NEWBERRY — 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 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.
“[Martin] Luther understood vocation as being something that everyone has,” said Dr. Krista E. Hughes, the Center’s director. “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.”
The Muller Center at Newberry College was founded in January 2015 with funds bequeathed by John D. Muller. The funds were given to support students pursuing ministry to church and world.
Hughes, also an associate professor of religion at Newberry College, said that one’s calling by God is a “where one’s own gifts and talents meet the world’s needs in a unique way.” Hughes said that answering that call is its own ministry to the world, though “that may not always look like a holy thing, and yet whenever we give our best gifts to the world, we are living into that calling.”
Hughes said that 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.
Hughes said 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. It is essentially “community-engaged learning,” she said.
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.
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, provides a Compass Fellowship for faculty and staff, along with a host of other current and future programs.
“We connect people. It’s what we do,” Hughes said.
For more information on the Muller Center at Newberry College, visit www.newberry.edu/muller-center.
James Salter is a student at Newberry College.