How can we help students navigate their college journey to pursue purposeful lives?
True North is a web application and curriculum that helps prospective and current college students navigate transitions in college, career, and life. Originally a transformative, in-person curriculum, the contents of True North have been adapted into a web app with bite-sized, in-app activities and journaling prompts meant to connect students to mentors and formative experiences.
True North offers students:
1. A common language to better engage with their college/university communities
2. A decision-making framework to intentionally design their college experience
3. A way to capture, collect and communicate formative experiences in college.
Additionally, True North offers faculty and staff:
1. Resources to build meaningful relationships with students in college
2. Information to better understand students’ experiences in college
3. A way for enabling advisors/mentors to engage with their students and guide students in proactively pursuing resources in college
Through exploring and identifying individual Core Values, Character Strengths, 21st Century Skills and Desired Impact, students, faculty, staff, and mentors can collaboratively gain a better awareness of, document, co-construct, and evaluate a purpose journey via a persona definition, a purpose profile, and experience modules.
What is True North?
True North scaffolds students in their development of purpose, engaging them in the development of meaningful relationships with peers and mentors, and formative experiences. In particular, these endeavors will prioritize equitable access and distribution of support and resources for marginalized youth.
The True North Project focuses on three main components:
The first is persona definition, a set of modules designed to help students reflect on an aspect of themselves, including their core values, character strengths, skills they are motivated to master, and impact they wish to make in the world.
The second proposed component is the “experience” module. Once a student has completed the initial persona building, they can invite guides - teachers, mentors, friends - to join them in their purpose journey (similar to the way that social media users can “friend” others). Students and their Guides can share experiences, plotting potential paths through their academic careers. Here, we create the digital space for students to find those meaningful, purpose-defining events, with more experienced guides helping to find, curate and orchestrate those events. Through this application, students can build an extensive portfolio, with contemporaneous notes, curated by their guides.
The third proposed component is “True North Live” -- a synchronous program that complements True North web application use. This program will consist of a scalable (90 minutes to 14 weeks) curriculum, in the form of workshops or credit bearing classes. The content will include 4 key elements: core values, personality strengths, 21st century skills, and desired impact. The curriculum will draw from a strength based and critical psychology perspective and leverage interactive activities, which can be adapted to online learning environments. Through these four components, students will be guided and supported in their purpose development in ways that will support them academically and vocationally.
Research & Preliminary Findings
True North has been piloted in several settings at Boston College, and the initial data analyses of our pilots show that students benefit from the True North in three ways: first, by understanding purpose to be non-linear; second, by concretizing their own purpose; third, by building relationships.
First, preliminary versions of our curriculum have been effective in dispelling the belief that purpose is a linear path. Such a mindset can be a source of anxiety for students, offering no room for exploration. After experiencing True North, students have stated that the curriculum has helped them to understand that there are many ways to fulfill their purpose and to normalize the uncertainty students feel around purpose. Consequently, students give themselves permission to explore diverse experiences and consider different career paths.
Second, through the early version of True North, students concretized the elements of their purpose and the impact that they would like to have. Students have stated that True North has helped them substantiate a vague desire (e.g., helping others) to understand the how, what and the why of their purpose. This understanding helps students identify the elements of greatest personal importance, provide language to talk about their purpose, and propel students to explore the different settings and ways they can apply their purpose post-graduation.
Third, our curriculum has focused on building relationships with peers and mentors. The purpose journey is not meant to be taken alone, and thus, our curriculum stresses the importance of reaching out to a community of individuals for support and resources. Our web app will offer a platform for peers and mentors to share meaningful experiences and scaffold conversations around purpose.
How does it work?
The True North curriculum and web app are currently being prototyped at Boston College.
“True North will help students selectively design their undergraduate years, curate the abundance of resources BC has to offer, and set them up for success in college, their careers, and their lives.”
LYNCH SCHOOL OF EDUCATION PROFESSOR DR. BELLE LIANG