky Wesleyan College, said his main goal is to be available.
"I want the students to know that I'm always here to help," he said.
Sister Pam and Lewis reach students one-on-one or through student groups and have established or assisted with programs geared toward spiritual development. Their roles often go beyond that, though.
Influenced by her schoolteachers who were Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Pam joined the order in 1969.
"To many of the students, I represent religion, and that can be off-putting," she said. "So, another part of my role is to break down the stereotypes of what it means to be a sister, so sometimes I eat lunch with them in the dining hall, and I'm an extrovert, so I'm good at reaching out. I also do a lot of listening to be sure not to take them anywhere they don't want to go spiritually."
With her background and master's degrees in speech-language pathology and deaf education, Sister Pam has worked as a school pathologist and in director positions within the communication disorders departments at Brescia and St. Louis universities.
She has been the director of campus ministries at Brescia full time since 2006. She also coordinates service learning activities and the Interest Fair, an exposition of student groups, campus resources, athletic teams and academic departments at the beginning of the semester.
Until this semester, Sister Pam said it was often difficult to get to know students since she didn't see most of them on a daily basis. Now she teaches BU 101 and 102, fall and spring freshmen courses that aim to help students transition smoothly.
"I'm enjoying it," she said. "There are eight students, so it's very intimate."
She will also continue a club she started a few years ago based on the book "Ten Evenings With God" by Sister Ilia Delio. The book features 10 short chapters on the mystery of God and getting to know God. The group meets five evenings in the fall and five in the spring.
"We read and talk about our relationships with God, you know, ‘Who is God for me? How attentive am I to God's voice?'" she said. "The students are making connections to real life, their beliefs and each other. College is a critical time for that."
Lewis said working with college students is where he felt most comfortable. He studied radio broadcasting at KWC — Lewis is the announcer at home football games — and graduated in 1998. He accepted his call to the ministry during his sophomore year, though, and later earned a master of divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary.
Lewis was the campus minister from 2000-2003, then worked as an associate pastor and youth minister at churches in Louisville and Sebree before returning to KWC in 2007.
"I just love working with young people who have their whole lives ahead of them," he said.
His position is through the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, as KWC is a Methodist college.
Other than requiring one chapel service during freshmen orientation and one religion course for every student, KWC doesn't force or require any religious practice or involvement, Lewis said.
"(The campus ministries office) certainly encourages and promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we're here for all students on any level of faith development," he said. "Our goal is to allow the students to create and run their programs."
Such student groups include HD3D, Christ Reaching Out Saving Students (CROSS) and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
There is also Monday Night Prayer, a student-led prayer service at 9 p.m. every Monday at KWC's Tapscott Chapel.
Though attendance and participation fluctuate, Lewis said many students greatly benefit from the clubs.
"They're pushing themselves to constantly communicate with God, so their faith is growing," he said. "That doesn't mean everything is good all the time, but God speaks to us through each other, sometimes, so I like that they work together in these groups."
Campus ministry has its challenges. Lewis said he's virtually always on call and that can take him away from his family — his wife, Kathy and their children Hannah, 9, Jackson, 7 and Grant, 4.
"It's like any minister or pastor's job," he said. "But family is my main priority, and my kids understand what I do. They get to hang out in my office or on campus a few times."
Lewis and Sister Pam often collaborate and share responsibilities with other faculty when it comes to counseling students, whether they are frustrated about exams, confused about their career path or grieving a loss.
The rewards of their jobs are worth the sacrifices, they said.
"College is all about the students answering that existential question, ‘Who am I?" she said. "Well, it's a blessing to be a part of helping them figure it out."
Angela Oliver, 691-7360, firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer