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The Center for Life Calling and Leadership believes that one important key to life calling discovery at the college level is a comprehensive and unified life calling developmental process during the college experience.  We have formulated a stage developmental model specifically oriented toward the life calling discovery process during the various transitions in college.  The transitions are broken into the traditional four-year experience.  We have identified the overriding issue in each of these years and then designed our relational and programmatic elements around these issues.  As the model depicts, however, we realize that these do not always fit neatly into the single-year experience.  Some students are ready to address these issues early, while others work on the issues well beyond the single year.


The Pre-Stage issue is entrance transition.  Life calling support is focused on helping students successfully traverse the dramatic change between the high school experience and college life.  This is achieved through an intentional orientation program for college entrance that begins before arrival at college.  Involvement in the recruiting stages to help students enter college with realistic and better-directed expectations is crucial.

The 1st Year stage is exploration.  With the evolution of the college experience into pre-professional training, less of an emphasis is given to exploration and more is given to preparation.  The fact that we have to redirect many of these students from one program to another indicates that fast-track professional preparation may not be the best approach to a first year experience.  Rather, it might be better to allow students to explore their own strengths and design and then explore the wider world of options.  Too many times our students come into the first year undifferentiated.  The track they are put on has been predetermined by someone else.

Our first year exploration stage includes a strong course that combines an introduction to the liberal arts, mentoring, and service learning to expand the students’ horizons.  We also assign all students who would prefer to explore possibilities rather than locking into a major to the Center for Life Calling and Leadership for academic advising.  The Center creates for these advisees an exploration-enriched program beyond the first year course taken by all incoming students, combining a course on the exploration of life calling with exposure to humanities core courses and general education courses.  Students are also encouraged to explore gateway courses that lead into areas of study in which they might have a calling or interest.  The Center uses life coaching and mentoring to support this process.

The 2nd Year stage is connection.  Students in this stage need a strong connection with others to carry them through what has been termed “the Sophomore Slump.”  They also need connection with a plan for how they are going to pursue their college experience.  Finally, they need a strong connection with academics—especially if they have not yet identified a major to pursue.  Once again, life coaching and mentoring are crucial.

The 3rd Year stage is interaction.  Our observations reveal that this is the most productive year for students to become involved with service and leadership, both outside of and within the institution.  It also becomes one of the most effective times for students to integrate learning within the rest of their lives.

The 4th Year stage is anticipation.  Students who had a broad societal focus in the previous year now narrow that focus to personal implications.  Their prime question is “what is going to happen after I graduate?”  This anticipation also includes a significant level of apprehension.

Graduation brings on exiting transition stage.  Following this exit, graduates now begin to implement what has been learned during the college experience in their Post-Stage life.

Our goal throughout this development has been that students would increase in self directedness.  We originally thought it would occur in a gradual increase as we guided students through the four year experience as illustrated below. 

One of the more eye-opening findings we have made is that this is not necessarily true.  We found self-directedness increasing until the end of the 3rd year and then suddenly, with the anticipation and apprehension of life after college, there was a distinct regression from self-directedness and a greater demand for supportive intervention.

The 4th year stage may be just as difficult as the 1st year stage.  We also suspect that as we continue to develop this model that we are going to see multiple regressions correlated to various issues that occur throughout the college experience.  Instead of gradually disengaging in our life calling support at our Center, we may find it a case of multiple refocusing of emphases and efforts.

Notice in the illustration above that we have suggested at least two other regressions of greater magnitude:  one within the 2nd Year Connection and another within the Post Implementation as various career crises are encountered.

This Developmental Model has a direct impact on efforts carried out by centers that work directly to guide students in discovering their life calling.  The model shapes what we offer for different stages.  The illustration that follows relates the model to four key activities carried out by our center: life coaching, academic advising, career development, and mentoring.

Life Coaching

In the life calling discovery process, our center employs life coaches to work with students as they look for solutions to future questions. Life coaching is rooted in positive psychology and differs significantly from clinical counseling in that it is primarily forward-focused and proactive.   Life coaching also differs from traditional career counseling in that it goes beyond career issues and looks at life calling in a much larger context.

Our life coaches work with students in all stages of the model.  However, each coach also maintains a specialty related to a specific stage within the model.  That coach will also coordinate the activities related to that stage of development. 

Prior to even arriving at college, our life coaches work with prospective students during the Pre Stage Transition to help them start the differentiation process to discover their own identity rather than seeing themselves as extensions of others in their lives.  This differentiation process carries into the 1st Year stage as well.

During the exploration stage that occurs primarily during the first year in our model, life coaches work both one-on-one and teach classes to increase personal awareness with the students.  A life calling model is introduced in which we use a strengths-based approach to identify the personal assets each person has.  Our 1st Year life coach specializes in strengths assessment and the general education program of our institution.  This person coordinates the 1st Year Exploration program.  This person also supervises all of the life coaches.

