Newberry College’s Muller Center brings Lutheran philosophy to community service and individual growth
On the second floor of Newberry College’s Keller Hall stands a bridge that links the 161-year-old institution to the rest of Newberry County, South Carolina, and beyond.
Though not a physical bridge, the Muller Center brings together faculty, staff, students, and the community for service in the Lutheran liberal arts traditions of civic engagement, ethical deliberation, and vocational exploration.
It’s the kind of community-college connection that has been a successful model at so many Sullivan network schools. And one of its most recent student research fellows happens to be a Sullivan Award recipient.
Going beyond volunteerism
A major purpose of the Muller Center is connecting faculty, staff, and students to community organizations in and around Newberry, so that they may greaten their impact, give back to the community, and expand their understandings of vocation, ethics, and civic engagement.
Dr. Krista E. Hughes, the Center’s director, says that the Muller Center’s three central tenets, vocational exploration, ethical deliberation, and civic engagement, go beyond simple volunteerism or activism.
“Volunteering in the community is fundamental, but the center emphasizes the importance of doing the work, reflecting on what one’s values are, and on how one has changed self and community through the work,” says Hughes.
The college’s AmeriCorps VISTA works out of the center to cultivate long-term relationships with community partners. The AmeriCorps VISTA program, or Volunteers in Service to America, is a federal program designed to alleviate poverty through volunteerism.
Research and reflection
Since its inception, the Center has provided not only chances to volunteer with local community partner organizations, but also opportunities to independently work, research, and deliberate.
These initiatives include the Sojourners Initiative, a program engaging second and third-year students in self-reflection and community service projects; as well as the Muller Student Research Fellowship, which guides and funds select student service projects to connect coursework and research to civic and community needs.
The Center also works with the College’s civic engagement courses, offers travel grants for off-campus service coursework, and provides a fellowship for faculty and staff, along with a host of other current and future programs.
“We connect people,” says Hughes. “It’s what we do.”
One of Sullivan’s own
Among the most recent batch of student research fellows is Benjamin Herring, a Hopkins, South Carolina native, who also had the distinction of receiving a Sullivan Award at his recent graduation.
A summer internship in Quito, Ecuador was the foundation for his project. Combining on-the-ground experience with research, Herring sought to develop a strategic management system specifically for international non-governmental organizations. Locally, he worked to educate about the global aspects of civic engagement.
The types of projects students can use the fellowship for are wide-ranging. Sarah Johnson and Mariah Lee, the other two members of Herring’s fellowship class, worked on vastly different topics. Johnson focused on early literacy in education while Lee conducted microbiology research and studied vaccination rates among the elderly in Newberry County.
Vocation in the Lutheran tradition
Newberry is a Lutheran school, and that Lutheran philosophy is central to the Muller Center’s mission. The center was founded in January 2015 with funds bequeathed by John D. Muller to support students pursuing ministry to church and world.
“[Martin] Luther understood vocation as being something that everyone has,” says Hughes. “A lot of people hear the word ‘vocation’ and they think about a tech school or a trade school, or if they’re Roman Catholic, they may have associations with people who are in the clergy, but for Luther, he really felt like all people have a calling.”
Hughes, also an associate professor of religion at Newberry College, says that one’s calling by God is “where one’s own gifts and talents meet the world’s needs in a unique way.”
As the Muller Center enters its third full year and a bright future ahead, more and more students will discover just what their gifts and talents are, and where the world needs them.
This article was adapted from a piece by James Salter that originally appeared in The Newberry Observer. To read the original, visit newberryobserver.com. Additional reporting comes from Newberry College. To learn more, visit newberry.edu/news.