Solidarity, Reflection, and Imagination

Exploring Student Formation and Community Engagement from a Faith-Based Anchor Institution Perspective


  • Leah Sweetman Saint Louis University
  • Bobby Wassel Saint Louis University
  • Stephen Belt Saint Louis University
  • Bryan Sokol Saint Louis University



community-based learning, Jesuit higher education, faith-based institutions, vocation, place-based community engagement


The Catholic, Jesuit inspired mission of Saint Louis University (SLU) – “the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity” – firmly places serving humanity in line with the institution’s goal for academic excellence. Importantly, service in the tradition of Catholic, Jesuit education is embedded in a broader vocational goal of forming people to build a just and equitable society. It remains to be seen in what manner and to what degree SLU students reflect the qualities such experiences are intended to aid and develop. What follows is an attempt to identify contemporary expressions of Ignatian education, a well-educated solidarity, depth of thought, and depth of imagination, within the students who took part in community engagement activities supported by SLU’s Center for Service and Community Engagement. The present study drew upon assessment data from three distinct undergraduate experiences. Each of the three attributes were evident, either directly or in a latent form appropriate to the nature of the activity and the level of the student participants. While it is not possible to quantify a direct measure, the results indicate that the programs are generally succeeding in promoting an Ignatian inspired formation for its students.

Author Biographies

Leah Sweetman, Saint Louis University

Leah Sweetman is the Assistant Director of Service Learning in the Saint Louis University Center for Service and Community Engagement. Previously, she served as the internship coordinator for the VOICES Project, guiding students in critical reflection, community building, and leadership development. She currently assists faculty with developing service-learning courses and helps to prepare students to mindfully enter communities.

Bobby Wassel, Saint Louis University

Bobby Wassel serves as the Assistant Director for Service and Outreach in the Saint Louis University Center for Service and Community Engagement. Through his work, he helps make connections between college students and non-profit organizations in a spirit of service and justice. Additionally, he designs, facilitates and evaluates programs that help students reflect on their community service experiences, and how they impact their personal development and vocational discernment. 


Stephen Belt, Saint Louis University

Stephen Belt is an Assistant Professor of Aviation Science at Saint Louis University, Co-Founder of Claver House Community, and a Director of Claver House Commons. He incorporates service learning and community engaged scholarship within the boundaries of his academic discipline. His research activities include topics that explore issues related to diversity and access within professional aviation.

Bryan Sokol, Saint Louis University

Bryan Sokol is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Saint Louis University's Center for Service and Community Engagement. He is a successful scholar-practitioner with multiple academic publications and professional presentations on topics of positive youth development, faith-informed civic engagement, and assets-based approaches to university-community partnership.


theville (n.d.) Retrieved from

Allen, K., DeLorimier, J. & Belt, S. (2019, April). Improv in the Ville: Encouraging and fostering creativity and communication through improvisation. Poster presented at the Saint Louis University North St. Louis Symposium, St. Louis MO.

Arrupe, P. (2004). Men and Women for Others. In K. Burke (Ed.), Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (n.d.). Jesuit higher education: Integrating a commitment to scholarship, faith, and social justice. Retrieved from

Belt, S. M. & Bollock, N. K. (2020). Assessing an Aviation Out-of-School Time Program: A Collective Case Study. Collegiate Aviation Review International, 38(1), 106-121. Retrieved from

Bergman, R. (2011). Catholic social learning: Educating the faith that does justice. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.

Bronk, K. C., Riches, B. R., & Mangan, S. A. (2018). Claremont Purpose Scale: A measure that assesses the three dimensions of purpose among adolescents. Research in Human Development, 00, 1-17.

Corporation for National and Community Service. (2015). Volunteering and Civic Life in America. Retrieved from

Decrees of the 32nd General Congregation. (2009). In J. W. Padberg, S.J. (Ed.), Jesuit life & mission today (pp. 287-375). Saint Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources.

