Grant Strengthens Occidental’s Values and Vocations Project
Occidental College has received a $499,582 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to continue its successful Values and Vocations Project (VVP), run by the College’s Office for Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL).
This funding dovetails with a 2003 Endowment grant that allowed Occidental to establish initiatives that encourage students to explore a theological vocation, pursue spiritual development and create projects that allow them to link religious leadership, meaningful work, and contributions to the common good.
“The money will be used to continue some of the most successful programs started as a result of the first grant,” said the Rev. Diana Akiyama, ORSL director. “Our hope is that through these programs we will be sending out not just educated graduates but ones who will be leaders with commitments enriched by spiritual wisdom and who will be guided by strong morals, ethics and respect for humanity.”
The Endowment’s original $2-million grant helped establish Values and Vocations and firmly embedded the ORSL within the institution’s structure. Courses and lectures developed through the project have reached more than 1,500 students, and grants from the project have sent students to 10 different countries to pursue specific religious or spiritual goals. The new grant aids the ORSL in its goal to raise funds that will ensure that these programs become fully integrated into the College.
"I believe that Lilly Endowment was impressed with the progress Occidental made as one of the few non-religious affiliated colleges supported by its efforts and concluded that it would like to provide further funding so that Occidental could continue to acquire endowment gifts from alumni and others to secure the program over the long term,” said former Occidental President Susan Prager. Thus far, Occidental has raised more than $3 million in endowment funds to sustain the Values and Vocations Project. "Much of the credit for the success of the program is due to the Rev. Diana Akiyama and to alumni of the college who have enthusiastically embraced the effort to support the combination of programs made possible by Lilly Endowment," Prager added.
With support from Values and Vocations, 2006 Occidental graduate Maryann Philbrook entered the Episcopal Urban Internship program, a typical pipeline for individuals exploring seminary and a call to ordained ministry. Upon completion, she began to pursue a master's degree with a teaching certification. She now hopes she can begin to discern between the two callings by first becoming a teacher. "I will always be involved with the church," she said. "I just need to understand if that means I should pursue the priesthood or be a lay leader, like my father."
Sam Sinkin '06 credits Values and Vocations for nurturing his interest in Buddhism. “The Values and Vocations Project gave me the courage and willingness to accept that pursuing my faith is OK.” Through a project grant, Sinkin was able to travel to Nepal to live with a Nepalese family and learn about their culture and religion while studying Buddhism and practicing meditation.
The second grant will allow the project to complete ongoing efforts such as the Meaning and Memory Project, which includes a research course that will document the College's religious history. “Students will consult the archives and interview alumni to understand the changing climate of religion on campus over time, including major religious issues, religious programming and activities by religious student organizations," said religious studies professor D. Keith Naylor. The highly successful Values and Vocations Speaker’s Series will also continue. This series brought distinguished journalist Bill Moyers and award-wining writer Anne Lamott to campus earlier this year.
The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. was founded in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co. The Endowment—a private philanthropic foundation—is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location, and is devoted to the causes of religion, education, and community development. Among other things, the Endowment funds projects designed to promote informed dialogue about religion in American life, generate new knowledge, communicate fresh insights, and renew and sustain vital institutions of American Christianity.