The focus expands and shifts during the connection stage of the second year to address relational dynamics.  A strong mentoring program is maintained that helps students to connect with others.  Students are also coached in the process of connecting with educational and career direction.  Our 2nd Year life coach specializes in strengths development, mentoring, group dynamics, and student retention.  This life coach coordinates the 2nd Year Connection program.  This person also coordinates the overall life coaching program.*

During the interaction stage of the third year, students have the greatest potential to be involved in making a difference in their surrounding environment.  The most significant life calling discovery support our life coaches can give to students during this third year is assisting them with involvement in community service—both on campus and in the surrounding community in which we are located.  It is also a time to provide leadership training and opportunities.  Our 3rd Year life coach specializes in experiential learning, leadership development, and internships.  This life coach coordinates our community service program for all students we work with, but gives a special emphasis to third year students.

Students often seek a higher level of life coaching during the anticipation stage of the fourth year.  The major difference is that the coaching they seek is focused on career discovery and life skills enhancement.  They are apprehensive about what lies ahead and they need help and reassurance. Our 4th Year life coach specializes in job search, job placement, and other career skills.  This life coach coordinates the career development programs for all students, with a special emphasis on the needs of seniors anticipating graduation.

During the last month leading up to graduation, our life coaches help students bring closure to the college experience.  Once students leave our institution and enter the Post-Implementation phase of their lives, periodic contact between our coaches and alumni help them put into practice advanced levels of the process they have learned in their four-year experience at our institution.

Academic Advising

The Center for Life Calling & Leadership provides academic advisement to all students who have not yet declared a major or who are in the process of dropping one major and searching for another.  The stage developmental model helps us focus on academic issues related to the various stages.

In the Pre-college stage as students apply and prepare for college, we help them assess their capabilities and prepare for success in the higher educational experience.

During the 1st Year exploration stage in our model, students need a structured academic program that creates an exploration program for them as they enter the university.  This program follows our belief that self-awareness is found more in the liberal learning than it is in technical training.  Students enroll in a first year course that combines an introduction to the humanities, mentoring, and service learning to expand their horizons.  Students also need a course on the exploration of life calling.  The remainder of the exploration courses is comprised of humanities core courses, general education courses, and gateway courses that lead into areas of study in which the student might have an interest.

During the 2nd Year connection stage, students need to begin connecting the discoveries made during the exploration stage.  Connections to major areas of study will often occur during this stage.  At this point, our Center transfers academic advising to advisors within the corresponding academic department.

During the 3rd Year interaction stage, students are advised to enter into experiential learning embedded in their academic program.  Our Center works hand-in-hand with academic departments during this stage to provide internships.  This is also a good year for study abroad.

During the 4th Year anticipation stage, the main issue of academic advising is to ensure that students will complete all requirements for degrees and graduation.  It is a stage in which life-skills readiness should be addressed.  Capstone classes within a major can help address this issue.  Our Center provides a credit-bearing course that deals with life-skills readiness.

Graduation should be a transition time where students receive credentials that meaningfully certify their completion of activities in the previous stages.

As students leave our institution and enter into the Post Implementation stage of their lives, we work to help them preparation for the world of career or graduate studies to come and we provide some level of encouragement and support through periodic contact and availability to allow this to happen during their alumni phase.

Academic Curriculum

We are convinced that the academic program can and should be a very important part of discovering a life calling.  This is especially true of the common core of classes taken by all students.  Within this general education curriculum at IWU, we seek to prepare students to live even as they are prepared to make a living.

In the Pre-college stage as students enter college, the primary academic curriculum issue is proper level placement.

During the 1st Year exploration stage in our model, the emphasis is first and foremost on a strong core of liberal learning courses.  This core is enhanced by additional courses in the liberal arts and sciences.  We believe that providing a common learning experience for all students, we will enhance their ability to discover their purpose in life as they develop in character, scholarship and leadership.

During the 2nd Year connection stage, students, if they have not done so during their first year experience,     need to begin connecting to major areas of study.  This connection is best accomplished through gateway courses into these majors.  Though it is not always possible in certain professional majors, our philosophy is that the second year is a better time to emphasize this process, allowing the first year experience to be one of greater exploration.

During the 3rd Year interaction stage when readiness for experiential learning is at its peak, integrated service learning should be emphasized in the academic program.  This is often a very beneficial confirming laboratory to the life calling discovery process.

During the 4th Year anticipation stage, the academic capstone courses should be utilized to integrate and reinforce the life calling discovery process.

Graduation should be used to bring meaningful closure to the academic experience of life calling discovery.

Once students leave our institution and enter into the Post Implementation stage of their lives, we have hopefully prepared them academically a propensity for lifelong learning and the necessary tools to succeed at this.

