Jason Johnson, Residential Learning Coordinator for Hillcrest and Cochrane
A conversational blog written by co-chairs of the Ut Prosim Learning Aspirations Committee.
What’s important to you, Jason?
Conversations of the Ut Prosim Learning Aspiration Committee this year focused upon sharing the beauty and vision of the University’s motto, “Ut Prosim – That I May Serve.” As students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners embrace Ut Prosim as a way of life, the opportunity for us to learn from and with one another flourishes. As a community we learn about each other’s strengths and interests – thus, gleaning a grander understanding of how to serve one another and the community in which we live… as a way of life.
And all of this begins with asking meaningful questions.
One simple question can bring so much insight to others.
The opportunity to ask questions surrounds us. What happens after a section of a class? What happens after a big athletic game? What happens after a presentation? All situations offer the opportunity to ask questions of the professor, coach, or speaker – and by asking these questions, we understand content, athletic strategies, curriculum and those around us a little better.
With a single question, a connectedness to community can be developed. Stories are shared. Interests are highlighted. Strengths are offered as service.
As for what’s important to me? Aspects that top a long list include family, friends, friends, volunteering, and life-long learning. So, Jason, what’s important to you?
Great question, Heather.
Questioning most definitely gives us the opportunity to connect. And, to build relationships.
At the most basic level, service is about relationships. Without the relationship we don’t see the opportunity to help nor do we see the change that we could create. It’s all about knowing the intricacies of the relationship you have with those you have a desire to help and serve. And service will only seem like a “one off” or a “one and done” type of event unless you’ve taken the time to create a relationship.
Relationships aren’t easy either, they take work and effort. They don’t simply appear at the snap of a finger and maintain themselves. All those involved need to know how much to give, how much to take, and how to approach the relationship with respect. Granted, some are easy from the start and take minimal effort, usually when we are most passionate about the cause or the people we get to work with. But sometimes, it’s not easy, mainly because we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, have our stereotypes to be challenged, and be open to growth. And in some cases, we just aren’t there yet. But, we can get there with time.
All year long, our committee has wanted people to look at service as more than just “community service.” Describing Ut Prosim as a way to discover, create, and cultivate relationships is a way to find opportunities to serve that resonate with us. In those times, it won’t even feel like service—it’ll feel like the right thing to do.
To me, Ut Prosim is relationships. My part is to keep those relationships grounded in open communication, healthy action, and knowing that I have to be open to change and to have my perspective challenged. If I’m not open to that and allow myself that vulnerability, I’m not serving others and I’m not serving myself.
A saying that I’ve always kept close to my heart (and that has multiple applications) is definitely true about relationships:
Relationships are like a handful of sand. Hold it too tightly and it’ll slip through your hands, hold it too loosely and it will simply blow away.
Relationships are at the core of everything I do and I strive every day to find the balance to not let each one slip or blow away.
Agreed, Jason. As relationships are developed, the sense of community is enriched.
As you walk around campus or meet with student leaders or connect with members of the Hokie nation who are traveling abroad or chat with alumni of the university, Jason, what do you see/hear/sense regarding the spirit of Ut Prosim?
There are an incredible amount of students and university community members who are enriching their lives and the lives of others through service to their communities - the Hokie community included - by sharing their strengths and talents. Stories are shared through friends, organizations, academic classes, and alumni organizations. Thus, the opportunity to serve as a way of life blends into life beyond the undergraduate experience.
Our Ut Prosim Learning Aspiration committee conversations have focused upon the Active Citizen Continuum as well as developing phases/transitions of Ut Prosim. These three phases (introduction, awareness, and understanding of Ut Prosim) will ultimately lead to a passion for service – encouraging members of a community to seek Ut Prosim as a way of life. The cycle then continues as community members cycle through the phases/transitions once again as they bring others along with them.
Our conversations have also been inspired by meaningful questions posed in the Division of Student Affairs Learning Aspirations booklet encouraging everyone to ponder:
- When do I serve without recognition?
- Is the principal purpose of my education to make a better life for myself or a better world for others?
As you walk around campus today observe, be a part of, and be inspired by the spirit of Ut Prosim - one question, one reflection, and one story at a time.
You’re right, Heather, Ut Prosim is embraced, engaged, and simply lived in a multitude of ways by the Hokie community each and every day.
Our Hokie community isn’t limited to the students, staff, and faculty here at Tech, it’s also made up of alumni, students working at internships across the world, those who are studying abroad, as well as all of the community members that entwine themselves in Virginia Tech. And in each one of them Ut Prosim is a living, breathing, fluid spirit—and it’s a bit infectious.
In talking with students here, there, and everywhere, I’ve found one common theme amongst their conversations regarding Ut Prosim: that it transcends a “requirement” of service and aligns more with a sense of “duty” to help others. They have a learned sense of confidence that allows them to be vulnerable, open up to others, and to recognize that by helping others they can help themselves. They challenge themselves, they learn, they grow. And then they repeat the process over and over again.
It’s not that they’ve developed a “better” sense of morals or ethics than others; it’s that they’ve continued to move along that Active Citizen Continuum (see graphic below) by trying to understand the problem or need at hand. And because they continue to challenge themselves, they see the benefits of embracing Ut Prosim as something that is a part of their everyday life. In fact, I think it just becomes habit or routine—they don’t even notice the good they are doing because it’s simply just a part of who they are. They recognize that sometimes the needs of others are more important than their own.
The spirit of Ut Prosim is strong in this community, stronger than any other community I’ve ever been a part of. And we’re all making our own sense of what Ut Prosim means to us an individual and as a community member. For some of us, it takes a few more “a-ha” moments where we are challenged to learn and grow in a time of discomfort. Sometimes it takes removing ourselves from campus to develop our own definition of Ut Prosim. But in the end, we all find it and although it may be hard to describe and intangible, it finds a way into each of us, making us all better stewards of the Hokie Nation.
Every single one of us has the chance to help others and sometimes that can be by simply asking a question or sharing our own story. That question or story can change the life of another Hokie. Ask yourself this: what questions am I asking and what stories am I sharing in order to live out Ut Prosim each and every day?