Frequently Asked Questions

Markim Hall 310
651-696-6030 (fax)
Academic-Year Hours
Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Summer Hours
Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m.-12:00 noon

What are the goals of the Lives of Commitment Program?

The Lives of Commitment program has several goals:

Many students come to Macalester with strong commitments to service and social justice issues: We want students to continue developing their own vision of a socially just society and to find their own ways, formally and informally, to live out their deepest commitments.

Students also come to Macalester with questions about how to integrate their deepest values into their lives as students and their vision of what they would like to do after Macalester. The values could stem from ethical or religious roots, family or ethnic traditions, specific experiences, notions of identity, social movements, etc. We want to provide a safe place to explore those questions and also examples of people from the community and campus who are also trying to live out their own values.

Immigrant and refugee issues have become very important in the Twin Cities. We have chosen this theme as a primary focus for the program, because students can make a significant contribution to immigrants and refugee community by tutoring and teaching classes.  It also raises important issues of diversity, multiculturalism, and the question of how people make transitions - whether to a new country or the transition from high school to a college, as Macalester students are doing.

Many Macalester students do not want to stay in the "Mac bubble" but want to understand the Twin Cities better and to engage questions of diversity, both in the community and on campus. We hope to get students out in the community right away, help them understand neighborhoods, nonprofits and other community organizations, etc.  In the process we will meet activists, workers in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors, and some amazing people within immigrant and refugee communities.

One need for many first-year students is to find a group of students that can support them, allow them to have some fun, and that can grow and change with them. The Lives of Commitment program is NOT all work. We play together; we see the Twin Cities together; we engage in service and social justice activities together; some of the students make their closest friends through the program.

We also find that students crave to find mentors: people both on campus and in the community who can challenge them, connect them with resources, offer encouragement, and just be a friendly and supportive presence. We try to find supportive and engaging faculty and staff members and student leaders who will help guide the program.

How much time does Lives of Commitment take?

Student groups go to nonprofit sites once per week, usually one afternoon or one evening, for about three hours.  Once each month, usually on a Monday night, we gather for dinner and have guest speakers, presentations or discussion sessions. These meetings also usually last about three hours. Two Saturdays each semester we try to schedule experiential learning trips in the Twin Cities.  The year opens with a pre-orientation retreat.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the nonprofits and the clients of the nonprofits really count on Macalester students to be consistent in their weekly service work. Macalester students are teaching classes, mentoring children, and performing other vital activities at the nonprofit. Please only apply for this program if you are willing to commit to the weekly volunteering and to the monthly large group gathering.

Can I be involved in other activities at Macalester and also be in Lives of Commitment?

Yes, most of our students are involved with other activities, from student groups to musical ensembles to sports. We try to have multiple time options for service. You can select the service work that will fit into your schedule.

But you should be aware that you need to have time to go to your volunteer site one afternoon or evening each week and you need to have Mondays free over dinner. Please consider participation in the Lives of Commitment program to take the same time commitment as would participation in any other co-curricular activity. Sometimes this can be problematic for people who are involved in sports that have long practices each day. If you have concerns about time commitments or scheduling conflicts, we encourage you to email Eily Marlow, Lilly Program Associate at to mention your concerns in your application. We will work with you to try to fit Lives of Commitment into your schedule.

In what ways does Lives of Commitment engage "religious" questions?

We anticipate that students in the program will encompass a wide variety of religious traditions as well as students who are not religious or not religious in a conventional way. Past participants have included students who were Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian-Universalist, Jewish, Baha’i, Buddhist, Quaker, Humanist, Hindu, spiritual but not religious, agnostic, and many who gained their identities from other sources, such as politics, social movements, ethics, or their own personal background.

The key aspect of the program is engaging themes of integrity, values, commitment, and social justice. For some students, this will have a religious component. For others it will not. The program is meant to be an open place to discuss, support, and even challenge one another. Our hope is that each person will feel comfortable enriching our discussions with their own personal perspectives.

What this might mean for a student is that in any small group there could be people who people who come from different religious traditions or have different spiritual commitments; people who have different political viewpoints; some who have well thought-out ethical commitments and other who are still exploring; people who have different sexual orientations and multicultural identities. Regardless of your own commitments, we would hope that you would be comfortable sharing your own perspectives and also supportive of others.

What are the experiential learning trips in the Twin Cities?

As a large group, usually on weekends, we try to visit sites that highlight social justice themes or that introduce students to diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Last year, we did a trip around the theme of "arts and social change" where we visited several art galleries and theaters, we went to an exhibit on race at the Science Museum and did a neighborhood tour of sacred sites of new and old immigrants. This is a great way to learn about your new community.

What are some of the topics that you have discussed in the program?

We have invited to campus recent Hmong immigrants and a refugee from Rwanda who are working with college students in the ESL program to talk about their journeys to the United States and to share how they are trying to live out their commitments in this new country, even though they are often "in between" value systems, family traditions, etc.

A faculty member who is researching immigrant and refugee issues presented to the group on the process by which various immigrant and refugee groups came to the United States.

We have had a round table discussion with a staff member, a faculty member, and two alumni who are working as health services director, lawyer, public health nurse, and religious studies professor at Mac. These guests discussed their own life path and how they attempt to integrate their values into their careers.

On our retreats, we have walked through the different aspects that people frequently have had in forming lives of commitment: diversity, finding mentors, creating a community, thinking globally, engaging spirituality, etc. You should expect to share about your own self during this time too.

We have read the book The Alchemist, a fable about the search for vocation.

We have talked about the "vocation" of a college student and what "vocation" might mean in a postmodern context.

We may have a discussion session on the diverse spiritual and religious perspectives of students in the group.

How many students apply to the program? How many students get into the program?

We anticipate that there will be about 80 applicants and we will accept 30 students into the program.

What can I contribute to the program?

The most important aspect is that your commitment to the weekly service work and your enthusiastic participation in the large and small group activities. Lives of Commitment is only as strong as the ideas, energy, and fun that individual students bring to the program. You will also have the opportunity of making a large contribution to nonprofits in the Twin Cities through your teaching, mentoring, and tutoring activities.

If you have other questions, please email Eily Marlow, Lilly Program Associate at  or call her at 651-696-6738.