Career Development

Earlier we defined life calling as something larger than an occupation or career.  However, career is an important element of how we carry out our life calling.  This being the case, career development is an important aspect of a life calling discovery process.  The Center for Life Calling & Leadership maintains a serious commitment in providing students with meaningful career development throughout their college experience.

As students apply and prepare for college, we assess what level they are ready for in career development.  We also use this as a time to inform incoming students of the need to think about career issues throughout their college experience.  We encourage them to do this rather than waiting until the last semester of their senior year when they try desperately to rectify their needs in this area.

During the 1st Year exploration stage, the focus is on identifying strengths and understanding the connection of strengths to life relationships—including careers.

During the 2nd Year connection stage, we encourage and facilitate what we call “Job Scoping.”  This is more than just job shadowing.  Informational interviewing and other activities are employed to get students to explore all aspects of the work world and to begin to understand the intricacies and ramifications within that world.  A connection between the work world and major selection is emphasized.

The 3rd Year interaction stage is the ideal time for experiential learning.  With career development, this is best accomplished with internships.  As stated earlier, our Center works hand-in-hand with academic departments during this stage to provide internships.  At this time, we encourage students to begin the networking process.

During the 4th Year anticipation stage, career development focuses on hands-on training and preparation for the actual job search process.  Job placement becomes a shared effort between our institution and the students.  We work with academic departments to support preparation for graduate school entrance.

In the Career Development track in our model, we see graduation as a finalization of the activities completed in the previous stages.  Once students leave our institution and enter into the Post Implementation stage, we have prepared them to pursue continuous improvement throughout their careers.  We stand ready to assist them in later career changes.


We have found two roles to be very important in the life calling discovery process—life coaches and mentors.  The Center partners with Student Development to integrate mentoring into all stages of our model. 

The mentoring program aids first and second year students as they get acclimated to college life. It provides them with an opportunity to connect with a continuing student in a one-on-one or a group setting. Depending on the needs of the individual, the mentors’ role will vary. They serve in many different capacities such as a spiritual guide, coach, counselor, teacher, or sponsor. The role of the mentor is to build a relationship that will allow the mentee to grow as a result of their encounter.  The program creates an environment that allows for intentional connections between peers. It is more than just a way in which students can connect with one another. It challenges students to become more accountable to each other for their actions, as they begin to explore life calling.

We have found that the predominant roles sought by students in mentoring changes with the various stages.  This is indicated by the orientation of the arrows in the fourth track of the model, pointing in the direction of the role in which the students in that stage primarily assume.  For instance, if students wish to be a mentee in relationship to a mentor, the arrow points up.  An arrow pointing down indicates students wish to be a mentor.  Horizontal arrows indicate peer mentor relationships.

At the beginning when students first arrive, the role is inquisitiveness.  They want to know what mentoring is and why they need mentoring.

During the 1st Year exploration stage, students are often bewildered and want an older student to mentor them and help them understand the college experience, especially how to get started at college-level academics and at living away from home and on campus.

During the 2nd Year connection stage, students often want to mentor each other on a peer level as they seek connection.  We have observed that when this occurs, the rate of dropout is reduced.

We have noticed that the 3rd Year interaction stage is the most productive year for students to become involved with service and leadership.  In our Mentoring track of the model, this is expressed by a desire to become mentors for younger students—especially first year students needing and wanting mentors.

We have described an eye-opening finding concerning the 4th Year anticipation stage in relationship to self-directedness.   There is a distinct drop-off in self-directedness and a greater demand for supportive intervention as anxiety about the future begins to loom.  This is reflected in mentoring by the desire of seniors to have mentors that come from the alumni population within the careers they are pursuing, helping them to know what lies ahead and how to prepare for it.

The arrows at the graduation stage depict that the primary focus from all angles is expected to be on the graduate.

Once students leave our institution and enter into the Post-Implementation phase of their lives, graduates will continue mentoring relationships in all directions—as a mentor, mentee, and peer.

Modified Model

IWU is a comprehensive university with a traditional residential campus of over 3,000 students and a series of satellite and online campuses that provide programs for nearly 12,000 working adults.  While we have focused the early implementation of this staged model for discovering a life calling on the residential, more traditional college experience, we realize it has just as significant an application for our adult population as well.  This model really is more appropriately understood as a staged-developmental model and not a chronological developmental model, as depicted in the revision to the model below.

In fact, the stages guiding the discovery of a life calling are applicable to every point in a person’s life where the issue of life discovery is involved.  For this reason, the model should not be seen as a single linear event or process, but rather it should be seen as a process that cycles over and over again throughout a person’s life.



The content of this essay is the intellectual property of its author, Dr. Bill Millard and is used in this ePublication by permission of the author.
Copyright © 2004 Center for Life Calling & Leadership.  All Rights Reserved.

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