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Campus & Community

Finding the Intentional Self

New Lab Has Students Envision a ‘Whole, Full Life,’ Along With a Career

By Aadit Tambe M. Jour ’22

Illustration of grad considering future

Illustration by Shutterstock

The new Intentional Life Lab in the Robert H. Smith School of Business aims to help students connect their sense of purpose in life to their future careers, helping them find their voice and identify their authentic life path.

While working with some of the best and the brightest in more than a decade at federal policymaking institutions, Sarah Wolek ’01 noticed a distressing trend among her colleagues: Even in highly mission-oriented institutions, they seemed professionally unfulfilled. 

Charged with management and reform for employers including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, White House Office of Management and Budget, and the United States Mission to the United Nations, she saw how that not only shrank their own job and life satisfaction, but also limited their organization’s potential.

She’s pouring what she learned into her role as founder and director of the new Intentional Life Lab, part of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets in the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Through classes and post-COVID workshops and retreats, it facilitates students’ self-discovery and actualization by helping them find their voice and authentic life path. 

“Becoming the person you want to be is everyone’s life’s work, and intentionally focusing on it during the undergraduate years is essential because students are on the cusp of making important life decisions that will orient them in a particular direction.”

The lab uses a framework of six pillars of intentional living that Wolek developed: purpose and character, wellness, prosperity, relationships, community and nature. 

“Often, as a culture, we promote success—meaning success in one’s career,” she said. “By engaging with the lab, I hope that students gain a more holistic perspective of themselves and create their own individual definition of success.”

The four courses currently offered in partnership with the lab —“Choosing Your Major and Career” (EDCP108C), “Careers in Impact” (PHPE 350), “The Intentional Self” (BMGT160) and “Civic Engagement” (PHPE355)—aim to help students find their direction, discover who they want to be, enable them to make more informed life choices and become connected to their community. The lab helps students answer the question: “What does a whole, full life look like for you?”

Austin Starnes ’20, who majored in computer science, took “Intentional Self” during his final semester at UMD last summer. He had previously taken career development courses, but this one was especially impactful because it encouraged him to think about his purpose and how it relates to his budding career.

“You don’t take the time when you’re going from class to class in college—most people don’t take the time to think about their (purpose) in a really serious way,” he said.

Wolek said the lab arrives at a time when unprecedented amounts of distractions and noise manifest into many people feeling lost, disconnected, or overwhelmed. “Let’s find time together for mindful introspection and action so that our life isn’t something that just happens, but something we actively and intentionally create,” she said.

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