Franek, R., Soto, D., Koch, S., & Aliperti, P. (2018). Princeton review: The best 384 colleges, 2019 Edition. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Gomez, J. A., Sonenshein, R. J., Espinoza, Z., & Fuhrmann, H. (2019). Purpose-Driven Partnerships That Transform People and Places: Cal State LA’s Anchor Mission. Urban and Metropolitan Universities: The Transformative Power of Anchor Institutions, (30)1, 75-97. DOI:

Hennessy, C. & Belt, S. (2019, April). Claver House Community: Living the Jesuit mission trough building community. Poster presented at the Saint Louis University North St. Louis Symposium, St. Louis MO.

Klco, N. & Belt, S. (2019, April). Flat Stanley in the Ville: Promoting writing skills through relationship. Poster presented at the Saint Louis University North St. Louis Symposium, St. Louis MO.

Kolvenbach, P. H., S.J. (2008). The service of faith and the promotion of justice in American Jesuit higher education. In G. W. Traub, S.J. (Ed.), A Jesuit education reader (pp. 144-162). Chicago: Loyola Press.

Korth, S. J. (2008). Précis of Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach. In S. J. George W. Truab (Ed.), A Jesuit Education Reader (pp. 280-285). Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

Kreisberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment, and education. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Laboe, M., & Nass, K. (2012). Toward meaningful learning: Reconnecting faith and civic action in higher education. Journal of College and Character, 13, 1-10.

Mitchell, T. D. (2008). Traditional vs. Critical service-learning: Engaging the literature to differentiate two models. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 14(2), 50-65. Retrieved from

Muhammad, J., Pidatala, S., Shekar, A. & Belt, S. (2019, April). R.O.B.O: Robotic Operations Billiken Outreach. Poster presented at the Saint Louis University North St. Louis Symposium, St. Louis MO.

Nicolás, A. (2010). Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today. Retrieved from

Nicolás, A. (2009). Challenges & issues in Jesuit education [address]. Retrieved from

Pascarella, E., Edison, M., Nora, A., Hagedorn, L., & Terenzini, P. (1996). Influences on Students' Openness to Diversity and Challenge in the First Year of College. The Journal of Higher Education, 67(2), 174-195. DOI:10.2307/2943979

Patton, M. Q. (1997). Utilization-focused evaluation: the new century text (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Saint Louis University (2000a). Profile. Retrieved from

Saint Louis University (2000b). University Undergraduate Core. Retrieved from

Sladek, E. (2017). Higher education’s anchor mission: measuring place-based engagement. Democracy Collaborative. Retrieved from

Sokol, B. W., Donnelly, K. G., Vilbig, J. M., & Monsky, K. (2017). Cultural immersion as a context for promoting global citizenship and personal agency in young adults. In L. M. Padilla-Walker & L. J. Nelson (Eds.), Flourishing in Emerging Adulthood: Positive Development during the Third Decade of Life (pp. 285-298). Oxford University Press.

Sokol, B. W., Hammond, S. I., Kuebli, J., & Sweetman, L. (2015). The development of agency. In W. F. Overton & P. C. Molenaar (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, Theory and Method, Vol. 1 (7th ed., pp. 284-322). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Sokol, B. W., Sweetman, L., Wassel, B., Franco, C., & Huffman, T. (2020). Reconciling structural and personal expressions of justice in Jesuit education. Christian Higher Education: An International Journal of Research, Theory, and Practice, 19(1-2), 44-59.

Stoecker, R. Liberating Service Learning and the Rest of Higher Education Civic Engagement. 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Sweetman, L., & Sokol, B. W. (2016). The Ville. In T. Underwood (Ed.), Engaging with Our Neighbors: The Practice of Town-Gown Relations in Missouri (pp. 93-99). Springfield, MO: Missouri Campus Compact.

Whitt, E., Edison, M., Pascarella, E., Terenzini, P., & Nora, A. (2001). Influences on Student's Openness to Diversity and Challenge in the Second and Third Years of College. The Journal of Higher Education, 72(2), 172-204. DOI:10.2307/2649321