Community for today’s youth looks very different than it did when NNU was forming and growing 100 years ago. Then, friends and connections were made face to face with those who happened to live, work, learn and worship nearby. Now, the Internet and social media have dramatically changed how we view community. This is especially true for teens preparing for college who have never known a world that was digitally unconnected. Now, relationships aren’t limited to those you live in close proximity with, but connections can be made with anyone around the world.
According to a 2011 article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” The use of social media as a mechanism to form connections is becoming more and more significant at a younger and younger age.
In this environment of immediate access to information and people of shared interest anywhere in the world, what is the role of a Christian university, especially in community building? The University’s statement on our value of community helps to answer this question: “We believe education flourishes in community. NNU provides a learning and faith community that teaches, challenges and encourages each other through intellectual and spiritual practices. Within covenantal relationships, we express our love for God and others.”
Although this description doesn’t exclude digital means for putting the value of community into practice, NNU staff and faculty who invest in the lives of students are faced with a significant challenge in competing with the immediacy and engaging nature of social media.
Fortunately, there is no substitute for the real thing, and NNU is intentional about creating a community of belonging that fosters healthy relationships. That intentionality starts when students first arrive as freshmen. Director of Student Life Grant Miller helps plan Freshman Retreat each year. This event takes the whole freshman class up to Trinity Pines Camp and Conference Center over Labor Day Weekend, typically the first weekend of the fall semester.
He says, “The retreat helps us to offer the freshman class a chance to form a more cohesive sense of class unity. It serves as an intentional time to get away from the busy schedule on campus, and it helps students to meet new friends and form new bonds through group activities, free time, trips into McCall and meals shared all together. It really is an awesome time for our students to help discover what it is at NNU that we value so dearly— our community.”
Despite coming from a digitized culture that students 100 years ago wouldn’t have even dreamed of, students today continue to cite community as one of the most meaningful parts of their NNU experience just as students have done for generations.
In this issue you’ll get a glimpse into the many other ways NNU works to build community for our students—community that continues well after they leave the campus. From the pomp of a presidential inauguration to the spontaneous conversations in the middle of the night in the dorms, university life is in some ways more immersive and engaging than even social media. At NNU, everyone—from the president to the faculty to the staff—sees both the moments that we create and those that occur by chance as opportunities to invest in lives and to continue our legacy.