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The Role of Philanthropic Studies in Equipping Students to Articulate their Personal and Vocational Purpose

Sarah K. Nathan, Genevieve Shaker, Pat Danahey Janin


Positioned within the larger discussion regarding the outcomes of a liberal arts education, this qualitative study examined Philanthropic Studies undergraduates’ articulation of purpose. Fifteen majors participated in this grounded theory study, providing insight into the student experience in this new, liberal arts discipline. Findings are expressed in a theoretical framework showing how most students’ articulation of purpose successfully evolved to include and integrate personal and vocational aims. Most of the Philanthropic Studies students held a strong, values-based orientation that underscored their experiences and perspective but was not enough to assure a confident vocational purpose on its own. The framework aligns and complements theories of student development and illuminates a number of personal and programmatic factors that facilitated or hampered the students’ progression. The study suggests that liberal arts-based curricula can do well with a holistic approach that attends closely not just to students’ academic achievements but also to their sense of personal purpose, career interests and vocational concerns, while using experiential learning strategies in generous measure.

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Philanthropic Studies; Student Development; Nonprofit Education; Grounded Theory

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