They are business majors and art majors. They plan careers in fields from investment banking to ministry. Most are from Christian backgrounds, but some practice other religions, or come from non-religious families.
They are students in the Quest program at Mary Baldwin University, and they are in pursuit of a thoughtful, committed, candid exploration of faith and religion.
“These days, students are often asked ‘What do you want to do?’” said Rev. Patricia Hunt, Mary Baldwin Chaplain. “In Quest, we try to strip away the pressure, asking them instead: ‘Who do you want to be?’”
Hunt has anecdotal evidence that it works. Although she yearns for a more scientific study of how Quest shapes young students and achieves its goal of greater spiritual appreciation, she is encouraged by the comments and accomplishments of Quest alumnae and current participants.
Take, for example, the four most recent inductees into the Carpenter Society. The society is named for national philanthropist Leona B. Carpenter, whose foundation provides funding for Quest activities. The criteria for Carpenter Society induction are demanding. Graduating senior inductees Kerrie Laughlin, Janelle Quann, and Crystal Ruffner, and junior Emily Ryan completed academic, spiritual, and service requirements to become Carpenter Society members in April. The academic component includes the anchor course, Faith, Life, and Service, and three electives chosen by the student and Rev. Hunt. For spiritual development, Questers meet at Hunt’s house one or two times a month for informal discussion about spiritual living. To be eligible for the Carpenter Society, students must also complete at least 100 hours of community service in an area tailored to their unique gifts and talents.
The keynote address at this year’s induction was given by Dr. John Glick – a healing humorist who works and travels to third world countries with the legendary physician Patch Adams.
“What Dr. Glick said about living a good life and being a good human being was inspirational,” said Quest member Cami Roa ’07. “Our speakers always teach me something about real life, and, although they have their own religious convictions, their messages aren’t exclusive to one religion or another.”
Roa and her family have a Catholic background, and she admits that she wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she signed up for Quest at the last minute during her freshman year. “It ended up fitting right into my life, and provided a way to get away from the stresses of other things in my schedule,” she said.
Most Questers, like Roa, are Christian, but the program is enriched by students with diverse backgrounds, including Muslim, Jewish, and, occasionally, Atheist. Ubah Ansari Pathan ’99, Quest’s first Muslim student, continues to be impressed by the program five years after she graduated.
“As I journey through adulthood, I continue to explore my spirituality, and have confronted issues I never could have imagined while at college,” Pathan said. “Though we don’t have the comfort of Chaplain Hunt’s warm and inviting living room, my friends and I who were in Quest keep a healthy conversation going – via email – about religion, God, and faith. What I’ve learned is the quest doesn’t end when you leave Mary Baldwin, rather it is just beginning.”
Mary Baldwin junior Leigh Frame helped organize this year’s induction ceremony and invited Dr. Glick, who lives and works in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he helped Frame rehabilitate her injured knee with acupuncture.
“Quest takes the Mary Baldwin experience to another level,” Frame said. “In many of my classes there is extensive academic discussion, and others delve into religion, spirituality, and sense of self. Quest brings these two aspects together.”