Community, The Braxton Democrat

Braxton Native Heads WVU’s The Purpose Center

WVU students discover their own strengths, find their own purpose

Editor’s Note: Braxton native, BCHS graduate and editor of the Green and Gold Banner, Whitney Godwin is now the Director of West Virginia University’s The Purpose Center. The facility and Godwin were recently featured in the WVU Magazine. The article is reprinted here, with permission, for your reading pleasure.
By Pam Pritt, Executive Editor, WVU Magazine
In the short term, for most West Virginia University students, it is getting to the finish line of a degree and moving into the working world. But there’s more to life than that, even while in the throes of lectures and tests and studying.
What is an individual’s purpose in life? WVU has developed a unique space – The Purpose Center – where students can do a 360° review of their options in academics, student organizations, extracurricular activities, health and wellbeing, and career networking. It’s a one-stop shop to make connections while exploring who you want to be. The genesis of the center developed from wanting to help students be better prepared for their futures. The center provides space for them to explore their goals and passions while connecting them to the multitude of resources on campus.
Purpose Center Director Whitney Godwin said multiple student focus groups shared gratitude for the many extracurricular options available but were overwhelmed by the search for activities that suited their interests. “It’s really a great place for students who have vast interests in things that don’t seem to be connected,” Godwin said. “We get them connected all in one space before they leave, whether that’s an email introduction or we walk them somewhere.”
The center’s mission is to also help students with self-discovery. The staff is trained to help them find their “why?” or their purpose, a word that is hard to explain for most people and has more meanings than the number of philosophers who have tried to define it. “The cool thing about purpose is it does mean something different to everybody; it can be a heavy word,” Godwin noted. “But for us when we talk about purpose with students, we really are trying to find out, ‘What is that thing that you’re really passionate about and what is that change that you want to create or that impact that you want to have?’”
From there, the goal is to help students find the resources they need to create their desired change and shape their world. If Godwin herself has learned one thing about purpose, it’s that the path to the end goal is almost never linear. Students may come to the Purpose Center with a direction in mind, but with extensive opportunities for exploration at WVU, they may find there’s another way to go.
“There’s always a new experience or opportunity that might shape their path and it’s nothing to be afraid of. That’s the exciting thing, right?” Godwin said.
In the past, retirement meant working in one place for 40 years, getting the “gold watch” and riding off into the sunset; Gen Z are more likely to look at their work life as something akin to a dining menu — a first job “appetizer course,” an “entrée” that provides long-term growth and a “dessert” to top off the career with something enjoyable.
Godwin said students come to the Purpose Center aware that the jobs that exist today may not exist in 10 years and within that decade new jobs will be created in industries that aren’t on the menu today. It’s one of their many strengths.
The Purpose Center is equipped to help them play on those strengths. The University has partnered with Gallup and invested to become a Strengths-based university. The Clifton Strengths assessment helps a person identify their strengths and then shares how to best leverage those strengths in different situations such as academics, career development, leadership, health and well-being, and more.
Godwin said when students know their own strengths — there are 34 categories — they can be more aware of when they are at their best and how their strengths might get in the way sometimes. Their top-five strengths reveal how they solve problems and how they show up for themselves and others.
Last year, every incoming first-year student took the assessment during New Student Orientation. Activities, programs, and additional learning were integrated into their first-year experience, including in the residence halls, classrooms, and Adventure West Virginia.
Last year’s first-time students generally had “Achiever” in their top five, followed by “Futuristic.” The number-one strength was “Restorative,” which means they are interested in solving problems, either relationally, socially, or within industries.
Godwin said students have responded well to these insights and have actively used their strengths with increasing confidence and well-being, especially when they are participating in a group.
“Personally, by discovering my strengths, I have been able to learn what I can contribute, what I need to succeed, and possible barriers and how to overcome those. For example, my top strength is Achiever,” Lakyn Campbell, a journalism student from Parkersburg, West Virginia, said. “I have found that I can thrive when I have tasks to look forward to and can keep myself busy. I also do well in competitive settings.”
Godwin is certain that she would have benefited from a Purpose Center-like entity in her own college career. “The ability to easily connect to the community, explore who I was as an individual and how that fit into my goals, along with the resources available to me, would have helped me connect sooner and figure out a career path quicker,” she said.
In 18 months, the Purpose Center has interacted with more than 20,000 students, faculty, staff, parents and families, alumni and community members, taught more than 625 group workshops, and conducted nearly 400 one-on-one coaching sessions.
In addition, this year the Gallup organization has recognized WVU with their prestigious Don Clifton Strengths-Based Culture Award. The annual award honors those who build workplace culture that put the strengths of employees, managers, and leaders at the core of how they work every day. WVU joins previous award winners such as Southwest Airlines, Estee Lauder, and Accenture.
“Our hope is to continue providing resources that create more engaged, hopeful students, and help lead them to a fulfilling career, as well as extend those resources for people across the state as part of our land-grant mission,” Godwin said.