October 22, 2014

100 Years of Educational Excellence: Focus on Character Unfoldment

100 Years of Educational Excellence: Focus on Character Unfoldment
Photo by Katie Stanley
September 6, 2012

“Welcome, Principians! This may be the first time you’ve been called a Principian, but that is what you are,” Dean of Enrollment Management Brian McCauley stated during the talk that launched Orientation Week in mid-August. “I have an important question for you,” he continued. “What kind of person do you want to become in the next four years?”

McCauley’s question hearkens back to the founding of Principia, which didn’t begin as a college or as a formal school of any kind. Founder Mary Kimball Morgan, a Christian Science practitioner, began Principia as a place to educate her young sons out of concern for their spiritual and moral development, their character. Almost immediately, other Christian Science parents wanted the same for their children, and Principia grew by leaps and bounds, eventually opening a four-year college in 1932. All the while, character development remained the bedrock of its educational mission. In Morgan’s own words, Principia’s “main purpose is to develop character, to bring out the real child, God’s child” (Education at The Principia, p. 65). For her, Christian Science and character unfoldment always came first. That hasn’t changed.

Last month, on August 17, 141 new students and their families began their Principia College experience with a long weekend filled with inspirational talks, informative sessions, academic fairs, campus tours, and the obligatory textbook and dorm room shopping trips. Amidst all the fun—and a few sentimental moments on the part of many parents—everyone learned something new about this special place that would become home. In the opening gathering in the Chapel, the first new building on the Elsah campus, College President Jonathan Palmer described Principia as a place “of deep and rich conversations.” A place to ask questions and seek answers. A place that elicits, demands, and supports the best from each member of the community. Dean McCauley urged students to heed Mary Baker Eddy’s words to wisely shape their course and choices while at Principia (see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 458). And Dean of Students Dorsie Glen spoke about the community spirit—the love, fun, and yes, high standards—that sets Principia apart from many other colleges.

As the last parent pulled out of the parking lot on Sunday afternoon, students kicked off their portion of orientation with games on the Chapel Green (pictured above), a picnic, and a pool party in Crafton Athletic Center. The rest of the week included a writing seminar each morning, athletic practices, house meetings and events, and plenty of free time to settle in and meet new people. The care that went into planning the week wasn’t lost on the students. “Orientation was a great opportunity to make new friends before school starts,” shared freshman Aaron Switzer from the Chicago area. “The RAs [resident assistants] did an amazing job organizing the whole week. We had a lot of fun.”

Many described the “Big Rocks” sessions as a highlight of the week. Unique to Principia, these down-to-earth talks and activities about living Christian Science and working each day to develop and acknowledge the best in each other helped students immediately understand what it means to be a Principian, as well as how to be successful in college. As Massachusetts freshman Allex Sammuli commented, “The Big Rocks sessions helped me think about the importance of keeping balance in my life at college—from academics to metaphysics to just having fun.” Throughout the week, smaller sessions were held in “family groups” that allowed students to get to know a few peers more deeply as they delved into challenging topics and asked tough questions.

It was only fitting that the Big Rocks opener featured a superb talk by Dr. Brad Stock, the Harding Mott II Distinguished Professor of the History of the Christian Science Movement. Drawing on his wide knowledge of Mrs. Eddy’s life, as well as recounting his own student days, which included a life-changing healing as a freshman, Professor Stock captivated his audience. Most importantly, Stock both introduced and summed up the big ideas of the week. “Why are you here?” he began. Not why are you here, enrolled at Principia College this fall? But why are you here—what is your purpose, your reason for existing?

“His speech just really inspired me,” said Heather Jackson, a freshman from northern Michigan. “I liked how he emphasized that we’re here not just to learn to make a living. We’re here to learn how to live.”

Mary Kimball Morgan would heartily agree!